21st Century Explorers

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it’s lethal.”

-Paulo Coelho

Our Eurotrip began in England, in a little town called Horley, about an hour outside of London.  When we landed at Gatwick International Airport we mapped out the distance to our B&B, the Yew Tree Guest House, and decided to walk there.  Within minutes we were stopped by an elderly British woman who noticed our Canadian patches, which we always plaster all over our packs.  She warmly welcomed us to their country and praised us for our Canadian nationality.  Between the jet lag and the time change we were content to spend our first afternoon abroad sitting in the fragrant garden of our guest house and call it an early night.

Horley is a quaint little town and we enjoyed wandering the cobblestone streets on sunny afternoons.  That being said, we spent most of our time in the hustling and bustling city of London.  Our journey from Horley to London, on the National Rail, was a lot longer and more expensive than we had expected it to be.  We stayed outside of the city centre in order to save on accommodation costs; however we quickly learned that it’s always a better idea to stay closer to the downtown area, pay a bit more for accommodations, and not have to worry about long and expensive trips on public transit.

Nonetheless, our time in London was fantastic!  We lucked out, having unusually sunny days, and only getting caught in the rain once; and it just happened to be that we were standing dead smack in the middle of London Bridge, with nowhere to take cover.  We visited all the popular tourists spots: London Eye, Big Ben and Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge and, of course our personal favorite, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.  I had always dreamed of visiting The Globe, having majored in Theatre Studies for my undergrad degree.  To simply sit in the seats of the theatre felt like a privilege.  Our days spent seeing these historical and cultural sites were rich in knowledge, however my favorite day of all was when we explored the city with a local.

Our friend from our hometown, Rory, had been living in London for a few years previous to our visit there.  He was thrilled that we were in the city and eager to show us around.  We began our day with, what Rory called, “the best coffee London has to offer”, from Monmouth Coffee.  The line was out the door and around the corner, and for good reason, as the java definitely lived up to Rory’s claim.  We took our coffees ‘to go’ and spent the morning getting lost in the 350 acres of Hyde Park.  From pristine ponds to peaceful pathways, this lush green space is a sanctuary in the middle of the busy city.  Next stop on the tour was the Camden Market.  This eclectic market was humming with people from all walks of life, brought to the market that day for any number of reasons.  Perhaps they were looking to grab a bite to eat at one of the delectable food stands, or maybe they were looking for that perfect piece of handcrafted local art for a bare wall in their flat.  Regardless, there is no question as to why the locals love this place.  Rory had to drag us out of there, but not before we had the chance to buy a few kitschy items.  We stopped for lunch at Pret, which had come to be our favorite place to grab a quick bite in London.  The items on their cafe-like take-out menu are made fresh every morning using natural ingredients and whatever has not been purchased, at each day’s end, is brought to a local charity.  Following lunch we stopped at a convenience store to pick up a few traditional British ciders, to be enjoyed with a view.  Rory took us to Primrose Hill at Regent’s Park, known as a spot to catch one of the best views of the London skyline.  We spent the afternoon watching the passers by as we sipped our ciders.  It was at this point that we decided the best thing about Europe, thus far, was the relaxed liquor laws and the ability to enjoy a pint in the park.  Our last stop of the afternoon allowed us to drink beer in the street, as we made our way to The Market Porter in The Borough Market.  As 5:00 pm hit and the suits filled the four walls of the pub the crowd spilled out into the street and surrounding area.  We chatted with Rory’s colleagues over a few pints of Magner’s Cider, before heading out for a traditional London curry dinner. As the sun began to set on our day with a London local we were grateful for having had the opportunity to explore this city with a seasoned vet.  We made our way back to Horley, in the dark, to catch a few hours of shut eye before our journey towards The English Channel the next day.

We took Southern Railway from Horley to a small town, on the Sussex Coast, called Worthing.  Our B&B, High Beach Guest House, faced south towards the sea, and was at the end of a long row of colorful crammed townhouses.  The weather was unfavorable for our time in Worthing, so one day we made our way indoors, into one of Worthing’s oldest and most elegant buildings, The Dome Cinema.  We went for modern entertainment and left feeling historically recharged.  That night we had, perhaps the most traditional of English meals, fish and chips, at Blue Ocean Fish & Chips.  It was, without a doubt, the very best fish and chips we had ever eaten!

Upon completion of the first week, of our six week Eurotrip, we could not believe how much we had learned already.  Of course our time spent at Shakespeare’s Globe and Westminster Abbey taught us a plethora of interesting facts about this historic country, however those were not the lessons that stuck with us, nor were they the most important lessons we learned.  What we still remember today, is that there is no feeling quite like strapping on your pack, having a teary goodbye with loved ones and setting off into the great unknown. A textbook can not teach you to be independent, strong or confident and no school will ever teach a student how to read a transit map, climb a tree or trust one’s own instincts.  Those are the lessons we learn on the road, the ones we take with us when we return home and the ones that shape us into 21st century explorers.

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