The London Bike Tour

One quite sunny Saturday, the day after the royal wedding when the city had returned to some sort of sembelence, The Third Quarter treated the Fourth Quarter + I to a Fat Tire Bike Tour. It was a ridiculous amount of fun, which I didn't expect at all. I was operating on very little sleep and was well hungover and could not believe that I'd somehow managed to get myself entangled in a five hour bike tour. I was Miss Grumpy Pants to the max.

Except then I got on the bike. It was a blue bike with as promised: fat tires and a squishy seat. It also had a fish squeaker (helpful for notifying pedastrians that they should move out of the cycle lane if they wish to not be run over. Or just good for a giggle) and a name. I rode Sir David Attenborough. (*smirk*)

Once I was on the bike in the fresh air riding around the city (blue skies, crisp spring morning, slight wind) my hungover state completely vanished and I was positively cheerful. Riding is a brilliant way to get around! London is completely flat, and we'd ride for 10 minutes or so before stopping and hearing some amusing story about whatever.

Things like the London Eye (originally the Millennium Eye - to combat Y2K fears the government built all these amazing things and stuck the word 'Millenium' in the name. Apparently it was good for moral). Anyway, the London Eye is missing the 13th pod because they thought it would be bad luck to ride in it. When they first put it up (to celebrate the turn of the century) everyone hated it, and it was only going to be temporary. But after they realised how lucrative it was, the temporary period was extended until now, its a permanent fixture.

We hit up things like the Tate Museum (which used to be an old power station until they realised that it was bad to have a power station in the middle of the city). We heard about Oliver Cromwell, a bit of a mad tyrant who was the only person to overthrow the monarchy. We heard about the guy who didn't know what the lions back end looks like, so he modelled the back bits on his cocker spaniels (fail - Trafalgar Square). We heard about the origins of the phrase "tapping the admiral" (in that Lord Nelson died at sea + to preserve him they stuck him in a barrel of brandy. Sailors desperate for a drink would drill a hole in the barrel, syphon off a little and fill the hole with the cork. Apparently when they got to shore there was much less brandy in the barrel than expected!).

We visited the Tower of London. Apparently the tour guides often tell a lame story about Anne Boleyn ( who was married to King Henry the 8th, who had her falsely accused of incest, high treason, adultery etc etc and had her executed) and how she haunts the tower. She doesn't, story originates from one of the guards who was caught out sleeping while on duty, and on his trial in his defence he said that there had been a massive misunderstanding, he wasn't sleeping but instead while he was on duty and he saw the ghost of Anne Boleyn carrying her head under her arm and had fainted from fright which is how they found him. It didn't fly then, but apparently it makes a good story for tourists. This is also meant that for the next little while I got the 'Henry the Eighth I am I am' ditty stuck in my head. This is especially fun to sing as the last line is "Second Verse: Same as the first!" It's like the song that never ends!

We also hit up Shakespeare's Globe, and heard how the original site in Shoreditch (?) was a fixed lease for something like twenty years. At the end of the twenty years the landlord decided that he was not going to renew the lease and he was going to keep the theatre for himself. The theatre people didn't like it, so when he was out of the city they snuck over, pulled the place apart piece by piece, floated it across the city to the south side + rebuilt it. Because the city's law ended on the north side of the river the landlord couldn't do anything about it.

The Globe that stands today is actually the life's work of Sam Wanamaker, who came over to London all excited to visit the place where Shakespeare's Globe once stood and was a bit disheartened to find nothing but a blue plaque on an old pub that said the globe used to be around here somewhere. So, in the 70s he campaigned, fund-raised and eventually got it built the full size replica of the globe on the site near where it used to exist back in the day. However he died before he could see the building completed, but there is a blue plaque on the wall with his name on it.

Another random thing is that they say that the Globe Theatre was built to the original plans, but its unlikely that any of the plans had survived. They had something like three pictures of the outside, and one of them was a bit dodge, in that it was done by a man who hadn't even been to see it. Still, they figured it out with what they had, and it looks pretty brilliant. It's on the list to visit + see a play there at some point. I'm hoping for Much Ado About Nothing. Should be good, I reckon.

We admired St Pauls Cathedral from across the river, and heard how it was very almost bombed out during the Great War against the Germans. The Germans had made it their goal to bomb not only logistical landmarks (such as factories and docks) but cultural ones too, so to strike at the morale of the British. A group of engineers and architects banded together as the St Pauls Watch. Whenever they would hear the sirens go off, they would rush to the cathedral. If a bomb landed on or near the cathedral they would either disarm it (by throwing a bucket of water over it) or would carry it off quick as can be before it detonated. There is apparently a large crater in Hackney from one such bomb.

St Pauls Cathedral has (so we were told) had many iterations, but the current one was built by Christopher Wren. He had apparently wanted to pull the current cathedral down (as apparently it was falling apart anyway) but the King at the time said no way, that's way to expensive. Just renovate. So Wren puts up an awful lot of scaffolding and starts going about his renovations. A week later the Great Fire happened. Everyone figured that the cathedral would be safe, it's in the middle of a great big piazza and is made of stone, so they placed all the precious records + books in the centre of the Cathedral. (Our guide pauses here for dramatic effect and then says "You can see where I'm going with this"). When the fire reached the Cathedral, it caught onto the wooden scaffolding + lit all the precious records inside, too. The blaze completely flattened the building, and Christopher Wren had the opportunity to build what exists today.

We rode the clipper down the river, which was quite fun. We went past the HMS Belfast, which this big old battle cruiser which is moored in the Thames. As steamship ship she dominates her section of the Thames. Apparently she did some cool stuff, fought in wars, visited the artic and at the end of her life (after having steamed herself half a million miles around the world) she was destined for the scrap heap. Except that a group of determined individuals (led by her former captain, I want to say Sir Morgan Morgan?) battled to save her. They were successful, and now she's a tourist attraction on the Thames.

We also heard about Francis Drake who hated the Spaniards. His boat (or a replica of it, I think) is moored up at Southbank. Sir Francis fancied himself a bit of a sailor as a kid and was so excited to go on his first voyage. So off he goes, out to sea and they get plundered by the Spaniards. Of everyone on his ship only he and the captain survived by holding on to the driftwood of the wreckage. It took them something like two weeks to get back. He was furious and swore revenge on the Spaniards. He basically became a pirate and did all in his power to destroy Spanish ships and generally harang them as much as possible. He was so good at this, that the queen said it might as well be his official job, and he became a privateer (or, pirate with the government behind him). He sailed around the world (and was one of the first to do so) + on his most successful voyage he brought back enough gold pillaged from the Spaniards that the queens share (about half) was enough to pay off the national debt. Mad, right?

We saw a ridiculous amount, and heard an awful lot of history. More than my brain could hold, anyway. What I did do was track our path via gps, thanks to a handy app I had on my phone. You can see the data before lunch and After Lunch.

Us with David, the tour guide.

Anyway, it was a ridiculously fun day. I enjoyed it no end. If you ever have an opportunity to go on one of these tours, you absolutely should!