Canterbury was my first taste of rural England. I have always loved seeing the uniqueness of big cities but am the happiest when I get to escape and see smaller towns.
Memory is an amazing part of being. While this is a relatively generic description of a pretty little town, the fact I mentioned the schoolchildren evoked a memory for me that put me right back in 1997 Canterbury.
I had taken a course in Medieval English in high school and was fascinated by the way the English language has changed over the centuries. Chaucer, being a big part of that was my inspiration to visit Canterbury and it was the first time I’d been somewhere and consciously realized how long the building had stood, how long the people buried there had been dead, realizing how small and insignificant I was.
I was also getting used to being on my own. I needed to take the step away from the chaos of London to start to visit the places I wanted to visit. England’s richness in literary history was a major inspiration for me, to be there was exhilarating and more than I could have expected.
Rob was the guy I’d split with the year before. The other thing about traveling is that you get the time to reflect on the decisions you’ve made and what got you to where you were. Even if it’s the right thing, you have the time to question your past decisions…and plan your future. But most importantly, live in the moment.
I really didn’t have a ton of photos from London and the ones I did were mostly really dark and not particularly well framed so it’s good to have the journals as a visual.
Don’t remember most of those people but I do remember the bowling. Never before or since have I got three strikes in a row…but those South African dudes were impressed and I remember feeling a geeky sense of pride in their acceptance. I did learn quickly how easy it was to meet people on the hostel scene and it gave me an immense sense of confidence that I’d be able to travel OK on my own.
I was always an independent person but a solo journey like this wasn’t the kind of thing most girls from Winnipeg did in 1997. Canadians weren’t like the Aussies or the Kiwis, for whom a big OS journey was a common rite of passage. But it’s the best thing I could have done at the time. I had graduated from Commerce with my degree in Marketing & Small Business Management but didn’t have a hot clue of what I wanted to do. I’d broken up with my boyfriend of 3 years so I was unattached. We were supposed to move to Canmore together (he’d gone before I finished school) but I’d freaked out that he’d planned our life of marriage and kids and realized I wasn’t ready for what he wanted. [Still am not – no marriage and kids…by choice] So it seemed like heading off on a big journey was the thing to do.
I’d forgotten about the dudes bursting into the room “causing quite the ruckus” (I do swear I was 23, not 63).
Still have that flowy black Indian cotton top – in fact I found it packed away in the basement recently and decided I would resurrect wearing it, though the cotton is kind of dry and rough now.
I remember not liking London all that much in the beginning and in retrospect I can understand why – was getting my bearings and footing, figuring things out. I didn’t want to be stuck in one place. Needed to get out and see what life was like outside the big city. Can’t wait to start exploring England (again)!
Turns out I didn’t write every day…at least not in the early days. But seems like I managed to say a lot in this one-page entry.
The Quest Hotel in London still exists and it looks like they’ve updated the beds. The Maree does not. This seems to make sense given I called it a ‘shithole’ back in the day. It was early in the trip so my standards might have even been higher back then…though I’d not stayed in many hostels at that time in my life.
Nicki was a nice girl. She was in the same hostel room as me. I remember I was feeling a bit nervous about being on my own for the first time and had woken up from a nap after feeling exhausted from the jet lag (which was a new feeling for me – having only traveled in North America before I hadn’t experienced jet lag) and overwhelmed by it all and she popped up all energizing like a little angel telling me everything was going to be OK.
Love how I put football in quotes because that was new for me. Gridiron is football in Canada, not soccer. This was a whole new way of looking at sport(s) [We Canadians add a “s”].
Spent so much time walking around checking things out. This was my favourite part of Madame Tussaud’s in London (and I love that I thought that the Canadian version in BC was better). I think they did a very good job of good ol’ Harry:
The British Museum thing WAS a trip – to randomly run into two people I knew from Winnipeg at an exhibit was a total freakout – but also totally Winnipeg. Still friends with James today. Thought the coolest thing was seeing the Rosetta Stone. I loved anything Egypt-related when I was a kid. Interesting that 20 years ago I could walk right up to it and snap a photo like this. Now it’s behind glass (in a better lit area, constantly swarmed by people):
Photo: The Internet
Spaghetti House is still around as well – looks to be an Italian classic chain. I somehow don’t think I saw Brenda Blethyn there but hey – I was in a big city wanting to see famous people so I convinced myself.
Today the Opera Room ranks 1000/19,190 of restaurants in London on TripAdvisor, The Walkabout is a successful chain across the UK for tourists and ex-pats (so it appears and the Gardening Club in Covent Garden closed in 2008. Love how £6 was expensive. That was the life of a backpacker.
I should also note here that the James I went on my “date” with was not the same James from Winnipeg. British James was cute at first and had a great accent to a Canadian girl but turned out to be creepy and wore bad pants. Thankfully this was a time before I even had my first Hotmail account, so I was able to escape and not be tracked down…
That’s my first journal entry. Not sure I will scan and include all pages but this is a good one to start.
I have told the story hundreds of times by now. I was meant to be on a 6pm flight to London when a large group of people headed for New Delhi from Toronto needed to make their connection in London so they asked for volunteers to give up their seats. I was traveling for seven months – what’s one more day to kick it off?? So I offered and they told me they’d get me on the next flight but in return for my trouble, I could have C$400 cash, or a free RETURN ticket ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD Canadian Airlines flew! I had a friend who was off to teach English in Tokyo so that’s where I thought I’d go when I was done with Europe…but of course, things change (a story for another time).
The best part was I was on the next flight, which was only 4 1/2 hours later than my original flight. Best deal EVER. I do remember those girls – they were from Okotoks, actually – but they were so nice to me and it was a great way to start off a solo trip.
The only thing I remember about the Tower of London was that I didn’t want to pay to see the crown jewels. Funny that.
But I love how I found the Tube intimidating. I did have the harder time figuring out which direction was which but hey – I’d been on the Toronto subway ONCE and other than that, wasn’t familiar with how to travel underground. Thankfully my sense of direction has improved since then. 🙂
The thing I had remembered most about the day I left was that it was the day the Flood of ’97 crested, so as we took off in the plane, we could see how much of the land was flooded. In the top photo you could actually see the limits of the Perimeter and how it spilled out over the countryside. That was a big event in Manitoba history…the Flood of the Century, they called it.
My mom had taken me to the airport – as much as she supported my travel, I’m sure it was hard to send me off to a faraway place for seven months…although I had tried to live in Vancouver for a few months the previous fall so she may have figured out it was a matter of time before I was gone again.
Winnipeg in 1997 didn’t feel like it had a lot of hope for me back then. I had graduated from university a year earlier and wasn’t feeling the pull of starting my climb up the corporate ladder as many of my fellow students at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Commerce did (now the Asper School of Business) so after a year of flailing around in Vancouver then back in Winnipeg, I decided it was time to explore the world a little bit…and that I could do it on my own. Though I really don’t think I ever used the term “find myself”!
Turns out I didn’t start writing in my journal till after I arrived in Europe, on the 6th. So I’ll reflect on the life-changing thing that happened this day in tomorrow’s entry, the first written one on the trip.
Twenty years ago tomorrow, May 5, 2017, I left a Winnipeg, Manitoba for a seven-month journey to Europe. It was to be my first solo backpacking trip outside of North America. I was 23.
While I was there I filled several journals with of material that I haven’t read since it first was written and took photos – on film – that I haven’t seen in almost as long.
This blog will be a recounting and reflection of that experience. I will not read ahead in the old journals. I will transcribe the writing and share photos from each of the days they were written on their 20th anniversary.
Let’s see how this goes…