Pudding Wine? I’ll Just Have the Chips, Thanks

Tree-lined pathI’ve never had trouble ordering a drink before. Then I went to England.

“I’ll have a water,” I told my server at a London restaurant. He stared at me as if I were speaking a dialect of Baboon. “Wa-ter,” I repeated. He shook his head, sorry to be dealing with someone so incredibly stupid.

Two more tries, both of us 100% certain the other was a bleeding idiot. Then, he got it. “Oh, woh-tuh!”

If there is one experience so far that sums up the difference between England and the U.S., that almost-fail of a drink order is it. You see, I’ve found most things are similar to back home, but all experiences contain a slight tweak.

Tweaks like smaller vehicle exclusion gates. Either my bike is fat or this pathway is too narrow...

Tweaks like smaller vehicle-exclusion gates. Either my bike is fat or this is too narrow…

 

There’s the language, which is the “same,” yet totally different. Speed bumps are “humped crossings” (giggle) or “sleeping policeman,” as a speeding taxi driver told us. Pants are underwear, and trousers are pants. (I still haven’t figured out which to wear as an exterior layer.) Courgette is zucchini, aubergine is eggplant, and “the dog’s bollocks” means “that is the shit.” Pudding is dessert, as in “pudding wine” for a sweet finish to a meal. And while we’re talking about food, all lodging features hot water boilers for tea, but never coffee makers.

As you may know, everyone drives on the left side of the road in England. Easy enough, right? Well, this is terrifying on a bike and makes me feel hunted at traffic intersections. I carefully look both ways, but fully expect a vehicle to drop out of the sky and crush me nonetheless. Roundabouts replace stop sign intersections and act as slingshots for the vehicles that gun through them like rocket ships trying to escape a planet’s pull.

Fields and paths

Luckily, most of our days are spent on car-free paths like this.

Away from cities, bike lanes and the national cycling network make for quiet, scenic riding. Compared to touring in the U.S., equivalent mileage takes much longer here. In the States, we might follow one or two quiet highways all day, which allowed for consistent pedaling. Route finding is tougher here, with dozens of tricky turns to navigate. Beyond that, the riding is slower through gated fields, bumpy canal walkways with ancient bridges, and gravel paths in the middle of nowhere. It’s a shift in mentality to ride fewer miles, but we’re handling it nicely so far.

The National Cycling Network is a mix of narrow country roads, dirt paths, and canal walkways that cross England. Follow the signs for a good ride!

The National Cycling Network is a mix of narrow country roads, dirt paths, and canal walkways that cross England. Follow the signs for a good ride!

Slightly random, but I am impressed by the ADA accessibility. Most toilets (as bathrooms are called) are designed to accommodate wheelchairs, with low sinks and plentiful grab handles. Hand dryers also replace paper towels. It’s as if the country is designed for the least physically capable. Perhaps I’m reading into it, but to me that’s a representation of England’s willingness to take care of society’s fringes, whether through welfare, medical care, or something as simple as a handle to assist getting off the can.

Tipping is also different. It’s rarely done, and then only at nice restaurants of the type we aren’t allowed to patronize in full spandex cycling garb. I think the lack of tips explains why bartenders will kick people out at exactly closing time. A British woman told us that servers and salespeople in the U.S. felt overly saccharine and helpful; to us, the distant, pre-occupied employees seem almost rude. I should also point out that tipping is unrelated to, “no fly tipping,” which means “don’t dump your junky furniture in this field.” (In the U.S., the sign would say “no illegal dumping.”)

We enjoyed four days of parties and festivities in and around London for my good friend Ryan's wedding to his beautiful and oh-so-nice new wife, Dhara. (She also kept our attendance a secret, down to giving us Indian names on the seating charts!) My first time to a Hindu wedding, which was so fun!

We enjoyed four days of parties and festivities in and around London for my good friend Ryan’s wedding to his lovely new wife, Dhara. (She also kept our surprise attendance a secret, down to giving us Indian names on the seating charts to hide it from Ryan.) My first time to a Hindu wedding, which was so fun!

People still live in houses. Except here in England, many residences are OLD. Like, built-800-years-ago old. People who visit the U.S. marvel at the shiny, big, and new; we are struck by the quaint and ancient. Pedaling along country lanes past stone fences laid centuries ago, bouncing over cobblestones in a tiny village, or enjoying a chai in a market square (every city we’ve seen has a walking-only central shopping district), we are struck by how present history is here versus covered by “progress.” Back home on the west coast, old is 120 years. Here, that’s scarcely a blip on time’s fickle radar. When a gravestone laments the death of someone who died from The Black Plague, that is old.

Pedaling through a centuries-old village north of London.

Pedaling through a centuries-old village north of London.

