London – Part Two (the English countryside of Kent and a daytrip to Cambridge)
Early in the morning, just about breakfast time, walked over to Danae’s place, and started to unwind. Another long overnight bus ride behind us – this one we actually slept a little – we head back to Danae’s only to be welcomed by her loving mom, all the way from Greece for a couple of weeks. This day was my birthday so before hopping into bed for some extra rest, Erin gave me my presents and I found out I’d be attending the Lion King! Her parents, Rick and Deb chipped in to make it possible so a big thanks to them. Also, my folks shipped something as well, a journal, which is getting plenty of use. Thanks guys! Midday, Erin and I walked over to Victoria Station where Phil and Holly, our long lost British friends we met in Australia were awaiting. It felt like an absolute eternity since we had seen them last and all of us had tons of good travel stories to catch up on. What better way to do that then a big greasy English breakfast. Eggs, bacon, sausage, fries, beans and toast all on a plate so big you could feed a family of four. Good thing I was eating for four. We sipped on coffee, walked around the city and just enjoyed catching up. They had just gotten home after 10 long months of travel, so we were especially curious how they were handling “re-entry.” Apparently, they hadn’t even unpacked yet as, like us, their families and friends live miles apart. Both looked great though and we confirmed our plans to visit them in Kent the following day for the 3-day weekend. Back at Danae’s, our Greek mum (we have so many mum’s now!) was already hard at work in the kitchen lovingly preparing my birthday dinner. She knew of my love for Greek food so prepared two different types of Greek lasagne and a moussaka, thoroughly ensuring a plethora of leftovers to keep me satisfied for the week ahead. Of course, a greek salad with plenty of feta began the meal. That night, Danae, Erin and I went downstairs to the Grand Marquis pub and had a few drinks to celebrate, closing out another great birthday.
Kent (Are you ready for the country?)
Sleeping in is one of my specialties and the next day was extra special. Holly sent us a text saying that trains leave on the 15 every hour so with 20 minutes to go until the next train, like true Londoner’s, we put our nose to the pavement and high tailed it to the Charing Cross station to catch the southeastern train heading to Kent. Breathing a sigh of relief that we actually made it, within minutes we were outside of the expansive city and enjoying the rolling countryside views of England. Once off the train, Phil and Holly pulled in to pick us up and take us back to the country retreat. I love the country. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in the ‘burbs or because I’m currently a city slicker but when I see lots of land, I can literally feel the stresses of life roll right off of my back. A former barn, the old house was set amongst beautiful landscaping and the detailed work was done entirely by Holly’s dad, Bruce. Projects for the future swarmed into my head. “Ooh, I could build that and yeah, can definitely do that!” We were immediately whisked away for more amazing hospitality and within an hour the yard was transformed into a croquet field, Bombay gin was opened, food and snacks were set on the table and the second half of our authentic English experience was under way. It was team America against teams Scotland and two Englands. Along with Phil and Holly, we were joined by family friend’s Nick, Jo, Donna and Doreen, the eight of us battled across the backyard for several hours. Towards the late afternoon, no thanks to the gin, things got a bit out of hand and the gloves came off.
Bruce, a masterful chef, had been preparing everyone a paella with chicken, prawns and seafood for the entire afternoon so after numerous croquet games (of which we’re not sure who actually won,) we soaked up some booze and enjoyed a nice meal. Since France is so close, Bruce and Sarah make “wine runs” to stock up so there was no shortage of beverages for the evening, but damage had definitely been done to the supply. Later we enjoyed several cheeses, my favorite being a Stilton Blue and sat around the living room, drinking wine and watching a slideshow of the days events.
After some breakfast we packed into the car and drove to Rye, a nearby village that reminded me of New Hope on the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border. The village was maintained well and there are still houses with addresses such as “the house opposite, the house with a chair, and the house with two front doors.” Phil and Holly bought us lunch and after some protest from us, reminded us that they are home now and we are still traveler’s. Bruce bought everyone a round of beer at the ancient pub, the Mermaid, whose doors in and out were at a height of five and half feet. Bruce took Erin and I to the top of the towns church tower to get a full view of Rye and the surrounding countryside before heading back home. He cooked us a BBQ dinner with lamb, sausage, beef and pork before cracking into more wine and this time, cognac. Lo and behold, him and I were up until 2 a.m. solving the world’s problems. At least we think so.
In a slight haze, we woke to a long relaxing day doing absolutely nothing. No plans, no agenda, just plain ‘ol relaxing. Bruce and Sarah in mid-afternoon began working on what would be our farewell meal, a classic English roast dinner. Beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, veggies and an amazing leek and cheese dish were accompanied by a blackberry crumble a la mode. More wine and more cognac rounded off yet another amazing meal. Sitting by the fireplace we watched a movie and wrapped up a classic and well spent weekend in my book and one I will remember for a very long time. A very big thanks to Bruce, Sarah, Holly and Phil for taking us into their family, treating us like a true king and queen and making us feel right at home.
Danae and Danae’s Mom
Our true home base in London was Danae’s and returning here day in and day out was always a pleasure. Once again made to feel right at home, Greek mum made us meals every day, both lunch and dinner and during the lazy afternoons would ask us if we needed any laundry done and sewing completed. Anything we wanted we could get and all we had to do was ask. Greek mum didn’t speak English very well but was keen to learn so some afternoons were spent as language lessons. Mostly, we shared what few words we could, smiled, hugged and laughed at the silly predicament we were in. Sign language went a long way as well as chatting with Danae who was working overtime at her media firm and being a full time Greek to English translator! It was like Erin and I were little kids waiting for Danae to get home from work so we could play. After dinner, we would just sit around and laugh, take funny pictures and get caught up on all the mistranslations of the day.
One day, Danae, Erin and I caught the bus up to Notting Hill for some perusing around Portabello Road, the famous market area. We stopped off for some lunch at a chic little cafe and each had a jacket potato (baked potato), mine with cheese and beans. Most passersby must’ve though Erin and Danae were celebrities because I was ducking and diving through the crowd to get candid shots of them. We then went to Covent Gardens for more window shopping before walking home via Hyde Park. Thank you Danae for everything. By the time we left we felt like true Londoner’s. We had Oyster cards and hip clothes (borrowed, of course.) Your mom, through translation, adopted us to be her own and said we could come to Thessoloniki anytime. She is one of the sweetest and most caring people we have ever met and it was truly hard to say goodbye to you both. Until you and I marry (so you can gain American citizenship instead of being yet another suspected terrorist), we will miss you and all of your haybarn behavior.
We couldn’t miss our Cambridge girls before leaving so took a day trip north to see Babs, Ollie and Caroline. Babs arrived first and gave a us a nice walking tour of her hometown, a cool little University town with tons of bikes, cafes and pubs. Ollie and Caroline arrived shortly thereafter and we spent the afternoon punting, a classic English experience, made by steering a punt (long, narrow, rectangular shaped boat) through the river. Stocking up on some Pimm’s and snacks, we zig-zagged our way through the river bumping into every passerby. Ollie even fell in which we learned -given her track record of accidents – was no surprise! Afterwards we walked to the park and re-met with Babs who was back from her hot date – oooooohhhhhh. We went to a local student cafe for an early dinner before saying bye to the gals. The five us connect really well and we absolutely love these girls. I am looking forward to seeing where they end up in life as they are just beginning their University studies and gap years. Ah yes, most English take gap years after high school before going to University. A brilliant idea I think as it gives you time to see a bit of the world through travel and maybe even take up an internship to get an idea of what you actually wish to study. We’ll miss you girls, good luck with everything and see you when you come to the U.S!