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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

July 14th: Staines Upon Thames to London

The day before after I arrived, I'd asked our AirBnB host, who was a cyclist as well, what the best route into London was. He didn't actually know, so I showed him the two alternatives Google offered me. The northern route was shorter, and the southern route was longer, adding 22 minutes. He took one glance and said, "Oh, go through Richmond Park. That's got acres of real estate and will get rid of most of your annoying traffic." Of course, the next morning, those options had disappeared because Google thinks that under light traffic, an A road was preferable to a park!
Bowen had gotten up at 5am. I took the laundry and stuck it into the dryer but the dryer wasn't very effective. There was no chance I'd let the morning go to waste, and the Thames ride was going to be pretty anyway, so we backtracked through some of yesterday's ride and proceeded along the B roads towards London. While there was traffic, much of it was going the opposite way, so we were unstressed. At Bushy Park, we made the turn off and negotiated a gate into the park.
Once in the park it was a relief: no traffic whatsoever. At the fountain, however, Google wanted me to join the main road, when it was obvious that riding through the park was the right thing to do. Well, that caused me to turn off Google navigation and just follow my brain instead.
At the far end of the park, I asked other cyclists what the best way to London was. To my surprise, everyone said, "Oh, that's a long way." It was hard for me to keep from saying: "Look, we came all the way from Manchester. Even the street signs say 14 miles. That's no big deal at all!" After two or three useless replies, I was given directions by a teenager who said, "Follow this path, at the end of it there's a bridge, cross the bridge and turn right." This wasn't hard to follow, and when we got to the bridge the National Bike Route signs once again appeared, along with the incredibly tandem unfriendly bike infrastructure.
Once on the other side of the bridge, we followed the National Bike Route signs towards London, and were rewarded with a well marked path all the way to Richmond Park, whereupon we started to feel sprinkling of water on our faces. It never got much worse than that, though --- it wasn't even worth putting on rain jackets for that!
On the other side of Richmond Park, things got a little bit more suburban, and I turned Google navigation back on. Google navigation (via the Wahoo Elemnt app/head unit) actually does a decent job in cities and other populated areas. In any case, I could still follow the National Bike Route signs. I was expecting things to get more unpleasant and suburban, but they were mostly quite nice until we crossed the Hammersmith bridge with 4 miles to go until our hotel.
Once across the bridge, we were in London proper, and Google routed us into a series of busier and busier streets until we were mixing it up on Euston Road with double-decker buses and myriad car traffic. There were markings indicating that we were allowed to use the bus lane, so that's what we did. It was still stressful after all the country riding we did, but we eventually made it to Cartwright Gardens and checked into Studios2Let.

Well, we were actually too early to check-in, but they were happy to let us leave our bags and bike at the hotel while we went to explore the town. The first order of business was to walk to the London Euston train station where we had a snack and then picked up our train tickets for the next day. We found a Virgin Trains representative who explained how we were to find the correct platform and to board the train. Then we went to the visitor center for an Oyster card, and while we were at it, bought tickets for the London Eye. We got instructions to take the bus to 221B Baker street and then the subway to the London Eye. We opted out of Madame Tussauds and other experiences that felt more like theme park attractions than a true London experience.

The 221B Baker Street Sherlock Holmes museum. I was unprepared for how long the line was, but having been to the one in Meiringen, I had to complete the set. Once inside, it was very well done, with replicas of Holmes and Watson's study, and even wax figures of some of the events and people in the stories. Bowen was quite bored, but I promised that we'd visit the London Eye and then London Bridge after that.
At the London Eye, I was dismayed that we had to go to the ticket counter to exchange our vouchers for tickets. Once there, I discovered that you could pay  $10/person for "fast track" access, and also add a river cruise for $6.50. Since we were going to be in London for just one day, we opted for Fast Track and also picked the river cruise. The Eye came with a 4D experience that was short but worth the time.
The view from the London Eye was spectacular. The ferris wheel moved very slowly, so we had a hard time even being able to tell that we were moving. Getting on and off was quite a scramble, but once off we could move straight on to the river cruise.
From the river cruise boat, we got a nice tour of the buildings along the Thames, and when we saw Tower Bridge, I asked Bowen if he'd like to see it, and the answer was "Yes!" So once we disembarked, we headed straight for it.
One of the coolest thing about the Tower Bridge was that we got there just as the bridge was being raised to allow a ship through. Then there were the glass walkways, the animated film of the bridge being built, and the engine room exhibits. Best of all: no lines! Bowen enjoyed the engine room quite a bit, but by the time we were done with the tour he was too tired to walk, so I had to carry him back to the subway station. Since he was up at 5:00am, the best thing was to buy supermarket stuff to make dinner back at the studio, and then have an early night. So we bought Spaghetti, Lagsane, Eggs, and Salad and headed back.

Once at the studio, we were given the keys, and to our surprise were shown to an apartment right next to Mabel's Tavern! One snafu we encountered was that my handlebar bag had been place elsewhere than the usual place for bags, and the staff could not find it. I remembered the closet the staff had shoved it into, and dug through it and found it! Fortunately, the tavern turned out not to be too noisy. We had our dinner and bath and went to bed happy not to have to do laundry.

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