Fall Foliage and the FJR

This past weekend I took my first overnight trip on the FJR, back up to New Hampshire and the White Mountains. I’ve been wanting to take it on a longish trip, and leaf peeping seemed just the thing. Saturday, I followed the same basic route I’d done with the rental FJR, and Sunday, with more time available than I had last year, I took a trip on the Conway Scenic Railway, and did a little more puttering on the way back.

I left the house on Saturday, with a little light mist. When I came out of the O’Neill Tunnel, it was actively raining, but happily, I was wearing my overpants, which can handle a little light rain. By the time I reached the state border, I was in the sunshine.

In New Hampshire, Route 3 and Interstate 93 entwine around each other like a vine on a string; I-93 is the highway; a straight shot north, except for the Franconia Notch area. Route 3 is a local road; you do run into some intersections in towns, but it’s scenic, and there are long stretches with not much traffic, and you can do a fairly decent speed unless you wind up behind a slowpoke. I much prefer it. The two roads do intersect often, and you can easily switch between the two.

At the point where I transferred to Route 3 on Saturday, there was a sign directing me to a bridge. It turned out to be an old covered bridge, so of course, I had to ride over it, ride back, then stop and take some pictures.

Inside the covered bridge

Inside the covered bridge

(Aside: Covered bridges are covered to protect their members from rot. I’ve often wondered if it would be cost-effective in the long run to add a cheap, easy to replace roof to overpasses).

I headed north to Route 112 and the Kancamancus Highway, where I got a shock. It was bumper to bumper, stop and go all the way to the first overlook. This is the FJR’s one Achilles heel: it does not handle slow speed traffic well, or at least, I don’t handle it well at slow speeds. It’s fine while moving, but once the speed drops below a couple of miles per hour, it’s top-heavy and has a real tendency to tip or turn.

After the outlook, traffic at least moved descending the Kancamancus on the way to Conway. By this point it was near sunset, so I stopped for dinner at a family restaurant. I was leaving just as a fireworks show started nearby, so I stayed until the end before heading out along Route 302 to find someplace to stay for the night. I wanted to stay somewhere between Conway and Bartlett.

I hadn’t factored in the time of year. There were No Vacancy signs all over the place. Even the dumpy little motel I’d stayed at before was full. I remembered passing a motel in North Conway that was showing a Vacancy sign, so I hurried to get back before they filled up. I got my room for the night.

The next morning, I had to figure out what to do. I’d originally planned to take 302 out to Sugar Hill, then have breakfast at Polly’s Pancake Parlor, but here I was, close to Conway, and I’d seen the Conway Scenic Railway signs. I decided to go for the train trip. I had breakfast locally, then got a ticket for the 11:30 Valley Ride. This is a 55 minute, 11 mile jaunt through the woods.

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The trip was fun, but not quite as scenic as one would hope; you spend a lot of time going through the woods, with trees close on both sides.

After the train returned, I headed west along Route 302, through Crawford Notch, past Mount Washington, to Route 3, and the slow ride home. This part of the ride is made for motorcycling — not much traffic, and scenic, curvy roads.

View from Crawford Notch

View from Crawford Notch

While I was riding through, I could see the Notch Train in the distance, running up along the side of the mountain. It made me a little sorry I hadn’t taken it, but not much; I’d rather take the bike than the train through there.

By the time I was headed south on Route 3, it was mid afternoon, so I stopped at the Indian Head Resort for lunch. It’s old-time 1950’s type tacky, but the view while I was eating was nice.

By the time I finished lunch, it was 3:30, and time to head home. For the most part, I took Route 3 back – it was getting close to sunset, and the light and the foliage were superb. I did skirt Laconia, as I’ve found there are a lot of intersections there. Finally, as I approached Concord and dusk fell, I switched back to I-93 for the rest of the ride home.

I am still pretty happy with this bike. At speed, it’s like riding a magic carpet, smooth and responsive and with plenty of power. I feel more comfortable passing for some reason on this bike than I did on the other two. I was mostly in the lower part of the engine’s RPM range except for one moment passing when I reached an absurd speed in second gear. It made me wonder what it can do at red line in top gear.

I do need to get better at stop and go with this thing. It tends to catch me by surprise when it loses gyroscopic balance and it starts to yaw. Part of it might be top-heaviness, part of it may be my short legs.

I was definitely feeling a little saddle-sore by Sunday evening. Not too bad, and nowhere as bad as the Katana, but I was feeling it. I may look into Yamaha’s comfort seat, a gel filled replacement saddle.

