Friday, 9 March 2012

England: that little island to the North

I love all the vacation the kids get in France, but it's too much for working parents. So, it's become a tradition that my Mom visits during the February vacation and takes care of Suzanne and sometimes Max.

Last year, we made the huge, enormous, grave mistake of not going away at all in February which left us with very, um, how can I say this nicely, surly children by the time April vacation rolled around. Since we aren't even planning April vacation this year (with 2 months in the US this summer. Yeehaw!), it was a necessity to at least pretend like we were going on vacation in February...

There's this island, not too far from Northern France. It's call England and it's a pretty nice place. And it's really actually very close!

So, last Friday we loaded 2 kids, my mom, my good friend B and myself into the car to catch the ferry in Dunkerque (or Dunkirk if you prefer). We opted for the ferry for two reasons : 1) less time crammed into my little car and 2) trick the kids' brains into thinking that we were really going on vacation. It was the perfect solution! 

The kids played in the kids' section of the boat for 2 hours and when we landed in Dover, we were in England. I was so excited to bring my mom to England (since she'd never really been) and to introduce her to pub food and Marks and Spencers. I was also excited for the kids to be in an English speaking environment for a couple days. 

Our first stop was the Jackdaw, a lovely old pub in Denton. The platters were so copious that none of us had dessert which I kind of regret because I really wanted to try syllabub if for nothing other than the name. We wobbled out of the pub and drove to Canterbury, parking at the Park and Ride at New Dover Road where you pay 2£50 for all day parking plus bus into the center of town. We spent the afternoon walking around, looking at the Cathedral from as close as possible without paying the 9£50 entrance fee. We had afternoon tea at Tiny Tim's, a very old tea house that my kids will probably never be allowed back into because all they wanted to do was find a playground so they were incapable of using their indoor voices. We never did find the playground in Canterbury, but they did run around with B in the square outside the supermarket while I bought sandwiches for their dinner.

We arrived at the Woolpack Inn in the dark, but I could immediately see that I'd found a gem. The Woolpack Inn is a 600 year old inn and pub located in the beautiful little village of Chilham. We stayed in the family room which was affordable and spacious (and I managed to spend most of the night without a child in my bed). After feeding the kids sandwiches and baby carrots for dinner, we went to drink pints of beer in comfy armchairs by the fireplace while my kids were locked in a room sleeping across the patio. The atmosphere was warm and cozy and the food was scrumptious.

The next day, we discovered the playground with actual swings (something nonexistent in France) just down the street from the inn. We spent the afternoon in Whitstable which turned out to be the only sunny party of our weekend. The kids played with the snails stuck in the tide pools on the beach, collected shells and rocks from the gorgeous pebble beach and then we went for afternoon tea at a lovely tea house with wonderfully yummy cakes made with rich cream and strawberries. We got back to the inn, ate a yummy dinner in the pub, put the kids to sleep and then drank more beer.

We woke up Sunday morning to heavy rain. We paid a short visit to the Badger Hill's Farm : a nice little shop where you can buy various country products, they serve tea and cake, there's a play ground and there's a little zoo. But it was raining so we just bought a pint of hard cider to bring back to France, said hi to the rheas and got on the road towards Dover.

We planned on visiting Dover castle before boarding the ferry but it cost the equivalent of 10 pints of beer so we saw it from very afar (much to Suzanne's dismay). We then spent a rather large chunk of time at the supermarket stocking up on cheese (yummy Davidstowe cheddar) and then sat in the car eating lunch while the rain came pouring down as we waited for the ferry. As we pulled out of the Port of Dover, Suzanne and Max stood at the window of the boat waving ,"Bye England."

Visiting England these days is almost like going home. When I first went to England as a student, I couldn't understand it because it was like they took my culture and twisted it in a way I couldn't quite understand. But now, it seems like the longer I stay away from the US, the closer I feel to English culture because (I guess) it's closer to my roots than French culture is. Even watching TV and shopping in the supermarket were closer to American experiences than to French experiences. I'm sure other American expats will understand when I say it's almost like a relief and a weight off my shoulders when I arrive in England.

One of the reasons to spend time in England was to immerse the kids for a couple days. Suzanne, having been to the US in her recent memory, knows about English speaking countries. But Max literally has no clue. Max spoke to everyone in French, except his immediate entourage, since it's clearly his social language. I explained to him a couple times that in England, people speak English like Mommy (sort of). By the end of the 3 days, I heard him say "thank you" instead of "merci" one time.

Here are some practical links for a nice weekend around Canterbury:

Dunkirk-Dover ferry  : DFDS ferries

The Woolpack Inn in Chilham

Badger's Hill Farm and Cidery

Whitstable and it's lovely beaches

The Jackdaw pub with its yummy food (save room for dessert!)

Dover Castle looks better from afar

Canterbury is awesome for shopping

Tiny Tim's Tearoom in Canterbury

Chilham Castle is open once a month for visits.


Tracey said...

Sounds like you had a lovely time! Can´t wait to go to in summer (hopefully) and take my daughter for the first time! I know what you mean, I fet the same when I spent a year in the US!

Reb said...

Thanks for your comment Tracey! I hope you have a nice visit this summer :)

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