did i mention, there is so much beauty in the world.
two days until i make my way back home. bittersweet, si.
in january i left seattle and flew to london. arriving in the evening, i checked into my hostel, called my parents and set out for something to eat. i walked around the areas near leicester square and recognized the apple market from a previous journey i took to london. it’s funny how life brings you back to places, to memories. i grabbed a bite to eat at a vegetarian hole-in-the-wall called food for thought, walked back to the hostel and rested for a couple of hours before catching an airport coach in the middle of the night.
i often think of the winter; of this year’s january and february - the nights spent in the bothy in southern ireland. i realize how gorgeous those times were, when i’d slip on my wellies in nothing other than my undergarments and walk outside to use the loo. the night sky there felt low and dark and pure. the stars shone above me and sometimes i would just sit out there for a few minutes before retreating inside to the warmth beneath the electric blanket. the crisp irish season was the beginning of the endless cups of tea i’ve sipped on this journey. it all started with loose leaf double bergamot and a coconut pouchong that i brought from home. the electric kettle was forever boiling.
the mornings in southern ireland were like waking for school and wishing i didn’t have to go outside after a warm shower. but the walks from the bothy to the little’s house were cherished moments indeed. watching my step on the stone pathway so as not to slip on the dew or the ice. the white white sky and the bare trees. greeted with toast and raspberry preserves, maybe a cup or two of tea before beginning the work of the day.
the bike rides on sunny, but still cool, days. those were spectacular days. riding on the main roads along the fields and creeks. the little church that would mark half-way from home and liss ard, where aurthur and sometimes i would work. i remember the first rainbow i saw, arching and ending somewhere lower than the horizon line. riding on the backroads and not realizing that some do not simply loop around.
the outings to other villages and towns. schull, where the coast laps up against the stones that you would always imagine at the thought of ireland. loch hyne - the phenomenon of the atlantic spit, waves crashing in the cold. barley cove - where the atlantic reigns free and the grasses sway with the wind. lydia’s calls to the dogs - lily and ellie - will forever ring in my ears.
nearly a month later i headed north. i took the path from ballydehob to kinsale - east along the southern coast and met up with paul who drove us through the night to a village near athlone. before we set out, there was of course an offering of tea. i accepted.
i felt like i was on a roadtrip - indeed, i was - but i really felt like it too. the whole ambience of a packed car and frugal spending and snacking on peanuts and just rolling down the window and feeling the wind in my hair, not knowing really where or what i would wake up to in the morning. i felt free like the atlantic.
i learned a lot in central ireland - planting a field of trees, grafting them, some facts about seasonal vegetable gardening. i learned how to milk a cow. i learned how to kill a chicken - that’s not really something you learn every day. i also learned how to pluck the feathers of a dead chicken, hanging from a beam in an old barn. i learned too that i did not really enjoy this feeling of yanking quills from warm flesh. not at all.
i cooked on the wood-stovetop and when we didn’t have water i tried not to care.
central ireland is where i grew into a deep affection with soda bread. paul’s mom would make a batch or two every day. it was the best after coming in from a cold day’s work. the smell would waft around the kitchen - i could barely wait to spread that golden yellow butter all over it and sit down with a cuppa.
at paul’s i painted a few small murals inside the house. they brought a bit more life to the place.
i remember one of the walks joshua and i went on, the way the sun pierced through the cold and onto the low hills. i remember yearning for italy. ireland is breathtaking in another way though.
two weeks passed and i found myself on achill island, on the west side of ireland. here there lies a little piece of bliss, where charred looking hills surround blue-flag beaches and marshlands preserve the beauty of the island.
pat, alice, and their two children welcomed me into the hostel i would be working at as if i was family. the hostel was really an ancient house, which had been owned by pat’s father. the inside was full of wonderment - the dark oak staircase and railings, the checkered entrance, the piano in the dining room, the fireplace that would be stoked nightly before the pub opened. and the pub! how charming - the rich red walls and wooden bar stools, the booths where pat and alice and whoever else would sit and play guitar and sing. the many pints of guinness pat would pour, perfectly.
