The past week has certainly been an interesting one! After a 2-day delay (due to the foot of snow we received or issues with the airport in Chicago, I'm not sure); "my" students and I finally departed St. Louis for our 3-month stay in Canterbury England.
Because we sat on the tarmac at Lambert Airport in St. Louis for an extra 40 or so minutes while repairs were made to one of the de-icing trucks, we had only about 20 min to spare before our connecting flight, so as soon as we debarked the first plane we began walking as quickly as possible to our gate. As we got closer, one of the students said, "Hey, they just announced last call for our flight!", and as one, we took off running. Perhaps you're envisioning those old television commercials in which businessmen run gazelle-like through airports, leaping gracefully over luggage and small children. To picture that would be a mistake. :) Carry-on luggage flopping about wildly, we rounded the corner to the gate, where one of two ladies at the boarding gate immediately asked us if we were the group going to London and then informed us that they were holding the flight for us. She also told us we had been upgraded to business class! They hurriedly checked our paperwork and scrawled some initials & checkmarks on it before practically pushing us onto the plane. And then, we were in the air and on our way to England.
Oh, my! I'd never flown anything but coach, and I had no idea what I was missing! Much larger seats that fold into all kinds of positions (or flat); individual electronic tablets with a library of books, movies, tv shows, games, etc., and a pair of very nice noise-reducing headphones; a plush and extremely soft blanket and nice fluff pillow; fantastic, multi-course meals (even breakfast); and all the drinks -- even champagne (for those 21 and over) -- we wanted. All at no extra charge! As I shared with friends on facebook, "How do you get the girl back in coach after she's experienced business class?"
Ultimately, we arrived at Heathrow, found our drivers, and loaded into the vans that would take us on an 80 or so-minute ride to Canterbury. I settled into the cab and tried to make out something of the scenery flying by, but all I could see was a few odd shapes here and there in the jet black night.
In the 4 days since then, we've attended 2 induction (orientation) meetings and been taken on walking tours of both the university campus and part of the "historic" part of Canterbury. The students have settled in with their homestay families, and I've settled into my flat.
I spent almost the entire day Saturday exploring Canterbury. I knew from what I'd read in preparation for this trip that the area inside the ancient wall (to be explained later) where all the shops, museums, etc., and Canterbury Cathedral are located would be crowded with tourists on weekends, so I didn't take my camera. Instead, I simply wandered up and down streets, in and out of shops. I people-watched, bought one or two necessities, and walked. And walked. And walked. In fact, when I checked my pedometer at the end of the day, I found I'd walked 16,752 steps aka (for me) 7.1 miles!
After a morning of meetings, I had the afternoon free today to purchase a few necessary odds and ends. I walk everywhere I go, and so far today, I've logged 11,694 steps aka 4.7 miles. I've eaten several meals, enjoyed a couple of Starbucks chai tea lattes (at a very discounted rate as they are sold in the campus coffee shop around the corner from my flat), and talked to quite a few people.
Thoughts so far:
1. Canterbury is amazingly beautiful! Even when the sky is a flat, dark gray and a light drizzle is falling, it is beautiful. By the way, it's only rained (actually misted/drizzled) once since we arrived.
2. The people are unfailingly helpful.
3. When walking down the street, very little eye contact is made, no smiles or casual "hello" exchanged as you meet and pass by someone unless it is initiated by the American/me. When I smile and (sometimes) say a quick greeting, the person I'm "meeting" looks started, but then they always smile back and respond politely (see #4).
4. I assume they are saying something polite. I'm having a wee bit (I love that very-British expression, along with others I've heard so far) of trouble understanding when people speak. They speak fast, and while they speak English, the British accent and the different word meanings have proven to be more daunting than I expected. Of course, my hearing problems exacerbate the problem, so I focus as best I can (and smile encouragingly). Everyone has been very patient, though.
5. No matter what is being said, it sounds elegantly dignified and oh so proper. I actually heard a young man say a rather vulgar expression this morning, and it sounded like something you would say to your grandmother at the Sunday dinner table!
6. Food doesn't taste quite the same here as it does at home; even the drinks at Starbucks don't taste like their counterpart in the U.S. As a general rule, food and drinks have been more bland yet still pretty good. The fish & chips are, without question, fantastic!
There's more, but in the short time it's taken me to write this, I've gone from wide awake to dead on my feet. Unfortunately, I've been dealing with jet lag, but hopefully I'll soon be back on an even keel and able to stay alert later than 20:00 (8 p.m) and, more importantly, able to fall asleep when I go to bed rather than lay wide awake until 2 or 3 in the morning.
So please excuse me if this post is unclear; I know it's somewhat rambling and disorganized. Quite honestly, so are my thoughts and impressions right now. I know, though, that in the days to come, that will change. I'll post a few pictures and share some experiences, and I hope you'll join me in the weeks and months ahead.