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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Samantha’s Humble Tour and the English Dream Trip — Week One: Thursday

I’ve always found it difficult to achieve a good balance between experiencing and documenting all the crazy and wonderful things in my life, and I’m well-aware of the massive backlog I’ve acquired over the last few months of work and life explosions. But right now, the PhD thesis has been submitted, the university semester is over, the final essays have been marked and returned, the Shakespeare conferences and talks and film introductions have been given, the contents of my Belfast life have been donated or stored safely at a good friend’s, the house has been successfully vacated, the 30 or so insect bites along my legs and ankles (my souvenir from Paris two weeks ago) have healed reasonably well, and I am here in London with my trusty carry-on, ready to embark on five (!!) weeks of work-free, deadline-free, and laptop-free adventures. (Okay, maybe not entirely work-free, since I’ll probably do a bit of novelling and other writing, but these are super funfunfun things!)

So I thought I might take this opportunity to document the next five weeks of Samantha’s Humble Tour (as opposed to the traditional Grand Tour). A good chunk of it will be what I’ve called my “English Dream Trip”, and, since I’ve decided not to rent a car, I’ll be spending a lot of time on trains. The “English Dream Trip” attempts to cover as many of the places I’ve always wanted to go but never managed. When I first accepted the PhD scholarship at Queen’s University Belfast, I had every intention of going on trips to other parts of the UK and beyond every fortnight or month–and it never happened, because I developed an unprecedented case of workaholism for both the PhD and Tea For Three Studios, and I was also committed to sing in a cathedral choir every Sunday.

But no more! The English Dream Trip is indeed happening (even if I’m planning it as I go), and I will indeed document it and share the uber shinies with my iPhone-only photos! I also thought I’d share the cost of everything, since it might be helpful for anyone else preparing their own English (or perhaps Scottish or Welsh or Northern Irish) Dream Trips, and because I want to show that a lot of these trips are rather affordable (accommodation notwithstanding–I had some horrible hostel experiences a few years back, and am thus disinclined to share my sleeping quarters with strangers). Also, to put some prices into context, I have several perks as a “student” and have acquired a Railcard, which gives me 1/3 off a range of trains–I’ll try to put the normal prices were applicable.

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A photo a day, of all lovely things

Roughly a year ago, after completing the 100 happy days challenge, I decided to take it a little further by embarking on a lifelong photo-a-day project. I don’t claim to be any sort of photography expert—and am an apprentice amateur at best—but I loved the challenge of finding something special everyday, something about which to be grateful. We all live in such a cluttered, fast-paced, and “busy” world—and I know I certainly take on way more than I should—that it was such a comfort for me to pause for a few minutes everyday, and see the beautiful things in my life. It’s now become quite the habit, and many of my friends know exactly what I mean when I pull out my phone and say, “Excuse me, I have to take this for my photo-a-day project.” And on some days, there are so many wonderful things going on that I have to decide on just the one photo (which is when I sometimes “cheat” and use multiple frames to feature them all).

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