Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

London to Canterbury

Canterbury Cathedral peeking over the trees.
We loved London, but I was rather keen to push on to Canterbury. We repacked our backpacks and strapped them on, staggering around our room to adjust to the weight. Our plan was to check out of the B&B, stash our bags in the residents' lounge and walk over to the British Museum. Then we'd have lunch and take an afternoon train to Canterbury.

We were still a little worn out, though. Ron was especially surly because he hadn't been able to take the morning bike ride in London he'd mapped out. A group of students had taken over the lounge next door to our room and carried on until Ron told them to get lost. Then he was too cranky to go back to sleep and had to skip the bike ride.

I missed the whole thing (love those earplugs!), but I mentioned the issue to the B&B owner and he credited us a whole night's stay! Ron was mollified when I told him and we went to Museum in a better mood.

I just want to give a big shout out here to San Francisco Public Schools. They're trying to do a lot with reduced funding and increased funding, but Benny's class still went through an extensive unit on Greek myths. Add in some amazing graphic novels of the "Odyssey" and "Illiad," and Benny has a good working knowledge of classical mythology. Just in time, too, because the British Museum is all about ancient culture. Benny pointed out griffins, centaurs, satyrs and monsters (Cyclop, Hydra, Minotaur) with no trouble. He could identify various gods and goddess by their props. (Poseidon had is trident; Artemis had her crescent moon.) Entire rooms were covered with friezes displaying battles that Benny could follow like a graphic novel.

Benny at the British Museum, admiring ancient carvings of the Assyrian war against Babylon.

We walked out of the museum a few hours later, blinking in the sunshine, and ate foot-long hotdogs wrapped in long baguettes on the steps. Then we picked up our bags and chatted with the B&B owner's wife. (She looked and sounded just like Mrs. Doubtfire; Ron and I could not even look at each other during the conversation.) Then we took a bus to Pancras Station.

On the train to Canterbury.
Pancras was modern and cheery, looking more like a small airport than a railway station. I rather regretted not going to Victoria, though, buying tickets to the Continent while humanity swirled around me a la Sherlock Holmes. Ron and Benny waited on Platform 12 while I popped into a nearby store and bought enough provisions for a trans-continent ride to Calcutta. The train journey to Canterbury was a bit of letdown — I've had morning commutes to work that lasted longer. In London we looked out at concrete barriers; out on the countryside we saw hedges. There were teasing little gaps in the shrubbery, however, revealing fetching little glimpses of the landscape. "Look, look!" I'd cry repeatedly to Benny, who would glance up from his little plastic knights just as the hedges closed ranks once more. After the third time, he refused to respond.

We arrived at Canterbury West Station and were just congratulating ourselves on a job well done when I realized our B&B was a short walk from Canterbury EAST. We were too cheap to take a taxi and there was no bus in sight, so Ron and I consulted a map and said, "Well, it doesn't look too far." The journey turned out to be more than a mile, tramping along busy roads, bent under backpacks until we reached Wincheap Road and staggered past the long row of tall, skinny houses. We arrived red-faced and footsore, hardly able to listen to owner Debbie explain our room's 50 rules ("Open the window this way ... don't open the bathroom door during your shower or you'll set off the fire alarm ...") We just nodded and tried not to pant.

We had dinner at a pub called the "King's Head," where I had a steak, ale and mushroom pie and Benny ate a burger while talking to the pub's cat. Then we returned to our cute, fussy, blessedly quiet room on the top floor and went to sleep. One night on this trip, I thought, we'll make it past an 8 p.m. bedtime.

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