Live like a local.
4 special places to try! We arrived in Whitstable, after being locked down for 4 months. We realized as things slowly start up, and as the new normal emerges, things will be different. Often awkward. i.e. servers leaning over with a tray handing things to you to keep their distance. You order a bottle of wine and they hand it to you, to pour your own. Where once you felt like you were the Queen of England being served, now you’re no more special than a toddler that can pour his own cool aid. Avoiding the servers and other patrons is now more of a dance where both parties are wearing wide imaginary tutus, just trying not to touch the other person’s tulle. Apologies are not needed, we all understand the reasons for this new cold, formal stance. It’s like overnight, everyone got a case of cooties. It’s not the only change. You can no longer “wing it” and hope to find a great dinner place to eat. Just think about that. 50% of the places are still closed, possibly permanently. The remaining 50% that are open, quite a few are not what we would want (cigarette smoke everywhere, food choices not speaking to us etc) so that leaves us with few restaurants with which to choose. Restaurants can seat 25% of the available seating, limiting the ability to seat you even more. Reservations are no longer recommended; reservations are a must. Spontaneity is a thing of the past.
A friend recommended a local restaurant called Samphire. I didn’t realize Samphire is a type of seagrass that people can eat. It was compared to asparagus. We bought some from a farm stand but didn’t know we were supposed to soak off all the salt, needless to say, it was SO salty I am not a good judge if it is something I'd recommend eating willingly. For dinner, I ordered Skate fish. I’ve never heard of Skate and other than saying it was a simple, fresh, white fish the oddest thing about it was the strips it naturally came in. You’d softly curl off the meat from the delicate bones (Both sides had meat), but they weren’t the kind of bones that would become troublesome, it was just, well it was good, try it. David had fish pie topped with your traditional mashed potatoes. I think he was brought to a warm fuzzy place. For me to highly rate a restaurant, I need the food and the service to equally be impressive. We really enjoyed our waitress… She had energy that would bring people out of themselves and the restaurant was full of life. Regulars were there with almost an heir of a reunion. It was a casual beachy vibe, a bit pricier than expected, but we had a wonderful night.
In the morning we stumbled upon a true treasure. It’s called Tea & Time. We were the first customers of the day and a cheerful woman greeted us. We were vocalizing, to one another, what we wanted to eat, searching for it on the menu, realizing we haven’t become true brits because we didn’t want the English breakfast. She overheard our conversation and jumped in enthusiastically, “just tell me what you want, and how you want it, and I’ll make it” We couldn’t believe, or wouldn’t believe we were hearing this correctly but she was so insistent we told her what we had a hunkering for, and out came the most delicious breakfast sandwich. Actually. It was better than we were describing because the bread was so fresh and tasty, the eggs were clearly farm fresh and perfectly cooked, and it was all deliciously messy. We then topped it off with 2 coffees and we couldn’t have been happier. The entire restaurant has a vibe that you want to somehow bottle and take home. It’s homey, in a good way. It’s casual, in a good way. It’s large enough that during covid you can keep your distance (And yes she took names /#’s for track n trace). As we were leaving we were chatting it up with the amazingly friendly woman that took our order. Come to find out, for the last 22 years, she is the owner of this wonderful establishment. If looking for a home feel where you want to eat a delicious meal and curl up with a book, your stay would be incomplete if you didn’t visit for a nibble before leaving Whitstable.
Our second morning we found Farm & Harper, a more traditional restaurant of sorts. We had to catch a train and so we were on a tight time schedule. We showed up at the restaurant with our eyes bugged out at the closed sign, but thankfully the waiter popped his head outside, recognizing our non-caffeinated state, and offered to make us coffee’s for take away and suggested we return in 15 mins. We were grateful and enjoyed our coffee as we walked up and down the charming town streets.
We found the café small and intimate, recognizing proper social distancing and taking our name/number for track n trace protocols. I would describe this restaurant as a Gastro Café in every sense of the definition… the menu wasn’t large, but it didn’t need to be because it covered a range of unique flavors and we were WOWED by the explosion of taste. Very upscale in its concoction and I’d recommend this for anyone that might consider themselves a foodie. Price was well within acceptable. Food couldn’t be fresher, i.e. egg yolks were dark yellow and rich, avocado was perfectly ripe, and the beans were homemade with bold flavor, etc.
Ship Centurion was recommended to us by a couple we met on our bike ride. It's a truly authentic village pub. Roland's parents had bought it some 30 years ago and he took it over when they passed. I hadn't had anything to eat and that fact was creeping up on me. We walk in, ask for Roland, and he smiled and asked what we wanted to drink. The place was "full" by covid standards with locals laughing and telling stories. I ask for a food menu and he says they were only serving drinks. He must have read my mind because he quickly came back with, "I'm sure we can come up with something". Out came the best Ploughman's lunch ever, and of course, a beer with which to wash it down.
My husband and I enjoy similar venues, in terms of quality and fresh ingredients, but he prefers more of a kick and I prefer more subtle flavors, so finding a restaurant that nails both our expectations, is really a wonderful, unexpected thing. Whitstable had this covered. We weren’t so fortunate in Dover.
This morning we woke early (for us) and took a train to Canterbury. Easy, cheap train costing about $10. Covid times make traveling strange. It’s not crowded, and 95% of people are wearing masks, covering any everyday smirks or smiles, leaving no room for random connection.
