Given the reception that my first travel piece received (“I found the post to be full of utter horse shit” being my favorite reaction) I thought I’d do another one, this time a two parter featuring my travels to Britain. I’ve been to the UK twice, the first time when I married my husband, and the second when we went back to visit his family. Obviously, this makes me familiar enough with the country to write a travel piece.
It’ll also probably be my last travel bit, as I’ve never been anywhere else interesting. Unless you count going to Toronto for a soccer tournament when I was 15, but I actually remember nothing interesting from that trip, other than accidentally putting a girl in the hospital during a game. Sorry, random girl from Bath, NY (I’m not sorry). So, part one will be various observations and tips, in case you choose to make the jaunt. In list form, of course.
- Geography. My time there was mostly split between two places; Bristol and Cornwall. Both are in what is vaguely referred to as “West country” but for those of you not familiar with the UK, I’ll just say that like most of the country, neither of those places are London, nor are they anywhere near Downton Abbey.
- Things are pretty familiar but at the same time just different enough to let you know you’re in an entirely foreign country. One case in point: faucets. It has never occurred to anyone in Britain to have one faucet, shared by both hot and cold water. Instead, they have two separate faucets so that you can enjoy the sensation of having the skin peeled from one hand by boiling hot water while the other becomes rigid with frostbite as you try in vain to somehow splash the two streams together while washing your hands in a tiny British bathroom.
- Cars drive on the opposite side of the road in The UK. Duh, Brooke, you might say. Everyone knows this. I knew it, too, but that didn’t stop me from looking in the wrong direction when crossing the road, and almost getting run over by a very annoyed Bristol driver. Roads in general are nutty in Britain, even more so as you head into the country. The roads in Cornwall are literally four thousand year old cart paths, walled with six foot high solid granite hedgerows on either side. And now you know why anything larger than a Peugeot is considered a tank.
- Coffee in the UK is broken. Be warned that there is no half & half or creamer of any kind for coffee. They just put plain milk in it, like a bunch of heathens. I discovered this when I ordered a coffee at Starbucks and asked where the half & half was. The barista stared at me as if I had ordered in Klingon. I finally solved the issue by keeping a pint of cream and whole milk in the fridge, and making my own damned half & half. Most of their coffee is instant, anyway.
- British food in general gets a very undeservedly bad rap. Yes, things like Spotted Dick exist, but I’m fairly sure that no one actually eats it. It exists solely to provide entertainment to bemused tourists who take pictures of the same 12 cans that have sat on the shelf since before the war. British food is actually very heavy on local sourcing, fresh, and seasonal, which is a great idea. We could stand to do a lot more of that here in the States. Those millions of sheep that you’ll pass by on the train, laying around in the field and being goddamned adorable, are the same ones who wind up on your dinner plate. The Brits are very big on animal welfare as well, so at the markets there are loads of options for local, small farm, humanely raised meat and dairy.
- Speaking of lamb: INDIAN FOOD. You all know this is an issue for us here at The Clam. I will freely admit that I ate as much curry as I could possibly handle because I knew I couldn’t get it here. I’m fairly certain that I ate at least two entire sheep during my time there and you know what? I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Indian food is now pretty much the national dish of Britain. Probably something to do with their rather unsavory colonial past. Or maybe because it’s so goddamned delicious, and makes for excellent drunk food. I speak from experience on this one.
- Foods which just make Americans question what the hell the British are thinking. You will come across things with really weird names, like mushy peas, clotted cream, and bangers. Just eat them. If you come across a dish called Pork Faggots, don’t question it. Just eat it. It’s a meatball made from pork meat, liver, kidneys, and probably some other bits, too. BUT IT’S GOOD. As for the unfortunate name, I’m sure there’s some reason but I didn’t think that entering the words PORK and FAGGOT into Google would end in anything but regret. 8.
- Britain is not exactly all quaint pastoral beauty and cosmopolitan charm. We picture rolling green farmland and fashionable cities, with Tardises and Cumberbatches on every corner. Sadly, this is not the case, and there were no Cumberbatches to be seen. Know what there are plenty of? Chavs, “massage parlors”, and trash on the street. The first time I visited, I was treated to a view of the massage parlor opposite my husband’s apartment building for the duration of my stay in Bristol.
- The UK has a pretty entrenched drinking culture There are pubs pretty much one every corner. I won’t make an in depth critique of the “lad culture” here, but know this: Any British person, even a seven year old child, could drink any Gloucesterman under the table, and sing a cheery folk song while doing it. However, one great thing about Britain’s centuries of drinking culture is the pub names. They’re interesting, weird, and evocative of centuries of history. We need more names like these.I’ll end my rambling story with a quick list of my favorites, because I know you people love ‘em.
- The Bucket of Blood (my personal favorite)
- The George and Pilgrim
- The Barley Mow
- The White Hart
- The Stag and Hounds
- The Royal Navy Volunteer (site of my wedding reception)
- The Bay Mare
Next time, I’ll tell you about Bristol, Cornwall, and why you should never call a Cornishman English.