Friday, November 12, 2010

Canterbury Rails

It was time yet again to take the rails from Paris to Canterbury, England to visit to my niece. And Eurostar provides easy rails – I don’t even have to go as far as London, but get off the train in the English countryside at Ashford. Then I take a local train to Canterbury.

But this time I almost didn’t make it onto the train! Since my niece works in the organic produce market (The Good Shed), right next to Canterbury West station, and we knew she would be at work when I arrived, we had arranged for me to simply walk over to the market and meet her there. What I didn’t realize is that now, before you board the Eurostar in Paris you have to fill out a form with the address you’re going to visit in England. I didn’t have her address! I only had a phone number because I don’t carry my address book anymore. After all, I have all the phone numbers I need stored on my cell phone, right? Oh dear – would they let me on the train? Fortunately, the British agent in Paris, after some light resistance, let me through after I agreed with him that, yes, if this were the U.S. they would throw me in jail and leave me in solitary confinement for 3 months while they set about to prove I was a terrorist. I do think that the next time I travel to a foreign country I will have the address where I’m staying – that sounds like a good idea actually.

After that, the trip went very smoothly and I successfully walked the 50 yards from Canterbury West Station over to the produce market to meet my niece. I must say it’s an impressive market with all kinds of goodies, including cooked food. I think I had one of the best beef stews ever for lunch the day after I arrived. Who says the British can’t cook? This was terrific country food and at a great price. To be followed by Squirrel curlycues (or something like that) – chocolate and nut swirls that melted in the mouth. I’m a chocoholic, so I was happy.

Most of the time I had to stay in the cottage where my niece lives – on Heel Lane behind the orchards. No public transportation. No car. An hour’s walk from Canterbury – which my niece does almost every day. I’d pulled my lower back just before the trip – for more about that you can read my article:

So I took lovely, slow walks in the woods just beyond the orchards. You can discover all kinds of things in the woods, including fish tree bark! It gave me a real break and rest from concentrated Paris. Plus the fantastic food that my niece cooks, or rather creates. I’m in awe. (For more photos of Canterbury, go to

You do have to be tough, however. There’s no heat in the cottage except when someone builds a fire in the fireplace. Let’s just say I made friends with the sweater my niece lent me and the super quilt that weighed about 3 lbs I used at night. I survived!

There were several highlights during my stay. One was definitely the taxi drivers. Since I couldn’t walk into Canterbury, I had to call a taxi service. With no exception, all the taxi drivers were fantastic – as we drove into town, we had great conversations. “Are you from California – you have a California accent.” Actually, I did live there before I moved to Paris. (“Yeah, Dude”).

Another highlight was a guided tour of the house that my sister and her husband have bought and will live in once the renovation has finished. This is no joke since it’s been under renovation for about a year and a half already. But we found out why when my niece and I had a guided tour with Chris, one of the artisans who’ve been working on the house. It’s located in another small town near Canterbury called Headcorn (thankfully not Cornhead). The house is several hundred years old – and a few rooms on the ground floor are now the town post office! No problem – once you enter the house, you realize how grand and elegant it is, as the rooms unfold one after the other. Chris gave us at least 30 minutes of his time to lead us through each room – lovingly renovated and restored – it was a true blend of art and craft. (When they move in, I’ve got to figure out how to get invited there a lot).

But the most uplifting highlight came from Patrick, a friend of my niece, who has a food stand at the market. On an upright piano in the hallway of the market, by the toilets, he faultlessly played a Bach cantata, just for us. It was splendid.

No comments: