London, England by bicycle
When Frank Greco first thought about cycling around the busy, traffic-clogged streets of London, he admits he was a bit intimidated, especially when he didn’t get a helmet when picking up his bicycle.
“Our tour took us across bridges and some very busy streets,” said Greco, host of the travel TV show The Travel Guy and a Port Colborne native.
“I had many double-decker buses, taxis and automobiles whoosh by me. At times we did slow down traffic, but no one honked at us, they were patient and we crossed roads safely. Now I can brag that I rode a bike in London traffic.”
He decided on a bicycle tour — a 10-kilometre route with London Bicycle Tour Co. at Gabriel’s Wharf — as a different way to see London.
“Our guide, Sebastiaan told us that it was going to be a nice leisurely ride with some minor traffic congestion, but all would be very enjoyable.”
Stops on the tour included seeing Big Ben, the Parliament Building, The Eye, London Bridge, St. Bartholomew (the church from the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral), gardens, markets, shopping districts, parks, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace.
“Sebastiaan gave us a very interesting commentary along the way.”
Greco said the bicycle tour is one way to see London, a very expensive city, on a budget.
He said if you’re in London, there are things you can do to make things a little less expensive. One of those is to get a London Transit Pass.
“Whether for a day of unlimited rides or a six-day, the pass includes the underground (also known as the Tube), buses, trams, Docklands Light Rail and over-ground trains. It is a very smart idea since a one-way ticket on the subway is about £4 (More than CDN$6). The one-day unlimited pass is about £7 (just more than CDN$11). It’s a bargain.”
Not only is it a bargain, Greco said, but it can be incorporated with the London Pass, which gives cardholders free entry to more than 55 attractions in the city.
Some of the attractions are the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, the London Bridge Experience and a Thames River Cruise.
“The card even allows one to jump the queue and get in the front of the line at various attractions. The pass can be ordered online at www.londonpass.com and varies in price from about $73 for a day to just more than $158 for a six-day pass.”
Greco recommends getting a London street map and a map for the Tube system.
“They may be overwhelming to look at and hard to understand at times, but don’t fret, Londoners are very helpful. As soon as one notices a tourist fumbling their map or is consistently looking lost, they will step in to the rescue. Once thanked they reply, ‘No bother.’”
Using the passes and various modes of transport available, Greco recommends visiting a number of places while in London.
One of those places is Apsley House, home of the first Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon Bonaparte. The home is also known as Number One London because it was the first house encountered from the countryside after passing the tollgates at the top of Knightsbridge. Its actual address is 149 Piccadilly.
“A must see is the huge marble statue of a naked Napoleon, it’s about 12 feet tall. The Duke took it and a number of other items from Napoleon. Now a museum, the home contains an extensive collection of paintings depicting various Kings, Queens, Czars, Napoleon and Wellington as well as medals and other artifacts. On display are the death masks of both Napoleon and Wellington.”
Near Apsley House is the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, dedicated to the late Diana Princess of Wales. The fountain is located in the southwest corner of Hyde Park, and its cornerstone was laid in September 2003. It was officially opened in July 2004 by Queen Elizabeth II.
Greco said visitors should stop in East London, an area that is becoming home to many celebrities, amazing bars, pubs and restaurants, markets, museums and art galleries, vintage buildings rich in history, retailers and authentic food shops some exclusively sell British foods.
“I visited a very unique pub and restaurant called Boisdale of Bishopsgate, located at Swedeland Court in front of the Liverpool street underground station. This pub is easy to miss because the Court is the actual size of a small concrete hallway nestled in between a restaurant and small corner convenience retailer. A walk inside revealed a welcoming bar with a large array of whiskies. One bottle that caught my eye was a 1946 Macallan bottle centrally and proudly displayed. A shot from this bottle is £1,000 … a little too rich for me.”
Also in East London is The Canary Wharf, London’s second business district. Its centrepiece is One Canada Square, once the tallest building in the U.K. and built by a Canadian company.
“Canary Wharf is situated on an island called the Isle of Dogs and access means crossing a river by bridge or tunnel. It is a fascinating place to walk about as there are more than 60 works of art in various buildings and courtyards for visitors to explore.”
While visiting all sorts of attractions is one of the main things Greco likes to do on a trip, he said eating the local food ranks up there as well.
In London, he decided to try traditional fish and chips and was lucky enough to find one of the original fish and chips shops in the country, the Rock and Sole Plaice. The shop is located in the Covent Garden area of London.
“It is a small out of the way restaurant with great staff, service and it has an extremely tiny kitchen where they prepare every order in minutes. Manager Ov Ahmet told me the shop opened in 1871 with two other fish and chips establishments in London at the time. He said the other two have since closed their doors. Although the name has changed over the years, fish and chips have always been made at that location. Ahmet made my order using cod, it was perfectly flakey and melted in my mouth and the chips weren’t shabby either.”
Greco said the shop prepares the fish and chips in a certain way and wouldn’t Ahmet wouldn’t reveal the secret. One thing he did reveal, said Greco, was that newspaper was no longer used to wrap the fish as it took away from the flavour.