London – the First Time

April 10-14, 2014

Flying to London for a stroll through the city streets

Dan and I took a couple of days off in April for our first trip to London. Aaron, a friend of Dan’s, offered to let us stay with him in Hertford, a small town north of London. We left the house at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am on Thursday and took the bus to the Euro Airport where our EasyJet plane was waiting for us. We arrived at Gatwick Airport, took the express into London and found a place to store our bags for the day.

Liverpool Station, London

The trip started out perfect: we found The Breakfast Club, a perfect place to recharge and fill the bellies. I took a chance and ordered the Bacon and Bananas French Toast – and I was not disappointed! The combination worked surprisingly well!

The Breakfast Club

After breakfast we wandered aimlessly around the city. We saw The Gherkin in the distance and headed in that direction. A small classic car gathering was in a plaza, the American muscle cars seemingly completely out of place in this ancient city. We stopped by Christchurch Spitalfields, a church that was built as part of the “Fifty New Churches act of 1711” to combat the ‘godless thousands’ that lurked outside the city walls. I was unimpressed, although it did remind me of the simple Methodist church my parents took me to as a child.

Christchurch Spitalfields

The Gherkin loomed into view and as we passed by Dan suggested the we go to the Bank district next. Our route took us to the edge of the Thames, where I got my first view of Tower Bridge spanning the water. The day was beautiful and sunny and we walked along the water for a short while before heading back into the thick of the city.

Random fabric market

Plenty of bikes (and scooters) in London

1500’s and 2000’s architecture

Tower Bridge

There we happened upon a Special Escort Group doing their special escorting in a group. By the time we saw them the escorted vehicle was waiting at an entrance gate while the bikes turned around in the cul-de-sac. I was surprised to see that the bike of choice was a Honda VFR, and not the BMW that I expected. Oh well – the VFR is a great bike too.

I wish Switzerland had these. Or fewer smokers; that would be nice

Bicycle ambulance

We passed by famous landmarks as we continued to walk to the Bank district. A charity event for the military was taking place with a lineup of well-dressed patrons waiting under the sun. I wanted to go into St Paul’s Cathedral, but was put off by the “no photos” rule and the entrance fee. Bah humbug – I took some pictures anyway before I walked back out the door.

St Paul’s Cathedral

Surreptitious shot inside the cathedral

We had reached Oxford Circus and were in the neighborhood of the only place we had made plans to visit: the Belstaff store. Belstaff makes fantastic old school motorcycle jackets almost too stylish to be considered actual motorcycle gear, but we wanted to see what they had. What they had in this store was…nothing. Dress clothes, fancy fashion boots, summer tops – but no motorcycle gear in sight. They did have two fantastic motorcycles on display, including a 1930 BMW that raced in the 1939 Isle of Mann, but no gear. Eventually someone asked if she could help us and we asked about the motorcycle gear. Turns out they had half a dozen jackets “in the back” that she could bring out for us. Much to my surprise Dan said yes. I thought he wanted one, but instead he insisted that I try one on. It fit perfectly! He encouraged me to get it since I liked it too, so we made the purchase and left it there to pick up later in the day.

Inside the Belstaff store

Our map said that we were near Hyde Park and I was eager to get out of the crowds that were on just about every street since we had gotten off the train. Before we could get to Hyde Park we had to cross through Berkeley Square, a small preview of the green space that I was looking forward to reaching. Berkeley Square was nice, with a colorful Chihuly glass sculpture in the middle and some guy’s blue macaws playing on a park bench. We took a break on one of the few open benches so I could rest my feet before continuing on.

Berkeley Square

Saudi plates

Hyde Park

Hyde Park is big. We headed directly for lake and then skirted along the south side of the lake before being stopped by an interesting sight. Four horseback riders sat on their mounts in a small riding area, being watched by a man in camouflage clothing and directed by a man in a smart military uniform. We stopped to watch.

The Barracks

They were young recruits for The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment and obviously fairly new at the job. One guy’s back was covered in dirt from an earlier tumble, and after watching him attempt to ride his horse over another jump, I could see why. The teacher looked over to the camouflaged man and gave a wry smile. The camouflaged man just rolled his eyes and walked away, returning to the barracks across the street. Dan and I watched for a bit longer before continuing our exploration.

No trip to London is complete with a photo of one of these

The Albert Memorial shone brightly while the Geographic Society’s ancient brick buildings seemed to shrink from the sun. The National History Museum loomed large but my feet we killing me by now. It was late in the afternoon and time to think about getting back to the train station. But first, a break. We found a Starbucks for a “comfort stop” and then went back to Belstaff to pick up my jacket. The sidewalks were still crammed full of people and by now I was sick of it. If the next three days were like this I may never come back!

Geographic Society buildings

Albert Memorial

Royal Albert Hall

End of day traffic

We picked up our bags at the “Left Bags” depot in Liverpool station and found our way to the train that would take us north to Hertford (pronounced “Hartford”) and Aaron’s house. The ride was 40 minutes and Aaron was there to pick us up. He took us to a local pub (Quiz night!) where I had a fantastic burger and chips. And it was so cheap! I would weigh 300 pounds if I lived in England.

It was the end of a very long day. We had gotten up at essentially 3:30 am London time and it was now after 11 pm. I was very done and only too happy to crawl into bed for the night.

Day II

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