London Days 3 & 4: Bikes, Miles, History and Royalty

Warning: Long post ahead!

I did try my best to branch out towards British breakfast shops and take-away cafes during this trip, but the convenience and familiarity of Starbucks got me every time. Seriously. After emerging from whatever tube station we were traveling through towards our morning destination, a Starbucks could be found just a few meters away. It became our morning routine, though I must say that European Starbucks shops have MUCH BETTER food, pastries, beverage offerings, etc. than American ones. And this is coming from a true Starbucks aficionado. (I, personally, am tired of all the La Boulange pastries and soggy croissants...)

Anyway, that's how we began each morning and it was a relaxing haven to eat, drink, use the Internet and map out our day by foot and train.

We've taken to accidentally staying up very late (jet lag has not quite restored our bodies to "normal" yet), which in turn means we've been waking up late as well. Normally this would bother both of us as we may feel like we're missing something and have to get up early to hit the road, but we also enjoy feeling rested each day and having the energy to walk several miles. So we haven't begun our morning journeys each day until at least 10am.

On Monday the 6th, we started our day with a bike tour of London, which is personally one of our favorite ways to see a new city. I have done bike tours in Rome, Munich, Neuschwanstein, Barcelona, Paris, Seville and now London. They are usually around 4 hours but include lunch stops, friendly guides, historical information and a new way to see a city. Highly recommended! You can find bike tours through Tripadvisor, though if you are going to Barcelona, London, Paris or Berlin, I would suggest Fat Tire Bike Tours who we have used twice already. They are awesome! We have also used Mike's Bike Tours in Germany who I also really like.

Anyway, we had a lively and spirited group traveling with us by bike and an excellent tour guide named Harry who loves Portland and has been a few times before. We quickly became fast friends with him as he was our age and we swapped stories of the Rose City during the ride.

During our tour we saw:

  • Buckingham Palace during the Changing of the Guards (a first for me!)
  • Kensington Palace where Queen Victoria grew up and the house annex where Kate, William, George and Charlotte live
  • Hyde Park
  • Kensington Park
  • St. James Park
  • Trafalgar Square
  • The Princess Diana memorial fountain
  • The Horse Guards Palace
  • The Prince Albert Memorial
and many other quiet and peaceful London sights. 

Stopping in front of Kensington Palace for some historical information

Our great Fat Tire guide, Harry

Kensington Palace 
Soaking up the knowledge...

The Kensington Palace Annex where the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge live 
The Wellington Monument

Buckingham Palace during the Changing of the Guard

The Horse Guard's Palace

Westminster Abbey

View of Buckingham Palace from St. James Park 
The Princess Diana Memorial Fountain... playing in the fountain is not allowed...

The Prince Albert Memorial

Following the bike tour, we walked a mile or so into Notting Hill and it was incredibly picturesque. The sun was shining, there were plenty of organic and specialty food shops, boutiques, cafes, etc. It is a quiet reprieve to visit from the bustle of London central, and while Portobello Road is famously well-known for its markets, it's routinely littered with street vendors selling junk and fake designer goods, making it unfortunately a bit trashy. The Portobello Market is very popular when it is holding its antiques and food shopping, but when the traditional market is closed, the road isn't very cool.

We have taken to doing a lot of walking on this trip, as London is a very explorable city by foot between sites and tube rides are quite expensive at around $3 one way per stop. We easily spent $50 on tickets alone in our first few days and then realized we could get around just as easily by walking (or renting a city bike! More on that, later...)

The following day, we visited the British Library, where, in a nutshell, this is the most amazing Library I have ever been in, and a wealth of historical data is at your fingertips to literally study. Plop your laptop down and get a cup of coffee and pour through 1,000+ year old books like it's no big deal. A few things we saw at the BL:

1. Handwritten manuscripts from Dickens (Nicholas Nickelby), Jane Austen (Persuasion), Charlotte Bronte (Jane Eyre), Elizabeth Barrett Browning (How Do I Love Thee?), Oscar Wilde (House of Pomegranates)

2. Hand-drafted music from Bach (The Well-Tempered Clavier), Mozart, Beethover, Kafka, Debussey, Stravinsky, and more.

3. Shakespeare's First Folio

4. A letter from Winston Churchill outlining the purpose of The Monuments Men

5. Letter begging Lord Robert Cecil, head of the League of Nations, to allow Germany to enter the League, "Because it would be in the best interest of all parties."

6. Aesop's Fables, The Gutenberg Bible

7. A joint letter from Henry VIII and Anne Bolelyn asking the Cardinal for an update on Henry's annulment from Katherine of Aragon

8. A letter written by Karl Marx

9. Hand-written Beatles lyrics to "Help," "Yesterday," "A Hard Day's Night," and "Michelle"

10. The Duke of Wellington's personal account of Waterloo

11. A proclamation declaring Napoleon's abdication from the throne

12. .... a ledger book showing a 12,000 GBP line item for wines for Napoleon

... and I could go on and on and on. The British Library is such an incredible place to take in world history!

Beatles Lyrics - hand written

Papyrus with some of the book of Exodus on it
Tyndale's Illustrated New Testament

A blurry and sneaky photo of the Gutenberg Bible due to the fact that the guard told me to stop taking photos or I would have to leave... oops...

As I mentioned before, we got tired of riding the tube and paying so much money (plus, talk of the tube strikes were beginning and we were anxious to avoid that method of transportation), so we opted to try London's city bikes which cost two pounds for 24 hours. There are many designated bike lanes and parks throughout the city which we learned on the previous day's bike tour, so we decided to bike 4 miles back to Kensington to get a better look at William and Kate's house, and then visit one of London's highest-rated restaurants that was (supposedly!) budget-friendly.

The ride through the city of London (Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, the parks, etc.) was surreal. Here we are, little Oregonians across the world pretending like we're London commuters and using city bikes to ride on the left hand side of the road like we know what we're doing and use a map to find a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Ffionas which we had no idea if it would even be good or not. We're all about taking risks though!

The long bike ride was worth it and we made it to Ffionas 20 minutes before she opened. She (Ffiona) was waiting at the door chatting with passersby while her kitchen staff finished their dinner, and we asked her if she was seating or if we should wait until 6:00. She said that we could sit down and proceeded to fawn over us and treat us like VIPs as the only customers in the restaurant. It was a tiny hole-in-the-wall place behind Kensington Palace and had amazing food and drinks and service. It was easy to spend too much money here because she, her food and staff were absolutely fantastic. It was a really special memory to be sitting there... but then we realized we were so far from our flat and had to figure out how to get back properly!

We used the opportunity to get completely lost, ride the wrong double-decker bus 3 miles in the opposite direction, get on the right double decker bus, change buses, get off at the wrong bus stop, walk in the wrong direction back to the flat (I have never missed Google Maps more...) and finally make it home after dinner two hours later. But at least we had the memories.

We logged 18 miles on foot those two days, and we didn't even get to record the number of miles we had by bike which was definitely at least 5 - 7. Working off the fish & chips has been a piece of cake. :)

Our common walking map distances

Just biking right along...

Where is Princess Charlotte??


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