Canterbury Tales

(Post #4 on our trip to England)

I loved Canterbury.  With it’s old city walls, cobblestone and shop-lined streets, for me it was classic England.  I had a great time going into little boutique shops and dodging the hordes of French students on field trips.

That Oil & Vinegar shop in the background was awesome!  It had tons of different types of, well, oil and vinegar, on tap!  There must not be a lot of foodies around that area because it was closing down but it was really neat and I had never seen anything like it.

One of the gates into the city.

Pam told us that she used to work outside the cathedral gate at a fancy little tea house.  Now it’s a Starbucks.  Darn you Starbucks and your McDonald-ized coffee!  I would have loved to have gone to the tea house.  With our lack of coffee in the mornings, the Seattle siren called out to us with her coffee smell, but we resisted well and found ourselves a more local coffee shop to sit and sip at.  We knew Sean would be proud.

I was interested to see what type of brew methods coffee shops use in England, but coffee shops in England don’t brew coffee.  To them, a coffee is one of the drinks made with espresso.  Where I do enjoy a latte here and there, I pretty much prefer brewed coffee.  I don’t claim to know much more than the little bit my brother, Sean, has shown me (he is an expert) in the ways of coffee, but I do have more of an appreciation for it than a gas station or fast food joint can offer you.  But while in Rome (England), do what the Romans do (drink tea instead of coffee).

Now for the grand finale of our Canterbury tale, the Canterbury Cathedral.

This was a historical delight for me.  I went through a hyperfocus stage on Queen Elizabeth (but went from Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth), so to be in the cathedral that Henry VIII attended was such a treat!

Go to Canterbury.  I liked it.  Jon liked it.  We think you will too.

From Hoi Polloi to the Davenport

(Post #3 on trip to England)

There’s something to be said about breaking bread with a person. Not to over-spiritualize it but the New Testament seems to talk a lot about the early church fellowshiping or breaking bread together; hanging out. To me, there’s something meaningful about having a good meal with someone. It seems the best way to get to know a person; to sit face to face or shoulder to shoulder, just spending time together while eating good food.  I think spending time with Nick’s family eating a good meal was some of my favorite times.  They were all really “lovely” people and I feel like I know them more now that we’ve broken bread together.

Food and people just go together and so they do in this post.

Now the British aren’t wildly famous for their cuisine. But I’m not going to join the “English food is so bland” bandwagon. I don’t think that’s true either. All in all, it was pretty much the same.  America isn’t famous for it’s dishes either (I mean, unless you count McDonald’s, of course). You can find most of the same brands there. I will say that the food in the grocery stores is quite a bit cheaper there, even with the exchange rate (the exchange rate made Jon cry). Cheese (good cheese) is actually better and cheaper there. Beer is a far cry better. Other than that, it’s about the same.  For my Non-GMO food friends, they have the same problems there as we have here, although I saw lots of signs for local markets and farm fresh foods. I think they’re pushing the “let’s get back” route more than we are. Come on England, if you can push to Non-GMO, then maybe we will follow! France has banned GMO’s so if you ever get to go there, enjoy your eating freedom!

Eating out is more expensive (at least most of the places we went), so my advice to anyone visiting England is to save money on lodge and food (our place was pretty cheap for a week and was very clean and comfortable) and spend the money in seeing things and traveling (most everything we wanted to do seemed to cost 18-20 pounds per person which exchanges to 28-31 dollars a person- ouch!).  Going to the market and cooking at your rental will be fun and save money.  Eat out during the day, when you’re out and about at little fish and chips and kebab shops or pick up a pasty.  Those places are very affordable and filling.

These yummy cornish pasties we had at a shop in Canterbury.  They come in many different flavors (mom had some sort of Indian flavored pasty, Jon and I had a chicken and vegetable, and Brian, Pam, and Nick had sausage rolls).  The best way I can describe them is that they’re like handheld potpies with a flakier crust.  Very good and very filling.  The picture in the top right is Jon and I with Brian and Pam.  You can’t really tell…because my mom took the picture, let’s leave it at that. 😉

See?  Fellowshipping.  Ok, really we’re laughing at my mom’s photography “skills.”  But it brought us together nonetheless.  Thanks, mom. 😉

Jon looking handsome and me being silly with our fish and chips.  That is one piece of fish, people!

