Almost two months have passed since I arrived in London, and it was great to spend the time with my family who I have not seen for three or four years. For the most part I did not do the touristy things one usually does. I did not go and see Big Ben, London Bridge or the Houses of Parliament. Instead most of my time was spent chatting with my mum and sister, frolicking in the snow, and cooking and devouring some delicious meals.
Despite London being extremely expensive, some things can be had for a bargain. London seems to cater to the fast generation, with a lot of meals being prepared from frozen, no thinking required. A staple of ours became pork ribs, curly fries and salad. For the princely sum of about $5, you can buy a full rack of ribs, throw them in the oven (frozen), and 30 minutes later, voila, rack of ribs, tasty as hell.
So it was most of our time passed by, eating, smoking and being merry. We did enjoy a few excursions, such as our trip to Stonehenge. Despite previously living in the UK for 10 years, I had never seen Stonehenge, and so when Sarah got to London, we made a last minute decision, jumped in the car, and drove out to see the mysterious site.
That it had been snowing was a nice little bonus, and added to the mystique of the place. About an hour out of London, you turn a corner, come over a hill and are rewarded with a spectacular view of these ancient stones rising up to a cloudy sky. The newly fallen snow is a stark contrast to the dark stone dragged from distant quarries three to four thousand years ago.
It is a wonder to wander around such a mysterious place, one which people still know very little about, and even the piercing ice cold wind could not deter us from pondering this most awe inspiring of mysteries. It took the gnawing craving for coffee and nicotine to finally drag me away from my internal musings, which, to be honest, is generally the way it goes for most of my excursions.
The South Coast of Britain
Sarah’s motivating presence was not done yet though and after searching for places to stay, our next and final major trip was a drive down to the coastal town of Hythe, the luring factor being a church full of bones and skulls my mum had read about. It seems an interest in the macabre might be a hereditary trait, because the promise of skeletal remains drove us to pack our bags, fill the tank, brave the cold and head out on an early Sunday morning.
The drive down is mainly on large highways, but even from the busy wide grey roads one gets to see the green, green hills of “ye olde England”. It is easy to forget when in London how close the countryside is, and this was a welcome reminder.
Two hours of driving, one coffee and two smokes later, we found ourselves arriving at the little town of Hythe. Being winter, there were not many holiday makers around as we drove up to the “Stade Court Hotel”, our wonderfully British home for the evening. To me the definition of British is changing, and what I would expect of a hotel such as this nowadays (and which I received), is a staff of very friendly, broken-English-speaking Eastern Europeans, contrasted strongly in this strange out of the way location.
There is a show on telly in the UK which is set in hotels such as these, it takes a reality T.V. approach to showing the inner workings of such a place. I could not have been happier to find that rather than the exception, places like these are the rule.
We checked in and were pointed in the direction of our rooms, a choice of an elevator so small two people would have to squeeze into it, or up the creaky 70’s decor carpeted stairs, once in our rooms we were presented with duck stickers on the wall and lovely views of the English Channel across the road.
There were a few little issues with the rooms, such as the heating and telly not working, but the management sorted these out straight away. We had tried to have a bath and found that the water was not very hot, to which we were informed that health and safety would not allow water above 60 degrees, again, very modern day British.
After dumping our things and snacking on duck pate, cheese and biltong. We left the hotel and took a drive around Hythe, soaking up the old churches and castles, stopping for coffee in old pubs, and wandering around the occasional graveyard (unfortunately the church of bones was closed for renovations, but the rest of Hythe made up for this mild disappointment).
We spent the remainder of the day wandering on the pebble beach spotting shells and various ocean detritus, and even sighted a lone seal swimming along the shore. Despite the cold, it was a beautiful place, made more so by its quiet, stark nature. That night we dined on mussels and prawns at a restaurant on the beach, the sole clientele in a well decorated modern place staring out to the dark ocean. A great way to wrap up a great day.
The Full English and Dover
The next morning we woke at 05:30 AM and made our way to the beach to watch the sunrise. It took a wee bit longer than expected, and if not for wrapping the dog up in my extra jumper, I feel we would have had a casualty of the cold. Still, it was delightful to have the beach to ourselves and watch the day come in. We walked up and down the promenade, shivering slightly despite the multiple layers, and then made our way back to the hotel for the included brekky.
In true British style, a full English breakfast was served up by the friendly Romanian “do-it-all” staff member (lets call him Nicolai). We dined on fried eggs, fried sausage, fried bacon, fried mushrooms, fried tomato, fried hash browns, beans and toast – the breakfast of champions. Upon winching ourselves out of our chairs and preparing to leave the breakfast nook, Nicolai caught our attention and said “You are great people”, Cheers Nicolai.
After a nap and another bath, we checked out and made our way slowly along the coast to see the White Cliffs of Dover, another famous British landmark I had not yet visited.
The views along the coast were amazing, and the sun even made an appearance as if to say “Fare thee well Tyrhone, your time on our shores has not gone unnoticed”, to which I replied “Thanks Britain”.
Rounding a corner we were presented with the port of Dover, a dozen ferries leaving and arriving, their port of call, Calais, France, on the opposite side of the channel. Up and up we went, passing an impressive Castle perched overlooking the ocean, high on the white cliffs immortalized in song. We found a lovely area to park, and wandered along the cliffs edge until it came to an abrupt halt. Off to the left, the white cliffs of Dover rose brightly from the dark water below, and to the right, a medieval castle stood watch as it has done for presumably hundreds of years, quite a sight.
I questioned why I had traveled so little in in the UK while I was here, and resolved to one day return and do so. Hythe was a wonderful little town. Not on the map like Brighton or Bournemouth, but better off for it, methinks.
My time in London is over, and it was very sad to say goodbye to the family, but time moves on and so must we. As I write this, I am sitting in our studio apartment in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Yes, that is right, we have returned to Mexico, and it feels like home. We took a walk along the beach this morning, had a coffee at our old haunt “Ah Cacao”, and enjoyed the warmth of the sun on our skin.
More so than ever I am sure that this feeling is that which Dorothy felt when declaring “There is no place like home”. Let the fiesta begin.
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