Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Some Things to Know if You Travel in England

A bit off the travelogue, but I wanted to write these down before I forget.

England is so comfortable for Americans because it's a lot like us---well, we kinda were them at first, weren't we. So sharing a common language and basic culture makes travel a bit easier than it might be in other countries. But there are a lot of differences too. Here's a list of things I noticed:

1. Walking and biking. Everyone seems to walk, or ride a bike, a lot. My sisters met a lady on the coast trail in Cornwall who was walking to the market in another village. When they looked at the distance between the lady's home village and the market, it was seven miles. Imagine Americans walking seven miles to shop. I wonder if she walked back, or took a bus? Bikes weave in and out of traffic so off-handedly it's a wonder to me there aren't many fatalities daily. And motorcycles are just as bad or worse, passing on the shoulder, going up the middle between lanes on the motorways, etc. I wondered if these guys had a death wish. In fact, the fatality rate in the US per million miles driven is higher than that in Great Britain, so maybe people are just more used to watching out for the bikers?

2. Size of homes. Houses are smaller in England than what we're used to. The average home in England is about 90 square meters, or 968 square feet. That's cramped by our standards. Most, it seems, are semi-detached (two houses sharing a common wall) or terrace houses--what we would call townhouses or row houses. Yards--called gardens, are typically quite small too.

3. Which means that the English like parks and other public spaces and use them often. I loved seeing families out for a day in the park, with a blanket spread on the grass for a picnic. It was a common sight everywhere we traveled. Granted, it was bank holidays, but I would bet that in nice weather people are out and enjoying the many beautiful spaces available to them.
Coast path in Cornwall

4. Public walking paths are everywhere, and people use them. The paths may cross farmland, run through villages, etc. I love this concept and wish it had been started in the US years ago. We have a few well-established trails, and the rail trails are adding a lot to the mix. Thank goodness.

5. Maybe it was just us, but man it seemed a rarity to find a toilet that actually flushed properly with one try! Almost all the toilets we saw were water-saving devices, so that might explain why it was hard to get a good flush. An odd thing, and one that caused us so much laughter as we moved from b&b to b&b, from one public place to another, and kept finding the same problem. Maybe there's a secret sign or something we didn't know.

6. Bathtubs are huge, with very high sides. For this short-legged woman with a bad knee, these tubs presented a challenge. My sisters worried about slipping trying to get in and out too. So while the toilets try to save water, the bathtubs apparently are sacrosanct from such concerns. It was a relief to find one b&b that just had a shower instead of the monster tub.

7. Food is fresh and local, and it's not just a new fad. Americans feel proud and slightly smug about "eating local" but in England it's always been a thing because they're an island, and to do otherwise means importing (costly) food. The potato chips, for example, were made in England and had NO preservatives. Sausage is made locally and the tastes vary depending on which county you're in. Bread loaves are huge and delicious, cheeses are all local with lots of variations, eggs are stamped with date collected and by whom. Everything we had to eat was delicious.

8. Manners. Maybe it was just where we went, but we ran into no rude, loud, or obnoxious people. Staff members everywhere were gracious, smiling and helpful. It was a pleasure to hear parents gently correcting their children in a firm no-nonsense way. One little boy of about 8 smarted off his mother, and she told him in a low, calm voice, "You are not to speak to your mum like that. It's quite rude." He looked abashed and embarrassed and didn't answer back.

9. Cars and roads. Of course, wrong side of the car, wrong side of the road from the American perspective. Which means look left when crossing or pulling out into streets! Very important, that. My sisters noticed that the cars people were driving were larger than what they remembered from their visit in 2008, but I didn't notice a great change since my last visit in 2016. Roads are very narrow in many towns and villages and in the rural areas, often only a lane wide. And you might come upon someone parked on the edge, or meet a very large truck, city bus or dual-wheel huge farm tractor on these roads so paying close attention is vital. Didn't see people on their phones on those roads, that's for sure. In towns and villages, people seem to park right IN the lane of traffic, which makes some tight bottlenecks. Of course, the roads were there before cars were invented, so their making do as best they can. It's challenging, and kinda find if you like motocross.

10. There are a LOT of people in England--about 1,000 per square mile in 2010. Compared to the 64 per square mile in my county, or 77 per square mile in West Virginia. Traffic on interstates (called motorways there) can be intense, and there are often slowdowns for all kinds of reasons. If your GPS says it will take 4 1/2 hours to get somewhere, plan on 6 hours. No joke.

11. Oh, and that GPS? Don't trust it alone to get you where you need to go. It will take you the quickest route, which might be over lots of those little roads discussed above, called "pig paths" in the Lonely Planet guide to England. That's not too far from the truth. So look at your maps and get some idea of the roads you want to take  before you plug the postal code into the GPS. The postal code will take you right to the door of wherever you want to go, an amazing thing really. But do take a road atlas with you, and have your navigator keep an eye on it while you're on the road to be sure the sweet voice on the GPS isn't leading you into far pastures.

12. Water--if you want just regular water, ask for "still water" or you'll get fizzy water in many places.

13. Take your own washcloth or scrubby with you, because most places do not provide them. I do not know why, but it's a fact so be prepared. Only a couple places we stayed provided any toiletries at all.

14. And lastly,  cookies are called digestive biscuits, so obviously they're good for you, right?

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

It sounds like we're not doing too badly as a country from what you saw, though I'd agree that there's a tendency for people to want larger vehicles despite their obvious disadvantages on our roads.
There should be a setting on your GPS to route you via main roads rather than the shortest route. In the UK I'd always recommend that setting, otherwise you may find yourself driving down one of those walking trails!

Sue said...

Thanks the interesting "Things to Know if You Travel in England" post.

Joy@aVintageGreen said...

Thank you Sue for sharing your trip to England - each post has been so interesting as well as informative.

Brig said...

I enjoyed your list and learned a few things at the time. Yay!
Things are so far apart here that we drive, instead of walking. If it's doable I walk, otherwise...

My neighbor on Bessie Ln was an expat Brit and she was so fun to talk to and I learned a thing or two from her. Like the boot of my car...

Susanne said...

Well, you are certainly the observant traveler. I've noticed only a couple of those things, the smaller semi-detached houses, the lack of washcloths and mini toiletries. This American feels generally spoiled living here. We did not drive ourselves on our travels there, so I was mainly oblivious to the driving hazards, while on a bus tour of the countryside. All that and I cannot wait to go back - there is a feeling of visiting the old homeland still.

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