Kent and the Ups & Downs of Travel

A little bit about our trip to Kent

Similar to our trip with the Pritchards, the logistics of our trip to Kent were built somewhat from necessity. Lydia and Kevin are a couple of our Madison besties, and before we moved to Moldova we had talked about them coming to visit. Fast forward a few months and Lydia found out that she would be in London for work in April.

My live-in travel agent, Daniel, went to work figuring out where we could possibly meet up with L+K that would work for both our schedules and our budgets. England was the obvious choice, but as we had just been in London in January, we wanted to try someplace new in the country. We had heard about cliffs in Dover and thought, why not there?

With our trip approaching, we spent a lot of time thinking about what it might be like to be in England on the day of Brexit (April 12), and much less time planning an itinerary. As a result, Daniel and I landed in Luton Airport on the 12th with “cliffs” as our only game plan. Fortunately we had a very chatty customs agent who half shamed us for our lack of British historical knowledge and half planned our trip itinerary for us.

This is what we ended up with: LOTS of general walking around the Kent countryside, a trip to Dover Castle (including a tour of the underground tunnels from which military personnel orchestrated the evacuation of Dunkirk), delicious Indian food, a local pub, and hiking along the White Cliffs.

We stayed at a a super trendy Air BnB in Hythe right on the water.
View of the English Channel from our Air BnB window
Don’t you just love when you get a tiny bit of your shadow in what would otherwise be an excellent photo?

The many, many UPS of this trip

What especially struck me on this trip is how fickle travel can be. I experience extreme highs and anxious lows – often within a few hours of each other. And sometimes the difference between the high and the low is all in perspective. Daniel and I find that our brains remember the good parts much better than the bad ones (secret to marriage!!!). And there were oh so many good parts to this trip.

Good Part #1 – Endless Conversation

Lydia and I discovered while in Madison that we can spend hours we don’t necessarily have talking about anything and everything. An evening get-together always went longer than we intended. In Kent, with miles of unexplored paths ahead of us, Kevin, Lydia, Daniel, and I never had a lull in our conversation.

We encountered many lambs on our countryside walks

Good Part #2 – Lovely walking paths

Kent is extremely beautiful, but in a different way than Como or Munich. And the best way to experience that beauty?? Strolling the walking trails I already mentioned. To add to the magic, I think we were there during lambing season? In any case, we walked through pastures of sheep and lambs, traversed open fields, meandered through woods and along streams. And though these paths have been traveled by countless others before us, in many ways we felt that they were just for us.

Good Part #3 – Dover Castle is really cool!

Lydia scoffed when she first read online that the average visit to the castle is somewhere around 3 hours. We were sure we would want to leave before the 3 hour mark; BUT, we left after many hours and still felt like we hadn’t experienced everything. Dover Castle has layers and layers of complex history. I suppose the customs agent in Luton was justified in shaming me for not knowing any of it before.

At Dover Castle
Another view of Dover Castle

Good Part #4 – The White Cliffs live up to the hype

The contrast of white stone, green grass, and blue water was stunning. But I did have two thoughts as we ambled along the cliff paths: 1) England must not be very litigious because this seems like a prime location for lawsuits and 2) I’m so glad I don’t have any kids whose safety I must ensure at this point in time.

Good Part #5 – Signs!

For some reason, I couldn’t get enough of the different signs in England. Some were enchanting – like the moss covered “Public Bridleway” stones. Others were adventurous – like the ones that guided us along the edge of the White Cliffs and down to the beach. And yet others felt like my British stereotype – very dry and just a little dark. (To be fair, I also find British things silly and practical. Those Brits have a lot going on.)

But there were also some DOWNS…

…and it’s important to me to remember those as well. Travel – and international travel in particular – is not all Instagram-worthy photos and crazy experiences. It’s also bickering with your spouse, and having plans fall through, and dealing with unexpected problems. So here I go with some of the downs of our trip.

Hard Part #1 – Dealing with the weather

To our Midwest friends – do remember that absurd 3+ inches of snow that fell a few weeks ago and then melted within a matter of days?? That very storm cancelled Kevin’s flight and meant that he arrived on Saturday instead of Friday. He told us that the FOMO was very real during that time.

Weather = 1; L+K+D+C = 0

So Kevin arrived on Saturday and we all had the brilliant idea to rent bikes and pedal them to the next closest town for lunch. When we left our Air BnB, the sun was shining and some of us worried that we were dressed too warmly. Fifteen minutes (and a LOT of headache figuring out how exactly to use the app to rent the bikes) later, and we began our trip…

…by biking straight into an overcast sky and gale force winds. I kid you not, it even began to hail. We turned around after like 3 minutes of that madness, and did the cycle of shame back to the bike depository.

