012. CANTERBURY TALES / by Cara Hines

Journal from 13-16 November:

I’m finding it quite difficult to keep up to date with this blogging thing! I left London several days ago for Canterbury. I stayed with my couchsurfing.com host, Sarah Calderwood, who was simultaneously hosting another surfer from France, Yves (pronounced Eve). Sarah is a teacher and was quite busy the week of my arrival and out late for a fieldtrip with her students, so Yves met me at Canterbury East train station to guide me to Sarah’s flat in the center of town. I could immediately tell I would enjoy this place. It’s a smaller city, which I prefer if I’m staying for any extended time, and its very long, rich history is mixed with a proper amount of modern conveniences and updates. People are welcoming and quite “full of beans” which means jovial. Yves is studying architecture and design at the university there, so we had a lot to talk about. He was absolutely wonderful, cooking a meal for the two of us and telling me wonderful stories, all about himself, his experiences and a little about Canterbury. He brought the blankets and sleeping bag for my little nest on the floor in the living room, and I happily plopped down to a good sleep.

The next day I ventured out to explore Canterbury. The earth, buildings, streets, sidewalks and, on occasion, the people, are saturated with water. There’s a richness there that I just loved. It was an incredibly windy day, raining off and on. When I say wind, I mean gale force, like the kind you might have on a boat deck crossing the English Channel, or in Lubbock, Texas, but without the grit for the added sandblasting effect. Despite the weather, I wandered among the black stone streets and electric green moss-covered buildings. I visited Canterbury Cathedral and kilometer zero of the Via Francigena pilgrimage trail, a very old cemetery in a small churchyard, and the Greyfriars’ Garden and cottage built over the river running through town. The Church threw the Greyfriars this token bit of unwanted land centuries ago when it was but a boggy marsh. The order of monks persevered and created a lovely, peaceful grounds with small buildings and walking paths they open daily to share with the public. A perfect example of making lemonade when handed lemons.

One of my favorite discoveries of the day was a group of new friends. Between the main street and the cathedral I passed by a trio of musicians filling the streets with music. I liked the energy surrounding them. They seemed like the kind of people I’d want to share a beer and stories with. I contributed a couple of pounds to their till and asked if I could snap some pictures. They were happy to oblige, and I thoroughly enjoyed the music they played as I caught them on camera. We chatted a bit afterward. I shared my website and a bit about my journey. They gave me some tips on where to go in town as well as some history I’d not discovered otherwise. That evening I returned home to read messages from them on Facebook and in the “Dialogue” section of my website. More friends to visit again in the future!

By late afternoon, I was feeling so grateful for all the people who have supported me on this journey, I thought it would be fun to prepare a nice dinner for Sarah and Yves. I popped in to a small shop and took advantage of their sign out front offering a discount with the purchase of one each of wine, cheese and bread. Then I went to a supermarket and bought some lamb chops, fresh sage, and chocolate. Back at Sarah’s I set about cooking the meal as the three of us shared red wine, and Yves prepared a delectable toffee dessert using in part the chocolate I’d bought. It was a perfect meal, if I do say so myself! They were lucky ones, because my cooking can be hit or miss. When it hits, it can be award winning. When it misses, it REALLY misses.

Afterward, we hit the town. First we went to a small hip bar (I should have written the names of these places down!) where we enjoyed mojitos for cheap and watched the young crowd coming in and out, the “see and be seen scene” I call it. Then we went salsa dancing in a little Cuban bar with a very intimate dance floor. We gyrated our hips and met some cute Albanians willing to sweep us off our feet for a few fleeting moments. Then we stopped in another small bar to see what cute boys we could find for Yves. But it was quiet, and the ones there weren’t worthy for my beautiful new friend. He’s a special one. Really! Could pinch his cheeks. We decided to walk over to the night club called, Girls and Boys to see the real night life. After the busy week Sarah had, she was obliged to send us on our way without her. So, Yves and I proceeded to dance our hearts out and enjoy a few drinks until after 3am. I do that sort of thing very rarely anymore!! I must have been the oldest one there, so it was great fun just to dance and watch the crowd. It’s a fascinating sociological study in mating rituals of the human species.

The next day, I spent the morning recovering. Ouch. But the weather was beautiful and very still unlike the previous day, so it was perfect for me to run about with the video camera. I got wonderful footage, and I learned about some valuable contacts I need when making arrangements for next year. As I walked along High Street, I met Simon and his beautiful Border Collie, Meg. Simon and Meg are proprietors of a natural soap cart on the street. We got on chatting, and I told him what I’m doing with the camera. He invited me to join him for his evening beer at his usual pub. I had a bit more filming to do inside the cathedral before it closed, and he had to close up his cart. So I met up with him a bit later for that beer. We had a wonderful time chatting! He told me bit about Canterbury and about himself. The soap cart is something he does to get outside. He loves meeting people from all over and enjoys having Meg with him. His profession is personnel services in the airline industry. I’ll stop there because I don’t want to misquote him. Like so many of us, he gets a great deal more enjoyment from the soap cart; a simpler, less stressful, albeit less lucrative activity. It was a wonderful conversation, and I think I found yet another friend I’ll remain in contact with in the future.

I got so caught up in my discoveries and filming and newfound friend, that I completely missed the proper English Sunday lunch Sarah and Yves prepared along with another surfer, Summer. This sort of meal typically consists of roast beef, roast potatoes, brussels sprouts and other vegetables, apple sauce, small pastries called Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, and gravy. They had said I had about an hour to film, which I interpreted to mean I had an about an hour of nice weather. When the nice weather continued, I just kept filming. It wasn't until I arrived home that evening that I realized they meant an hour until lunch! I felt terribly rude. It was wonderful food, and the best part, my favorite dessert in the world…sticky toffee pudding!! Yuummmm!! Anyway, they forgave me (I think), and I enjoyed my last evening with them, watching Ex-Factor with Sarah. It’s all the rage in England. It was a perfectly British day...er...almost.

The next day I met some of my Canterbury and Via Francigena contacts in person. I enjoyed a proper English breakfast (usually including some combination of ham, bacon, sausage link, eggs, toast or pudding, fried mushrooms, home fries, potato bread or tattie scone, baked beans, and ketchup or brown sauce) at a wonderful café while making my train and ferry arrangements online. I gave a quick last visit to Simon and Meg, then headed off to Canterbury East Train Station. It was difficult for me to leave. I think I could easily live in England, perhaps in Canterbury. I must return! And I will.

Visit the CANTERBURY TALES photo gallery.