Jokingly, I was reprimanded for the Boston Tea Party, as my croquet ball was sent rolling through the Kent lawn. “And this one is for 1776!” shouted Nick, a true, passionate Englishman.
We were playing a game of croquet in Holly Cova’s backyard. While traveling in Australia back in February, we met Holly and her boyfriend Phil and experienced much of the East Coast’s tropical terrain with the couple, including spooky Mt. Warning, festive Byron Bay and wacky Nimbin. As we said our goodbyes, Holly extended an invitation to us to visit them when we came to the UK. Upon arrival, we contacted Holly and Phil and they invited us to Holly’s parents home, a historic building made from an old barn which sets in the English countryside. There we would meet her parents, relax, and tell tales of travels past.
Above: The croquet goofs
Upon arrival, we were promptly taken under the wing of Holly’s parents and their friends, served drinks and snacks and invited to join in a lawn croquet match. As the game progressed, we sipped on gin and tonics and were surrounded by the aroma of grilling paella, a Spanish rice and seafood dish, comically pronounced with the L’s by the English.
Above: Bruce Cova makes a mean paella!
During the game, some country rivalry started, especially when Team USA pulled ahead. The funny comments about the United States’ independence from England got me thinking about our metamorphosis; a country which started with the influence of so many individual nationalities has now turned into its own type of butterfly, unlike any other. I wondered what English traditions were completely left behind in England and which were still common in the States. I found answers not only in the English countryside, but also while traversing around Oxford, Cambridge, and London.
Strictly English #1- High Tea
Above: Tea time with Oli and his mother, Claire
“Tuck in, tuck in, ” encouraged Claire Knox, our friend Oliver’s mother, as we were left to ponder what it meant. With a bit of deductive reasoning, we realized that she meant for us to “dig in” to the pile of treats she had placed before us.
We’d met Oliver, known as Oli, and his girlfriend Rose in Turkey on a four-day gullet cruise and they assured they would show us a true English time if we swung over to the UK during our travels. On one of the first days in London, Oli introduced us to his sweet English Mum, who lived across the park from him. As we sat at the wooden table in her prim and proper living room, we were surrounded by four types of mini-crustless sandwiches, chocolate dessert bars, pieces of meat pie, strawberries, tea and my favorite: warm scones and jam. If this was just “high TEA” what was it the British called dinner? My question was soon answered.
Strictly English #2- The English Roast
Above: Oli cooking the English roast dinner
While traveling the world, we had met plenty of English travelers who said they missed one thing from home: the roast dinner. We were told to find it in pubs and if we happened to be lucky, maybe a family would take us in and cook a real roast dinner for us. Good fortune knocked on our door not once, but twice, since Oliand his girlfriend Rose AND Holly’s parents both cooked and cooked and cooked to present us with two separate traditional roast dinners! A roast dinner is a large chunk of beef, thinly sliced, served with roasted potatoes, veggies, gravy and Yorkshire pudding, which is a fluffy, light bread baked in a muffin tin.
Above: Oli and Rose’s roast dinner
As the tummy restricts from the warmth of this wholesome home-cooked meal, one often washes it down with wine or something a bit more English. See #3.
Strictly English #3- Cider and the English Pub
Above: Oli and Jason sip cider at a pub in Oxford.
Cider is not just an Autumn drink! This fruity bevvy is stronger than many beers and popular in English pubs. It is a sweet and sour refreshment and is drunk with ease from pint glasses by the English. As we toured around London, it did not take long to spot over ten English pubs, most with big hanging baskets of flowers and traditional foods temptingly spelled out on their specials boards outside. Every corner seems to produce another public drinking establishment, each with their special version of cider and beer.
Strictly English #4- Delicate Speech
In my opinion, anything the English say sounds charming because of the quaint, delicate accent which curls around their words. Everything is “quite” nice, “beautiful,” “brilliant,” and sometimes “shocking.” Because many sitcoms and reality shows are filmed in The States, the English are familiar with many of our expressions but a few of their linguistics cracked us up. Here are a few I remember off the top of my head:
Going to the Offy- An Off-License liquor store
Getting on the piss- Drinking a lot
That’s dodgy- When something is a bit shady or strange, it is always dodgy.
Piece of piss- It’s a piece of cake/ easy.
Strictly English #5- The Pound Rules from High Above the Rest
There is no such thing as England on a budget, with the British Pound almost doubling the US Dollar. In addition to this poor exchange rate, prices are atrocious in London, as a one stop pass on the subway can drain to $8 US from the traveler’s pocket. Because of the generosity and kindness of our friends who hosted us and showed us around town, we were able to put England on our world tour map.
Danae, a Greek friend of mine who is working in London, traded her tidy, quiet two-bedroom apartment for a cyclone of worn backpacks, dirty shoes, a computer with too many cords and two American accents when she let us set up our home base at her place in Pimlico. Not only was she generous in offering the space, but she insisted I treat her wardrobe as mine- a dream come true for any woman who has been traveling in the same outdoor gear for seven months.
A visit from her Greek mother made the situation even more unique, as scents of olive oil infused dinners wafted through the tiny apartment. Sides of tsaziki and Greek salads were just the icing on the cake for the dishes like moussaka and stuffed peppers. And the sweet woman behind all of this cooking was always smiling, practicing her English with us and constantly saying “Eat!!” After just the first day of meeting her, we insisted she adopt us as her 3rd and 4th children. She of course agreed and opened her home to us on any future travels in Greece.
Above: Jason wants to be adopted into this fam for the hugs and Greek food alone!
Because of all of the home-cooked dinners and cozy places to stay, England was made affordable to us and we were able to enjoy is as a local would.
Above: We never would have been able to sample authentic English fish n chips if we would not have been invited to stay in England with so many great friends.
We took our time and savored our surroundings instead of rushing through on a budget. Thanks again to all of you who helped make this trip possible. My special thanks to the following:
To Oli and Rose in London– It was “brilliant” to continue our adventures with you, picking up right where we left them in Turkey. The introduction to Pimm’s was life-changing! (For all of those who don’t know, this is a drink made with “lemonade” which is a sweet soda like Sprite, and a liqueur called Pimm’s. The two are mixed and poured into a pitcher with fresh cut fruit and cucumbers for a refreshing, summer drink.) Much thanks to you both for your patient explanations as you toured with us around bustling London and the ritzy colleges of Oxford and for the amazing roast dinner; we’ll be needing some of your recipes!
Above: Oli and Rose on our trip to Oxford
To Barbara, Ollie and Caroline in Cambridge– Girls, what can I say? Every time we are together it’s another laugh and a fun memory.
Above: Caroline, Jason, Erin, Barbara and Ollie in Cambridge.
Punting was quite the experience, although Ollie did get a bit soggy. (For everyone, punting is a leisure activity that many people in Cambridge use to float throughout the city’s waterway, sightseeing much of Cambridge’s grounds. From the end of a long boat, the punter, or steerer, uses a long aluminum pole to push the boatload down the river. It is harder than it looks!)
Above: Steering Jason around in the punting boat at Cambridge.
Thanks for the “lovely” tour and please let us know if you decide to include the US in your gap year! We’d love to continue adventuring about with you.
Above: Jason and Olli sipping a mix of Pim’s and lemonade on the punting boat.
To Danae in London and her/our Greek Mama– My Greek family! I miss you so much already. Words can not express how thankful we were to have your place as our “home base,” always being welcomed with hugs and kisses as we stepped in the door. Danae, thanks for including me in your every day life…letting me borrow your wardrobe and participate in your “Tums and Bums Class” at the gym. It all was a much-needed vacation from being on the road. Thanks for the girl talk nights and the introduction to that department store, which I will not name because I don’t want to blow your style secrets! I hope we can have many more vacations together now that you are moving back to Greece. Tell our Greek Mama that I will post her tzaziki recipe and that the gourmet meals wereto die for!
Above: Greek moussaka made by Danae’s mom.
Much love to the whole Vassiloupoulou clan and to Giannis as well!
Above: Out to eat with Danae and her mom, Vagelitsa
To Holly and Phil, Bruce and Sarah in Kent– What a relaxation vacation your countryside home was to us! Your company was amazing and we of course appreciated being spoiled by home-cooked meal after home-cooked meal. Thanks for hosting us for a few days and showing us that England has a serene side outside of the cities. Much appreciated were all of the lessons in English culture and we hope to meet up with you all whether it be on a sailing trip or a RV vacation around the States! Good luck at Uni and with personal training, Holly and Phil.
Above: Holly and her mom Sarah Cova in their yard in Kent.
Above: The Cova’s took us to see the old city of Rye.