Touring Buckingham Palace State Rooms

 

 

Outside Buckingham Palace

About a month before my departure for the Tour de France I read a tweet from VisitBritain about the state rooms at Buckingham Palace opening for visitors from July 26 to September 28. On previous visits to London I toured the fascinating Mews (stables) at Buckingham Palace so I clicked through and bought tickets.

Did not give it much more thought until I was in France and looking at my itinerary for the end of my trip: ticket on Chunnel to London, check; hotel reservation at The Ampersand, check; tickets to War Horse at Theater and Buckingham Palace state rooms, check and check. Leaving myself a little time left over to go book shopping.  My flight from Heathrow was not scheduled on Air New Zealand until 4:00 p.m., so I had time to take the tube to the airport. I was all set to make the most of my 24 hours in London.

London is an easy city to navigate with the underground, taxis and footpaths through parks. My hotel’s location was perfect: a half block from the South Kensington station on the Piccadilly (red) Line. The Ampersand did not exaggerate its charms in the Booking.com email advertising its special rate. It is beautifully decorated and the service was superb.

Buckingham Palace

I already blogged about the thrill of seeing The War Horse on stage. So let us fast forward to the next morning and Buckingham Palace. A quick trip on the Tube and soon I was walking past the Queen Victoria Memorial and looking at the gorgeous Buckingham Palace gates.

I was just here on Tour de France Stage 3 and so I reveled for a moment in happy memories. When bike guide Daniel asked me the highlight of my trip while we were in the Pyrenees, I said riding the race course into the heart of London, turning the corner at Big Ben and seeing Buckingham Palace and then the finish line. I felt like a rock star. I reserved the possibility that Paris might top it, but it did not. So it was great to be back to the best spot of my Tour adventure so soon.

The Royal CafeIt took a few minutes to find the visitors entrance on Buckingham Gate Road, and then a couple of minutes to change my computer print out for actual tickets. I arrived just in time to the correct waiting area to be able to get through security and enter the state rooms a few minutes past my appointed time. 

Wow, the Queen must feel like she is slumming it when she visits the White House.  During the week, she lives above the store, so to speak, and what a store! Beautiful works of art, mostly portraits of family, fill the rooms where official drawing rooms and ballroom. In addition, there was a very interesting collection called “Royal Childhood.”

Buckingham PalaceI decided to forgo the free headphones and enjoy the rooms and the overall ambiance. After the walking through all of the rooms, I enjoyed a snack at the café and a browse at the gift shop.

The exit takes visitors through the garden. I wondered if the Queen or any of the royal family gets to enjoy the garden on their own or only on official occasions. Not that I feel sorry for them. This is one of their many stately homes and most of the others offer much more privacy. Still, what must it be like to grow up seeing art masterpieces hanging on the drawing room walls?

Garden at Buckingham PalaceAfter a quick trip back to the hotel, I hopped on the Tube to head to Heathrow Airport with about 10 pounds of new books. Air New Zealand docks in the hinterlands so I got plenty of exercise before the 10.5 hour plane ride home.

South Kensington Tube station

Spending time in Yorkshire and London reminded me why I have returned again and again to England and Ireland. Looking forward to the next opportunity. 

 

 

Telling the World: goals not resolutions

About those cycling goals I am telling the world (or you my blog readers)…  Even before I read the article “Tempt Yourself Thin” by Lisa Marshall in the January/February issues in Bicycling magazine, I learned that setting goals and breaking them into “bite size chunks” works well for me. I do not make resolutions in the new year; however, I do spend time reviewing the goals in my journal and making new ones. This article helped me better understand how rewards can help me stay on track.

Eat my vegetables!
Eat my vegetables!

The article also includes profiles of six people who have been transformed physically through cycling and exercise. I found these inspirational and full of practical tips, including:

  • “I map out my riding schedule at the beginning of the week, anchoring it around my long ride on the weekend, with smaller rides during the week.” from Trish
  • “…mounting research suggest that tantalizing dieters with material rewards (or the threat of material losses) helps them lose weight and keep it off.”
  • “Don’t put work first. Put yourself first.” from Anne.
  • People are motivated the first week or two..but as time goes on, it’s harder to maintain self control, so if you have a lot of weight to lose, make your rewards incrementally larger.

In the next two weeks I will eat my vegetables everyday, and bike 2 times a week for at least 30 minutes (using the trainer if it rains) and one longer ride of an hour or more. When I accomplish this I will reward myself with clipless pedals and a bike fitting at the bike shop that makes me drool.

Reward: clipless pedals
Reward: clipless pedals

I will continue to set goals every two weeks. I may experiment with the website gym-pact.com where I can earn money if I meet my goals and pay others if I do not.

On my way to the Tour de France I will need to build up to being able to ride 50 miles on rolling hills with ease; to maintain my bike and make repairs (especially to flat tires); to shift gears, use clipless pedals, and travel at higher speeds; to speak more basic French phrases.  Also I want to lose at least half the weight I would like to ultimately lose, or 20 pounds.

I decided to enter the Bicycling magazine “You Lose You Win” contest. I submitted the following paragraph to describes my goal and commitment to weight loss. If selected, I win coaching from Selene Yeager and the opportunity to earn a brand-new Raleigh road bike.

After years of watching the Tour de France from my couch, I am committed to following it in person from Yorkshire to Paris. I am part of a Trek Tour in England and must be able to cycle 50 miles at an average of 15 mph. Today I am 40 pounds overweight, cannot shift gears very well and have never used clipless pedals. I am sharing my journey on my blog Adventures of American Julie. The testimonials in Bicycling convinced me to ask for help meeting my goals of becoming a level 3 cyclist and shedding 20 pounds by July. 

