Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Cycling Europe 2017 Days 19 to 22: Of Cycling In London & A Reunion

                                     AhPek Biker - Riding Adventures                                   
Cycling Europe 2017 Days 19 to 22: Cycling The Streets London & A Reunion
United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Netherlands & Germany : Days 19 to 22 - Friday to Monday,  15th to 18th September - Brussels to London
This is part of cycling tour of Western Europe, covering from Brussels (Belgium) to London (England) and around London:
Day 21 Cycling route of exploring the streets of London:
Cycling Distance - 31.66 km.     Level: Easy.
Cycling Time : 9:00am to 5:00pm
Time Taken : 8 hrs. (inclusive of morning tea & lunch, visiting, parks, various places of interest, shopping, rest, and many photo opps).

This is page 13 of a 13-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
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Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions!
        On the Continental Europe, vehicles are left-hand drive, so cycle on the right. The England vehicles are right-hand drive so cycle on the left. And do remember the traffic directions at road crossing. Fortunately in the United Kingdom, road markings at zebra crossings reminds pedestrian/cyclists to look left OR right when crossing. Also note that often cycling lanes run next to pedestrian lanes at town and city areas, at crossings there are separate lanes for pedestrians and bicycles, so stick to the correct lane.

2. Route & Traffic Conditions  
The route on Day 21 takes us round London to various renown tourist sites and is rather flat. For route planning the following sites are helpul: has a feature to plan a route (journey) in the UK, click here to plan a journey route.
 Cycle Travel which has a very user-friendly cycle travel route planner, routes using this planner can be saved and also converted to GPX format for use in GPS devices.

3. Weather
15th September 2018
   In Brussels morning temperature averaged at 14°C. with a low of 10°C. Wind speed averaged at 15 kph with gusts up to 25 kph.
17th September 2018
   In London day temperature ranged from at 14°C to 18°C. Wind speed averaged at 18 kph with almost continuous gusts up to 25 kph.
   It is always prudent to check the weather for the next day so as to know what to expect and be prepared for it. Useful weather forecast sites are BBC WeatherAccuWeather and Weather Spark.

4. Places of Interest
On Day 21 (17th Septemper):
- St. Pancras Station (GPS: 51.53044, -0.12367).
- The British Museum (GPS: 51.51941, -0.12695).
- Lincoln's Inn (GPS: 51.51643, -0.11454).
- Red British telephone booths at Carey Street (GPS: 51.51497, -0.11299), behind the Royal Courts of Justice.
- The Royal Courts of Justice (GPS: 51.51366, -0.11321).
- Lambeth Bridge (GPS: 51.49456, -0.12312), for one of the best view of London along the River Thames.
- Westminster Abbey (GPS: 51.49929, -0.1273).
- Buckingham Palace (GPS: 51.50267, -0.13866), the GPS location is for the good viewpoint location along The Mall to watch the Queen's Guard march by.
- St. James's Park (GPS: 51.50245, -0.13481).
- Admiralty Arch (GPS: 51.50678, -0.12865).
- Trafalgar Square (GPS: 51.50803, -0.12806).
- Goodwin's Court (GPS: 51.51093, -0.12658), where???
- Covent Garden (GPS: 51.51177, -0.12319).
- Wellington Arch (GPS: 51.50259, -0.15085).
- Australian War Memorial (GPS: 51.50258, -0.15191).
- Hyde Park (GPS: 51.504, -0.16976).
- Kesington Gardens (GPS: 51.50698, -0.17916)
- Albert Memorial (GPS: 51.50244, -0.17771).
- Royal Albert Hall (GPS: 51.50102, -0.17744).
- Queen's Victoria's statue (GPS: 51.50539, -0.18602), at Kesington Gardens.

5. Food
On Day 19:
   - Breakfast: waffles at the Waffle Factory in Brussels.
   - Lunch: take-away pastries and sandwiches.
   - Dinner: Chinese dishes at New Fortune Cookie Restaurant.
On Day 21:
   - Breakfast: coffee & muffins at Inn the Park, St. James's Park.
   - Lunch: Lobsters noodles and side dishes at Mandarin Kitchen Bayswater.
   - Dinner: Vietnamese Phở & side dishes at Thanh Binh Restaurant.
Other meals were at relatives' homes.