sometimes the house was quiet. when i first arrived it was still low season and sometimes it was just joshua and i in that big house. when the guests did come, i welcomed them and suggested walks to take since there were so many beautiful ones. i made the beds and changed the duvets, did the laundry and set out breakfast. whilst i set out breakfast for the guests, i would make myself a cup of tea.
joshua and i worked on rooms that needed a little tlc and had them up and running for the summer guests that would surely be arriving.
on my twenty-first birthday, i walked to the shore and sat watching the tide roll in and out. the beach was near to the valley house, and rocky, but still comfortable. joshua made me breakfast, lunch and dinner. i spent the early part of the evening at the pub where pat served me more guinness. i thought of my friends and family at home and wished that they were here. it seems childish but i was sad when i went to bed that night and although i’m sure it was for reasons of homesickness, the idea that this was my first birthday without a cake topped it off. when joshua left the room, my eyes were welling. i heard footsteps up the stairs and wiped my cheeks to hide my moment, and then the music began.
joshua entered with a platter - a beautiful cake and shots of frangelico, an italian hazelnut liquor. alice strummed the guitar and sang happy birthday in that pretty voice of hers.
i delighted in my carrot cake with blueberry frosting (two of my favorite things) and knocked back the shot. i was warm again. i had a wonderful birthday on an island in ireland.
as for the walks i had mentioned…there were a few in particular that i will forever remember. joshua and i walked to keel the evening of pat’s mother’s wake at the valley house. it didn’t feel right for us to be there. it took nearly three hours to walk to keel, where there is a blue-flag beach and a small convenience store. the shop was about to close when we arrived, but the attendant let us in. i bought a popcicle - a strange purchase for the chill of the evening, and probably not the best idea of the night.
the sky was dimming and we decided to take another route back to the valley house. we didn’t really know where we were going, and soon enough we couldn’t see where we were going either. i walked along the road and with every set of headlights i stuck my thumb out. but there weren’t many headlights, and no one stopped. we walked for two hours until someone did. she drove us about ten minutes up the road and said we had a while more to go to get home, but that she was heading the opposite way. we trekked on for another hour. i was shivering when we got back and it was nearly eleven by the time we did, but the silence out there was something to experience.
the walk up the charred hill closest to the valley house went a bit smoother, but the way down not so much. joshua nearly had to drag me to get down before any major rain or wind hit. but the view from up there - the atlantic looking even more amazing.
pat took us on a few drives that were quite fetching. he told us stories of his childhood on the island, and his time in dublin and how it felt to come back to the island. he took us to the places he said we needed to see, and more places that he had always loved. the cliffsides were awe-inspiring. the hilltop view of keem beach, even more.
at the end of the month-and-a-half i spent on achill island, i was ready to stay. i had already booked a ticked to portugal for a date in early april, and now it seemed bittersweet to depart. i knew then and know still now that i will have to return.
did i mention the amount of potatoes i consumed in ireland was probably more than i have cumulatively in my entire life?
portugal was a whole different world, especially coming from the little tucked away, secluded heaven of achill island. i arrived in early april and the sun was searing. i waited around a bit after taking a cab to my friend gabi’s - who i met last year whilst traveling. i was early, and i knew she was still at work. i peeked around the corner of her apartment building and could see the beach. i took my bags with me and found a spot to lay down in the sun. the weather was much different than that of ireland.
i walked back up the street around the time gabi and i had decided to meet and saw her coming in my direction. it was good to see a familiar face, but funny to know that it was not so familiar anyway.
