When Tom came to visit me in Canadialand, we rented bikes three times over the span of 9 days: once in Toronto, once in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and once on Beausoleil Island. I knew that he really liked to cycle around places so I thought it would be fun for him – but I realized after that I really enjoy it too! That summer, I had spent most weekends cycling down to Kempenfelt Bay in downtown Barrie and exploring the trails nearby, which was probably some kind of hang over after living in Martinique.
Thanks to an awesome co-worker of mine, Tom and I got to do a complimentary Christmas Lights tour with the London Bicycle Tour Company over the holidays.
We arrived at Gabriel’s Wharf about ten minutes before the tour was due to start and we were greeted by Steve who gave us a pair of high-vis vests and Toblerone bars that luckily I didn’t crush immediately…
Since we were early, Tom and I decided to have a look around as there were some interesting shops and a really nice view over the Thames. Since it was dusk, the colours started changing in the sky which were quite pretty. I was also glad that it wasn’t raining.
Our tour guide Jordi arrived – and so did about 15 other tourists. It was a huge group and I was concerned about how efficient this tour was going to be. We chose our bikes and then listened to the safety talk. Jordi told us a bit about where we were going and what we would see. I was busy crapping my pants because I still don’t know which side of the road to drive/ride on yet. I just look in every direction – even up. Ironically (idiotically), I didn’t wear a helmet. Don’t follow me kids, safety first.
We made our way, single file, out of the wharf and down the Southbank – which on a Monday evening during the holidays was loaded with people. People were queuing (look how British I am!) to ride the London Eye, which you may remember I have disavowed as overrated, as well as to go into the London Dungeon, which I’ll be visiting this weekend! We were supposed to visit the Southbank Christmas market, but by this point it had already closed. Lucky for you I have pictures from our earlier excursion!
We stopped on the bridge that runs parallel to the Thames, where Jordi explained the history of the bridges, told us about Big Ben and the Houses of Parliaments. We stopped to admire the view and take lots of photos.
Our next stop was Pimlico. Tom and I chatted to Jordi for a bit, just waiting for the rest of the group that got stuck at a red light. The hazards of a group of 20. The chat was long enough for Jordi to find out that Tom went to the Westminster School – and for him to be impressed enough that Tom was embarrassed. Jordi asked the group if they had heard of the school, but our group was made up of tourists from Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil and the US so they were like…no.
In any case, this is where the super fascinating story about why I was happy the Toblerone bar still existed in its chocolate-y form: The Brazilian woman’s bike got a flat so Jordi had to repair it. I was hungry. Toblerone bar no longer existed in its physical chocolate-y form.
On the other we did get a chance to chat to one of our fellow cyclists on the tour. She was an American on holiday. On holiday from Afghanistan… well, then. That seemed like a pretty interesting story, but suddenly the bike was fixed and we were interrupted. It was now dark, so the lights went on and we were off!
Next stop: Belgravia. We stopped at the corner of Ebury Street and Pimlico in what’s known as Mozart Square. Jordi explained that this is where one of London’s oldest farmer’s markets takes place – every Saturday, 9 to 1!
We cycled over to Sloane Square, a place I was very much looking forward to seeing since I’d heard so much about Chelsea… The area is very posh and home to people that are often called Sloane Rangers, or Sloanies, which are basically just young, upper-class, posh women that live in Chelsea or Kensington. Princess Diana herself was a Sloanie, don’t ya know.
If you’re looking for serious high street shopping – Peter Jones, Tiffany & Co, the Saatchi Gallery – then this is the place to be.
From one posh place to another – the ever infamous Harrod’s. There were a lot of very fancy cars. That’s all I remember. That, and the fact that I never want to go there with 20 people on bicycles during the holiday sales again…
Next up, Bond Street…
From there we cycled over to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and we had the option to either explore there are head over to Carnaby Street instead. Luckily, the group chose Carnaby Street because I’d already had two enjoyable visits to Winter Wonderland – once with my co-workers and once with Tom and my Alpha Phi sister (yeah, I was in a sorority people – put your jaw back in its socket) Alex, who arrived in London a few months ago from Oz!
Once we were in Soho, we were free to roam and drink mulled wine… Don’t follow me kids, safety first.
Then there was Covent Garden, Seven Dials, and allllll the way back to where we started! In the end, the tour took quite a bit longer than it was meant to due to the size of the group, but I learned a lot – including how Soho got its name. Apparently, before all of the development, it was a popular hunting area and men would take their dogs on the hunt. To retrieve their hounds, they would yell “SO-HO!” – where ho was short for hound.
So yeah, it’s not the greeting you use to propose a liaison with the “ladies of the night” in the area….
I hope you felt a little bit like you were there with me and that I’ve brought back the magic of Christmas for you on this random day in January! If you’re looking to see London in a different way, or just want to hire some bikes for the day, definitely check out the London Bicycle Tour Company!