An afternoon in Whitstable

My friends (Deborah, Hannah and Rachel) and I had planned to head up north to Whitstable, a small satellite village on the North Sea renowned for its oysters, today. After a couple of weeks of drippy, overcast weather, we couldn’t have expected a truly gorgeous day, as you can tell from the photos at the bottom.

After a lovely Anglican service early this afternoon in Eliot Chapel (during which I read the liturgy and after which I indulged in some lemon cake a few local ladies brought in), I met up with my friends and packed into Deb’s car and drove up to Whitstable.

The beach there reminded me a lot of Maine — more rocky than sandy, windy and cool. We didn’t swim, obviously, but I’d wager it was chilly. Lines of lovely houses, some private, some turned into bed-and-breakfasts, stood up and down the seaside. You could see people swimming and on their boats. I lost track of the number of dogs: spaniels, terriers, retrievers, labs and shepherds of all kinds, some on leashes, some not, all well-behaved. We also found oyster shells to collect.

Up the beach is Whitstable Harbour, which has a fish market and several fresh seafood restaurants. A few boys were catching nice-sized crabs right off the pier using nets. We headed into the town centre, passing all sorts of little shops, cafes and pubs. When we’d exhausted the high street options, we settled in for a late lunch at Coach and Horses. All four of us had a typical “Sunday roast” dinner: Beef (cauliflower-and-cheese bake for Hannah), yorkshire pudding (not really pudding; it’s a pastry used to sop gravy), roasted potatoes and vegetables.

On the way back, we stopped for a few minutes at a penny arcade (I won some sort of magnet game) and then at a little ice cream parlor called Sundae Sundae, where we got cheap waffle cones. Then we had a nice leisurely walk back up the beach to the car. All in all, a lovely day, and it makes me want to go back to Whitstable on a Saturday morning (the buses go there) for the farmers market.

Perhaps most importantly, the evidence of an actual beach in England torpedoes my uncle Tim’s rationale for not coming over in July to see my graduation.

Enjoy the photos below.

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Note: The period from now until December is VERY busy! So be sure to check back for photos and news from Bodiam Castle and Rye, Guy Fawkes night, Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Bruges and Paris.

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How London can use Foursquare

Now that I’m able to successfully take my mobile crack, er, media addiction on the road (thanks to an iPod Touch and, I hope, an Android phone in the near future), I’ve become a major fan of Foursquare. What is Foursquare? Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that not all of my friends are journalism/social media junkies, and most people probably aren’t familiar with it.

Think of it like Twitter on the move. Basically you “check in” at different venues to which you travel — shops, restaurants, bars, airports, train stations, landmarks, bus stops, churches, grocery stores, boutiques, shopping malls, a damn boat. Experience-wise, you get out of it what you put in — ideally you’ll leave tips and notes at places you’ve been, telling the people who arrive after you what to see, do or eat there. For instance, after having a stellar curry in Canterbury, I promptly listed a tip on the place’s Foursquare listing.

If you check into a place more times in the past 60 days than anyone else, you become the mayor, a post you hold until someone else boots you. You can see where your friends have been, and earn badges for various things, like checking into specific types of venues, checking into many different venues, or checking in a certain number of times.

If you use your imagination, the application is entrepreneurial gold. Several months ago, Gap and American Eagle (I believe) both offered discounts if you checked into their stores. Starbucks offers drink specials for its mayors. The mayor at a Wetherspoon pub in the UK gets 20 percent off his tab. It rewards brand loyalty and in turn, the venue receives your business, and your tips populate the venue’s Foursquare listing. Brands like Zagat, Bravo, The History Channel and the Wall Street Journal have their own special badges that you can earn if you follow them. To earn the Zagat badge, for example, you just need to check in at five different Zagat-rated restaurants.

But what about something such as, say, tourism?

Cities like New York, Chicago, Boston/Cambridge and San Francisco and even entire states like Pennsylvania have badges designed to give people incentives to explore them, like a scavenger hunt. As I was rooting around online looking for free WiFi hotspots in London (which I’m visiting tomorrow to see friends, woo), it occurred to me just how awesome a London-based collection of badges (both for tourists and people who actually live or work there) could be.