6. Accommodations
I stayed with a relative in London.
The girls stayed three nights at Abercorn House at £54 per twin room per night.
Address: 28-30 Bute Gardens, Hammersmith (West Central London), London W6 7D5
Tel: +44-02085638692

7. Bringing Bikes Onto European Trains
    We took the Eurostar from Gare du Midi Station (Brussels) to St. Pancras International Station (London). The tickets were pre-booked about four months prior at €67.00. Folding bikes have to be bagged otherwise there is a charge. Tickets for the Eurostar can be purchase up to 180 days prior to the travel date on line via their site, The earlier the purchase the cheaper the fare (as low as €40.00, at time of this blog).
    From London we took the London Underground up to Heathrow Terminal 4, fare was £6. I took the train from Swiss Cottage Station with a train change at Green Park Station. For those heading to Terminal 4 there is a change of train at Hatton Cross Station. This is one of the cheapest ware to get to the airport; folding bikes need not be bagged, only folded.
    Details on bringing bikes onto some European trains can be obtained from the site.

8. Communicating with Each Other
    When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost.
    We got pre-paid SIM cards from UK mobile provider Three under the All-in-One #15 deal for only £15/= from one of their outlets in Bristol (GPS: 51.45735, -2.59074). This plan lasts for 30 days and allows for 5GB Data, 3,000 minutes of call time & 3,000 text messages within the system. More importantly it has their "Feel At Home" which allow the phone's data, call and messaging allowance to be used in sixty countires (mostly European and also Singapore) without any extra charges!

9. Communicating with Locals
    In Belgium, the locals speak Flemish, Dutch and French. Many can speak English fleuntlyly, so communicating with them is not a problem.
    When communicating with locals is a problem, this could be partly overcome by using translation apps like Google Translate. Do install this app into your phone and before you leave on your tour do some basic translation as it will be saved onto a list of recent translations.
    Look out for the tourist information booths at airports, railway stations or bus stations, the guides manning the booths speak very good English and do give good tips on where to visit, directions, train and bus schedule.

10. Navigation
    As Bill had pre-planned the route and had loaded the GPX route file onto his Garmin GPS unit. I was the assistant navigator and had loaded the route maps onto my unit too.

11. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
    Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools.


We had spent the previous three days in Brussels, taking some short rides around the city to visit several of the city's sights, including the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Surprisingly, we even got to try some Moroccan food there!
We say goodbye to Brussels and now head for London, but it's not cycling back but via the Eurostar.


Day 19 Route from Brussels to London:
(Note: Zoom in to London for detailed route.)
Cycling Distance: =16.80     |     Eurostar Distance: 374.00km     |     Total Distance: 390.80km
Time : 10:00am to 7:00pm
Time Taken : 9 hrs. (inclusive of immigration clearance, waiting for train ride, breakfast & dinner, quick stops at parks, and many photo opps).
This route starts with a quick cycling stint to the Gare du Midi Station (Brussels), and then a 2-hr Eurostar train ride to the St. Pancras Station (London). It ends with some cycling on the streets of London.

Haha... sorry the girls are not in London yet; we had just rode a quick stint to the Gare du Midi Station  to catch our Eurostar high speed train ride to London. This was at the station, with poster prints advertising the London Millennium Footbridge on the left, and the iconic glass skyscraper, The Shard (which is the tallest building in the United Kingdom). Very apt as we would be cycling around London in a couple of day.
The 375 km. train journey would take two hours, crossing over to England via the 54.5 km. Chunnel (French: Le tunnel sous la Manche). I was trying to catch the moment the train entered the Chunnel..... Whoooooosh! At a top speed of 335 kmh the train was just to fast to catch that moment. Nevermind, I will catch the moment when the train exited..... Dang! I fell asleep, the dimness in the tunnel just lulls one to sleep. Haha!

