Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Days of London sights

The last & next three days have & will be spent seeing a few of the many sights that London has to offer (with the help of my trusty London Pass saving me many, many pounds - I'm not sure when the holiday part starts - after the busy weekend in Basel, it hasn't really let up with many hours spent walking, reading placards, sitting/standing on the tube - still it beats shift work.

With walking around London being stangely familiar & a case of happening on landmarks, it's been quite enjoyable. Highlights from the last three days have been Windsor, especially St George's Chapel & the State apartments with all the portraits; Eton (seeing students' names carved in the stone from five hundred years ago is a little strange when your own country isn't anywhere near that old); Tower Bridge & the old steam mechanisms that raised the deck; and HMS Belfast - one of the only surviving big gun ships from WWII.

Hampton Court Palace, Kew Gardens, St Paul's, Greenwich, Imperial War & many other museums to sneak a look at.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Masses of Orange

After a day of looking around Harrow & Pinner & generally not doing too much it was off to Switzerland with a uni. friend, Josh. Some months ago we had chosen Basel at random for a weekend in Europe. It turned out that Euro 2008 was in town & it was quarter-finals weekend - consequently the city was pretty much alive & teeming with football fans.

Having negotiated Terminal 5 & Josh doing a great impression of someone losing his boarding pass at the counter, we arrived in what turned out to be three countries at once. The Euro airport services respective French, German & Swiss cities - once landing you can choose which country you want to go to. In Basel itself (pronounced Bar-zil), we were eager to have a look around so after wandering through the crowds, over the Rhine, up the cobbled streets & down again it was back to the hostel for a horrible two hours of sleep.

Saturday dawned wonderfully sunny & the bike was quickly assembled & we headed off down to the station for a train ride in to Germany for a spot of riding in the Black Forest. Somehow we managed to make it through the station - as the Netherlands were due to play their Euro quarter that night against Russia, every train coming in to the (large) station disgorged hundred of orange clad fans.
After a missed connection, a high speed train & then a small diesel up in to Stauffen - we were out in the baking sun trying to find somewhere for Josh to hire a mountain-bike. This proved rather frustrating, & in the end, unfruitful - never mind, we had a good look around the small time & rode/ran up a hill above the town to a ruined castle affording great views over the surrounding plains.

Back in Basel after, this time, successfully changing trains it was in to town to join the 150-200,000 odd Dutch fans that had invaded the city (there may have been a few thousand Russians around too). All the orange shirts were a bit hard on the eyes...
Eventually we found a pub that had big screens on the outside, so we could stand with the masses & soak up the game & the atmosphere. It was a great game to watch, with the Dutch drawing level in the last few minutes of regulation time & then two Russian goals in extra time to take them in to the semis. We wandered our way back to the hostel listening to cheers of "Rush-e-a!".

A big sleep after yesterday's big day in the heat & we were well prepared for our epic ride to France, then on to Germany & finally back to Switzerland - ok maybe not so epic, maybe only twenty to thirty kilometres in total. But it was hot - well in to the thirties, a nice change to the weather left behind at home. Managed to find a bike for Josh to hire underneath the main station - & also happened across the largest collection of bicycles I have ever seen. It was a full-on bike park where you had to get a ticket out of the machine before the gates would open automatically for you to push your bike in - fantastic.

We managed our ride quite easily & border crossings were a cmplete disappointment - no machine gun fire, flashing lights or even a stamp in the passport. Back to London & frustration with Terminal 5 - you would think they would sign post it from the major roads & the pick-up points, but that seems to escaped someone's attention.

To London

After a suitably large last flat dinner at Lonestar, I was finally off - of course I had some thirty hours to get used to this idea. Apart from the numerous episodes of Conchords on the plane, the SAP signs at Hong Kong airport provided a little amusement for my tired mind.

Along with similar ads for Porsche & Asics, the footnote says "The Best Run Businesses Run SAP". I couldn't help wondering if this was in spite of SAP and also why was there no poster using NZ Steel as an example.

Arriving, I managed to lug my bike & other two bags through three tube stations & a long way down the road to friends' house. Also a quick look at Harrow on the Hill & Harrow School where Churchill went & some of Harry Potter was filmed. Thankfully, the shift work preparation managed to negate most of the effects of jet lag.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bikes & Suits

After a few days of replacing various worn parts on my bike, making sure it goes again & giving it a good clean (maybe it will get through quarantine with less mud on it) - the bike is packed up in its bag for the first time in two months. The big question is - can I fit a suit in there too without damaging it (the suit, not the bike)? I sure hope so, because I don't want to wear a suit for close on twenty-four hours.

All this of course is in preparation for next week's departure to Europe. The trip has been prompted by my cousin's wedding in Italy (late June) - which is a great reason for finally packing up my bike & myself for six weeks to have a look at what the UK & small parts of Europe has to offer in the way of mountain-biking & sights. The basic outline is depart for London next Wednesday; one night in London then off to Basel, Switzerland for the weekend with a uni mate (coincidentally, one of the Euro 2008 quarterfinals will be on in town that weekend - should be good, not that we can afford tickets; back to London for a week of visiting friends & probably a lot of museums; eight or nine days in Tuscany for the wedding; then back to Britain for a road-trip up to Scotland & down to southern England with my parents.