Chasing the peloton

I arrived into Hull and sent my cousin Joanna a text. She was going to meet me there and drive me back to her place in Rise. I had a few minutes to spare so I went to the ticket office to see if I could organise a ticket for my bike and I from Leeds to London on Monday. Bizarrely the Leeds ticket office could only sell me a ticket on the day for an extortionate amount. As I was in the ticket office, Joanna arrived at the station and made her way over. I hadn’t seen her since her wedding about 18 months ago, apart from a few Skype calls. Her latest news was that she was expecting a baby, due pretty much on my birthday (which is extra special). It was great to see here again, looking great and just starting to show her 6 month baby bump. With my mission accomplished at the ticket office, we loaded my bike into the back of the car and set off for the countryside.

Rise is a lovely little country village where Joanna and her husband Steve make the most of country living. When we arrived, Steve was already cooking dinner and it was great to see him again too. Steve and I met for the first time when I came over for the wedding. We only spent a couple of days together, but we got along like old friends. After a quick (much needed) shower, we sat down outside in the evening sun to enjoy the first course, a rainbow Bruschetta. Steve calls it that because it is full of colour, including edible flowers from the garden. In fact most of the ingredients for dinner either came from the garden or the local village. While we waited for the main course, Steve took me on a tour of the impressive garden. Full of fruit trees, vegetable patches, greenhouses, edible flowers, the chook pen. He is very passionate about it and he certainly has a reason to be proud of it. We went inside for the main course, delicious roast pork from the local farmer served with greens and potatoes from the garden.

After dinner, we watched the World Cup quarter final match between Netherlands and Costa Rica. I was sure Netherlands would win easily, but Costa Rica were putting on such an admirable performance, it wasn’t long before we were all cheering them on. During the game Steve showed me his collectable World Cup sticker book too. He open a few more packs, fist-pumping when he got a player he needed to complete his set. At one point he lamented the fact he had nobody to trade with, which I thought was a little sad (albeit hilariously funny). We laughed at the suggestion of him hanging around school playgrounds looking for 10 year old boys… As the match carried on with a solid defensive display from Costa Rica, I thought Netherlands got a bit narky. Finally with the climax (or anti-climax) of a penalty shoot-out, Netherlands were through and Costa Rica were going home.

In the morning, I woke early to the sound of rain. Knowing it was a big day ahead, I had every intention of an early start, but procrastinated with a leisurely breakfast. The rain had stopped, but the grey skies still appeared gloomy with no sign of improving. It was probably about 8AM by the time I finally said goodbye and set off for York. Despite the wet roads, clouds overhead and drizzle, the ride from Rise to York was quite pleasant. I found my way onto one of the National Cycling Network routes, following it most of the way. I was going to struggle to make the start at the racecourse. I had already missed the caravan too, so I found a spot on the outskirts of the city near Clifford’s tower. I arrived just in time. There was already a huge crowd, so I made my way into the throng, pulled out my GoPro on a stick and watched the peloton whiz past. 10 minutes and it was all over, but I got to see the Tour de France again!

I’ve been to York a few times in the past, but not for at least 10 years. It’s a great old city. After the race had come through, I set off to explore. The city streets were closed to traffic, so riding the bike around once again was bliss. I stopped to ask some of the marshall’s where I could find the best coffee in York, but they were clearly tea drinkers. Eventually I found a little cafe that looked promising, so I sat down for a latte and refuelled with a second breakfast. Not far from the cafe I also found the Stone Roses bar, which probably has no affiliation with the iconic band, but was still pretty cool. I continued rolling around the city streets until I came to cool little bike shop cafe. At this stage by bike was in need of a little TLC. The makeshift repair to my rear brake was ok, but the lever had started sticking and I had pretty much worn through the brake blocks. I left it with them to work on it, while a took a seat in the cafe next door with a good view of the big screen showing the race. I noticed the couple sitting next to me were wearing matching “over 55 riders” jerseys with Aussie flags on the arm. Always glad to see a fellow Aussie I started up a conversation with them. They were from Perth on their annual European cycling holiday. They had been doing it for 10 years now going to different European destinations and cycling touring for 6 weeks at a time. They weren’t just over 55s either – they were actually in their 70s!

