Trip update: This week I have thoroughly enjoyed riding around London. I hope that the people that then-Mayor Boris Johnson hired to turn London into a bicycle-friendly city stayed on after he left office, because I have never ridden in a city so well equipped as London for cycling. The CS routes (“Cycle Superhighway”), a system of protected bike lanes, cover most of the City itself, and throughout Greater London, there are bike lanes on most major streets. Also, the many bus lanes are restricted to buses, taxis, and bicycles, adding to the coverage. Most important, however, is the safety provided by numbers. Literally thousands of cyclists use the streets of London everyday, all day. Sometimes, there are more bicycles than cars on the streets. They are so common that motorists have grown accustomed to them. Given the natural courtesy of British drivers, it makes for a safe situation for both motorist and cyclist. The only weak links in the picture are distracted pedestrians, and the undecided or stupid cyclist, who tries to pass a bus on the inside. Neither of those is common, and the city has done what it can: each bus has a yellow sticker on the inner rear corner, warning cyclists about buses making frequent stops, and most major intersections have reminders painted on the crosswalks (“Look Left” “Look Right”). Also, I saw very few cyclists running red lights, especially considering the number of cyclists out there.
Last Sunday, I repeated Friday’s trip to Hampstead. My friend Peter, who had been the vicar of Christ Church in Naples when I was stationed there, has retired to Christ Church Hampstead, and invited me to lunch after the 1100 Eucharist. The exterior of the church was covered by scaffolding for the ongoing restoration. Photography was not permitted inside, but I can assure you that Christ Church is a beautiful example of the Gothic architecture, and its recently cleaned and restored stained glass window were a marvel. (The two photos are from the church’s website.) They were ringing the changes when I arrived. In restoring the bells, they had created a balcony for the ringers, so we could see them. Really cool. I had been interested in change ringing ever since reading The Seven Tailors by Dorothy Sayers. Though it is a dying art even in England, I have been lucky to visit churches that ring the changes in Wells, Bath, and Salisbury. At Christ Church, I enjoyed a “live performance.”
Monday, the rain came down in buckets, which made it an easy thing to stay in and work on books, both mine and my client’s. I put in a full day, then treated myself to an Italian dinner at Masaniello in downtown Twickenham. My hosts had recommended the place, and I was not disappointed. The cuisine was authentic and the seafood fresh. I did not have to use English from the time I approached the place on the sidewalk, until I walked back to the bus after supper.
Tuesday started out sunny but cool. I took the train to Waterloo Station, then rode to Greenwich. I spent the whole day in the Royal Park of Greenwich: the Observatory, the park, and the Maritime Museum. When the museum closed, the sky was dark and the mercury had dropped. I took refuge from the downpour in the Greenwich Tavern, but after a half-hour, it was clear that the rain was not stopping soon. It being rush hour, I could not take the train, so I rode back to Twickenham in the rain, accompanied by hundreds of commuters doing the same thing. My Arc’teryx rain jacket was more cover than most of them had. At least it warmed up a bit before I started out, so the rain did not chill me. Still, it felt good to get back to the flat and dry out.
Wednesday, I caught the 9:41 train to Waterloo from Twickenham. My friend Luca joined me at Richmond Station, then led me on a special tour of Central London. It was a beautiful, sunny morning, that turned cold by the time we got off the train. A long-time resident and veritable Renaissance man, Luca took me to sights that are not on the usual tourist itinerary: the gallery at the Courland Institute and Somerset House, Saint Bartholomew the Greater, and unique churches, such as St. George’s and the only Baroque church in London. The spitting drizzle and high winds could not dampen my enthusiasm for what he showed me. We toured the Temple, where the barristers work, across the street from the High Courts of Justice, while Luca explained the history of the transfer of assets from the Templars to the Knights of St. John (the Hospitallers), and how the latter remade themselves as the modern ambulance service. He clarified the difference between a solicitor and a barrister, which I have never been able to understand from dictionaries and other books.
We also visited the British Museum, which is as amazing as its reputation. The friezes of the Acropolis and the Nereid tomb gave me pause, not just for the sheer beauty and majesty of such ancient art, but the impact of seeing masterpieces missing from sites that I had visited in Greece and Turkey. I learned about the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos, one of the seven ancient Wonders of the World. The top of the mausoleum was repeated in the Church of Saint George, which is a survey of Western architecture in a single building.
Thursday, I checked on new storage options, and decided to lease a locker close to where I am staying, because I will be back here later. I let Moore’s Cycles in Twickenham clean and tune the bicycle while I repacked for the flight. Then I took the bicycle and my panniers to Access Self Storage, and locked them up for the summer. A spicy dinner of Indian curry downtown, and back to the flat for my last night.
Friday, I made my way by bus and tube to Heathrow. It felt strange to head out on foot with two back packs (the blue to check; the yellow as carry-on) instead of panniers on my bicycle. With the grey drizzle claiming the skies, I chose to check in early and have lunch in the duty-free shopping mall behind security. With charging stations at the tables and strong WiFi everywhere, the Leon restaurant at Heathrow made the business of doing business in an airport relatively painless. I landed in Vancouver at 0245 London time, having been up for 24 hours on the same Friday with never a sunset. There are so many free music events in Vancouver this weekend, that I will have to tell you about them next week.
Next week, another sea story, then back to the discussion of lessons learned about living and working abroad.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,