  • Check into 10 different Underground stations and get a Tube badge.
  • Hit 3+ musicals or other shows and get the West End badge.
  • 3+ gallery check-ins? Give ’em a Turner badge (a generic Warhol badge already exists for gallery check-ins).
  • Five words: “I’m on the London Eye.”
  • Hit Paddington, King’s Cross/St. Pancras, Waterloo, Victoria and Charing Cross and get a Rail Rider badge.
  • Multiple check-ins in the City gets you a Financial Whiz badge (I know WSJ does something similar for financial district check-ins in New York).
  • Check into 5+ castles or royal residences (not necessarily just in London) and earn a King/Queen for a Day badge.
  • 5+ churches, cathedrals or historical houses of worship, like St. Paul’s or Westminster Abbey, ought to be good for something … pious.
  • London pub crawl badge? Yes, please. Even better, narrow it down by the specific beer associated with each pub.
  • A Borough Hopper badge for visiting 5+ different boroughs, like Chelsea, Westminster, Camden and Southwark.
  • A Sloaner badge for checking into 3+ shops on Sloane Street, or Harrods.
  • The London 2012 badge is so obvious I’m not even going to elaborate.
  • 3+ museums should get you a Rosetta Stone badge.
  • Double-decker badge for 5+ check-ins on a bus.
  • There’s already a badge for checking in on or near a boat, but what about on or near the Thames?
  • Ultimate London badge for checking into 15+ predetermined landmarks (this would be an awesome scavenger hunt/travel itinerary thing).
  • London Nightlife badge for checking into 3+ predetermined bars or night clubs.
  • The Footie badge for checking into 3+ football matches.
  • Earn a Green London badge for visiting 3+ city parks.
  • Check in 5+ times while crossing the Thames and get a Bridge Too Far badge.
  • And this isn’t even counting event-specific badges for things like Fashion Week, the opening of Parliament, Wimbledon, general elections, Trafalgar Square rallies, major sporting events, the queen’s birthday and Guy Fawkes night.

I came up with 20 specific badges right off the top of my head. In addition to the badges, tangible rewards are also easy to figure out — check in on the Eye, get a discount on your next ticket. 15% off museum/gallery gift shops if you earn those badges. Discounted train fare, free entry to landmarks, store deals. So why isn’t anyone (the local government, Transport for London, a media group or someone) doing this already?

Do you really want the Yanks to have all the fun?

An afternoon in the cathedral

I’ve always thought that Ken Follett’s title The Pillars of the Earth was extremely poetic and lyrical. And nothing says “pillar of the Earth” like Canterbury Cathedral. It’s old (St. Augustine — not that one, a different one — founded it as a monastery some 1400 years ago), it’s beautiful — Gothic architecture and stained glass windows galore — and it invites reflection and consideration.

I traveled to the cathedral earlier today as part of a planned outing for international students. We were split into smaller groups and escorted around for about an hour and a half. Our guide, a delightful little old man who I suspect is a retired volunteer, showed us around.

The main thing about the cathedral is that it’s immense. There’s a lot of empty space, with tall, thin Gothic columns and vaulted ceilings. It’s been steadily added onto and refurbished over the centuries. Some of the projects were completed hundreds of years ago, such as the nave refurbishment. Others are newer, such as the improved main tower, which was extended about 170 years ago. Others, such as a careful restoration of stained glass, are ongoing today.

Our guide led us through the building, from the enormous nave to the quiet, dimly lit crypt. He told us about how Thomas Becket was murdered in the church in 1170 after standing up to Henry II. A gold altar once stood where Becket’s tomb was, and pilgrims would come pray and bring gifts and ask for intercession. Henry VIII, in one of his hissy fits, plunder the altar, declared Becket a traitor and had his body burned, and, rumor has it, shot out of a cannon to prevent people from claiming pieces of it. Cathedral lore says that monks took Becket’s real remains, swapped them for another body and hid them in the crypt before Henry’s men could get to it. But, our guide reminded us, that’s a legend at this point.

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In the choir, once only accessible to the clergy, is the tomb of Edward, the Black Prince of Wales. Edward died a year before his father, Edward III, and was never king. His son became the ultimately doomed Richard II. Edward’s “achievements,” knightly prizes such as his helmet, vest and gauntlets, are on display near the door. They’re about 650 years old.

Edward was also the guy who originated the Prince of Wales’ motto. In battle, Edward faced John I of Bohemia, who insisted on fighting with his men even though he was old and blind. Shockingly, he was killed in battle. Edward, admiring his, as we say in German, Bälle des Stahls, adopted John’s three-feather emblem and motto, Ich dien, as his own. Ich dien means “I serve” in German, and is the motto of the Prince of Wales to this day.

Right across from Edward is Henry IV, the man who overthrew his son, Richard II, and started the Lancastrian line (Edward and Richard were Plantagenets). Henry IV is the only monarch interred in the cathedral.

There are other interesting people about — like the archbishop who founded an Oxford college and has the privilege of having his tomb kept up and overhauled every 50 years. It’s sparkling with color where others are worn white. Stained glass “cartoons” depict visual stories of miracles being performed. A glasswork by a Hungarian Jew whose mother died in the Holocaust celebrates the end of Nazi tyranny. Some butt-kisser snuck in a picture of Queen Victoria in the Chapter House’s front glass pane, even though she really never had anything to do with the cathedral. The tour had to stop briefly as a soothing female voice over the PA led everyone through an afternoon rendition of the Lord’s Prayer (I think in our group, our tour guide and I were the only ones who actually recited it).

Overall it was a really enjoyable afternoon. I finished it off in the town centre, sipping hot chocolate and people-watching before I picked up some groceries and came back to Woolf.

Stay tuned for Leeds Castle this Sunday …