After the bike shop cafe, with my brakes now working nicely, I meandered through the streets of York to the racecourse where the race had started earlier that day. After the huge crowds of the day before, I was a little surprised to find the place pretty empty. There were 2 big screens showing the race, a few mercy stands, food vendors, sponsor displays, kids rides, but hardly anyone there. Maybe once the start was over (with the weather looking gloomy) most people decided to move on. I wandered around, watched the race for a bit, then decided to move on too. Finding my way back to Leeds was pretty easy. With a mixture of off-road cycle paths, deviations passing through villages and quiet country roads I followed the general direction of the York Road. Once back in Leeds, I made my way over to Grandma’s house. When I arrived the race was only a few minutes away from the end, so Grandma and I watched the finish together: the moment when Nibali stepped up to stamp his authority on the race with a stage win.

As soon as the race was over, I said goodbye to Grandma and left for my Auntie Val and Uncle Martin’s place in Pudsey, where I was staying for the night. Earlier in the day Joanna contacted me say I’d left my light at her place, so she would come down to her mum’s place and give it back to me. Although it wasn’t a deliberate ploy, it was a nice excuse to see her again. However, she had to leave at 6PM so I couldn’t be late. Despite taking a route through the village which took my up some pretty decent hills, my phone battery dying (along with the directions I was following) and having to stop to ask directions from some girls with horses I made it on time. We had a lovely home cooked meal together and in the end Joanna didn’t leave until 8! Val and Martin had been following the tour around too. Martin showed me some brilliant footage that he got of the riders coming through Addingham along with some of the entertainment that the town had put on for the event. Tomorrow the tour would leave Yorkshire and so would I, but it was great to see everyone get behind it with such enthusiasm and it was amazing to be a part of it.

I knew there would be massive crowds at the start in Leeds so I got there about 7:30AM to find a spot near the front. I parked my bike, locking it to the fence outside the gallery got a good spot on the Headrow about 100m before the start line. Already there were people lining the barriers on both sides of the course. There was a woman with her teenage son sitting on little stools right near the barrier so I stood behind them and we waited. It was a really good atmosphere with everybody excited about the race. Most of the people around me were locals, just thrilled that the Tour de France had come to their city, but had no idea about cycling. I had fun explaining to them how it all works and what would happen over the next 4 hours. Yes. 4 hours. It sounds like a long time but with the sponsors moving up and down the crowd handing out freebies, the big screen, the music, the building crowds, the banter with one another, the time passed really quickly. It was a bit of a novelty that I had travelled from Australia and the people around me made a bit of a fuss. The TV crews did too. First itv came along and interviewed me. Asking me all the usual questions, “You have come all the way from Australia for the race?”, “Do you like cycling?”, “What do you think of Leeds?”… next it was Sky Sports who wanted an interview… then BFMTV… I felt like a real celebrity but unfortunately, I have scoured the Internet and I don’t think I made the final cut.

The caravan came through at 9:20AM, then the rider sign-on started at 10AM. The atmosphere was building along with the crowds. People filled every space, lining the streets, looking on from balconies, rooftops, office windows. Finally about 11AM the riders came through to their starting position. I spotted Gerrans in the bunch, wearing the colours of the national champion and called out to him. Then came Jens Voigt, pushing his way through the peloton to get to the front. I wonder if he was already planning at that point to go on the attack and lead the race for most of the day. Then the countdown. 3, 2, 1, Go! They were off. The 2014 Tour de France, the 100th edition, had officially begun.

