My first impression of Canterbury was that it was really cold, but that’s usually my first impression when I step outside in this country. My second impression was “Oh thank God I’m off that bus,” because even though public transportation is really excellent in England and taking the bus isn’t humiliating like in the States, a five-hour bus ride is never fun no matter how you slice it.
And my third impression was that Canterbury felt much more like the so-called “English countryside” than Oxford. I liked this. The only part of Oxford I ever really see is the city center, which despite its tiny size really does make Oxford feel like a city. It’s jam-packed, it’s bustling, I’m constantly at risk of being decapitated by a double-decker bus, and there are veritable hordes of tourists, most of them hailing from somewhere in the eastern part of the Asian continent.
Canterbury was different. Yes, there was a well-defined city center – High Street – with loads of cozy shops and bars and pubs, and there was a big shopping area called Whitefriars that had a Tesco and a Marks & Spencer and a Barclays and so on. And of course there were plenty of tourists. (For some reason, most of the tourists were French. A week ago, I thought I was competent in French. Now I know better.) But somehow the whole area did not feel as much on display as Oxford does. Oxford, compared to Canterbury, is a bit ostentatious. Canterbury just felt like an English town. It is probably nothing like the actual English countryside, but since I have not been to the countryside yet and I’m not actually sure what the word indicates, Canterbury will have to do.
Yeah so there’s a giant dead castle in Canterbury and it’s a big deal because it’s really old. It’s called a “Norman castle,” which I guess means it dates back to the Norman era, i.e. the eleventh century. I may or may not have checked Wikipedia to make sure. I took a picture of myself sitting on top of the rubble and pretended the castle was mine. After all, it doesn’t look like anyone else wants it much.
The cathedral is what I really wanted to see. I’m not sure precisely why I wanted to see it so badly, but I’m very glad I went. I like the involuntary meditative sense that comes upon me in very old churches, and Canterbury Cathedral is so old. And it’s huge. And of course it’s absolutely magnificent. I’ve been calling it beautiful, but I think I might have lied. There’s not enough color or light to make it beautiful. I think perhaps it’s handsome instead.
Anyway, it’s grand and impressive as hell. My friends and I attended Evensong and an informal organ recital in the Quire. I liked the Quire. It was beautiful, with all its gold and red velvet. I think I may also have liked the organ recital, but it’s also possible that I just pretended to like the organ recital. I’m not sure. My favorite part of the cathedral was the crypt, all dark and severe and silent and dotted with little chapels. I expect you want to spend lots of time with me now.
- The Old Buttermarket. This pub is notable because it used to be connected to the tunnels that allowed monks to escape from the Cathedral. Did the monks then go to gambling houses and brothels? According to our bartender they did, and I don’t know why he would lie. But who cares about that?! What’s even more important is that I drank my first “hot toddy” here. It turns out a hot toddy is mostly whiskey. Who knew.
- Dane John Mound, in the middle of Dane John Gardens. Provides breathtaking views of the cathedral all lit up at night.
- Franciscan Gardens. The tourist attraction here is actually the Greyfriars Chapel, which is set in the middle of the gardens, and which is all that remains of the first ever English Franciscan friary. But we didn’t get to see the chapel. The gardens were pretty though, as are most of the gardens in England. The prettiest part was the walkway leading into the garden. Turns out the walkway was built in 1990. Whoops.
- Street musicians. There seem to be a lot of street musicians in England, but I particularly liked the ones in Canterbury. They had more personality than Oxford musicians and also seemed less desperate. My favorite was a group of teenagers with great hair and too-tight pants, although their group seemed to include every person in Canterbury under the age of twenty. We also found a harmonica/saxophone duo that played exclusively Disney songs, as well as a vaguely pathetic guitarist in a sailor’s hat.
Accommodation: Kipps Hostel
I would be remiss if I didn’t give our hostel some love. Six friends and I stayed here for one night, and everything was absolutely lovely. The beds were clean, there were no bugs, the staff was downright charming, and the heating and plumbing worked fine. You could eat breakfast for £1.95, and on Friday night, they gave us pizza snacks and juice and cake and some British guy played his guitar for a while. Also, there was free WiFi! If you’re going to spend a day or several in Canterbury, and you’re on a budget, I highly recommend it. (I’ve also heard positively dazzling things about Cathedral Gate, which I intend to look into if I ever return to Canterbury.)
Have you ever been to Canterbury? Is it even a little bit like the English countryside? What did I miss?