We woke up Friday morning to an overcast sky and drizzle; typical weather in England, but a first of our trip. Fella had arranged, the day prior, for us to meet up with his mom one last time before we made our way south. We packed everything up, dropped our cases at the car, and headed to the infamous York Wall to kill a bit of time.
We ended up at a coffee shop on the wall itself which was pretty cool. We could easily tell it was popular with the locals by the limited options of seating available during the middle of the morning. After our rendezvous with Fella’s mom, Fella and I decided to spend some time walking around York as we hadn’t really been able to explore the city we spent most of our time in. Sure, we went out to dinner and to a couple of pubs, but it was all by the shade of night; we got to experience the city, but not really see it. We made our way into the city center, wondering the streets, popping into shops here and there; you know, being tourists. We were lazily looking for the cathedral and it didn’t take long for us to spot it.
I’m not a religious person (if that wasn’t obvious by this post), but this place was impressive. We were able to go inside and look at the vibrant stained glass windows, the soaring ceilings, and the stones inscribed with names of officials who have served the church. I was amazed to see years like 1091 and 1114.
We left the cathedral to search for the York Tower. We were doing it the old fashion way; by reading the street signs. Along the way, we stopped in a fish & chips shop for lunch. This restaurant had the typical take-away section up front with a more relaxed dinning area in the back. We split a fish & chips special for two and it probably could have fed a family of 4; we nearly didn’t have enough table for all the food! It was this meal that I had my first experience of eating blood pudding. Granted, this version was deep fried… but it’s not as bad as it sounds.
Back exploring the town, we walked through The Shambles, came across farmers’ market-esque pavilions with fresh produce and handmade knickknacks lining the tables, and passed by a handful of local musicians providing free entertainment to anyone who would listened.
We snuck through an alleyway situated between two fashion outlets and were greeted with a large, lush hill with a structure sitting atop.
I have to say, the York Tower is a bit of a let down. I was expecting a lofty edifice like that which kept Rapunzel locked away from the world; that no matter what distance you could see it from, you would feel as though you were still looking up. A piece of architecture that would warrant a protective wall to be built around it. But instead, this is what we found:
If this is a ‘tower,’ then I must be an ‘Amazonian.’
Around early afternoon, we decided it was time to hit the road. Since we were flying out the next day at lunch time, we decided to stay our final night closer to the airport, but not too close as to be kept up by the overhead planes. We reserved a room in Luton; approximately an hour from Heathrow airport. But before heading to Luton, Fella and I took a detour to the town Fella grew up in: Cambridge.
Driving in Cambridge was quite stressful. It seemed like every 50 yards, we would come up to a bicyclist. Trying to not hit them while overtaking them was very nerve wracking. At one point, a police car came zipping up the middle of the street, practically out of no where, taking up part of my lane. How I didn’t get in a head on collision with him or sideswipe a parked car is beyond me. Fella directed me around town pointing out places he remembered visiting throughout his childhood, all the while leading me to his old house. The closer we got, the narrower the roads got until we turned onto a set of streets that were just wide enough for one car, but two way traffic. Great…
I couldn’t take driving around anymore. I needed to park and de-stress, so we found a parking garage adjacent to a shopping mall and hit the town on foot; by far the best way to see Cambridge (or any city in England really).
We made our way to the university’s campus and followed one of its cobbled paths until we reached a busy street in the middle of the city. One thing that I noticed about Cambridge in particular is the abundance of bicycles. Everywhere you turn, there would be a bike rack with dozens of bikes chained up along with locals pedaling through the streets.
I’m not sure if it was just the time of day we were there, or if I was somewhat in a daze after such the long trip, but walking through Cambridge felt as though I had stepped into a storybook. Every building, every courtyard, every roadway seemed to glow, giving the feel of a dream. Fella and I strolling hand in hand, taking in the scenery, him telling me stories from his childhood; it was an experience I will never forget.
We made it back to the car and set our sights for Luton. With Fella at the wheel, I guided him through about 30 roundabouts scattered across what I’m sure was a string of winding country roads. It was after dark at this point. We were tired and hungry (which translates to cranky and hangry for me). We made it to Luton and found our hotel without issue. The issue we did have was that they advertised free parking for hotel guests, but didn’t state how many spots they had available… they had 8… 8 spots for an entire hotel. Suffice to say the lot was full and I would bet money that at least half of the vehicles in the lot belonged to the hotel itself or its employees. I was not happy.
Fella hopped out to talk with concierge about alternative parking options as I sat in the driver’s seat contemplating how I would get out of the box we had found ourselves in. Fella returned and said they suggested we could park on the street. Easier said than done. We circled the block; nothing. We drove up the block adjacent; nothing. After zigzagging through a neighborhood, we finally found a spot. We parked and started unloading our suitcases when Fella spotted a sign: Permit parking M-Sa 8am-5pm. This meant that we had to be up and have the car moved by 8am the next morning. Oh joy…
As any cranky, hangry redhead, I became enraged. How dare they advertise ‘guaranteed free parking.’ “Park on the street. You’ll be fine there…” yeah. Fine up until 8am before I have to move it or get a ticket! Then they had the audacity to have a new desk person in training when we go in to get our key and of course she couldn’t find the reservation right away (I’m obviously being facetious, but I was not in the mood). By the time we dropped off our bags and headed out to find dinner, I was livid. What a great last night of our trip…
We made our way to the nearest pub for dinner, and surprise, surprise, they stopped serving food, so we left to find other means. Pub #2, same deal. Pub #3, yet again a no go. We finally came across a Subway. Fine. I’d eat anything at this point.
We get inside and the sole worker looked like how I was feeling: fed up and not in the mood to deal with people. While I was telling him what I wanted, he started putting cheese on my sandwich. Um, I didn’t ask for cheese. Da’ fuq you doin, you imbecile!? I asked him to not add cheese and it was if I was his mother that told him he couldn’t go to his friend’s birthday party; he dropped his shoulders and rolled his eyes. Really dude!? He then proceeded to stick my sandwich in the oven which I didn’t ask for/want, but I didn’t care anymore. I was to my breaking point.
We scarfed down our food and headed back to the hotel, but not before stopping in a pub for some drinks. There was a rugby game going on (Wales vs. Ireland I think…), so the atmosphere we walked into was quite intense. We found a table in the corner and Fella went up to order us some drinks. While I waited, an intoxicated man with a glass of Guinness in each hand, asked if he could sit at my table. He was adamant that he wouldn’t bother me even after I agreed. He sat down and contorted his body so that his back was facing me, and he shielded his face with his hand like a toddler playing hide-and-seek. This made me smile. Fella returned and we finally shared a decent moment in Luton.
I want to blame my poor last night in England on the fact that it was the end of the trip; that I was tired and ready to go home. But at the same time, I refuse to blame myself for how crappy things got once we arrived in Luton. So to Luton: you suck. I hope to never find myself wandering your streets again.
As for the rest of England; I can’t wait to see you again. You were my first real taste of adventure and I want more. I know I will find my way back; I’ve got to check in on my man Big Ben, and actually step foot in a castle. I have to fall in love with prawn cocktail crisps all over again, and explore more of what you have to offer. But next time, I’m definitely hiring a driver.