I made my way through the crowds to find my bike. A woman was standing by it, with her young son sitting on the fence using the rack as a foot rest. I was glad to see it was ok, and I thanked them for looking after it for me. There were still people everywhere and a procession of vehicles on the course. I got chatting to some other riders who had ridden from Bolton that morning for the start and were now heading to Harrogate. We waited about 15 minutes for the road to open, but in the end, with all the traffic, decided to find another way around it. The four of us headed off in the general direction of the A61 that would take us from Leeds to Harrogate. We came to the barriers just out out of town, where the road was closed for the course, asked the marshals if were could go through and we were on the course. Riding on closed roads is bliss. Having the streets lined with people having street parties with decorations everywhere just takes the cake. Everyone we passed was cheering, kids were giving us high 5s… The road was full of bikes and riders of every shape and size, young and old, everyone out just to celebrate cycling on the day the world’s biggest cycling race came to town.

There was no need to hurry, we had many hours before the riders were due at the finish, so I rode at a leisurely pace through the undulating hills of the lovely Yorkshire countryside. As I came into Harrogate, there were massive crowds. I found the team buses and went around to take some pictures. Then, leaving my bike locked up outside, I headed into the Stray where a massive fan park was set up. There were food vendors, sponsor tents, live bands, competitions and 3 or 4 big screens showing the race. I joined the long queue for a Scotch Angus Beef burger, but it was worth the 30 minute wait. Then, burger in hand, I found a spot in front of one of the big screens to enjoy the race. I spent the next few hours wandering around the park, finding a spot in the sun to watch the race between naps. For the first time in my life I got to watch the Tour live in the sunshine! Jens put in a very entertaining performance, but he was never going to go all the way. He had done enough to make an impact and stamp his authority. Then came the business end. I started to make my out of the park to go to the finish, but an announcement was made that they were at capacity, so I would have been turned away. Also, the Stray was now also at capacity, with a queue of people waiting to get in, so if I left I wouldn’t get back in. So, for the last few minutes of the race I made sure I had prime position in front of one of the screens and soaked up the atmosphere. Every time the helicopter camera showed the Stray we all gave a massive cheer.

I was there when Spartacus blew the race apart in the last km. I think I was the only one in crowd that cheered. I was there when Gerrans started to wind it up. I was there when the tragedy struck. Cav leaning in just that little bit too hard and bringing Gerrans down. It was awful. The Cav home crowd was shocked and devastated. Kittel went on to a good finish, but it was overshadowed by the crash. Not the ending that anyone had hoped for.

I made my way to the Green Edge team bus afterwards to assess the damage. I asked one of the soigneurs if Simon was ok and they said he was. I could see him through the window of the bus getting changed, but he wasn’t going to come out to face the media or the fans. His bike, still on the roof of the team car was clearly smashed up with the rear derailleur bent upwards into the wheel. At least he would be fit to ride, more than could be said for Cavendish.

The ride back to Leeds was pleasant, even though the roads were open again. There were so many cyclists on the road I would ride with a bunch, then hop to the next, then pass a few on the climb… great fun. I headed straight for Grandma’s place, easier to find this time, then grabbed a bag with a change of clothes, said a quick hello/goodbye, then rode down to the train station and hopped on the train to Hull for the next leg of my journey. The Tour de France had lived up to every expectation: atmosphere, excitement, tragedy and a whole lot of fun!

Le Tour de Yorkshire

After breakfast I said farewell to the Beggs and made my way to the station. It had been a flying visit but I would see them again at England camp in a few weeks time. The night before I had used Google Maps and my own (very limited) navigational skills to make my way from the station to the village, mostly on the off-road cycle paths. This time, however I followed the directions along the roads through Marholm, a nearby village, and found my way to the station much easier. I arrived comfortably before the train was due. Unable to get a direct train to Leeds with a cycle reservation, I had to first go to York, make a platform change, then continue to Leeds. Unfortunately, the train was running late so I missed the connection at York but I was still able to jump onto the next Leeds train without a reservation.

When I arrived into Leeds station my Grandma was there waiting for me. She was confident she would spot me with the bike, but with the Tour de France in town, there were people with bikes everywhere! I spotted her first as I came through the turnstiles so waved to get her attention. It was great to see my Grandma again and she was really happy to see me too. We caught a maxi taxi back to her place, which is very close to the city centre. As we drove out from the city it was clear to see Leeds was in the grip of tour fever. There were decorations everywhere, yellow bikes, posters, yellow jerseys on statues, painted phone boxes. It was clear that everyone was getting behind it.

