1:56pm London Time
Location: Grandmother’s house, London England Weather: Sunny, warm, beautiful London day
Speed: O knots
Yesterday afternoon, the Malaga pulled into the whirlwind of activity that is the Port of Antwerp. Surrounded by huge factories and power plants belching smoke, and huge piles of coal, we came through a huge lock, and finally pulled up alongside our designated pier. At once, a massive refueling barge pulled up next to the Malaga, refueling her for her next voyage to the Bahamas, and then to Africa.
I waited patiently for about an hour to get clearance to disembark- it was about 2pm by this time, and I was thinking about making it to London that day rather than having to stay a night in Belgium. I hurriedly said goodbye and thank you to the crew of the Malaga, and finally carried my bike, guitar, empty suitcase, and 4 panniers off the ship, waiting patiently for a shuttle to drive me to the Port entrance. While I waited, a huge crane rolled on tracks within inches of me and my luggage, already getting in place to offload our 1000 container cargo. All around me, huge cranes transferred containers, huge machines on stilts rolled rapidly around amongst piles of containers like ants carrying their precious bread crumbs. And the Port stank- I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I felt in the way, and out of place amongst all that massive machinery.
The whole Port operation was staggeringly huge and looked like an alien invasion, or some scene out of star wars (the container port cranes were actually the inspiration for those big walking mechanical beasts in Empire Strikes Back). Very surreal. I was about to mount my bike and ride through the chaos when a van finally pulled up, loaded my bike, and drove me to the Port entrance, giving me directions on how to ride into Antwerp Centrum, and get a train.
I rode out of the Port with my heavy load, taking the lane on a two lane roadway with container trucks passing fast and furious on my left. Finally, a concerned guy in a Ford Fiesta leaned out his window and suggested I take the adjacent bike path. He was clearly worried for my safety, so I thanked him, and moved over to the pathway, which I had thought was just a sidewalk. The bikeway became better surfaced, better marked, and featured bike traffic signals as I neared the center of Antwerp. All in all, about a 10 mile ride. Fun to be in Europe riding my bicycle around.
As I entered the city, I smiled and asked directions of attractive girls on Dutch style bikes sharing the bike lane with me, and eventually found the station, where I was told that to take my bike on the Eurostar from Brussels to London, I would need to check in at least 24 hours in advance. My heart sank, as I just wanted to get to London at that point and see my family.
I decided to tale a train to Brussels, and see what I could do to get to London that evening, knowing I would probably have to find accommodation there. I hopped on a clean, fast, quiet train to Brussels (they leave every twenty minutes) and was on my way past tidy suburbs, quaint villages, and rolling fields and medieval churches. What a difference from the aged, slow Amtrak! I got to Brussels and bought a ticket on the Eurostar leaving at 5pm- no problem about the bike- just cost 25 Euro extra. Then I was on the train flying through Belgium at an incredible 300km/hr, through the tunnel, then pulling into London, which was leafier and greener than I remembered, the feeling of coming home, and a journey about to be completed. I claimed my bike, popped on my Ortlieb panniers, hoisted my trusty guitar on my back, and then I was flying through London traffic, joining the thousands of other bike commuters on their way home, and trying to remember to keep to the left.
Over the Vauxhall bridge, by Victoria station, passing by Buckingham Palace, then I was on familiar ground as I made my way through Hyde Park, waiting with a crowd of about 40 cyclists, as American suburban tourists gaped in awe from tour buses at the unfamiliar transport mix in the capitol city. I felt buoyant and invigorated, a bit wild as I tried to stay in my lane on the pathway through Hyde Park, sometimes unsuccessfully (as oncoming cyclists yelled at me- so sorry old chap!). Then it was out onto Edgeware Road and pulling into my grandma’s street, I had arrived! I pulled up to my grandmother’s house, she threw her arms around me, and said, “I can’t believe it!!!”. It was so good to see her, and now I am in London, building a new life for myself, excited about starting my Masters program in a week.
So did I achieve my goal of getting from San Francisco to London without the use of a plane or a car? Yes and no. For my basic journey, I only used a vehicle when required by Port staff at Antwerp and Montreal to get through the Port areas safely. But I did hop in a car once on a side trip for Vietnamese food in Montreal (what can I say? its my weakness), and once to get a cab back to the Port of Montreal after being out late. But I walked ten miles the next day as penance for my sin.
Nevertheless, I am so glad that I had this adventure, meeting so many great people along the way, and experiencing the geography between SF and London in such a different way than I usually do. Now I’m starting a different kind of adventure, one that will bring me into contact with some of the best minds in the world working on our biggest transport problems, and I can’t wait to get started!! Thanks for following my adventures, and keep posted as I will continue updating this blog regularly.
Cheerio for now, everyone!