At the Boardwalk in Hyde Park.
4:05pm - We arrive at the St. Pancras International Station and said our goodbyes to each other; here our team tour ends. Bill and Meng will catch a bus to Bristol, while the girls will be staying at the Abercorn House hostel. But not to worry I won't be missing the girls' cheerful disposition, we will meet again in a couple of days.
In the meantime I will be staying with my cousin Kate and will spend some time visiting relatives. I called Kate to announce my arrival .... Ta Dah!
This was when the comedy of errors started. It was drizzling so I tried to catch a Uber ride to her place; but somehow it wouldn't accept my reservations stating that my credit card was not valid (despite my prior notifying the card centre of my overseas schedules). AND even worse was that Uber don't seem to accept cash rides!
Ok... don't panic worse come to worse I could take the expensive London cab... OR ... just cycle to Kate's place which was just about five kilometres away. OK, let's cycle; and out came my GPS... and... and... the dang thing just could not locate Kate's address or her street!
Ok... fall-back plan - use Google maps and out came my phone (i.e. fortunately the drizzle was a light one and every now and then I just had to stop to wipe my phone dry). Using Google Maps while cycling was not easy, ever so often I had to stop to re-orientate myself.
My route would take me through several quieter streets and ultimately through Hyde Park; and of course some back-tracking as I often took a wrong turn.

At Hyde Park, I got a call from Kate asking where I was. "Hyde Park..." I said panting a bit. "Good, good." she replied, "Change of plans, let's meet at the New Fortune Cookie Restaurant, it's just at the top end of the park." But then Hyde Park, which continues on and joins to Kesington Gardens, is HUGE! I didn't realize this and that it would take me another twenty minutes to reach her.
At Kesington Gardens, I did a quick stop to snap this photo of the Albert Memorial, and behind it the Royal Albert Hall; both of these were dedications to Prince Albert, the prince consort of Queen VictoriaThe hall was originally supposed to have been called the Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, but the name was changed to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences by Queen Victoria upon laying the Hall's foundation stone in 1867, in memory of her husband consortPrince Albert.

Further on, just outside Kesington Palace was the statue of the great queen herself. This was designed by Princess Louise (Duchess of Argyll) in 1893, this marble statue shows her mother, Queen Victoria, in her coronation robes in 1837 at the age of 18. Queen Victoria was born at Kesington Palace and grew up there.

I finally reached Kate, after my little adventures at the parks, we had a good Chinese dinner before adjourning to her place. Later in the evening we dropped by BBC Broadcasting House. The courtyard of the place is bathed with bluish lights, and floor lights formed a runway pattern pointing towards the All Souls Church at Langham Place.

Back at Kate's place, I had a cozy bedroom to myself and was soon drifting to sleep when I hear some snoring... it wasn't her, it was her pet bulldogs!

(That's my loud snoring)
(That's the dogs' softer snoring)
Good Night... Haha!

A FAMILY REUNION - 16th Septemper
Top of the Morning!
Now that we are in London, must act English - with morning tea and toasts at Kate's lovely, private back garden. Today we will be joining some other relatives for lunch at High Wycombe.

My geography fails me; I thought High Wycombe was somewhere nearby... in actuality it was over fifty kilometres away from London! And it was most kind of Kate to drive me there as I would most probably have been lost taking a train cum cycling over.
Anyways it was good that I spend more time with her to get to know her better; she's is one of my younger relatives and we are almost a generation apart (which translates to - she's young and I am old 👴). On the way up, she pointed a charred out tower; this is the Grenfell Tower where a fire broke out on June 2017 resulting in 71 deaths and over 70 injuries. God bless those poor souls.

My aunt had cooked up a storm; not only a storm but an Asian storm. It was great of her to cook up dishes that I have missed from home. Sure during the tour we had had some Chinese food; but these here were Malaysian food like Chicken Curry, Beef Rendang and even Lor Bak and Sambal! And it was all done home-cooking style, what more could one ask for? Greedy me did wolf down a fair bit!
Also there were a god-daughter, her hubby and daughter.... which made me a grand god-father!
Many thanks Auntie, for a great home-cooked meal!

My uncle did have a few surprises of his own; this is his stash of British ales with unique names like:
Spitfire Amber Kentish Ale. This 4.2% Kentish ale was first brewed in 1990 to commemorate the Battle of Britain which was fought in the skies above Kent 50 years earlier. The beer is named after the legendary Spitfire aeroplane.
- Old Crafty Hen. This is the super premium version of Old Speckled Hen. Old Crafty Hen is a 6.5%abv 'super premium' version of Old Speckled Hen. Crafty Hen is significantly stronger than Speckled Hen, having been matured for several years, giving it a less pronounced flavour that varies from one batch to the next. Old Crafty was listed as number three in The Independent's Top Ten Best Winter Ales. Huh? there are different ales for different seasons?
- and Bishop's FingerBishops Finger Kentish Strong Ale is a connoisseur's beer with excellent credentials and pedigree. It takes its name from the finger-shaped signposts which pointed pilgrims on their way to the tomb of Thomas Becket in Canterbury.
I wonder what will happen if had the two later ones together; what will the old crafty hen do to the bishop's finger? Or would the bishop give the hen the finger? Whooopsie! Hahaha.... I am getting whoozie...