When we got to my Grandma’s place, my cousin Matthew was there. I had seen him briefly on my last visit, but it was really good to catch up again. We had a cup of tea together and Grandma made us some sandwiches. We hadn’t been there long before my Auntie Linda also dropped in, so I had the chance to see her too. It was a real Bickerdike family reunion! Once Matthew left, I unpacked a few things, then grabbed my bike and cycled back into the city centre to get involved with the festivities. Grandma’s place was a short pedal into the city, mostly on bike paths. I found my way to the City Square where I got a photo with the iconic inflated yellow bike. Then going down the Headrow I saw the ceremonial start line for the big race. It was a real festival atmosphere of street stalls, music, street performers with people (and bikes) everywhere. The sun was shining and everyone was making the most of it.

I headed into the town hall to check out the Yorkshire Bike Show. There were lots of cool exhibitions from local artists, tool makers, clothes designers, bike companies and brilliant custom made bikes. One of my favourites (who actually won best in show) was Field bikes from Sheffield who make steel frames (of course). Not only were the bikes beautiful, but the guy I spoke to showed me a frame badge that, in co-operation with Sheffield University, had been 3D printed in steel. So cool. There was another frame that had been painted with a camouflage pattern using a process that some how prints the pattern onto a film into which the frame is then dipped. Totally crazy stuff. Another guy had custom built a 36er. Yes. Forget 29ers, a 36 inch wheel bike! There was also an impressive display of over 20 vintage bicycles, all owned by the same guy.

After a bite to eat, I made my way over to the Leeds City Museum where there was a photo exhibition of cycling culture in Leeds called Bicyclism. It was really well done showing a great diversity of bikes, riders and riding. Underpinning that cycling is not just about the lycra-clad bunch, not that there is anything wrong with that, but it so much more. After the museum I checked out the gallery, then some of the street performers. One bloke, an Aussie actually, calling his act Pucture Kit was playing a drum kit made out of a bike. It sounded brilliant and looked awesome. Then there was a group of crazy frenchies performing bike ballet. It was hilarious to watch and very impressive to see what they were able to do on a fixie.

You can’t count on the weather in England. Inevitably as the afternoon wore on it took a turn for the worse. I headed back into the town hall for more bike show goodness and take shelter. I sat down to hear a talk from a guy who has followed the tour for years riding every major climb and now written a book about them all rating them out of 10. He had some great tips about being a spectator at the Tour like how to get the free stuff from the caravan or how to get on TV. It was a fun and entertaining talk. Somehow, during questions from the audience we got on to discussing the Chris Froome/Bradley Wiggins controversy. I asked him whether he thought Wiggo would ride for Green Edge next season, as I certainly hope he will. He agreed that there was a strong possibility and would be great for both parties. Later on I found a competition was running with track bikes on rollers. A 500m sprint head-to-head. When a girl with a clipboard approached me about, it looked like a bit of fun, so I signed up. I actually ended up the 3rd fastest time of the day! Maybe all this riding around is doing me some good after all 😉 However, more impressive than that was the 84 year old bloke that stepped up to give it a crack. I hope I’m still riding everyday when I get to his age.

As the afternoon wore on I kept sticking my head out the door to check on the weather. The rain was still coming down and I had (quite optimistically) left without a jacket. Hoping it would eventually improve I procrastinated by watching a mountain bike video on the big screen called Life Cycles. I don’t know who made it, how old it is or where you can get it, but it is one of the best bike films I have seen. Really beautiful cinematography, a good narrative and some really cool riding of course. After the movie, it was after 5PM so I sent my Grandma a message and decided to brave the weather back to her house. Unfortunately, when my phone battery died, my lack of navigation came out to bite me on the bum again. The trip into the city had seemed so easy, but I ended up going in circles around the city until I found my way back to Grandma’s. By that time I was drenched from head to toe. I was very glad to have a shower and put on some dry clothes. My Grandma even went out (in the rain) to get me a Chinese takeaway for dinner. I felt totally spoilt. Grandma and I watched the Brazil v Colombia World Cup match for a while, but at 2-0 I was nearly falling asleep, so decided it was time for bed. Ironically it seems just after I made that decision Colombia scored and Neymar got injured! Just goes to show you should never leave the game early, but I needed my rest. Tomorrow was the first day of the Tour de France, the start of the Tour de Yorkshire and I was here to see it. Ey up! In’t it grand?

