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!