London Bike Tour - Sunday

Trip Start Jul 02, 2012
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Trip End Oct 04, 2012


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Sunday, August 26, 2012

On Sunday we decided to go and check out the Notting Hill carnival, an annual carnival billed as "the biggest carnival in Europe" that is West Indian themed and runs for two days. The  newspaper said it started at 9am so we wandered up there about 10am and there wasn't much to see yet.  A lot of the stalls were just being set up, the jerk chicken was smoking away for the day and people were only just starting to arrive.  

It was fascinating to see how the shops in the area prepared for the carnival. Rather than open and make the most of the thousands of people who would pour into the area, the majority were literally boarded up.  The same for many of the houses - I imagine the residents probably hate the carnival which is a 48 hour party.  There were police everywhere, brought in from outside of London to cover the event.  We're definitely showing our age because we enjoyed looking around and were also happy to go before the real party started!

In the afternoon, we decided to go on the London version of the bike tours we'd taken in Paris.  We gave ourselves an hour to get there on the tube because of the Carnival traffic, and needed all of that time when we walked directly in to the middle of the crowd as we changed lines at one point. Moving between trains was crazy, the tunnels were packed, wall to wall people all inching along trying to go in the same direction.  Luckily none of suffer from claustrophobia because there was little breathing space.   When we got near the exit, we discovered that the way out was via two lifts which were clearly not handling the hundreds of people needing to get out. An enterprising passenger opened the emergency exit to the stairs which warned of 128 steps to the exit.  It was a slow climb, shoulder to shoulder and crammed in like sardines.

Emerging in to the welcome fresh air and space, we found the guy holding the tour sign and twenty minutes later were underway.The bike tour was fun.  We covered lots of ground and saw lots of monuments and landmarks which you would be unlikely to see if you were walking because of the distances we covered. 

We went through, past and by Hyde Park, St James Park, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Gardens, St Martins in the Fields, Whitehall, Houses of Parliament & Big Ben, and the Diana Memorial Fountain.  Our guide was great, noticeably different from the out-there American guides we had on the Paris tours but full of great stories, information and history.  

One story that was new for us was about the impressive monument that stands on Hyde Park corner.  The Wellington Arch has "The Angel of Peace" standing on top of it.  When you look closely at it you can see a small boy's face peaking out.  This is actually the son of the man who funded the sculpture and has absolutely nothing to do with the meaning of the sculpture!

 We thoroughly enjoyed the tour, it was nice to be back on the bikes again and we learnt lots about the full, rich and very often bloody London history!  Michael is having the best history lessons you can imagine, he was particularly enthralled with the very graphic account the guide gave of what happened to Guy Fawkes when he was hung, drawn and quartered - great stuff for an 11 year old boy!

Arriving back to the crowded streets after the bike tour, we had a lovely meal at an Italian restaurant and then braved the underground again to head home.  More life education for Michael as we sat on the train with some rather worse for wear Carnival goers.  There were some sights there he certainly hasn't seen before!

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