Rapha and an unexpected visit

The first thing I noticed as I landed back in London was the difference in temperature. It wasn’t cold, but the morning was certainly fresher than Malta. Even wearing my jeans, which I tend to do when I fly, I felt quite comfortable. I headed through passport control, managing to explain satisfactorily my complex trip and how long I would be in the country. Then I headed over to the baggage claim, hoping that my plastic wrapped Surly was still in one piece. It was a bit of an anxious wait for 15 minutes until the carousel start turning. I spotted my bag pretty quickly and pulled it off. Everything seemed to be in order, despite the zip being busted and the whole thing being held together with bungees. A few minutes late a baggage handler came in holding my bike. I was relieved. I then set out about unwrapping the bike and putting everything back together. It took a while to realign the handlebars, replace the pedals, pump up the tyres and attached all the panniers. I was ready to go. I rolled the bike out, following the signs to the train ticket desk. The station was a few miles from the airport, so I bought my ticket to St Pancras and rode down there. When the train arrived, there was no space for a bike, so I just stood with it for the journey into the city.

At St Pancras, I found a spot for an early lunch and free WiFi. I got in touch with my cousin, Joanna, originally planning to head up to her place, but since she and her husband Steve were working, it made more sense to see them on the weekend. The free WiFi was pretty rubbish, so after lunch I went to the Vodafone shop to get a SIM. They hooked me up with a £10 deal that included lots of calls, unlimited text and unlimited data. Bargain! Once I had my SIM I got in touch with my Grandma in Leeds, to let her know I had arrived and was heading up there. I went to buy a ticket to Leeds and was horrified that the cheapest ticket was £100. That was excessive. Leeds was quite a distance, so riding wasn’t an option, but I noticed that the train to Leeds passed through Peterborough. Maybe if I got a train to Peterborough, I could visit the assembly there before heading to Leeds. I contacted Cathy in Zimbabwe who gave me her parents details and I got in touch with the Beggs. They were surprised to hear from me but said they would be glad to see me. It would only be a flying visit, but at least I would get to see them. So the plan was set. Peterborough tonight then Leeds tomorrow.

Having my travel plans organised including bike reservations, I then set off in search of the Rapha store. I had been looking forward to this since I knew I was coming to London. I wasn’t sure when I would be able to fit it in, but being in London for the day, with no particular plans, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. Riding through the London traffic was lots of fun. London is becoming pretty popular with bikes with the Boris bike scheme and many commuters. The shared bus/cycle lanes are a good way to get around. Arriving at Rapha, I accosted the nearest person I could find and asked them to take a photo for me as I posed, grinning in front of the iconic store. There was a notice outside requesting customers to bring their bikes into the store and lock them up there. I headed inside carrying the Surly down the steps. I had to remove a few panniers, but found a hook to hang it on, then went to explore the store. Vintage bikes, portraits of cycling legends, classic quotes and of course the very best in cycling apparel. I was so excited. I wandered around for a few minutes just soaking it in before I was approached by Kirsty the Scottish shop assistant. I was determined not to leave empty handed, but with all the awesome gear, I wasn’t sure what to get. Kirsty encouraged me that it didn’t cost anything to try it on (something you can’t do when shopping on line) so I went for it. I tried everything. Going in and out of the Rapha van change room for at least an hour. In the end I had a ‘Yes’ pile, a ‘Maybe’ pile and a couple of things in the ‘No’ category. When Kirsty added it all up, it was a significant total. I tried haggling, but that wasn’t going to fly. I convinced myself that I hadn’t bought clothes for ages and this was Rapha IN London. So I got the lot. Jeans, shirts, trousers, shorts and some ridiculously awesome white gloves. Then Kirsty asked if I wanted to claim by VAT back. Of course! It meant that I basically got the shorts for free. Woohoo!

