Sunday, January 25, 2009
Rochester, in my mind, has always been associated with Charles Dickens who spent a good part of his adult life and based the locations and scenes of many of his novels on this city on the River Medway. When Stephanie told me of her interest in exploring various parts of England, I thought of going to Rochester as neither one of us had been there before.
I managed to get quite a bit of work done before I left my flat this morning--laundry, ticket reservation for easybus online for my trip to Berlin and back on Tuesday, email correspondence, etc. By the time I finished a substantial breakfast and did my exercises, I left at 8. 50 am when I had meant to leave at 8. 30 am. I decided to take the Tube as the bus would take forever to get to Wimbledon where Stephanie's flat is located. I reached there in 45 minutes, so that Stephanie was only waiting about 10 minutes in her spiffy navy blue Lexus when I arrived there. It was great to meet her and, as fate would have it, we clicked immediately. She made a quick stop at her flat to pick up her Blackberry which gave me the opportunity to check it out and to discover that it is very similar to my own. We both have one-bedroom flats that are sparsely but very comfortably furnished with state-of-the-art appliances, brand-new kitchens and bathrooms. However, as Stephanie has a very long commute to work, she has decided to move very soon.
We were off within five minutes and, horror of horrors, watched at the street corner before we got into our car as a huge Tesco truck backed right into a liquor store called Nicholas and tore off one of the spot lights that highlighted the name of the establishment. This made me more admiring that ever of Stephanie's driving skills in this country and her ability to handle a stick shift car on the wrong side of the very narrow streets. She admitted that she was nervous for the first couple of weeks but now has the hang of the British road system and is coping as best she can, though she does have some hairy moments behind the wheel herself.
Using Stehanie's GPS system, we arrived in Rochester a good hour and a half later passing by some of the southern suburbs of London such as Croyden and Selhurst before we got on to the highway and entered Kent, the Garden of England. Unfortunately, it was a totally miserable day with rain pouring down, not in sheets but in a persistent drizzle. This kept the temperatures very cold indeed and we were both grateful for the warm coats we had pulled on as well as our hats and gloves. The GPS mistakenly brought us to Wouldham, a small village close to Rochester, but we asked for directions and within ten minutes, we found a public car park where we tucked our car away and started our exploration of the town on foot.
Stephanie, who had only eaten fruit and yogurt for breakfast, was starving by the time we arrived in Rochester at noon and wanted to head straight for a meal. We decided to partake heartily of a traditional English Sunday Roast at a lovely pub called The King's Head on the High Street. To get there, we had passed by the picturesque exterior of the Cathedral and decided to visit it for Evensong at 3. 15 later in the afternoon. We also found our way to the Visitors Center where we received a map of Rochester and some directions on what to see in a day.
The lunch was the highlight of our day! It was hearty to a fault and allowed us to pig out on roast lamb and roast pork served with Yorkshire puddings (that are like American popovers and nothing like the mousse-like creamy desserts we call 'puddings' in the States), roasted potatoes, delicious gravy and a variety of vegetables--boiled peas and corn, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. We could not believe that we got a huge platter of food for under 6 pounds! The same meal would have cost us nothing less than 12 pounds in London. Stephanie and I dined well and with the mint sauce and horseradish sauce that accompanied the meats, the meal was fit for a king. The pub had a great deal of old world ambiance which we both found very charming.
Throughout our drive into Kent, I found that Stephanie and I have lots of interests in common, not the least of which is a great love for the English countryside and the delights to be found in such simple pleasures as visiting the local pubs. But while Stephanie has ventured alone into her 'local', I have yet to pluck up the courage to do that.
Lunch done, we walked to the ramparts of Rochester Castle, one of the best preserved Norman castles in England, dating from 1088. Stephanie also loves English history and was glad to learn from me about the Battle of Hastings in 1066 that brought William of Normandy (the Conqueror) to England and brought French rule and language to these Anglo-Saxon lands. We also walked to the edge of the castle's ramparts that overlook the River Medway which was an unsightly shade of yellow! In fact, as a commercial waterway, it has been used since medieval times and it seems to be extremely sluggish at this point.
Then, we were walking along the High Street to Eastgate House, a lovely Tudor building built by Robert Puck in the 1500s and used by Dickens as the setting of scenes both in The Mystery of Edwin Drood and The Pickwick Papers. All the shops along the High Street bear names that are connected with Dickens' world and it is clear that Rochester is indebted to Dickens for fans of the novelist, no doubt, come eagerly to walk in his footsteps--in better weather, of course.
We decided, then to drive off to nearly Chatham to see the historic High Street in that adjoining town as well as to take a look at the Historic Dockyards. The cold and the rain did not motivate either of us to get out of the car but we were grateful for the opportunity to see this little town though most of the shops were closed on this Sunday evening. Stephanie and I have now decided to do most of our day trips on a Saturday when there is more life on the streets and the shops are full of patrons.
Then, it was time for us to return to Rochester Cathedral (the Church of St. Andrew's) for the Evensong service at 3. 15 pm. Inside, the cathedral is impressive though rather stark. Its ceiling towered above us but there wasn't much decoration inside upon its gray walls. We made our way to the altar where the choir was rehearsing in preparation for the service and a little while later, there we were, taking our seats for the evening. We stayed for about half the service and enjoyed the singing of the choir very much.
Then, we were headed back to our car, but not before I managed to stop at a restaurant to request a cup of hot water so I could take my cold medication. My throat feels very sore indeed and my nose has been running continually. I am hoping that I will get over it soon. On the way back, Stephanie and I shared many interesting aspects of our lives so that we could get to know each other better and, before long, we were at Tower Hill and I was hopping into a bus that brought me back home within 20 minutes. Stephanie got home an hour later and called to inform me when she arrived safely.
I am so grateful to my friend Amy Tobin who has brought the two of us together. Stephanie is a marketing whiz. Despite her professional success, she has the time to enjoy her leisure to the utmost. Stephanie is such a fun person and is game to do anything interesting and new. She is a committed world traveler and has been to many exotic parts of the globe--which has given her exposure to many different cultures and she has absorbed them all while still wishing to reach out and discover some more. I know that she will make the ideal travel companion for me and we have made plans to spread our wings far and wide as the weather improves and spring arrives.
I spent my evening getting ready for my trip to Berlin, making a few phone calls to the US and watching Nicolas Nickelby through Love film.com (coincidentally, a film based on a Dicken's novel).
I have had an amazing week and I have to put myself back into the work mindset as I return to teaching tomorrow after a whole week.