My Canterbury Tales

The next stop in my UK travels was to see my friend, Monica, in Canterbury, England. So on Sunday, January 25th I boarded a flight from Edinburgh to London Gatwick, took the Gatwick Express train to London Victoria rail/coach terminus and caught a bus heading east. This was definitely the leg of my trip where I was most grateful for my hiking backpack and duffel combo – a wheelie suitcase would have been such a pain!
Monica was waiting for me at the bus stop and it was so welcome to see a smiling face after my travels! Moni and I survived our MA’s together and, like anyone who has been to war and back, we have a fierce unspoken bond. Although we both declared after graduation that there was no way in heck we’d do our PhD’s for a good long while, she capitulated and is now at the University of Kent in Canterbury working away on 17th century masculinity and horsemanship.
So us two history geeks grabbed the bus back to where she’s living on the outskirts of town. By then it was about supper time so we decided to try out this pub down the way. Braving the rain, we walked the 10 or so minutes with our hoods up, and found ourselves in front of an unassuming little pub called the Hare and Hounds. It looked like any other pub I’d been in: footie was on the tv, there were a group of men at the bar drinking beers and commenting on said footie game, etc. We settled ourselves into a table, I ordered my one and only Guinness of the trip, and asked to see menus. What a surprise that was! No run-of-the mill pub fare here: we each ordered the pear-stilton-watercress salads as a starter and had delicious pub-inspired mains that were beyond delicious. Then we shared a pear crumble for our pudding (what the Brits call dessert) while sipping one of the best darn decaf coffees of my life! Whoever said food in the UK was bad is very mistaken or just very unlucky.
The next day Moni and I headed into the town of Canterbury where we basically shopped till we dropped, people-watched, and enjoyed catching up with each other’s lives. Moni found the perfect skinny jeans after a long hunt and I stocked up on knickers (gotta love that word!) at Marks and Sparks. And of course I breezed by the Canterbury Cathedral, appreciating its architecture but not willing to spend the 9 GBP to explore its innards.

A shot of the Canterbury Cathedral at dusk through the narrow, shop-filled streets.

On the last morning of my all-too brief visit, Moni let me tag along to her supervisor’s undergrad course on 18th century English literature. I was enthralled: the topic was Samuel Johnson, whom I’d never heard of before. I will definitely have to look into more of his stuff, though – love the irony and sarcasm! Dr. Landry started off her lecture by showing a clip of an episode of the classic British show, Blackadder, in which Samuel Johnson is trying to explain to the king that his new book – the first English dictionary – is not a novel. Of course, hilarity ensues!

The lecture was also the perfect segueway into the final leg of my UK trip, as Johnson famously wrote: “When one is tired of London, one is tired of life.”

Aerial shot of the University of Kent – best seen from far away since it was all constructed in the 1960s-1970s and is really quite unattractive!

Merry Christmas to Me!

As many of you know, Doug is in Scotland this holiday season, my parents are in Canada, and I am here in Wyoming. When people learn that I will be spending Christmas “alone” (I do have the cat, dog, and some friends here!) they get a concerned look on their faces and seem surprised when I say that I’m fine with it.

After all, Doug and I got to celebrate an early Christmas with the families in Ottawa in November and went out for an incredible Italian meal with my parents with not a Christmas pudding or fruitcake in sight! Also, with Christmas just a few days away, people here are still panicking about buying and wrapping gifts, preparing food, and dealing with travel delays caused by weather. Not me!

The only thing that was kind of getting me down was I really enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. I like the anticipation: even in my mid-20s I go to bed Christmas Eve with little butterflies in my stomach and wake up super early to open stockings with Doug and whomever else is up or willing to be woken up (usually Dan, my brother-in-law, who likes stockings as much as I!).

This was in the back of my mind as I was surfing the net last night while watching tv. I had decided I would treat myself to a little reward/Christmas gift for finishing a couple of more chapters and was trying to figure out what to get. So I went on the local department store’s website – Herberger’s [pronounced Her-burgers down here] – and saw an answer to my holiday wish: today only they were opening at 6am, would be handing out goody bags at the door, and had huge store-wide savings!

I swear Handel’s “Hallelujah! chorus” started going in my head. I did have a few initial doubts: after all, a Walmart employee was trampled to death during a post-Thanksgiving early-morning stampede. But I figured I’d be pretty safe from the crowds here, even though it’s the Saturday before Christmas.

Reason #1: because it’s an oil-town, many of the citizens are bachelors. Everyone knows that guys never remember to do Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve.

Reason #2: many people around here are from Texas, California, or Louisiana (following the oil). It was -20 degrees Celsius plus a nasty 40km/h wind this morning. Those folks were not getting out of bed to go shopping! In fact, they are probably hunkered down until spring!

So after deciding I’d pretty much have the store to myself, I cheerily went and set the coffee maker for 5:30am, set my alarm, and tried to go to sleep. But just like on Christmas Eve, my stomach was all aflutter (although that could have been the root beer I’d just drank), and I woke up a full hour before my alarm (or the coffee maker). Still, I whistled while I put my boots and coat on to walk the dog in the frigid, pre-dawn air. I admired the clear sky and the sparkling stars. I thanked those lucky stars that someone invented head harnesses so Riker didn’t break my neck on the icy streets.

At 6am I arrived at the store and was one of three customers. I was handed a little goody bag with an ornament, a holiday-themed bottle of water, and some coupons. Plus I discovered that I was one of 25 lucky recipients of a $10 gift card. Yay! Off I went to pillage the clearance racks and the Clinique counter.

Now I am at home happily looking over my loot and feeling good and jolly. It sure feels like Christmas morning to me!

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.