Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Canterbury, U.K.

After having visited Oxford in December for a long weekend and loving it (see our Oxford post), I decided to make visiting places outside of London a priority in addition to the other traveling we would be doing throughout Europe. England has a lot to offer in terms of history and scenery outside of London, not even including the other parts of island of the Great Britain, Scotland and Wales, which I also really want to see at some point too.

I took the train out to Canterbury, made famous in part by Chaucer's immortalized stories, "The Canterbury Tales". I also chose Canterbury for this day trip because it is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, owing to the first known Cathedral in England having been established here by St. Augustine in 597 AD.

It is a quaint little town and the train in from Victoria Station in London passes through some fantastic English countryside, scattered with ruins of ramparts and castles along the way. Once in Canterbury itself, it's very small and easy to navigate on foot. It is best to start off from the West Gate, a guard tower which has been a primary lookout post on the road to London for over 600 years. From there walk down St. Peter's Street, crossing the River Stour. Immediately to your right are some fantastic gardens if you're interested. St. Peter's Street turns into the High Street where you find all of the same familiar high street brands as every other high street in the UK. Make your way along until you get to Canterbury Cathedral, you can't miss it. It dates back to 1070 and is built in the gothic style, very reminiscient of Notre Dame.

After spending some time on the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral, the only other major site to see are the ruins of St. Augustine's Abbey and it's about a fifteen minute walk from the Cathedral. There isn't much to see besides the stone structures of what were the original foundations of the Abbey, but there are interesting renderings on the site that depict what the Abbey looked like. At first glance, it isn't the most interesting thing I have seen, but if you give yourself a little time to learn about it, it's quite impressive.

When I was done with my walking tour of the city, I took myself to Thomas Becket pub for lunch, back towards the West Gate and I'm not sure if I'm glad I left it for last, or perhaps if I should have done it first. Besides being a very friendly proper English pub with great Kentish Ales on tap, the food is ridiculously English and heavy. After one Kentish Ale and an order of the Cottage Pie with mature cheddar and mash, I was out of commission and took the next train back to London. I'm not a big fan of English cuisine. In fact I think that the reason food in London is so good is because the English aren't fans of English cuisine either. The best restaurants in London (by taste, not necessarily by price) always seem to be Indian, Southeast Asian, Dim-sum, Sushi, Argentine, Brazilian, Italian, French, Carribean, you name it...There are even Mexican restaurants popping up! (Las Iguanas, Chiquitos, Wahaca), but I have yet to make a final judgment on that. English food...Just look at it.

Overall, Canterbury is a great little day trip if you're looking for something historic and need some time outside of the city.


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