Days of London sights

The last & next three days have & will be spent seeing a few of the many sights that London has to offer (with the help of my trusty London Pass saving me many, many pounds). I’m not sure when the holiday part starts – after the busy weekend in Basel, it hasn’t really let up with many hours spent walking, reading placards, sitting/standing on the tube – still it beats shift work.

With walking around London being stangely familiar & a case of happening on landmarks, it’s been quite enjoyable. Highlights from the last three days have been Windsor, especially St George’s Chapel & the State apartments with all the portraits; Eton (seeing students’ names carved in the stone from five hundred years ago is a little strange when your own country isn’t anywhere near that old); Tower Bridge & the old steam mechanisms that raised the deck; and HMS Belfast – one of the only surviving big gun ships from WWII.

Hampton Court Palace, Kew Gardens, St Paul’s, Greenwich, Imperial War & many other museums to sneak a look at.

Masses of Orange

After a day of looking around Harrow & Pinner & generally not doing too much it was off to Switzerland with a uni friend, Josh. Some months ago we had chosen Basel at random for a weekend in Europe. It turned out that Euro 2008 was in town & it was quarter-finals weekend – consequently the city was pretty much alive & teeming with football fans.

Having negotiated Terminal 5 & Josh doing a great impression of someone losing his boarding pass at the counter, we arrived in what turned out to be three countries at once. The Euro airport services respective French, German & Swiss cities – once landing you can choose which country you want to go to. In Basel itself (pronounced Bar-zil), we were eager to have a look around so after wandering through the crowds, over the Rhine, up the cobbled streets & down again it was back to the hostel for a horrible two hours of sleep.

Saturday dawned wonderfully sunny & the bike was quickly assembled & we headed off down to the station for a train ride in to Germany for a spot of riding in the Black Forest. Somehow we managed to make it through the station – as the Netherlands were due to play their Euro quarter that night against Russia, every train coming in to the (large) station disgorged hundred of orange clad fans.

After a missed connection, a high speed train & then a small diesel up in to Stauffen – we were out in the baking sun trying to find somewhere for Josh to hire a mountain-bike. This proved rather frustrating, & in the end, unfruitful – never mind, we had a good look around the small town & rode/ran up a hill above the town to a ruined castle affording great views over the surrounding plains.

Back in Basel after, this time, successfully changing trains it was in to town to join the 150-200,000 odd Dutch fans that had invaded the city (there may have been a few thousand Russians around too). All the orange shirts were a bit hard on the eyes…

Eventually we found a pub that had big screens on the outside, so we could stand with the masses & soak up the game & the atmosphere. It was a great game to watch, with the Dutch drawing level in the last few minutes of regulation time & then two Russian goals in extra time to take them in to the semis. We wandered our way back to the hostel listening to cheers of “Rush-e-a!”.

A big sleep after yesterday’s big day in the heat & we were well prepared for our epic ride to France, then on to Germany & finally back to Switzerland – ok maybe not so epic, maybe only twenty to thirty kilometres in total. But it was hot – well into the thirties, a nice change to the weather left behind at home. Managed to find a bike for Josh to hire underneath the main station – & also happened across the largest collection of bicycles I have ever seen. It was a full-on bike park where you had to get a ticket out of the machine before the gates would open automatically for you to push your bike in – fantastic.

We managed our ride quite easily & border crossings were a complete disappointment – no machine gun fire, flashing lights or even a stamp in the passport. Back to London & frustration with Terminal 5 – you would think they would sign post it from the major roads & the pick-up points, but that seems to escaped someone’s attention.

To London

After a suitably large last flat dinner at Lonestar, I was finally off – of course I had some thirty hours to get used to this idea. Apart from the numerous episodes of Conchords on the plane, the SAP signs at Hong Kong airport provided a little amusement for my tired mind.

Along with similar ads for Porsche & Asics, the footnote says “The Best Run Businesses Run SAP”. I couldn’t help wondering if this was in spite of SAP and also why was there no poster using NZ Steel as an example.

Arriving, I managed to lug my bike & other two bags through three tube stations & a long way down the road to friends’ house. Also a quick look at Harrow on the Hill & Harrow School where Churchill went & some of Harry Potter was filmed. Thankfully, the shift work preparation managed to negate most of the effects of jet lag.

Bikes & Suits

After a few days of replacing various worn parts on my bike, making sure it goes again & giving it a good clean (maybe it will get through quarantine with less mud on it) – the bike is packed up in its bag for the first time in two months. The big question is – can I fit a suit in there too without damaging it (the suit, not the bike)? I sure hope so, because I don’t want to wear a suit for close on twenty-four hours.

All this of course is in preparation for next week’s departure to Europe. The trip has been prompted by my cousin’s wedding in Italy (late June) – which is a great reason for finally packing up my bike & myself for six weeks to have a look at what the UK & small parts of Europe has to offer in the way of mountain-biking & sights. The basic outline is depart for London next Wednesday; one night in London then off to Basel, Switzerland for the weekend with a uni mate (coincidentally, one of the Euro 2008 quarter-finals will be on in town that weekend – should be good, not that we can afford tickets; back to London for a week of visiting friends & probably a lot of museums; eight or nine days in Tuscany for the wedding; then back to Britain for a road-trip up to Scotland & down to southern England with my parents.

Biking to go places, going places to bike.