Before.
Before.

Wish me luck!

No More Excuses

Compared to most of the Northern Hemisphere, the weather in NorCal has been balmy. For this weather wimp it has been too cold to ride… in my current bike kit, in this wind, and so on.  I opened up the January-February issue of Bicycling magazine and read several inspiring stories including “Conquer Your Mountain” on page 18 by James Herrera.

Step One is to identify your goal. My big goal is to follow the Tour de France and to ride on a Trek Tour through the first stages in England.

Step Two is to make a plan. I have the tour and hotel reservations done for the Tour de France. The harder part is learning to ride well enough and be fit enough to enjoy the experience.  July 2014 seems so far away, so I am making a lot of excuses and not riding any miles lately.

Step Three is to tell the world.  Okay, so this blog is not the world, but you are willing to stand in for “the world”, right?  I realized that I needed to set some very short term goals, like 2 weeks at a time, to stay on track with my big goal. Even before I could do that I had to go to the bike store and buy some winter riding gear. I do not like trying on kit because it is all so unfamiliar. It feels like just yesterday I bought my first pair of bike shorts; and with the long Indian summer they worked well until about mid-November. Off I went to B&L bike shop in Davis because they have a good selection without an overwhelming number of choices. Jenna helped me find tights, a long sleeve jersey and a windbreaker. I also bought mountain bike shoes for another short term goal: learning to use clipless pedals. I made my purchases on Wednesday, so when do you think I tried it all out?  That same day? The next morning? Not until Saturday morning! I will not bore you with all the reasons.

Never been too worried about being matchy-matchy; more interested in visibility on the road.
Never been too worried about being matchy-matchy; more interested in visibility on the road.

Finally I got on my bike and I rode from 8:45 to 9:22 a.m.  I planned to be out the door at 8:00 a.m. but the sun was still creeping up and it was bitter cold. So I waited a few more minutes and then coached myself. How important is my Tour de France goal? Very big deal. So get on your damn bike and get cold.

Step Four is track your progress.  There are so many apps to do this. I like Map My RIde for knowing how far I biked and then I make notes in my old fashioned paper journal.

Step Five is be present. I did enjoy my time on the bike today. I am not very fast. I hope that as I drop weight I will see my speed pick up.  I am still trying to identify interesting routes of varying lengths near my home depending on my schedule. I picked my way down an olive tree lined path toward the airport, then toodled along a quiet road that serves the University farm, then punched it on a busy county road with a short stretch without a shoulder, then enjoyed the sunshine as I headed back towards home. I noticed a big crow eating walnuts, a lot of runners out pushing themselves hard, and groups of dog walkers with their coffee mugs enjoying a more leisurely pace. I could hear an airplane preparing to land, and cars a long way off on the road (prompting the thought: what will it be like to ride when more and more cars are silently electric?)

Finally, step six to achieving success is put in the effort.  Okay, okay. No more excuses.

Planning My Tour de France 2014 Adventure

Not sure if it is the caffeine (and sugar) I consumed at lunch or the sheer thrill of booking two legs of my Tour de France Adventure earlier today. I am stoked. I put a $100 deposit with Thomson Bike Tours so they would send me an announcement about their spectator tours as soon as they came available.

Route Map of Tour de France 2014
Route Map of Tour de France 2014

I received the email this morning and already booked two tours! I previously determined that mountain stages are easier to view with help from a tour company. I learned on October 23 that le Tour 2014 has 3 mountain ranges! I looked at the tour operators sanctioned by the Tour de France and zeroed in on Trek Tours and Thomson Bike Tours as they are English speaking.

Thomson especially offers more for spectators in the mountains. This morning I spent some time looking at the itineraries of the Alps trip and the Pyrenees and Paris trip. The Alps trip offers better access to 3 mountain stages, but substitutes site-seeing instead of Stage 12. They organize it so we will stay every night in Albertville and then transport us to the various stages. I can spend my travel energy on le Tour, not shifting hotels.  I weighed not viewing the start or finish of Stage 12 with the upside of a tour operator worrying about the details for me and pressed “Book this Trip”.

The second trip is longer and tackles more challenging logistics. It offers 5 nights in St Lary and 2 nights in Paris. There is another trade-off: travelling to Paris instead of viewing the 20th stage, the time trial. By this time I will have been travelling for a month and I anticipate appreciating anyone who is willing to sort out my details.

I have not gone on organized tours very often. It can be challenging moving about with a group of people (any number greater than 4). Yet there is also built in camaraderie and professional guides offer greater knowledge and access.

I also plan to start le Tour with Trek Tours. This is a trip for cyclists, not spectators. For this trip (not yet published), I am improving my cycling ability and endurance. I am purposefully planning it for the start of my adventure when my energy level will be at the highest level (and before the mountains). I am so excited about riding from Cambridge to London that I want to jump up and down.

One of the great benefits of planning your own travel is that it increases your overall enthusiasm and anticipation for the adventure.  I will be traveling on my own until I get to Yorkshire, and then again when I leave Trek Tours (probably in Reims).  I have to sort out hotels, and transportation between towns (I am not worried about food in France!) until the first rest day on July 15, about 2 weeks into my trip.

The good news is that my friends the Watson-Lovells will be coming from their Germany adventure to join me for one or two days during that period. Brian is very good at travel planning, so it is good to have someone to consult for part of that on-my-own section.

I also have a couple of other gaps that I will need to sort out lodging and/or transportation. Then I will stop planning the details because I want to leave room for the spontaneous delights of the unexpected.