On my last day in Rochefort-en-Terre, I receive an e-mail asking for support for my Wu Wei theme. This isn’t uncommon; earlier this year, Wu Wei was chosen to be part of the official WordPress.com repository, and I’ve been flooded with such e-mails since. What stood out about this one, from a Michael Harvey, was the fact that he was in London, read from my blog that I was in France, and offered to show me around if I happened to be stopping by.
I told him it’d be lovely if I could go, but I’ve no place to stay, as I’d only planned on going to France. On a whim of his own, he offers to let me stay with him, and tells me I’d feel at home as they have two cats.
For a while I turn this idea over in my head, as there’s most certainly a risk involved in living with someone you’ve never met, least of all whether or not you’d even get along. Eventually, I decide that I couldn’t give up on the chance to see more of Europe. Fate opened a door, and I only had to step through. I couldn’t say no.
And so, armed with a ticket for the EuroStar and a box of assorted macaroons (one of the specialties in Chartres) for my new host, I set off for London.
I book a 1st-class Eurostar ticket because it’s only £6 more than the standard fare, a fraction of the £300 cost. That also means my ticket is semi-flexible on the times, which is especially important, as I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be returning.
At border control before boarding the train, a British security guard with a serious voice asks me with whom I’ll be staying. I tell her “Michael Harvey”. She asks, “Are they a friend or a relative?” For a moment, I consider saying, “Friend. I imagine there aren’t many Harvey’s in my family tree.”, but common sense means I only spit out the first word.
Little did I know how awesome the first-class experience would be, with plenty of space and legroom and electrical outlets at every seat, even a little pedal to step on to flush the toilet and operate the hand dryer in the bathrooms. The only interruption of the quiet hum is sudden jolt of wind that shakes the cart when an occasional train passes by in the opposite direction.
I’ll be wearing an Orange North Face jacket
This is the only description Mike gives me. I pray no one else is wearing the same, but we’re able find each other without a problem in the crush of people. The architecture of England feels a lot more modern than France, and I can’t put my finger on why.
My first stop in London is a little tapas restaurant, a place where we can sit and nibble and get to know each other a little more. I pick his brain on photography techniques, and he picks mine about the web. It’s quickly apparent that we share a connection, something that’s all too rare for me when it comes to other people.
Mike lies to me and tells me my credit card won’t work, and pays for the meal. This will be a trend for the rest of my time in the UK, as he doesn’t let me pay for anything.
On the way home, Mike takes me on the scenic route. There’s a chance for him to stop by a few landmarks, and I hurriedly try to take a few snaps as the sun begins to set.
Before dinner, we head to The Mayflower, a pub built in the 1600s with charming old-world booths. He buys me a half-pint of Old Speckled Hen, my first taste of bitter. It catches me off-guard, as it’s fairly flat and room temperature. For me and my colitis, this is perfect. Soon I feel my head getting droopy, as I imbibe the wonderfully malty taste.
Mike keeps me on my toes as he observes the way I take my photos. When I ask him for some advice, he gives me his opinion, but tells me that it’s my job to take that information and turn it around and tell him he’s full of shit if I discover something different. I have to respect that kind of open-mindedness.
Back home, I meet the rest of the family, which includes Shen, Hanako, and their two cats, Petey and Essey. Their house is a cozy strip, with a wood-burning fireplace, and a place for everything.
I’m told that the rest of the family had to do a little research on me before agreeing to Mike’s offer to let me stay, and Hanoko warmed up to the idea when she saw a picture of Dolly on my blog. This earns her an extra scratch when I get home.
I’d been traveling since 7am, and by 11pm, Mike and I force ourselves to stop talking and go to sleep, as there’s more to be done in the days ahead.
Europe 2010 travel diaries
- France: Arrival
- France: Day 3, Chartres
- The Partisan
- France: Day 5, Chartres
- Baby Scary Party
- France: Day 6, Paris
- Call me McNgangus
- France: Day 7, Rochefort-en-Terre
- France: Day 8, La Roche-Bernard
- France: Day 9, Rochefort-en-Terre
- UK Detour: Day 10, Chartres to London
- UK Detour: Day 11, London
- A passenger in London
- UK Detour: Day 12, London
- UK Detour: Day 13, London to Ullapool
- UK Detour: Day 14, Ullapool
- UK Detour: Day 15, Ullapool
- UK Detour: Day 16, Ullapool
- France: Day 18, Paris
- France: Day 19, Chartres + Paris