Week 2: Wednesday (Stratford-upon-Avon)

From Regency to Renaissance, I’m really geeking it out in England. Since I’m in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of one William Shakespeare, I had already booked tickets to two shows by the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company): Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist (£5 standing), and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (£16 restricted stalls). Yup, I always go for the cheap tickets, but the sight restrictions don’t bother me (and that’s how I tackled my Bardathon Long Weekend earlier this year).

My day was relatively laid back, starting with a satisfying English breakfast at the New Inn Hotel (£49). While the hotel is a little out of town, most of the accommodation within the centre had already been booked, and I didn’t mind paying a little extra for transport given this was by far the most affordable (and it helps that the staff have been super friendly and helpful so far!). I took a bus into town (£2.70; the taxi back was £7.40), then went to the three Shakespeare Birthplace bits in town. I got a Five Houses pass last November for about £20, and it lasts a year—so for the purpose of my current trip, I got free entry! Yay!

Of course, when I passed a cardboard Shakespeare asking me to take a selfie with him, I had to obey. A lady tried to offer taking a photo for me, but that would’ve been cheating—it had to be a selfie. Always obey the Bard.

My hero! :D

My hero! :D

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Week 2: Tuesday (The Pemberley Dream)

My English Dream Trip has been thus far glorious in so many ways, not least in the sheer number of iconic and coveted (in my mind) places I’ve seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted, and breathed in over the last fortnight. But today was exceptionally special and magical, because I finally turned into reality a very old dream I’ve dreamt, doubtlessly shared by dreamers across the world. This particular dream was felt dreamt (though I was non-the-wiser at the time) in 2004, when my 16-year-old self was first introduced to BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice, with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. Undoubtedly, when the episode first aired almost a decade earlier, the same dream asserted its place in countless hearts, which remained helpless to the lure of a single wet shirt. I was similarly captivated, and it could very well be said that the series was a contributing factor to my love of literature, English history and culture, and the nineteenth century. Without watching Pride and Prejudice, I probably wouldn’t have read Jane Austen relatively early in my life; and without Jane Austen, I wouldn’t have written Regency Love, or pursued an MA in Romantic and Victorian Literary Studies, or comelettes a PhD in Shakespeare studies on a scholarship.

In short, without the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, I would have had a completely different life.

And even back in my teenage years, I discovered that the real-life estate is called Lyme Park, and that it was in England. But that was that–my untraveled, Chinese-Australian fangirl mind didn’t have the capacity or opportunity to know any more.

Except that I wanted a Pemberley cake for my 21st birthday. Of that, I was fairly certain.

Yup, that was my birthday cake.

Yup, that was my birthday cake.

Ah, the days of my youth!

Ah, the days of my youth!

Today, however, the dream became real. No longer the soft, sweet dream I could only dream, but the solid, somewhat wet reality of the ground beneath my feet and the stunning sight before my eyes.

It rained. I didn't care.

It rained. I didn’t care.

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Week 2: Sunday & Monday (Scarborough & Disley)

Although I’ve been pretty good at posting daily for my English drip trip so far, I ran into a snag last night because the hostel didn’t have wifi—which means this is a double edition of the awesomeness from the last two days!

Sunday

Since I’m pretty bad at sleeping, I woke up at around 5am, and, after dozing for an hour or two, decided to get up and have a morning walk around where we were staying at Haworth. It was surprisingly “warm” (in that it may have been in the double digits Celsius), and marvellously foggy. Sarah has been baffled about my enthusiasm for the unpleasant weather this weekend, but I maintain Yorkshire needs to be experienced through fog, mist, and rain.

Haworth on a Sunday morning.

Haworth on a Sunday morning.

<3

<3

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Week 2: Saturday (West Yorkshire and the Brontes)

And we’re in God’s Own County! (Disclaimer: Or so Wikipedia tells me. However, Sarah—my friend from Yorkshire and my travel guide of sorts—insists it’s “God’s Own Country”.) The rain continued on from yesterday, which I actually prefer, since I wanted to experience the West Yorkshire moors in the full glory of gloomy, atmospheric splendour. Our main destination today was Haworth, known for the home of the Bronte sisters, and for inspiring the settings of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

To get there, we left Sarah’s home in Wakefield, and caught two trains to Keighley (£3.55). Our next leg was super duper exciting: we travelled by steam train (£5)! As in, an actual choo-choo train!!

The steam train part of Keighley station.

The steam train part of Keighley station.

Here’s a video of the steam train!

In short, Haworth was gloriously gloomy. We spent most of the day walking, eating, and exploring the Bronte Parsonage.

