Great Britain

The next morning we rose early to best play out our options; catch the early ferry to Heysham to find passage to London, or catch the afternoon ferry to Liverpool spend the night and goof around there. I trotted to the ferry terminal and found a package deal – ferry and train to London for a reasonable fare, giving us more time to goof around there instead. So, morning ferry it was.

Ferry is somewhat a misnomer for this boat. It was huge carrying a half dozen lorries along with its other cargo.

Mindy got online on board and was able to chat with the kids back home while I chatted with three motorcycle riders from the IoM on their way to Monaco on their bikes to ride the Grand Prix circuit and watch the F1 race. You can see them in the background, lucky sorts.

It’s a bit foreign to us Westerners what proximity does for Europeans. A little weekend jaunt to France for brunch? Why not. In Bruges in a couple of hours, n’est pas? No sweat. In the time it takes me to get from St. George to Provo I can go from Brussels to Paris.  Location is everything.

We arrived in Heysham, a single rail spur stop on an industrialized harbor whose tide is so swift it drowns those who try to outrun it. Really. Kind of a UK Darwin Awards category. While waiting to depart the ferry we heard no less than three tales of death from people just standing by us. The tide rushes in as a wall of water and when it recedes it grounds any boat anchored in its harbor.

Besides that, there’s not much more to say about Heysham. I suspect if you’d ask the locals they’d say something like, “If the Lord were to give Britain an enema, it would be in Heysham.” But I didn’t say that.

While waiting for our train I chatted with a couple of more motorcyclists, these two returning from a ride around GB on their sport tourers, the closest I had yet seen to a Blackbird. They were catching the ferry back to IoM where they live – truly motorcycle Mecca. What set these guys apart, for me at least, it that they were in their 70’s. Gave me something to shoot for. They’re seen here at the entrance to the ferry staging area and just beyond them is the rail spur.

Our little commuter train arrived on schedule and we boarded for Mindy’s first train experience.

From Heysham Port we ambled into Lancaster where we made the first of two transfers, this one to Crewe.

And from Crewe we boarded a direct train to London.

It’s been an awful long time since I’ve felt this… happy is the rightest word that comes to mind, but it’s more than that. We felt like kids together on this adventure, something we didn’t get to feel together as kids, a feeling birthed on the roads of IoM, or maybe even earlier, perhaps as early as the drive to Vegas to catch the first plane. Any way, it’s good to feel like that.

Though it was upon rails, we flew from Crewe to Euston Station in London. We don’t appreciate rail travel west of the Mississippi. It’s seems to hold a place just a notch above Greyhound. In Europe it is mainstreamed into the notion of motion. Where here we’re sequestered in sheet metal cages, on the rails you’re exposed to directions and purpose instead of brake lights and isolation. Get on a train and look up from your reading and you’ll have a conversation and see land pass without appeal to commercial sensibilities. No exits, no billboards, just stations and platforms to help you make the transition back to asphalt.

Euston Station threw me. I don’t do well in crowds to begin with and transitioning from the rural bliss of Crewe to the urban chaos of London was disguised in our relaxing ride. We popped out at Euston during rush hour, during the onset of jet lag, during the crush of British humanity, all of which put me out of sorts, kind of like a walking coma. We exited Euston and walked to the intersection of a myriad bus lines scattering travelers all over the kingdom. This must be the way to do it, we concluded, and marched back into the station to find out where and how to acquire a transit pass.

Back out on Euston Road stopping to make sense of bus routes and maps, I lapsed back into my walking coma and Mindy took over navigation by asking a business-type commuter how to do exactly that. There’s a concept. He was kind enough to give her his map, made a few kind suggestions to this sweet American and was off to catch his bus. We looked at the map, which was for the underground and found no immediate direction there.

I was consoled by at least three encounters with Blackbirds. If you  haven’t read the rest of this site, you should know that I ride a relatively rare motorcycle, a Honda CBRXX 1100 Blackbird, a super bike. Honda stopped importing them to the U.S. in 2003 and as a result I rarely see any in the States, so to see no less than three in as many minutes was enough to spur me from my haze and find some enthusiasm for the salmon-like migration we were making in the direction of King’s Cross. Thank god for Harry Potter.

It was during that trek when we decided to spend the night in London, find some place to stash our backpacks and exploit the nine Euros out of our transit passes.

Across from St. Pancras and King’s Cross stations is a hotel district of East London, rows of stately properties, shingles displaying vacancies or no. We came across one in particular that begged any fan of the Eagles to at least check out the rates, the Hotel California.

While it was no dark desert highway with something a bit more offending than the warm smell of colitas rising up from the air, this Hotel California had an inviting facade offset by its desk clerk. Once buzzed inside I asked about availability and rates. The Saudi concierge eyed us both, twice and said very slowly, “Yes,” giving Mindy the hebegebees. “How much?’ I asked, and he eye-balled us again. Maybe we were just difficult to size up, a couple of forty-something Americans with backpacks for luggage. He spoke again with an acceptable rate with a smile that grew over his entire countenance, though Mindy was still suspicious when asked to leave our key at the desk when we left.

Having unlocked the code of London’s above-ground transit system we were off to explore London, at least its more notable quartiers during such a time where the Parliament was without a Speaker of the House. We hopped a double-decker and made our way to the National Theatre off of Waterloo Road, collecting it seemed at least a half-dozen bicyclists on the front of the bus along the way. From there we walked along the Thames past the Queen Elizabeth Hall where we and all others encountered this slug.

Kind of a DIY Cirque du Solei. He slithered about holding a net with which he collected spare change from amused passers-by.

Steps away was the Eye, smaller than I had imagined, but no less popular.

Under the Westminster Bridge Road and we popped out on one of the most popular views of the Palace. I had shot a film here twenty years ago and while involved managed to twist my ankle and get perspectives of the Westminster Palace that I really didn’t want. Revisiting this spot I expected to see horrible uneven pavers rising up again to turn me into a writhing idiot, but the path had either been repaired or my imagination impaired.

We turned and mounted the Westminster Bridge and made our way into Parliament Square.

We had by this point amended the title of our journey from The Short Attention-Span European Tour to The Short Attention-Span European Scaffolding Tour, since almost every attraction seemed to be adorned with the stuff.

The Square was electric. War protesters took up residence with a couple of renegades atop St. Margaret’s Church where police had set up a diverted route. I stopped to ask an officer about the diversion and he said, “Becuase of those blokes up there.” And looking up there were indeed blokes, protesting from the roof of the church, with no effort to encourage them down on anyone’s part. You’ve got to love London.

Before that we walked around the Sanctuary and Westminster Abbey and took her in with the light from the sun breaking through a dreary ceiling.

Helicopters hovered with cameras and mobile broadcast units lined Bridge Street and Parliament Street. Field reporters and satellite trucks displaced pedestrians, all waiting for that exclusive, elusive announcement about the future of British politics. What a time to be there.

The big buzz was at Downey Street where press, protesters and pedestrians alike waited for some indication of a decision made on behalf of England’s next Prime Minister. We lingered for a few moments and pressed on to Trafalgar Square.

Traffic moves at a pace in London that makes most American urban centers look like parking lots. Well, actually, most of them are. It’s a tribute to Londoners that traffic is moving at all, especially to bus drivers. As we stepped into the Circus a young woman was bumped off her bicycle by a car. She fell down hard enough for contusions and bruises, but was otherwise able to shake it off. While helping her to her feet, traffic pressed on around us like platelets around plaque. One bus driver gently persuaded a woman gawker to move along with his rear-view mirror.

Enough excitement for the day. We ducked into a pizzeria for dinner and rested weary feet for awhile, thinking this Italian eatery to be pretty exclusive, even a bit swanky, only to discover on our way back to our hotel that it was in fact a chain. Damn capitalism.

The streets illuminated to life after sundown and we wandered the streets until we found, okay, until Mindy asked someone where we could find the bus that returns to Euston Street. And so was our short attention-span scaffolding tour of London.

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