We met Nick’s parents and two uncles at a village called Loose for lunch at  The Chequers.  I’ve always wanted to try Moussaka and so I ordered that (top picture) and it was very, very good…but…it’s not traditionally a British dish, it’s the dish that the Greeks are most famous for.  According to About.com, Moussaka is a casserole made by layering eggplant with a spiced meat filling then topping it off with a creamy bechamel sauce (a white cream sauce) that is baked to golden perfection.  Mine had the eggplant and potatoes and something that had a risotto-type texture and was vegetarian.  And yes, that’s cheese melted all over top.  Very tasty and not bland at all!  Jon had a cheeseburger with a pico de gallo topping.  Not very British either but also good.  🙂

Indian restaurants are to England like Mexican restaurants are to America.  They are everywhere.  We ate at one in West Malling and had a lot of food.  We all shared the different types of dishes (that my mom could name for you but I cannot remember whatsoever).

Another night, we met up with another one of Nick’s aunts and uncles and went to a very nice Chinese restaurant with them and Brian and Pam.  We had starters and then all ordered a main course to share.  The have a large lazy susan in the middle of every table that makes it very convenient to spin around and get a taste of everything.  It was a great evening with great food!

So, yes, we went to England and ate Greek, Indian, and Chinese.  But I think my favorite meal was sitting on Brian and Pam’s couch with a cup of “Brian’s Famous Tea” (as named by Jon- he didn’t think anyone else could make it like Brian) and Pam’s cheese sandwich.  The warmth of their little flat is nothing compared to the warmth of these two people.  They’re the kind of people that you immediately feel comfortable with and anyone would want them to be their grandparents.  I feel like these moments were the best, “British” moments we could have had.  I am horribly sad that I didn’t take any pictures of these moments.  The rest of the evenings we snacked on chips (crisps), meat pies, cheese, bread, and beer in our little bungalow watching shows on BBC (Big Hairy Bakers needs to come to America- we loved it!).  It was a very relaxing comfortable way to spend our evenings after our days of walking.

When you go on these kinds of trips you are very aware of your surroundings and the sights and never forget to take pictures of these, but the moments on the davenport are perhaps the most important.  Remember to take pictures of these.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…and Ferries…and lots of Walking

(Post #2 on the trip to England)

“Our goal when we get there,” Nick announced, “is to stay awake as long as possible to join their schedule.”

Curse those words.  Although they were wise and needed to be said, they rattled in my head the entire flight.  I struggled to sleep sitting up, or leaning on Jon, trying to make sure none of my crazy sleep jolts hit my innocent neighbor.  I had even bought some melatonin spray at the airport before we left.  All that did was give me crazy in and out dreams thinking that I had maybe slept an hour only to find out it had been ten minutes.  All I could think was how I needed to be sleeping because when the flight landed it would be 6am and the start of a new day.

Thank goodness we didn’t bring the kids.  I don’t think they would have survived.  And then I would have played the roll of adult instead of the ten year old, constantly checking the screen for my silent, “are we there yet?”

I don’t like flying and even more so I don’t like airports.  They make you feel like criminals just for wanting to travel.  You hold your breath as your things go through the scanner, even though you know you have nothing to hide, you feel almost certain that they’re going to find something incriminating about you.  The customs people, especially when we were coming back into the US were extremely rude.  They were 30 something men who seemed like they were tripping on the power that they can be rude and you will most likely take it.  I surely didn’t want to call them on it and risk the chance of them flagging me for one reason or another.  It’s like talking back to a cop that’s pulled you over for speeding.  Futile.  And I’m sorry, but the TSA, to me, is a complete joke.

TSA officer with Jon’s bag open, holding up the London bus and taxi purchased for Greg, “What’s this?”
Jon, “toys.”
“Are they made of metal?” holding the unopened package.
“I’m not sure, they appear to be.”
“What’s this?”
“Chocolate.”
“What’s this?”
“Chocolate cookies.”
“What’s in this tin?”
“Cookies.”
“And is this more chocolate?”
“Yep.”
“Ok, you’re clear to go,” shoving the disheveled suitcase to the side.
“So, uh, I guess I get to pack it all back up?” annoyed, passive-aggressive Jon replies.
“Yep” equally annoyed officer replies while trying to get Jon out of the way so he can interrogate the next person.

What did the officer expect Jon to say as he held up the cookies, “oh no sir, those aren’t chocolate cookies, they’re exploding cookies.”  What’s the point in asking the passenger what each item is?  Is someone who is bringing something dangerous on the plane going to be forthcoming with that information?  Are they looking for discomfort or anxiousness?  Because with my level of uncomfortableness, I most certainly could have been considered a criminal then.  And I don’t even have one of those incriminating accents we previously discussed.  It’s a joke.  Ron Paul 2012. (That was for you Will)

But it’s a necessary evil, flying is, and we made it, and I’d do it again.  Only I don’t like Newark airport- I’ll choose one of the other options.  And Nick says flying into Gatwick is easier than Heathrow.  Duly noted.

The blue line is the route the pilot was to take. The yellow was the actual route we were taking…

Upon arrival we took a shuttle to the car rental where Nick picks up the full-sized Volvo (full-sized is an important description word because we will find out in the trip that no “car parks” or roads in England are designed for anything described as full-sized).  Getting into the car, there’s that awkward moment of who’s going to ride in the front.

I’m an annoying weirdo when it comes to being a rider. I think everyone drives too fast and brakes way later than they should. You see, when I was 15, my mom was too afraid to teach me to drive so she would close her eyes in the back seat as my 19 year old boyfriend taught me to drive. Now this guy was a crazy fast driver. Because of this I believed the interstate to be a puzzle; meant for you to weave in and out of cars in all lanes to never have to break your chosen speed (which was at the very least 10 over). Then I married Jon. He is a grandpa of a driver, believing that anything over 5 over is too fast. If the car in front of him is going slow he slows down (and doesn’t even kiss the bumper!). He uses blinkers at every turn and lane change, and waits the appropriate amount of time at stop signs (I’m not sure who taught him to drive but they did a good job). When we first dated, his driving drove me crazy. I constantly wanted to hit my foot on the gas pedal and I would find myself asking him, “aren’t you going to pass that car?” all the time. So over the years I had two choices: 1- I could be annoyed all the time and we could always fight over who was going to drive and traffic laws or 2- I could simmer down, kick back, enjoy life and sleep in a car knowing my life was more than safe in this driver’s hands. #2 seemed like the only real option to me. But that decision has come with it’s consequences. When you have the DMV poster child driving you around most of the time, EVERYONE else scares the crap out of you.  My efforts to try and hide my fear fail miserably, so I usually just tell people straight up- look, everyone I ride with scares me so don’t take it personally. It’s not you; it’s me. In fact, when I drive, I scare the crap out of myself (let’s face it, when I’m late, my foundational driving lessons come out).

So you can see I’m clearly not a good choice to sit in the front seat, on the opposite side of the car that I’m used to, feeling as if every car is headed straight for me. Remember that mom I described sitting in the backseat with her eyes closed while “teaching” me to drive? Yeah, clearly she wasn’t a good choice either. So Jon being the official front seat rider of the week is almost an unspoken certainty.  Now I will say, Nick is an awesomely cautious driver, but just the nature of the brain shift you have to do here makes it too much for me no matter how cautious he is.  Not to mention that he spoke of being nervous to drive on the left side of the road again.  When you’re driver tells you complete silence is needed for concentration, you buckle up- even in the back.