Some of the moors.

Some of the moors.

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Week 2: Friday (Dearest Durham)

The last time I was in Durham was for my MA graduation in January 2012, and this trip was a long time coming. After bidding farewell to George, Val, and Steve, I caught the train from Grantham to Durham (£14.35) as it began to rain for the first time in about a week. When I stepped off the train and the cold embraced me, I felt a peculiar sense of homecoming.

SInce I’m spending a long weekend with my friend Sarah, whom I’d met during our MA year, we decided to start our adventure by meeting in Durham, and attending an alumni riverside walk. Our own walks around town were to revisit some of our favourite cafes and shops, and marvelling at some new establishments.

One of my favourite Durham cafes, though it's always difficult getting a seat.

One of my favourite Durham cafes (though it’s always difficult getting a seat).

A new cafe--love the pun! You can even see the cathedral in the distance.

A new cafe–love the pun! You can even see the cathedral in the distance.

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Week 2: Thursday (Grantham, Lincoln, and hygge)

In Denmark, I learnt about the concept of “hygge”, which is essentially creating and partaking in the warm and fuzzies, primarily through sharing good things with awesome people. For me, today was not only gloriously sunny and hot outside, but also full of hygge. As I write this in bed, my heart is still aglow with happiness and gratitude for George, Val, and Steve, who have been generous beyond words.

Today, I give you these photos (and captions), and hope they’ll also inspire some hygge in your life.

Granary bread and local Lincolnshire honey for breakfast.

Granary bread and local Lincolnshire honey for breakfast.

Cheese scones straight out of the oven for...second breakfast, I guess.

Cheese scones straight out of the oven for…second breakfast, I guess.

Climbing Steep Hill (yup, it's actually called that) in Lincoln.

Climbing Steep Hill (yup, it’s actually called that) in Lincoln.

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Week 1: Wednesday (Colchester, Peterborough, Ely, Grantham goodness)

Living with and having to put up with myself on a daily basis, necessity dictates I find a way to tolerate my bouts of spontaneity and/or insanity, thereby establishing a new baseline for “normal” behaviour. Today, however, I seriously questioned my levels of crazy.

It all began in Colchester with seemingly innocuous plans for brunch. Since my train wasn’t till 1:23pm, I had plenty of time to wander about the town and grab a bite or two. After yesterday’s ugh-ness with the hotel, I found this morning’s staff much more amiable, and they had been happy to keep my suitcase. It was yet another sunny and summery day (quite an anomaly here in the UK!), and by the time I left my hotel at 10:30, it was already quite hot at around 23 Celsius.

I’d decided on eating at the Three Wise Monkeys, which had some pretty good reviews and wasn’t too pricey. It was rather quiet when I arrived, which meant I had my choice of seating—I opted for the super comfy couches, which enveloped me in its full glory as I sank into it. When/if I ever end my loltastic and nomadic life, I’d like a pair of those for my library.

Just look at them!

Just look at them!

Given I wanted a filling brunch, I ordered a Monkey’s Breakfast (£8.50), which is essentially an English fry-up. I also had a glass of orange juice (£1.50–I think this was for half price), and though I don’t usually drink juices, I found my first sip extraordinarily refreshing.

I was especially fond of the eggs on muffins--I've not had that in a while!

I was especially fond of the eggs on muffins–I’ve not had that in a while!

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Week 1: Tuesday (Colchester)

I bade farewell to Dover this morning after a yummy continental breakfast at my b&b, and, in the lovely heat of the still-young sun, I wheeled my wee carry-on along the cobblestone streets towards the train station. Today was moderately heavy on the travelling end: Dover Priory to London Victoria (£6.65), a tube from Victoria to Liverpool Street (£1.60–I think this “transfer” might be included as part of my next trip, but the trainman at Dover Priory said otherwise, though I might try something similar in the future), London Liverpool Street to Colchester (£5.95). I started at 10:30am, and got to my Colchester hotel at 3:30pm.

Unfortunately, once I got to the hotel, I experienced my first bit of negativity on my trip so far. I’d booked the Globe Hotel because of its reasonable price (£45) and because of its name (yes, I’m a lame Shakespearean), but I didn’t expect the subpar accommodation, the dirty sheets, the creepy bug in the corner of the ceiling, or the rude response I got when I pointed out these things. The wifi doesn’t work in my room (and I’m writing this in the lobby now), there aren’t any facial tissues (not ideal given my awful hayfever right now, but I guess toilet paper will suffice), but by far the worst aspect was when one of the staff curtly told me that I had ordered a standard room, and not a premiere or delux room with better facilities. Given this is marketed as a hotel and bears the prices of lower-end hotels, I expected the basic features of a hotel, including general cleanliness. In fact, I’ve stayed in hostels that were cleaner, friendlier, and better priced than this hotel, and I was just so frustrated and sad that my initial experience of Colchester was to deal with such “petty” things as defending my not wanting someone else’s pubic hair on my bedsheet.