Another good surprise from my uncle, in his garage his collection of old bicycles including a Penny Farthing which he was rebuilding. The above is a vintage and unique 1903 cross-frame Raleigh bicycle made in Nottingham, complete with hand-pump. AND a saddle bag of the original owner, with a name tag stating Lt. Cmdr. Montague Grahame. He was quite a sports personality of his era; there's even a rare book written by him titled, "At the Wheels - Ashore and Afloat".

And also old antique bicycle front and rear lamps. The above is a kerosene-wicker front lamp made by Lucas Ltd. of Birmingham.
(..... for more photos of these old bicycles and accessories, click here)

On the way back, caught sight of another vintage, a restored Hawker Hunter sitting atop a building. I like planes, especially those used in the World Wars and used to assemble miniature model kits of them. The Hunter was one of the earliest production combat jet planes coming into service in the early 1950's.

THE STREETS OF LONDON - 17th September

Cycling route: Swiss Cottage Station>St. Pancras Station>The British Museum>Lincoln's Inn>Lambeth Bridge>Westminster Abbey>Buckingham Palace>St. James's Park>Trafalgar Square>Goodwin's Court>Covent Garden>Hyde Park>Swiss Cottage Station..
Cycling Distance - 31.66 km.     Level: Easy.
Cycling Time : 9:00am to 5:00pm
Time Taken : 8 hrs. (inclusive of morning tea & lunch, visiting parks & various places of interest, shopping, rest, and many photo opps).
This route goes to many of the renown London tourist spots most of the time along quieter streets, lanes and alleys, avoiding as much of the main roads as possible.
Note: where the route runs along busy main roads, it is along segregated cycling paths running beside the road, and could often be against the direction of traffic.

Today I will be a London cycling tour guide and will take the girls for a spin to many of the city's renown spot. I had had followed a of-the-beaten-track cycling tour the previous year when I was in the city, so now it will be my turn to guide the girls around. I only hope that I will not take them "to Horlan (Holland)" a Malaysian term meaning getting lost or lead to trouble.
But I had some help, I usually plot my routes onto MyMaps. I retrieved the map which I had drawn of the earlier tour and there it was with a blue dot with an arrow on one side (that's my present location and heading. It did not give turn-by-turn directions but with it I could navigate and take the girls around (see map above on our route). The route I took them along avoided most of the main roads and even went along very quiet side lanes & back alleys.
I met the girls at King's Cross Station and we were soon cycling round and make our first stop at St. Pancras Station; the girls were their usual cheerful selves, happily posing for my photos. 

I had very good models in them to make my photos livelier!
Below are photos of them at various locations:
At the entrance to Lincoln's Inn.
We went to Bloomsbury Square Garden (that was where my previous tour had started). so that I would get my bearings right and not end up in "Horlan". Next up was the The British Museum, where with not enough time to visit the exhibits, the girls just popped into the compound for some quick photos.
At Lincoln's Inn; unfortunately it was a Sunday and the place was closed, so we could not go in to view the Old Buildings and had to be contented with a photo at the entrance.

At The Strand's Dragon Column.
We rode towards the The Royal Courts of Justice passing by a row of the iconic red British telephone booths at Carey Street and could not resist stopping for some National Geographic style photos (... see top-most photo). At this present era of mobile phones, I wonder whether those are working booths or just put up for show... do people still use pay phones?
Then it was a photo at The Strand at a dragon column sitting at the centre of the road.
Before I go further I better confess that we did not cycle much along the streets of London City, but cycled more on the streets of the City of Westminster. See, officially the City of London covers only a square mile of the old quarters; beyond that is the City of Westminster.
(... click here for a map showing the limits of the City of London, and click here for the limits of City of Westminster).

A quick stint along the Cycling Superhighway....

... led us to the Lambeth Bridge; this is one of the best location to capture a photo along the River Thames as several important landmarks can be shown with one photo (i.e. the Tower of London, the Big Ben, the Parliament House & the London Eye).