Panniers bulging with all my new kit, I pedalled back across town to Kings Cross station to catch the train to Peterborough. By the time I arrived it was 4:40PM and the station staff told me I couldn’t take a bike on the train between 4PM and 7PM because of the rush hour. Doh! I contacted the Beggs and let them know I would be arriving late. Then I went for another ride around London, finding a little Turkish cafe where they fixed me a fresh juice. Having a bit of time to kill, I got my laptop out and tried connecting it to my phone. No dice. I found myself in a loop on the Vodafone website with no indication of how to set up the hotspot. So I went back to the store I bought it from where they told me I couldn’t set up a hotspot on a pre-paid SIM. Great. It sounded too good to be true. I found something for dinner, then watched the boards for the trains to Peterborough. I managed to get onto the 7:10PM and I was off.

The train was running late and didn’t arrive into Peterborough until about 8:30PM. I sent the Beggs a message to let them know, then headed off on the 10 mile journey to their place in the village. It was a nice ride through the countryside following the cycle path. I got a bit confused at times and when my phone battery died I stopped to ask for some directions. The village where the Beggs live is like a postcard of the English countryside. Rolling hills, dry stone walls, it was really picturesque. It was after 9PM when I eventually arrived. It was great to see them, and they were so hospitable. We stayed up for a few hours talking before retiring to bed. My train to Leeds was leaving at 8:15AM so I had to be up early tomorrow for the ride to the station. I was really glad I didn’t get that train direct to Leeds now. I wasn’t sure whether I would make it Peterborough, and although it was only one night, I’m so glad I did.


After a really good night’s sleep I woke with a start to the sound of my alarm going off at 6:30AM. Gah! Far too early to be getting up on holidays, so I crawled across the room and shut it off. Simon was already up and about getting ready for work (he’s a service engineer for British Gas). When he logged into work from laptop the system told him he was booked out on annual leave. Having been told at 3PM the previous day there was NO CHANCE of him getting the day off he didn’t believe it so he rang his boss. He couldn’t understand it either so he went to look into it and promised to call him back. Ever the optimist, I was already fist pumping, but Simon was more cautious. He’d been through the roller coaster on this before so he wasn’t taking anything for granted. Getting a day off means longwinded approvals from the planning office and blah, blah, blah. A long, anxious 10 minutes later the phone rang again. It was Simon’s boss. “Go to the window and look up at the sky” he said “Say thank you. I don’t understand how but you’ve got the day off!” Hurrah!! There was much rejoicing.

Yesterday, before getting distracted by burgers and wandering around Oxford St, Simon mentioned he’d like to check out the Vikings exhibition at the British Museum. However, because it is extremely popular it’s best to get there early. Now we had the whole day. Perfect. Off-peak services didn’t start until 9:30AM so we had some time to kill. We made a quick trip to the local M&S so Simon could get a new pair of shorts (did I mention it is glorious summer weather here?) and we stopped at the deli for coffee. Then we headed off to the train station, but parking was restricted until 10:30AM, so we made another detour to a camping shop so I could get a gas canister for my camping stove and pocket knife which filled in the time nicely.

We arrived into St. Pancras about 11:00AM and decided to catch the tube to the Museum. As we walked from the station we past a bunch of London cabbies on strike, and admired the ritzy inner-city hotels and restaurants. I love the British Museum. It is enormous. It is beautiful. It is fascinating. You would need a week to see it all, and even then I reckon it would only be a cursory glance at the exhibits. Now running later than originally planned, we made a beeline for ticket counter. While you can make your way through the exhibition at your own pace, they issue tickets at staggered entry times to manage the crowds. Happily we could get in at 12:40PM which gave us just enough time for a quick lunch.

