We are adjusting to the linguistic challenges of speaking the same language as the Mother Country after more than two centuries apart. Our new favorite exclamation is “brilliant!” and we have learned to ask for the “loo” if we want to find a bathroom in a hurry.
But perhaps our favorite part of the adventure so far is the number of English “firsts” we have experienced in just one week in the country.
- Fish and chips (Brit style). We had this food the first night at famous chef Rick Stein’s new restaurant in Falmouth along with some of the Gap Adventures team from London. They were surprised that we didn’t know who Rick Stein was, and after eating his food, seeing his cookbooks and hearing about his shows, I’m glad we’ve now made his acquaintance. It completely lived up to the hype, and we enjoyed every fattening bite.
- Couchsurfing. After 7 months on the road, we finally tried couchsurfing. Our host was a man named Nick who is a teacher in Falmouth, and he shared his spare bedroom, his local pub, and introduced us to many of his friends around town. He also gave us a mini education on Cornwall, real ale, and UK politics. We had a fantastic time together, and he is a big part of the remaining numbers on this list. We are hoping for more more adventures with him when we return to Cornwall.
- Fry up. This is what the English call a big fried breakfast, and it will keep you properly fed for practically a whole day. The one Nick made us consisted of black pudding, sausage, fried eggs, friend potatoes, bacon, fried tomatoes with asparagus, baked beans, and toast. Through a fun series of events we did not eat again until 10:30 p.m. and we didn’t ever feel a hunger pang. Well done, Nick.
- Royal wedding. Nick had no interest in seeing the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate, but he bought us an assortment of newspapers that morning for breakfast so we could take in all the hype. He then pointed us to a pub to watch the festivities on the big screen. A newspaper photographer came around to take pictures of everyone watching the wedding, and we think it is hilarious that our photos might show up as royalists absorbed in the wedding of their future king. One thing we thought was really interesting about the wedding was the repeated references to Kate Middleton’s family being lucky to be part of the royal family and her coming from such a humble background. In fact, her family is quite well-to-do and earned their money instead of inheriting it. In the US, this is a greatly admired status, but in a royal society it is actually looked down upon as less impressive than family-owned property acquired by a long-dead relative. Amazing differences we have, huh?
- Street party. We noticed the night before on our way to Nick’s that there would be a street party near his house for the royal wedding. He didn’t know anything about it, but he doubted it would come to much. When we left to watch the wedding there was no one about. Nick told us that when he left home a few hours later there were only 5 or six people milling around. We later met up with Nick on accident (see below) and as we came back home together that afternoon around 5 there were probably 2000 people – many in royal costumes – celebrating in front of Nick’s door! We joined in the festivities for a while and met a lot of students – and some police officers – but we soon decided a trip to the local pub would be more our speed and we were off. We came back a couple of hours later and they were still going strong. What is the funniest is that Nick is a longtime schoolteacher in Falmouth, so dozens of the kids knew him and came over to say hello in various states of sobriety. He has such a great manner with them – and such a dry sense of humor – it was fun to watch the exchange.
- Real ale. We noticed this term at a number of pubs and asked Nick about it. Apparently “real ale” gets its flavor and carbonation from active yeast. The beer is still “alive” as compared to beer that has carbonation added. The beer looks like it is flat, but it tastes very good and has a delicious sting of natural carbonation. Real ale is quite the movement in Cornwall and all of the UK, and we were delighted to find a variety to try, including the “Kate loves Willy” on the wedding day, where we ran into our couchsurfing host by happy accident. We’ve made it a sort of quest to try every kind of real ale available while we are in the country.
- Cornish pasty. This sounds like a dessert, doesn’t it? Well, it is actually a giant empanada filled with all kinds of savory goodness like steak or chicken. Pasties are famous in Cornwall and everyone has their favorite vendor or baker. We were told that these were originally developed by wives to send to work with their miner husbands, and the food had to be filling but easy to eat. In the Cornwall area, these are as common as fish and chips for street food, and you can find shops everywhere selling them. We bought some to eat on our last night with Nick and they are delicious. I defy you to walk by a pasty shop without getting hunger pangs, no matter when you ate your last meal.
- Coastal Paths. These trails are all over the country and showcase the beauty of this island nation. You can walk for weeks at a time and see much of the country this way, though we started out slow and just walked from Falmouth to the village of Durgan. During this 10-mile walk we saw the gorgeous cliffs of the coastline, fields of bluebonnets and other colorful flowers, rolling green meadows with lazy cows, and an old church and graveyard. The Brits are avid walkers, and they have excellent paths. The walk was harder for us than we expected, and it will take time to get back to our former level of fitness after 5 weeks of no exercise and eating with abandon. This was a fantastic reminder of why we need to be fit enough to explore, though. We cannot wait to explore the rest of the country through the many national paths.
- May Day Celebration. We went to the May Day celebration in the village of Kintbury with our friend Sam, where we saw our first Morris dancing and crowning of the May Day Queen (an adorable 10-year-old girl). Morris dancing involves a lot of jumping around, jingling of bells, and clacking of wooden batons, and it is quite festive. Sam wanted Warren to join in, but I’m afraid he would have given someone a black eye without any previous practice with the batons!
The “firsts” of a country are always fun to note because it doesn’t take long for them to become the new normal. Documenting and celebrating “firsts” in your life – no matter how big or small – is an enjoyable way to live. It is all about paying attention, showing gratitude, and really experiencing every day, whether you are in a foreign country or running errands on a Saturday morning in your own town.
What kind of first did you experience last week?