But the weirdness of driving on the left side eventually wore off and even mom eventually ventured into the front seat.  This was my favorite way to travel.  There’s no, let’s be there an hour early and wait or chances of late departures.  You get in and enjoy the beautiful countryside.  And I mean bea-uti-ful.  Nick was awesome about pulling over when he could to allow us to be tourists.

Dover Castle in the romantic English fog. Every morning we were covered in thick fog. I could just see Mr. Darcy crossing the countryside to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

Jon and I had a day of exploring London on our own.  However, we didn’t really think the trip through.  We were surprised that the train was going to take 2 hours one way which would leave us 3 hours in London only to make it back to the station for the 2 hour trip back; all for about $68.  Maybe not the most wisely planned trip but we had fun nonetheless.  The trains and stations are actually kept very nice.  And I took advantage of the time to blog the previous days (of which I would never post).

The scenery was sometimes beautiful and sometimes not.  Pulling in from the east side of London reminded me of times of bringing friends into Missouri via 44, East St. Louis, from Tennessee.  As you come into Missouri, right there at the sign is a ton of graffiti and lots and lots of trash.  You find yourself apologizing and promising that the rest of the city doesn’t look this bad.  It was similar coming into London the way we did.  Lots and lots of trash.  But by the time we pulled into London we were welcomed by the landscape of London that is promised.

Jon at the West Malling train station.

We would travel to London by train again (only this time only being an hour instead of 2 since we went via West Malling the second time around) for a day of sight seeing with Mom and Nick.

Nick checks for connection of his Blackberry Brick to the "free" Wifi. Fail.

There was also a ferry trip from Dover, England to Calais, France.  This was a frustrating day where the ferry was delayed causing 2 very long extra waits (without internet access…the magical iPhone quickly turned into an iPaperweight on this trip) and a trip to a very unimpressive port town.  But there will be more on Calais later.

And of course there was traveling by foot.

Walking in Canterbury…

Walking in London…

Dungeness…

Loose…

Ooooooh look some stairs!

And more walking…

Sorry.  I had to take this moment to make fun of our many, many pictures of each other walking!  Apparently we wanted to capture our good use of our legs on this trip.  Enter 500 Miles by The Proclaimers here.

Calling at Pluckley!

(Post #1 on trip to England)

It was my favorite announcement on the train ride from London to Dover.  I’m not one that is easily impressed or underimpressed (good ole Jenism) by accents.  It’s amazing to me how a lot of Americans can be wooed by an intelligent-sounding British or Australian accent or completely annoyed and bothered by a Mexican or Indian accent.  How a person can be determined by the sound of their words makes no sense to me.

But then again, I despise the twangy story telling of country music.  So I guess that’s pretty hypocritical.  Not even giving the song a chance as soon as I hear the way the banjo sings it’s notes…

However, when the lady came over the intercom announcing, “Calling at Pluckley,” I giggled to myself.  I have no idea why.  It just struck me funny.  Later, while watching BBC we hear how Pluckley is the most haunted place in England.  Oooooh.

Each night I blogged about that day of my trip.  However, we had extremely limited access to internet so they never got sent.  That’s a good thing.  My sister won’t even read my blog because it’s too lengthy and she’s my best friend.  So yeah.  As a writer I have a long way to go.  When I got home I couldn’t even read through my posts without getting too tired to go on.  I can do better than a simple, Day 1, upchuck. I must find a way to condense and summarize while still preserving the moments I want to remember (let’s face it by this time next year it will be a faint image, darn you horrible memory).  But for some reason I also want each post to be a little insight about me…and for me it’s a recollection of what has happened that makes me, me.  So the bunny trails, like my lack of appreciation for accents and hatred of country music are just bonus bits that are mostly for myself to remember (well heck, this whole blog is that!).

I’m going to do a little series to keep from one lengthy post, focusing on the Travel, the Food, the History, the People, and the Land.  I will try my best to keep it mostly pictures and not so many words.  But who am I kidding?  I just wrote an entire post about how I was going to write posts so there’s not much hope for me yet.

Here’s a picture to make this post worth your time.  🙂

Sunset in Dover