Again, due to COVID you can’t happen upon cool things like you once could. If you haven’t done your homework, you will miss out because everything requires a reservation. Even if it is free, you must have a ticket to enter. Fortunately, I have done my homework.
After exiting the Canterbury train station we found ourselves walking on top of the city wall. It’s amazing because it is clear and easy to imagine the walls, the barrier between the wild countryside and the civilized city and the way they might have been. Once inside the city it’s impossible to miss the quaint inns and storefronts bending at funny angles with all the embellishments of colorful flowers in full bloom hanging out of their window boxes. But it’s the Cathedral that brings people. It is the story of how King Henry II believed a rumor that his arch bishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, was building an army to go against him. It is that misinformation that struck a cord with me. We can see what impact this rumor had and how it lead to the murder of Thomas Becket. Interesting story and for those that are curious, read more about this. Pope Alexander III declared Thomas Becket a Saint. The many miracles that were attributed to him, makes the Canterbury Cathedral one of the greatest Pilgrimage sites in Europe.
Retracing the steps on the stairs that are permanently shaped from men that crawled on their knees decades before me, gave me pause. These men came from so far. Believing so deeply, hoping so profoundly, and sharing similar dreams as people today. It’s painfully clear how little we learn from one another. All of these stories repeat themselves. Different dates, different people and yet similar motivations.
Then onto a city bus we go. A mere $6 takes us down 7+ miles away into a coastal town called Whitstable. It is a delightful, quaint seaside resort town. The saltwater breeze mixed with the screams from the seagulls make it easy to act like you don’t have a care in the world. This was a welcome feeling after months of being locked up.
We are staying at the fisherman’s huts right on the beach. I highly recommend this. The location can’t be beat and the feeling of being part of the scene without needing to be part of the scene was what I celebrated the most.
If you’re interested in our restaurant choices, I have them in a different blog tagged under restaurants ...
We woke to a perfectly sunny clear day. We rented bikes (David’s ribs had healed enough to ride on a smooth bike path) and rode east along the coast. The path hugged the water’s edge and you’d ride through fields, old ruins, then towns of notable size, then back to peaceful ocean views. Mostly you got the feeling that the only thing keeping the towns afloat were retirees and tourism. Covid has hit them hard. Then again, who hasn’t been hit hard?
After an 18 mile bike ride, we hopped on the train (yes, with our bikes) and railed back to Whitstable ($8.50). It was interesting to see more of the inner route that we would have missed if we had biked home. Clearly, lots of agriculture, but while the countryside whizzed by, we couldn’t make out what kind of crops. We found our way back to the hut, showered and pulled two chairs outside to enjoy our view. We canceled our dinner reservations because we were enjoying the feeling of relaxing in front of our hut, taking in the ocean view and listening to the hustle and bustle of the Oyster joint nearby, too much. Who wants to be rushed? Maybe a good bottle of wine encouraged the laziness?
Goodbye to our charming little hut, and onto a train to Dover. Dover is a dump. There is nothing redeeming about the town itself. However, there is an awesome Castle. It was worth coming just to wander around. Dover Castle is a medieval castle founded in the 11th century and has always carried significance because of its location – consider it the welcoming committee into England. It first started as a Motte and Bailey castle and then Henry II built the keep and fortified it. It was attacked during Henry II’s son, John’s, rein. It continued to grow and change over time. Again, there is speculation that the growth was part because of the pilgrimage route to see Thomas Becket’s burial place in Canterbury. All of that is interesting on its own, but then recent history comes into play. It is here that the coordination of Dunkirk happens. The evacuation of 338,226 allied soldiers during WWII from the Beaches of Northern France. Naval vessels and hundreds of Civilian boats were used during this rescue. It was drama historians love to retell. We were told of an annual reenactment the 2nd bank holiday in May – 3 day weekend. He said it was spectacular and tickets are needed. If you get a chance, go visit.
You may have heard of the song, the white cliffs of Dover? Below the castle, are gorgeous white cliffs of Dover! There was a simple hike out, up and over the cliffs and through to the light house. A docent pointed out a trail from the beaches steeply up the white cliffs. He said that it was a smugglers route (in the day) to avoid taxes. When you see the intensity of the meager trail, you wonder if it was worth the cheating, and what exactly they carried up those cliffs? The Castle is part of the English Heritage Membership and the White Cliffs, and light house are part of the National Trust (Well worth both memberships!) If you have the time, the short hike is also worth doing. You see, you can enjoy the entire day without ever needing to go into Dover proper. Easily back on the train and for $18 we were back in London in no time.
I have no intention on taking any responsibility as to why I was such a wanker. I am blaming it entirely on my children (that are not here to defend themselves). You see, they sent me a very cool puzzle. Part of this puzzle includes a difficult water section that has slowed my progress to a crawl. So obviously I was working on the puzzle, when I looked down and saw that I was going to be late volunteering, I immediately popped up and ran out of the house. It was too far to run there, but I could jump on a rental city bike and pedal my heart out. Cack! I was such a blimey twat forgetting the whole directional thing here!!
All’s well that ends well. I am now a local and I was not late! Puzzle is still not completed.
Don't take life so seriously.
I'm Jody. I love to travel. I love to take pictures. I love to meet people and find interesting places. I also love to write about and post pix of what I've found. But, I've been told that I write like I talk - in streams of consciousness. So, if proper grammar and well composed sentences are a must for you - my posts will make you crazy. If you want to follow my journey as I learn about really cool places and offer some great tips about living abroad, read on!