Finally, I was definitely missing my Nikon on this trip. It’s still out of commission, and I was limited to iPhone photography. The iPhone camera is really good, but its lens is fixed, and semi wide-angle. It also tends to pick up fingerprints.I tend to “see” narrowly photographically, and miss my zoom lens. I also miss having a raw file to work with and manipulate. At this point, I’ve exhausted all the do it yourself options I’ve read about; it sounds like the camera definitely needs repair. I may just decide to replace it instead.

 

Last Days in London

I packed a lot into my last days in London. I had a nice one on one with the CEO Friday, and after work, took advantage of the National Gallery’s extended hours to pay a visit after work. I spent about 90 minutes wandering the galleries, looking at the paintings. I found the lighting in this one to be remarkable:

Painting with dramatic lighting

The painting depicts an experiment demonstrating the effect of a vacuum on a bird.

I wandered through the museum for about an hour and a half, and then found my attention flagging; I was tired, and my eyes were tired, and having trouble focusing. So I left a little early, taking a walk through Trafalgar Square, and down to the Embankment for supper and then the ride back to the apartment.

Saturday morning, I decided that since I knew how to get there, I would go to see Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap. I’ve read about the play, and its twist ending, and decided to go for it. I’d planned to see the British Museum on Saturday, so I opted for the evening performance.

I then got directions from Siri for the British Museum, and it directed me to the bus; the first time in the two weeks I’d been there. The directions were good, and it was great just riding around the city above ground.

Unfortunately, for me, the British Museum was just not my cup of tea. I was glad to see the Rosetta Stone, and the exhibit of the Sutton Hoo burial dig was interesting, but I find looking at artifacts in isolation to be pretty dry. It was much more interesting at the Tower of London, seeing things in context. It could also be that after two weeks I was just museumed out. For whatever reason, I decided to cut my visit short after a couple of hours.

It was now shortly around 1, and I decided to try the London Eye again. I got over there around 1:30, and was able to get a ticket for 2:30. So I whiled away the time with a hot dog and ice cream, and got in the line to get aboard.

The Eye is a essentially a Ferris wheel, with a couple of important differences. First, and most important to me, is that it moves much slower than a normal Ferris wheel. You only get one rotation of the wheel, but it takes about 20 minutes to make that rotation. Second, rather than an open pair of seats hanging from the wheel, it has an array of glass capsule bound by rings to the wheel. The rings go around the circumference of each capsule, and the capsule slowly rotates as the wheel moves, so it always faces out and always stands straight up.

The view was worth the wait. You can see the curve of the Thames downstream, and the wheel is actually taller than the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, so at the top of the wheel, you’re actually looking down on them.

I then had a bit of a dilemma – I hadn’t expected to finish this soon, so I’d bought my ticket for 7:30 rather than 4, and I had some time to kill. I ended up deciding to visit Green Park and Buckingham Palace.

From there, I walked down to Piccadilly Circus; once I found my bearings, I had dinner , and then set off for the theater.

The Mousetrap has been running continuously for 65 years. It’s classic Agatha Christie — all the action takes place either off stage, or on the one set, of the drawing room of guest house. Christie carefully points out how little is known about each character by the other characters, and how suspicious each one is. It ends with a twist which the audience is asked not to give away.

I had to check out of the apartment by 11 AM this morning,  but the flight didn’t leave until 4:50 PM. Even allowing for transit time, and checking in and security, that still left some time left to burn. So, once I got to Victoria Station, I carefully made a note of my surroundings, and went for a walk through the local neighborhood. I stopped in the tiny little Grosvenor Park, and then walked down Buckingham Palace Road until about 12:30 and turned around. On the way back, I saw this older house in the middle of newer urban construction. It seemed emblematic of London, somehow.

Old House

Then it was time to head for Gatwick, and home.

Piccadilly and Leicester Square

With the trip drawing to a close, I wanted to do some more sightseeing after work. Mark and Ben recommended Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square so I decided to take them up on it. I got there at dusk, right when the lights of the buildings were starting to match the light from the sky. It was mobbed.

There were street entertainers there, and big screens across the buildings, and lots of shops and restaurants. I walked along for a bit grabbing pictures. The two areas are not that distinct from each other; “Piccadilly Circus” is a big plaza, and if you walk down one of the streets from the plaza, you end up in Leicester Square. The whole area has the same vibe.

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Tower of London and Kensington

I weighed what I wanted to do today carefully; I only have one more off day before I return. I considered the British Museum, but decided instead to see the Tower of London and Kensington Garden.

I really enjoyed the tour of the London Tower.  William the Conqueror built the original section, the White Tower, about 950 years ago, and it’s been added onto bit by bit over the centuries. There are still a lot of places where you can see the original Norman construction, but there are also a lot of places where it’s changed.

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