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London to Canterbury – with our Luggage! July 26, 2010

Posted by ebragg2010 in Travel Log.
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So it’s towards the end of the summer, and this is the first stretch of free time I’ve had! Needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind.
Thus far, I’ve been to London, Canterbury, and Dover in the UK. In France, I’ve visited Calais, Paris, Colmar, Strasbourg, Riqueweir, Mulhouse, and Nice in France (not to mention a host of tiny cities that I biked through – more to come on that!). I spent a weekend catching up with old friends in Munich and Stuttgart, Germany, and Prague was my first foray into the Czech Republic. This past weekend, we adventured into the mountains of Italy at Cinqueterre. So, to start from the beginning…
My friend Aurel and I flew into London about a week before the GTL program officially began – airfare was cheaper to London, and I knew I wouldn’t go to England if I didn’t go then because England is frustratingly enough not included on the Eurail train network. So May 12th, I arrived in Europe armed with 85 pounds of luggage and no hostel reservations. We found a place to stay for Thursday night, but as London was having a bank holiday that weekend, absolutely everywhere was booked, throwing a slight catch into our plans of spending the weekend there.

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We spent the next day touring London, home of double-decker tour busses and some of the best senses of humor I’ve seen the world over. From the tower of London to a pub dinner of fish and chips, we covered all the major sights (it helped that I’ve been to London before, so I knew my way around).
One memorable incident was Covent Garden, a delightful market of small shops and street performers. We stopped for a while to watch a performer; while the trick wasn’t incredibly impressive, the banter of the performance was an amusing diversion for a respite from the breakneck pace of the day. However, the performer was having a difficult time trying to coax a reaction out of the audience; as he remarked, a Londoner’s excited reaction is equivalent to a coma. Aurel was called out on the first trick, where the performer asked for a reaction if we enjoyed watching the trick; Aurel cheered audibly (which stood out from the golf-clapping that most of the crowd employed), so the performer asked where he was from. When Aurel said he was American, the performer simply laughed, telling the rest of the audience to let go of their British sensitivities for just fifteen minutes and “be Americans-I need the encouragement after spending a lifetime playing for British crowds!”.
That evening, we took a bus to Canterbury, of Canterbury Tales fame (fun fact: the pilgrims in the story never even got CLOSE to making it there). We arrived late, so we found our hostel outside of town and settled in for well-deserved rest. In the morning, we wandered into town and started with Canterbury Cathedral. It was absolutely stunning, and freezing. There has been a church there since 602, with the current massive structure dedicated in 1077. Especially compared with the tiny town, it was visible from far outside of town. The sense of time there was remarkable. while viewing the tomb of the Black Prince and several kings of Britain was interesting, it was details such as the listing of all the organists that fascinated me. The listing covered 900 years of history, but there were only around 20 organists with terms varying from 30 to 60 years of service to the cathedral. Also, the marble in front of the altar had grooves in it; according to the tour guide, it was worn down from the thousands of pilgrims who passed the altar on hands and knees.
One of the features of the cathedral that gave pause was a set of three stained-glass windows to the side. The original windows were destroyed during WWII, so they commissioned a Czech artist to design new ones. They were intensely colorful, but the style of drawing was almost Disney-esque. It called attention to the concept of stained-glass as a storyteller; often we view them as elegant relics of the times past instead of as messages etched in glass, a view of art instead of story.
We stayed for a evensong service at the Cathedral, with the eerie music of the organ echoing through the marble columns. After the cathedral, we explored Canterbury, enjoying the ancient castles and tiny churches that dotted the town. I very much enjoyed Canterbury more than London; I’ve been to London twice, but Canterbury was a very different feel, very much more of a  European feeling, if that makes sense. However, I’m probably biased by the weight of the luggage we carried through London that we were able to leave at our Canterbury Hostel!
Onwards to France!
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