Our 20 euro tickets flew us from Frankfurt to London, where we were meeting our friend Tom and to experience the UK for the first time. We arrived late in the evening and Tom was waiting for us. However, he had to wait a bit longer than he had thought. Customs and border security were tough, we received many questions on what we were doing there, why we had no set plan to leave the UK, why had we traveled for so long throughout Europe with no true end in sight, how much money did we have to make sure we could get home and more. It was a bit nerve racking, because as you know, we don’t have set plans. We do sort of fly by the seat of our pants and plan on a whim weeks or sometimes only days in advance. BUT, we made it through and were on our way to Wadhurst in East Sussex.
Tom had to work the following day so Abby and I took the time to explore his small village of Wadhurst, population about 5,000. Abby and I found Washwell Lane, a public footpath that took us through sheep pastures, meadows, forests and winding lanes. It was a beautiful day and great start to our trip. We also spotted two foxes that were basking in the sun in a bright green meadow surrounded by sheep. After our stroll through the gorgeous countryside, we were ready for some lunch. We stopped in at The White Hart. It was there that I had my first cask ale. A lot of Americans have this idea that Europeans drink warm, room temperature beer. However, it is only the English that do that! The cask ales are just as they sound: wooden casks or barrels of beer that sit in the cellar, keeping cool in the dark caverns below the pub that are hand pumped to fill your pint. And for a “cool, cellar temp” beer, not cold by any means, it was delicious! They are exceptionally smooth and easy to drink. Abby was also in heaven since England is the home of ciders, and every pub had plenty of ciders on tap for her delight. After late lunch, we settled in at Tom’s to visit, drink, and catch up on our travels.
One of our favorite parts of traveling is meeting someone, a local, who can make recommendations on what to do, where to go, what to eat or drink or simply just show you around. Tom did exactly that. On Friday we did a “whistle-stop tour,” road tripping across Southeast England and hitting several towns and sights. We began in Battle, where the French-Norman, William the Conqueror, defeated the English near Battle Abbey in the Battle of Hastings and thus began the long rule of the Normans in England. We had our first experience of English tea at a cute cafe near the abbey. We spread clotted cream and jam on our fresh scones and sipped on hot tea with milk and sugar…pinkies out! We have never been tea drinkers, but Abby and I both loved it and found ourselves ordering and drinking more tea in England than we ever had before.
After Battle we continued our trek towards the coast and stopped at Hastings, where William the Conqueror first came onto English soil. We walked the beach, collected a ton
of seashells and took in the sights. Unfortunately it was cloudy and cool, otherwise Tom said you can sometimes see France way out in the distance. We went to a neat pub called “Albion,” where we enjoyed some cask ales and cider. The pub was decorated with Scottish family tartans, a very colorful display of each family’s unique color-scheme and pattern. Before leaving Hastings we placed an order for some Indian food in Wadhurst that we could pick up for dinner on our arrival to town. We had various Indian dishes of lamb and chicken, mango chutney and many other sauces and sides. After dinner we made our way to Kent to “The Three Chimneys” pub to celebrate one of Tom and Elle’s friend’s birthday. The pub was very historic, with timber siding and low ceilings. Very dim lit and covered with antiques that fit the scene, I found myself ducking under doorways and ceiling beams. A very “proper” pub, in my opinion. (Our English has also picked up some fun terms, like proper for good, smart for looking nice, quite for very, pub for bar, chips for fries and crisps for chips).
Saturday came and we were off to another village. We went to Lewes (pronounced like Lewis), to meet up with Tom and Elle’s friends at the Flint Owl Cafe. We had some tea and a light lunch before wandering around the town. We stopped by one of the first Norman castles built by William the Conqueror, checked out the Ann of Cleaves house (the fourth wife of King Henry VIII), passed by the ruins of a Cluny Monastery built in the 1000s and ended our afternoon at The Swan for some ales and ciders. After saying our good-byes, we headed back to Wadhurst for supper at Tom’s mother’s, where we met his family, ate supper, and of course, had more tea. They are super people who were very welcoming. We didn’t stay too long, since the following day, Sunday, is their traditional day for a family feast that we would be partaking in. We stepped outside to leave and were greeted by a trio of barn owls, calling back and forth from several trees around the area; a good omen for the rest of our time with Tom in England.
Sunday came and Tom prepared us a tradional English breakfast: eggs, hashbrowns, baked beans, sausage, bacon and toast. With full bellies, we made a short trip to Royal Tunbridge Wells to meet up with some more friends and, you guessed it, sip on some tea.