It feels good to be bike touring! Assembling the trip and traveling abroad was exhausting, but jet lag’s gloomy mist has cleared and our brain’s are working again. I am quite relaxed compared to last year when we pushed hard on the bikes and threw down mileage every day. We smile and laugh at town names like “Leighton Buzzard” or “Heath and Reach” and take each day as a fresh adventure. Less mileage means the slower going is fine, a nice treat.

Bridges and canals

In fact, we decided to kick back for an impromptu birthday stop today at That Amazing Place, a 1000 year-old monastery turned B&B. I could wax poetic about this divine location for a full paragraph, but suffice to say it features both a custom-built obstacle course AND complimentary wine refills while relaxing in the hot tub with a view of the English countryside. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my 33rd birthday! (Unfortunately, I missed the obstacle course record by a bit. I must be getting old.)

In two days, we’ll roll the bikes aboard a night ferry on England’s east coast. The next morning, we’ll wake up in Holland and wheel south toward Belgium. And that’s what makes Europe the dog’s bollocks: each country is a short hop (or pedal) away, yet represents a new language, fresh customs, and a totally different experience. I may continue to have issues ordering drinks, but at least we’ll be back on the right (excuse me, correct) side of road soon.

Back windows

Still gotta handle logistics! D gets a haircut in the central square in Bicester (pronounced "Bister").

Still gotta handle logistics! D gets a haircut in the central square in Bicester (pronounced “Bister”).

A heron hunts for his dinner along a canal with houseboats in the background.

A heron hunts for his dinner along a canal with houseboats in the background.

11 replies
  1. Jeffrey Fritts
    Jeffrey Fritts says:

    Dakota I see your helmet mirror is on the “correct” side. I’m glad you got to ride in England and enjoy the visible history and change of pace. In my Air Force travels with bike in the C-130 England was one of my favorite countries. They speak English there…well almost. 😉 We were based out of Mildenhall and I was able to day tour to Cambridge and many of the surrounding cities and villages. One particularly long day upon returning to Mildenhall I made a turn and found myself on the wrong side of the road. Old habits die hard, but the mind apparently had stopped working a few miles back and I was in pedal mode. Watch out for those double-decker buses they don’t have a driver on the top. Looking forward to more of your travels.
    Jeffrey AKJeff Fritts
    Riding his AWOL in Walla Walla WA

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Yeah, gotta be careful with those double-deckers. Those things are BIG. The helmet mirror on the wrong side has been odd, but is definitely a life saver. You sure did travel a lot when you were in the service! Good stuff.

      Sorry about the ugly face…pick an emoticon I guess? 🙂

      Reply
  2. helen marshall
    helen marshall says:

    Dakota your post is hilarious! You are right about the language difference.We went round the states for 3 months in our 64 Karmann Ghia and encountered the same problems in reverse.Sad you guys are leaving so soon.Are you coming back to the UK after Europe? You are very welcome to stay with us here in the north if you come by this way.Email me if you want to come stay.We are in Gainford in County Durham. The Americans we met on our travels always invited us to stay so it would be great to return the favour/favor lol. Take care and enjoy every second of your trip Helen and Jonathan Marshall xxxxx

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Thanks Helen! We so appreciate the invite. We aren’t heading north this trip, just east through England and then into Europe. We’ll be back for a REAL trip around England though, not to worry. Fun to have you following along!

      Reply
  3. Laurent Chatel
    Laurent Chatel says:

    Welcome in the old Europe Dakota (and Chelsea :).
    It can be possible that one of the bicycle lane you took was a former roman street… And you are just at the beginning of your historic discovery. Keep your eyes open (and keep posting)!
    Be careful in Belgium, beer is there much stronger than what you might used to…
    Hope you can make it to visit us on your way to Prague!
    Laurent & Elodie

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      It’s so interesting how old everything over here is, and how it mixes in with the new! We’re really enjoying it. Hoping we can meet up again after all these years. Hard to believe Sweden was 9 years ago – we’re getting old, my friend!

      Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      A little immaturity is good for us sometimes (always?). Glad you’re enjoying following along. Tough day through the rain into the wind today in Holland…wooooeeeee. Glad to be off the bike, but it was still a fantastic day with the cafes, restaurants, and architecture we stopped at along the way.

      Reply
  4. Jen
    Jen says:

    I had so much trouble with the language when I lived in New Zealand. On my birthday, my boss said, “Many happy returns, Jen!” I stared at him blankly, having no idea what he meant. Where was I returning from? Or to? After admitting that I didn’t know what he meant, he explained that was the Kiwi (and likely British) way of wishing someone a happy birthday.

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      I almost think it’s easier to get by in a country with a totally different language. (YEAH RIGHT.) But I suppose it’s cleaner to just wander about pointing and smiling like a dope. That’s my proven technique, and has served me well over the years. That and talking REALLY LOUDLY. 😉

      Reply

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