So at 4:15pm, after things had been “sorted” and Colchester Castle was on the verge of closing, I was sad, tired, and indignant, and decided to self-medicate with a hefty dose of Mother Nature. This more or less did the job (though the constant sneezing didn’t really help), and I went for a nice riverside walk, through the Castle Park, and along the Roman walls.

Squirrel! I spoke to this little guy for a good minute or two while I took a kazillion shots.

Squirrel! I spoke to this little guy for a good minute or two while I took a kazillion shots.

Sing all-a-green willow... <3

Sing all-a-green willow… <3

Flowers growing on the Roman walls.

Flowers growing on the Roman walls.

Why Colchester, you (and folks all across England) ask? Well, the town is renowned as the earliest recorded city in Great Britain, going as far back to 20-10 BC. There are indeed many signs of Roman presence here, exciting my little fangirl heart. After living in Belfast for the last three-and-a-bit years, it’s also very strange for me when people respond to my queries and such with English accents–it’s almost as if I’m in England!

The entrance to Colchester Castle (note the blue sky!).

The entrance to Colchester Castle (note the blue sky!).

After my meander, I went on a wild goose chase for dinner, primarily because my map had misinformed me… According to the Interwebz, one of the best eateries in Colchester is an “Asian” place called North Hill Noodle Bar, which turned out to be really delicious. I got the spicy prawn crackers (£2.50), which I couldn’t finish but doggy-bagged, and the mixed seafood crispy noodles (£11.25), which was an absolute delight, especially since I’ve not had crispy noodles since I was about 10. I really enjoyed my meal, and was especially happy with the service–I’d enquired about the wifi, was told it didn’t exist, and was then given the details when the staff returned after having learnt it does indeed exist. I’m now very tempted to return for lunch tomorrow before my 1pm-ish train…

Look at all those prawn crackers!

Look at all those prawn crackers!

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Week 1: Monday (Dover)

Almost five years ago, as I was on a plane from Sydney (via Shanghai) approaching the United Kingdom, I kept whispering to myself: “You are approaching Albion. Albion, Albion, Albion.” This was before I started my MA at Durham University, before I could even imagine doing a PhD in Shakespeare, but it was long after I had become an Anglophile, whose romantic and fangirly heart secretly called the island of Great Britain by its first known name, Albion. This is very likely a reference to the White Cliffs of Dover, which, since that day five years ago on a plane, I’ve always wanted to visit, but never got around to.

But since this is my English Dream Trip, my first stop was, naturally, Dover: the White Cliffs of Albion, the same cliffs of Edgar’s hopeful imagination in King Lear, the beach of Matthew Arnold’s Romantic rendition. Five years later, with a Shakespearean PhD almost in hand (touch wood), I entered this Kentish town for the first time. To most of the (English/British/Irish) people I’ve told about my trip, Dover is just a transit stop for ferries across the Channel, but to me, it symbolised the realisation of my dreams, some of which have gone far beyond what I thought possible.

My morning started in London, and given it was my last day, I had breakfast with my friend and host at the Prufrock Cafe. I got granola (£4.50), my friend got muesli and some coffee, and we chatted for a fair while.

Muesli (top) and granola (bottom).

Muesli (top) and granola (bottom).

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Week 1: Sunday (London, brunch, cinema, picnic, Munchkins game)

I woke up sneezing, courtesy of the hayfever I seemed to have picked up last year in Belfast (I never had any problem with Sydney’s pollen!), but was otherwise in high spirits because I’ve noticed a correlation between hayfever-induced sneezing and sunshine. And lo, when I left my friend’s at around 11:30am, it was indeed beautifully warm outside, and I only had to wear three layers on top instead of four.

And I got to wear my sunglasses–happy days!

Costy and I met up at noon for brunch at Le Pain Quotidien in Covent Garden, which, while super lovely, had the extreme disadvantage (to me) of boasting an extensive menu of deliciousness. Naturally, the paradox of choice kicked in, and I was actually paralysed and couldn’t order for myself… Thankfully (or not?), I love and eat everything, so I asked the server to choose for me, and was super happy when he picked the mushrooms on toast. I also went for a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, bringing brunch to a today of £12.65.

Lots of mushrooms!

Lots of mushrooms!

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