Tom was preparing supper for the evening at his family’s place, so while he got groceries, Elle showed us around the town. We strolled through the “Pantiles,” the original main street of Tunbridge Wells where the fresh spring well was located and all of the shops and markets were held. After exploring the Pantiles we sat down at the Sussex Arms for some drinks while we waited for Tom. We finished up our ales and went to Wadhurst to sit down at dinner with Tom and his family. We had a great time, listening to old family stories about Tom and his two brothers and sharing stories of our own about our trips throughout the “continent” (what the English call mainland Europe). Tom’s oldest brother made us an itinerary for London, since we told them we would be
going to London the next two days to check out the city. That itinerary would soon become known as “Phil’s Fantastic London Tour” as we used it the next two days.
Tom and Elle both had to work on Monday, so Abby and I caught the train to London for our first of two days to explore (and two days was still not enough to see “The Big Smoke”). There is just SO much to see in London, we barely even scratched the surface. We got off at the Charing Cross Station which is located near Trafalgar Square: a huge area with a massive column to Admiral Nelson in the middle that is surrounded with museums, shops, and restaurants. From Trafalgar Square, we continued up the road to the Covent Garden. This was an area we probably enjoyed the most, though the name is
deceiving. Yes, there is a small park like area, the 7 Dials where seven streets come to a round-a-bout, but the Covent Garden is a neighborhood known for its many theaters and filled with pubs, restaurants and shopping. We would find ourselves in this area numerous times the next two days. We continued on with “Phil’s Fantastic London Tour” and wound up at Piccadilly Circus: a large round-a-bout that is one of the main shopping areas of London. We worked up an appetite and sat down at the Princess of Wales Pub for some fish and chips for lunch and to refuel for the rest of our evening. We also popped in to Gordon’s Wine Bar, a “proper” London wine bar. After being in these busy areas for a bit, we walked the River Thames and spotted the London Eye, Big Ben (unfortunately being worked on and repaired halfway down the tower), Westminster Palace, and Westminster Abbey. We then strolled through St. Stephen’s Park on our
way to Buckingham Palace. The flag was up, so the Queen was in! We made our way back to Covent Garden to find a pub for some late dinner snacks before having to catch our train home back to Wadhurst. We filled up on an appetizer sharer with burger sliders, boar sausages, cod strips, beans, peas and chips (don’t forget, chips are fries, not crisps!). Tired from a long day but excited for one more in London, we trained back to Tom’s for some sleep.
Our last full day in Southeast England (for now) came and we again took the train to London. We went the opposite direction of Westminster/Big Ben and walked Fleet Street towards St. Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral was huge, and was built in a pretty common style much like St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Stephen’s in Budapest. We continued through the busy downtown business district to find some lunch. We stopped in at a “proper” pub and had our first pies. Abby had a coronation chicken pie while I had a roast beef and ale pie. There are tons of different types of pies with all kinds of different combinations of ingredients, whether it lamb with mint sauce, fish pies, chicken and mushroom, and many more. After lunch, we continued towards the Tower of London. This historical castle got the name “tower” because the central keep “towered” over the land. However, it isn’t much of a tower at all, but an amazing keep and castle complex. Too much history to talk about, just google the Tower of London for tons of info. After marveling at the castle we crossed the Tower Bridge, another famous landmark of London. Located near the Tower Bridge is the H.M.S. Belfast, the anchored cruiser from WWII that now serves as a nautical museum. We continued down the Thames passing through the Hay’s Gallery and Burrough shopping area before arriving at the reconstructed Globe Theatre: Shakespeare’s masterpiece of architecture. With sore feet and hungry bellies, we made our way across the pedestrian bridge to Covent Gardens to sit down for some supper at Cafe Rouge. We ordered some gin cocktails, had some mussels and seafood bake, and left full and ready for some ales before we had to catch our train back to Wadhurst.
London is a massive city. We spent two days walking the city and still didn’t get to do some things that we wanted to. We were very happy with our trip to London and it really is one of the greatest super cities in the world. We’ll go back some day! The week spent in Southeast England flew by, but we were excited to begin exploring another new “country”: Scotland. We could not thank Tom, Elle, and his family enough for taking us in and helping us explore England. But, we will certainly return the favor when Tom (fingers crossed) makes his first trip to The Good Life of Nebraska.