Weather = 2; L+K+D+C = 0

Hard Part #2 – Driving in an upside down world where everything is backwards

So driving in England is really stressful. And this is coming from somebody who didn’t actually operate the car. Daniel explained that just the car itself messes with your head because all your muscle memory actions are backwards. For example, without thinking of it, you look up and to the right to check the rear view mirror. Except the rear view mirror is now to your left. Same with the gear shift.

But then actually being on the road is a whole other thing because you are on the right side of the car and don’t have a sense for how far your car body extends off to the left. And you musn’t forget that the roads in small English towns are NARROW! So even though Daniel was doing an excellent job, it didn’t change the fact that we were insanely close to the curb on my side of the car. I was sweating and he was sweating and we were both trying to be gracious with each other as we navigated somewhere new all while being like 2 inches away from an accident at every moment.

Notice that Daniel’s hands are perfectly at 10 and 2 and his knuckles may even be a little white

Hard Part #3 – Travelling with budget companies is not always pleasant

Even though we (and Daniel especially) have gotten fairly good at figuring out which corners to cut and which not to, we still get it wrong sometimes. On this trip we flew with a budget airline into Luton (far outside London). On the day of our return flight, we had to get up before 5 AM in order to make the 2 hour drive to the airport. And of course, there was an accident and huge delays on the highway so we detoured on small (read narrow) roads that added at least 40 minutes on to our trip.

We made it to the airport with minimal time to spare, only to find out that we were technically standby passengers because the company oversold tickets. Standing at the gate and watching all the other passengers board, we wondered what we would do if we couldn’t make the flight. We had volunteer obligations at the student center that very day. And Wizz Air flies from Luton to Chisinau just once daily. I don’t get the impression that Wizz air has robust customer service capabilities…

Thankfully, we were given the last 2 seats on the plane, and personally escorted out onto the tarmac by an airline employee. Dealing with finding another international flight to Chisinau that same day would have been too much for our sleep-deprived selves.

Hard Part #4 – Also the Signs!

So this final hard part gave me some legitimate anxiety – the adrenaline pumping, chest feels weird kind. We decided to explore some new trails in the Kent countryside. I found a map online that showed various trails and had successfully used it the day before to navigate. We identified an area of the map that looked good, found a parking spot along a street in a quaint town, and off we went.

Not 50 feet along the trail, I decided we should make a right to follow a route that would give us a loop back to our car. (I don’t really like retracing my footsteps on runs or walks or hikes). All along the path on our left side was a chain link fence with many sheep and lambs inside. Parts of it also looked like a construction site.

After another 100 or so feet, we came to the fence you see here:

WHAT DO THESE SIGNS EVEN MEAN???? Since when do lambs and footpaths and troops training and things that look like bombs have anything to do with each other? But the confusing sign did say to stay on the footpath, and the footpath sign clearly pointed in the direction of our travel. We didn’t jump a fence or open a gate or anything, we simply followed the path…

…and found ourselves in the midst of an intense construction site. I had thought the path might cut through the site and then continue as normal on the other side, but it totally disappeared. We wandered around a little trying to make sense of the fences all around and the trenches dug into the earth. On the other side of the fence we could see a playground, a quiet neighborhood, and fields full of lambs. What was going on!?!

My brain was trying to put all these bizarre pieces together when lights suddenly flashed from tripods scattered around the construction area. We realized that we were being photographed by motion sensor cameras. Which means we were probably trespassing. Which means WHERE ARE THE SUSPICIOUS OBJECTS I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO TOUCH!?! I had a vision of a newspaper headline describing how 4 American tourists are blown to smithereens while on a vacation together.

Needless to say, we got out of there fast. But I must admit it took a while for my heart to slow. And then it took even longer to convince myself that the police weren’t speeding our way to arrest us. We got back in our car, found another trail, and let the gentle landscape bring the anxiety back down.

Side Note: I fully expect to be confused by signs in Moldova since they are in Romanian or Russian. But how crazy is it to be confused by signs in a country where the official language is English? I can obviously read all the words, and yet I still lose the meaning.

Remembering to enjoy the whole package

I guess the point that I am making is that travel is full of good things and bad things. Part of the adventure is learning how to handle the things that come your way while still remaining friends with your spouse. I do hope I am becoming more patient and flexible during this year of travel. But I’m sure I will always have those moments where I melt down because we make a wrong turn. This is a fact of life – not just travel. I bet parents have even more to say than I do about being friends with your spouse when your lovely children are doing their very best to make you lose your mind. But the good outweighs the bad. And the complicated or scary can also be playful and challenging…depending on how you look at it.