We found a little Italian cafe across the road, and were drawn in my the promise of burgers and free WiFi. Mmm. Burgers. We were greeted by a friendly German girl (who we later found out was called Fanny). We sat at table, and despite perusing the menu, couldn’t pass up the burgers. Fanny was interested in what we were up to, and where we were from so we explained I was on holiday from Australia, Simon had a surprise day off and we were seeing the Vikings exhibition. It turns out Fanny reckons she’s part Viking since she grew up near the Baltic sea and her descendants would have had a bit to do with the vikings. Simon convinced Fanny to give him an extra patty on his cheeseburger too. We ate our burgers in quick fashion (not nearly as good as yesterday but did the job) and dashed back to the museum.

When we finally got into the exhibition it was packed! You could hardly move, and in a way that is so typically English, everyone was politely lining up behind one another to catch a glimpse of the exhibits. It went something like: shuffle, shuffle, stop, peek at something, wait 5 minutes, repeat. At this rate we would literally be here all day, so we decided to go rogue and wander around freely, jumping in and looking over someone’s should if the opportunity presented itself. There was some amazing stuff. A good deal of it was relics that had been recovered from the British Isles but some of it was from as far away as Ukraine or Uzbekistan. I had no idea the Vikings travelled so far and wide with such profound influence. Most things were from the period 800 AD to 1000 AD but some pieces were as late as 1200 AD. The intricate work on the golden brooches was amazing. The swords were very cool. A replica of the Harald Bluetooth rune stone was impressive. There was a horde recovered from Yorkshire ca. 927 AD with various artefacts that were from all over the place, including a cup from a church, a norse bracelet and arabian coins. The remains of the largest Viking warship ever recovered, the Roskilde 6 were on display, but since very little of it actually survived, they recreated the hull of the ship in a steel structure, an astounding 37 metres long! Unfortunately, no photos were allowed so you’ll just have to take my word for how great it was.

After the vikings we had a quick wander about the museum, past loads of sarcophaguses, Japanese samurai armour & weaponry, and the rosetta stone. However it was time for a coffee. We headed back to Fanny’s cafe where I had earlier spotted a cannoli in the cake display cabinet, and couldn’t get the vision out of my head. We got chatting again and she told us all about her childhood adventures holidaying with her parents every weekend in their VW Kombi camper. I excitedly showed pictures of my very own ’74 Kombi camper, Annie, who is getting a facelift while I am here. In the end it was a really good chat, and I hope we see her again.

The day had gone quickly and it was time to head home for a quick change before the Wednesday night meeting. We arrived there well in time and it was great to see everyone again. It has only been about 18 months, but time flies. The kids have grown up fast and I got to meet Theo, Fabian & Ally’s six month old for the first time. The Davey’s from Launceston were there too loving their time exploring London, so it was a bonus to see them. After the meeting Simon & I dropped Rob off at the train station before making a detour to Maccas for more burgers. Yep. I’ll let that one go.

Tomorrow is goodbye London, hello Paris and an earnest attempt at better food choices!!

The village, the library and Godzilla

The journey from Australia to England was pretty uneventful, but one of the great things about travel is the people you meet. On my first flight I met a couple (Rob & Trish) from Launceston who had a similar itinerary to me, heading over to Europe and then back to Yorkshire for the start of the tour. They were pretty keen cycling fans, and actually know Richie Porte well enough that they were planning to meet up with him the night before the race. I wanted to ask if I might tag along, but couldn’t pluck up the courage. On the last plane ride I sat next to a New Zealand couple (who now live in Melbourne) who are driving around the UK and Europe for a weeks. They helped me out with the names of some New Zealand parrots on my crossword too. I also met a girl (Anna) who was heading off to Ireland for an epic 4-day(!) wedding followed by a few weeks exploring Ireland with her parents and catching up with friends.

