If you want to get the absolute most of your time in exciting new places, you need… a plan. If you plan things out to the minute – and you aren’t organizing super special stages in a rally – you’re setting yourself up for a lot of stress. You stand to make yourself miserable and ruin the experience. It’s important, then, to plan plenty of flex time into your agenda. Day 5 was our flex day.
The Flex Day
We knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t be able to see everything we planned on Monday (Day 3), and there was a chance we might discover additional things we’d like to check out on top of them, so Day 5 was a flex day. If we needed to go back to anything, we had a whole day to do so before we needed to hit the road for Germany.
The day started at the Abbey, where we made the most of the sunshine.
In the interest of saving time and stress, we had Andy drop us at the station in Northampton and caught a London Midland train into the city. What a pleasant surprise! Cat said we were lucky to get a brand new train, but let me just say, it was smoother and quieter than any new car I’ve ever been in. It was possible to have a conversation with someone across the aisle without raising your voice.
And nobody – NOBODY – was talking on a cell phone. Well, there was one guy, but all he did was tell the other person he was on the train and would call them back as soon as he made his stop. WOW.
The Magna Carta
Benefits of the flex day! We stepped out of Euston Station on a bright, sunny morning and began walking. As we passed the library, Cat very nonchalantly says, “We should pop in an see the Magna Carta while we’re right here.” Um, what? Did she mean the Magna Carta? In fact she did.
We crossed the open courtyard and no sooner had we entered the gigantic, brick structure, we were in a dimly-lit room, looking at Shakespeare’s first notebook, the Gutenberg Bible, original sketches by Leonardo Da Vinci. Due to the delicate nature of these old documents, photography was forbidden. Damnit.
In a special room, just off this dim room, with its glass cases and purple accent lighting, was a special room with the library’s copy of the Magna Carta from the year 1215. It would influence things like Habeas Corpus (right to a trial), the English and US Bill of Rights, and Constitutional Law in almost every English-speaking nation on the planet. It’s pretty important, and I was looking at an original copy.
Flex time FTW.
Cat had been lamenting our not arriving by train at St. Pancras. Now we knew why. Just look at that place! Incredible. There were staff at the front door. We didn’t go in, as we were passing by to the actual train station, but I had to take a quick look around the parking lot. Surely this is the type of place where those immune to the throes of the economy stay for the weekend.
Inside St. Pancras Station
We stepped into the train station and were immediately greeted by the 9M (30ft) tall statue “The Meeting Place” standing before us.
In this station, you can catch the tube (underground, subway), or a high speed train through the Chunnel and on to the continent; just over 2 hours from this spot to the middle of Paris, France, via high speed rail doing nearly 200mph (322kph). Pretty cool.
If you feel like hitting the bar while you wait for your train, they have a bar for you – a champagne bar. Considering how just about any train headed south from here ends up in France, I bet it’s real champagne, too. (Technically, anything not made in the Champagne region of France is just sparking wine or something, but I’m no wine guru.)
From St. Pancras, we hopped a tube to Farringdon Station, where we met with Adnan Ebrahim, founder and Editor-in-Chief of CarThrottle.com. I actually started talking to Adnan just before Gearbox Magazine launched back in 2009. Had I not been so in love with the idea of GBXM at the time, I might have turned into CarThrottle’s American West Coast guy, opposite James Mackintosh in Raleigh, North Carolina.
It is so cool to finally meet long time online friends face-to-face. Adnan walked up carrying the very same moleskine notebook I have collecting dust on the hood of the race car in my garage (and ready to be be used the moment I fill its predecessor with notes and ideas). We walked a couple blocks down to a burger joint with an American 50s theme located in a basement.
I wish we would have had more time to spend talking about things, but Adnan was in the process of moving into new offices up the street and had to get back to work. As it were, one of the fastest couple hours of the whole trip. Before too long, I’ve got a story I need to write for CarThrottle, and I’m toying with the idea of maybe doing stuff like that more often. Always feels good to help a friend, ya know?
Having said goodbye and parted ways with Adnan – Cat, Vanessa, and I found ourselves walking deeper into central London. Don’t call it “downtown London.” They tend to snicker and laugh at that. So what’s the Gherkin?
PRO TIP: In England, gherkins are pickles, and pickle is what we – in America – call relish.
There’s this crazy awesome, glass-tiled building in London which is somewhat gherkin-shaped. Now, because London is so old, the streets are laid out in all kinds of random directions and angles and there are centuries of different architectural styles in play. As you walk, this gherkin building is constantly appearing and vanishing.
You might see it peeking out in some of the next pictures I took as we walked around central London.
At this point, you might be asking yourself while this building, while certainly very cool, is so important as to be mentioned in the title of this story. Well, it really does peek out from behind buildings as you walk through London. One minute it’s there. The next, it’s not.
But here I was, walking through town with two women – my wife and Cat – who kept asking me, “Where’s the gherkin, Brian? Where’s the gherkin?” Um, yeah. Of course, I pointed out this reminded me of the old game, Hide the Salami and had clear sexual innuendo to it. They only pointed it out more. Make sense now?
Back to the pictures…
Did you notice how many of the guys in the picture above are sporting suits? We were smack in the financial district at closing time. The bankers and financiers emptied out into the street, making this tourist feel like a complete slob – in his cargo pants and t-shirt – dressed to the nines almost every one of them.
All this talk of pubs, we decided to stop into one and get a drink, ourselves. Vanessa, being pregnant, opted for a water, but Cat and I ordered up a couple Staropramen’s from Prague. The pub was called The Hung, Drawn, and Quartered. How’s that for a name!
The Tower of London is known for being a place where a lot of people were tortured and/or killed. It’s also where the Crown Jewels are kept and displayed. Unfortunately, you could spend an entire day seeing it, so we walked on by. Next time, then.
As we walked around the Tower of London, we came upon the Tower Bridge. Sweet! I asked Cat if they ever lift the draw bridge section in the middle anymore and she said they do, but only for big boats like the battle ship parked across the way from where we were standing. What?
After a quiet, relaxing train ride back out to Northampton, Andy picked us up and we went for a curry. That is, we went out for Indian food. The place was called Balti King, it was a BYOB (bring your own bottle/booze) restaurant, and we had a great time. So great a time, in fact, we didn’t notice the restaurant close! Poor guys were cleaning up around us!
A short drive later, we were back at the Abbey, planning Day 6, which would present some serious logistic issues. When would we need to leave to drop the ASX off at the dealership? Would they give us a ride to Gatwick to pick up our rental car? How would I rent the car without a driver’s license? (Stolen, remember?) Would we make the boat to France in time? And what would it be like to drive on the autobahn in a RHD vehicle?
Tune in tomorrow (or the next day, this is a lot of writing to do) and find out!