At Westminster Abbey; I tried to lead them in through the rear gates (GPS: 51.49793, -0.12854) coming in from Great College Street and leading into the little known Dean's Yard of the abbey; again on a Sunday there was a private function and the rear gates were closed. But the girls were happy just to be at the front.

At Buckingham Palace just before the Queen's Guards march pass...
there were many people up at the palace walls but here at The Mall, (the through-fare leading from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace via the Admiralty Arch) we had the place almost to ourselves...

... and a few gentlemen in long coats and tall hats cycling Penny Farthings around, leading us to a festive mood.

And..... Here comes the Guards marching by at The Mall!

We adjourned to St. James's Park for morning tea and lolled at the park for quite a while - enjoying the scenery and the many birds flying around there. We had some fun with the pigeons... Oops.... seems like it's the other way round - this pigeon is having fun with Siah!

We rode pass Admiralty Arch, made a quick stop at Trafalgar Square, and then came to a narrow lane not be missed: Goodwin's Court. The terrace houses here with bow fronted windows were an inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films. Were it not for those films, this unchanged, centuries old alley would have remained sedentary quite; but now everyday tour groups come by here.

At Covent Garden.
Nearby, I found the FOPP Music Store; they stock a wide range of music CD's and from there I managed to get the Nothing But Thieves (Deluxe Edition) music CD for my son, who couldn't find it from music shops back home.

We looped back, passed through The Mall and Buckingham Palace again to head for our lunch place over at Queensway. Along the way we passed by the marble Wellington Arch and behind it was the Australian War Memorial.
We did not know then that it was a memorial; seeing other tourists climb to pose with the statues there, the girls did likewise.... but our timing was out as a police patrol car approached and politely ordered the girls to come down. Which they did OR otherwise it's the off to the Tower of London for them! (... just joking, but do take note, climbing up to public statues and memorials are not allowed).

We passed through Hyde Park again; but somehow cycling with friends at an unhurried pace, the huge park did not seem as large as when I cycled here alone, a couple of days earlier.

We did a small detour to the Prince Albert Memorial for some photos; this time no climbing onto the statues, we have learnt our lessons.

Finally lunch of lobster noodles at Mandarin Kitchen Bayswater; I had tried this before found it to be very good with lobster meat that were tender and succulent; not sure whether succulent is the right word, but the meat were easily sucked out from the claws and legs... there you are!
After this we parted way, making arrangements to meet up at the airport the next day for our flight home.
(... read more of the lobster noodles)

In the evening, Kate treated me to dinner (I tried to sneakily pay for it, but she would not have it!). This were good Phở  at Thanh Binh Restaurant in Camden Town. The Phở and other side dishes all came very close in flavours, aroma and presentation to those that I have tried in Vietnam. Not surprising seeing that the place and it's kitchen were run by a Vietnamese mother and daughter team.
Many thanks to you Kate, you have been a wonderful host, warm and gracious.

PRIMROSE HILL - 18th September

Today is the day we will be heading back home; but our flight will only be in the evening and we have almost the whole day to spend. I was at a lost of where to go when Kate suggested Primrose Hill, a name which sounded very familiar. Then I recalled that it was the hill Julia Roberts and many other thespians had their movies filmed at as it has one of the best views of London's skyline. So up I went to the top of the hill, slowly pushing my bicycle up from Regent's Park as cycling was not allowed in this park, slowly looking for that particular bench which has appeared in many scenes in movies. Yes... I wanted to emulate and have a likewise photo of me sitting on THAT bench.
But I was so enthralled by the scene I totally forgot to do that. Anyway it was a moody day, with bright sunlight on minute and darkened skies the next, so my photo above does not portray the view well enough, so below is a much better interactive google photo-sphere view by Simon Alves for a better grasp of what it's like on a beautiful sunny day!

Right at the centre is the bench I was suppose to sit and have my photo taken!

Okay, I am getting old-man-long-windedness. To cut a story short, after lunch I took the Tube up to Heathrow Airport. This is one off the cheapest and easiest way to get up to the airport and folding bikes need not be bagged, just folded before entering the platforms. The fare from the Swiss Cottage Station was just £6/=, I think it's one of the cheapest airport train fare in the world.

A surrealistic peep of the Airbus A380 that will take us back to Kuala Lumpur.


(For more photos of the Days 19 & 20, Click Here)
(For more photos of the Days 21 & 22, Click Here)

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