Travel: Discover London's street charms from the Santander Bikes saddle
'Cycling in London?!', was the incredulous cry when plans for our weekend away were revealed.
It was easy to understand my husband's concern.Getting on a bike after many years can seem overwhelming - especially when it is happening in the bustling capital city instead of in a local park. He didn't have much time to think about it on the speedy journey to King's Cross station from Doncaster via Virgin Trains, and nerves were calmed over an incredible bacon naan breakfast at hip Shoreditch restaurant Dishoom. Head there early to beat the evening queues, and to have a super spicy Bloody Mary cocktail. Still there was a frisson of excitement as we swung our legs over the saddles of our Santander Cycles bikes (known to most as Boris Bikes) outside the bustling Spitalfields market and prepared to make our debut journey.And we were off...After a small practice around the East London streets we decided to head towards the heart of the city, the River Thames.Once we've got over the novelty of riding in London - and had a clear destination in mind - it became clear this was very different to cycling back home in Sheffield.There were no thigh-aching hills to contend with, for a start. As we wound our way down past The Gherkin and other imposing skyscrapers we also discovered so called cycle superhighways - where the cycle lane is separated from the road by a physical barrier and direct routes to locations are created. It was sheer luxury to ride with space and without having to be next to other traffic and the work of just a few minutes before we found ourselves at the base of London's incredible Tower Bridge. Who needs the tube after all?To the left was a part of London we'd never have discovered on foot - the vibrant St Katharine Docks, a former commercial dock yard now a marina packed with shops and restaurants.There was time for a quick pitstop and a look around the colourful stalls before embarking on the journey over Tower Bridge. It was quite something to head past the imposing Tower of London, and then under the must see landmark, at a slow and easy pace due to traffic. There were glimpses of river life on either side and above the structure itself was revealed piece by piece. We were joined by every form of transport - from a London bus to police officers on bikes.The next landmark on our list was The Shard, but a few strokes of the pedals away.The best thing about using these bikes is the amount of places you can pick up and park. There are more than 780 docking stations, covering 100 square kilometres of London, and it's simple to see where the nearest one is via the dedicated app. You can also pay, and check a map to see if you've veered off course, on the same app.Journeys over 30 minutes are free, so it makes sense to keep stopping off on the tourist trail, whether it be for a look at Buckingham Palace or a beer.After a while it had to be the latter, and we spent a pleasant evening enjoying drinks with the jaw-dropping views along the Thames, before browsing the artisan food stalls at Borough Market, and then heading back east for dinner. Viet Hoa Cafe on Kingsland Road was a recommendation from a friend, and a fantastic hidden gem. Deep fried crab, spicy summer rolls, piles of chicken satay and sticky beef were demolished by our group.I was still thinking about the chilli speckled , tongue popping prawns, when we woke up the next morning in the Andaz Hotel. This luxury Hyatt Hotel - a five star venue in a stunning Victorian building - is literally next door to Liverpool Street station and ideally placed for exploring the city. Wine and canapes are offered in the reception too for those on their way out on an evening. Our room was all cool monochrome and huge windows, with a waterfall shower that even made the sound of thunder as I lathered up.There's a bike docking station just a two minute walk away, handy for a Sunday tour around the creative communities on the East End doorstep.Love street art? Head to the graffiti walls on Brick Lane, where hordes of tourists pose for pictures among the lurid colours. If you are also a food-lover, there's the famous Cereal Killer Cafe nearby and an endless market selling everything from Italian street snacks to used coffee sacks and fresh watermelon juice.We managed all this by bike, with slow, sensible navigation through crowded areas, but stepped it up a gear for a sprint out to some of the parks in that part of town.,Huge Victoria Park and all its attractions is within riding distance - but we got slightly lost and ended up checking out the leafy Weaver's Fields, Bethnal Green Gardens and Museum Gardens next to London Buddhist Centre. Again this was a part of London we would never have seen otherwise.Appetites stimulated and bike docked for a final time, it was time for breakfast. I don't say this lightly, but the breakfast at Andaz was the best I've ever had or expect to have a hotel.Home-made energy smoothies, platters laden with cheeses, even home made chocolate spreads lay next to the various selections of breads. My smashed avocado on toast and chia pudding sated hipster tendencies while a perfectly executed full English worked on his more traditional ones.With a roll into the station next door and a simple tube connection to our train home, it proved to be a wheely seamless weekend away all round.
Factbox We stayed at the Andaz Hotel, 40 Liverpool St, London EC2M 7QN, Tel: 020 7961 1234, visit https://londonliverpoolstreet.andaz.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html We travelled with Virgin Trains from Doncaster to London King's Cross, a journey of one hour, 44 minutes. Visit www.virgintrains.co.uk/For more information on Santander Cycles, run by Transport for London, visit https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/santander-cycles or download the Santander Cycles app.