I always knew that on a trip like this logistics would be a challenge. My flight arrived into Heathrow at about 6AM after a couple of brief stops in Brunei and Dubai. In my head the plan was pretty simple, grab my bag and bike box, jump on the Heathrow express train into London, catch a train to St Albans and then a bus or taxi to Simon’s place. Easy right? Hrm. London is big. London train stations are big too. After lugging my 48kg of luggage across the terminal, the express got me to Paddington Station, where I had to lug it all across to another platform for a train to Kings Cross, then lug, lug, lug up to St. Pancras for the St. Albans train. Now I know why it’s called luggage! When I finally arrived at St. Albans the taxi driver suggested I could have probably caught a taxi direct for about the same price of my train tickets 😐 not what I wanted to hear but a lesson learned for next time 🙂

By the time I got to Simon’s it was 9AM and I’d been on the go for about 36 hours, with only a little broken sleep on the plane. Simon had left a key for me so I let myself in and started unpacking. Stuff everywhere! I cracked open the bike box and the Surly was just as I had left it. Perfect. I grabbed my tools, put it all together and headed off for a test ride to explore the village. Simon lives in a place called London Colney and while it is only a 30 minute train ride from central London, it is a nice little green village with a lake and a nature reserve. The green has always been something I love about England! I found the local supermarket to get some basic supplies, a tyre shop to pump up my tyres (I had to assure the poor bloke that they wouldn’t blow up with 100 psi) and then explored some of the cycle paths in the area. Satisfied that my bike was in great working order, I decided I’d ride it to the train station and catch the train back into central London and spend the day there.

When I got into St. Pancras again I discovered the British Library which, to my delight had a british comics exhibition “Comics Unmasked”. Some of my favourite creators are british, notably Grant Morrison, Dave McKean, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore and they all featured. There was original scripts from V for Vendetta, Sandman, Batman & Robin and original props from Dave McKeans artwork on Arkham Asylum just to name a few. My comic-nerdiness was on overdrive. While I was there I got a call from Simon who told me he couldn’t get the day off tomorrow as planned, so his boss had agreed to let him go early so he could meet me in the city. It was a shame we wouldn’t get to spend the day together tomorrow, but an afternoon was still something. By the time I had made my way through the exhibition Simon was there, and he took me to see some of the proper highlights of the British Library: The Geneva Bible and Tyndale’s New Testament. Knowing the impact these volumes had on creation of the Bible we have today and even the formation of our English language, it was pretty special see them for real. Certainly a contrast from comic books!

Simon and I then headed of for a late lunch of burgers & chips. I have to say, since I came to London in 2002 the quality of food had improved remarkably. I’m somewhat of a burger connoisseur (I even drove from Hobart to Stanley to try ‘the world’s best burger’), and while not the best burger I’ve ever had, it was pretty decent. From there we wandered up to Oxford St, and eventually winding our way across to Waterloo. Waterloo is the home of IMAX theatre, the biggest in Britain. I’ve been to IMAX in Melbourne and I’m pretty sure this was the biggest I’ve seen. What better to see on the IMAX screen? Godzilla in 3D of course!! Unfortunately for me, by the time we sat down in the theatre I had been going for about 46 hours and the seductive beckoning of jet-lag was calling. As the lights went dim, I started to drift off to sleep. Not even the enormous explosions and epic monster battles could keep me awake as I fought desperately to stay awake. Eventually I left to get a Pepsi in the home that some caffeine could stave off the slumber, but I helplessly nodded my way through. I can’t remember much of the film, but I got the gist of it. There’s a monster terrorising the city. Then Godzilla comes along and pursues said monster. Then there is another monster that’s wrecking the place having monster babies. Then Godzilla comes in and whacks both the monsters and the monster baby eggs with his blue lightening out of the mouth trick, and slinks off back into the ocean. Sorry if that was spoilers. There are some humans and dialogue too, but that’s really superfluous.

So after the movie, we caught the train home. By this time it was dark of course and I still had to ride my bike home from the station, but I’d left my lights back at Simon’s place (doh!) Also, as it happens, I managed to jump on board the train before the doors closed, but left Simon helplessly standing on the platform waiting for the next train. So here I am, been awake for 50 hours, riding my bike home in the dark with no more than a little red LED on the back of my helmet begging drivers not wipe me out. Not cool. To make matters worse I took a wrong turn at the round about and ended up on the A-road with no shoulder, and no street lights. Not cool x 3! Of course it was a happy ending though. I got home safely, and crashed into bed. London day one done. Phew!