days spent here were mostly on the beach in mastosinhos, going to the supermarket around the corner to pick up beer and fruit and ingredients for dinner. spending time with gabi and her children when they were not at work or school, and walking into the historical part of porto on the boardwalk that borders the delta. the promenade seems as if it never ends, and i like this. the two hour walks into town were worth it, even in the heat of the day. the colorful old buildings were always waiting to greet me. revisiting the photo museum was a good time as well. the town brought memories i had made there last year with my cousin, sophie.
sitting on the balcony drinking lager or juicy lambrusco and sipping sweet smoke from the hookah while looking out onto the beach made for pleasant afternoons.
two weeks later, i hopped aboard a train for lisbon - about three hours south. here, joshua and i would be staying with a family on the outskirts of the city. beforehand, we had agreed on helping out around the house and cooking, doing some other odd jobs here and there. but when we got there, maria eduarda had just purchased the 1950’s apartment in the same complex as her’s and wanted us to fix it up. there was a lot of fixing up to be done, there was no electricity or water, and the place hadn’t been touched in ten years. this is where joshua and i would be living…
the good part about this whole scenario, was the british couple who were also helping out there. sam and kate! we spent good nights with these two - complaining about work and cold showers (once we had water) and maria’s shady electric wires from her apartment out the window to ours. we had many evenings of playing beer pong and shuffling cards while drinking bison and apple juice. the four of us scoped out bar old vic which became the highlight of our stay in lisbon; it’s maroon velvet booths and oak bar, table snacks and wonderful drinks, the dim atmosphere where kate was allowed to smoke.
we spent some time in the city of lisbon and in belem. we took a day out to go to cascais, a touristy kind of beach that was still quite nice and not yet too crowded.
back at the apartment, we were still drinking tea, but not as much since we didn’t have an electric kettle or stovetop in our apartment - we had to venture to maria’s. there was a nice balcony for sitting on with a cup of tea though, especially when the sun was setting.
we were ready to leave lisbon a couple days before we were meant to, but we stuck around. we said a sad goodbye to sam and kate, but hoped we could meet up with them if they came to italy.
we traveled back to porto on the train and made our way to the airport with gabi’s help. and now, we were italy bound.
i had waited for this moment since i left italy last year. if you’ve been reading my previous posts, you know how in love i am with italy.
i flew into bologna, and reminisced on sitting in a courtyard nearby the train station with a slice of pizza and some good company last year. it was nearly eleven at night now, and i had missed any night train that would be at all affordable so was destined to hang around bologna for the night. i went for the pizza and oh, was it good!!!
i found a concrete bench to sleep on that night, right beneath the train intercom…and somehow i slept through those italian announcements.
my train left at six that morning and took me back to florence. i met with a friend who was studying in the city, showered, and spent the day walking on my old stomping grounds. i went back to via ghibellina and gazed at the facade of my apartment. i had gelato around the corner from the building where i went to school every day. i went to a service at the duomo that evening. i miss that day. i miss that city.
that night i arrived in chiusi, where ulrike picked joshua and i up. we spent a month-and-a-half at her lovely home near panicale. we gardened in the heat, worked in the olive groves, around the house, rebuilt the pool deck, and restored a bit of her workshop, among other things. we worked hard. we ate well and we had a lot of tea breaks. and, consumed about six italian easter cakes in total. delicioso!
ulrike was a woman who lived and still lives a full life. the stories she could tell - and retell! she was excited to take us to different towns and beaches and to the termes which were great after a long week of work. biking to maremma, bathing in the mediterranean, and biking back was one of my favorite outings. the wind in my hair again, in the summer heat.
i loved the way the sky above the hills across from her home would change throughout the day. i would sit in the gazebo and find that in the morning the sky was a gorgeous blue and around two some clouds, in the evening a thin mist of dimming daylight.
there were dozens of insects and snakes and wildlife you might not think of when you think italy. the sounds that they would make! buzzing bees, and pheasant calls, ribbiting toads and wild boar snorting.
walks to panicale along the olive groves in the evening - ahh, lovely. the poppies in the groves were my favorite from the beginning. and of course, the gelato!!!
i remember going to siena just to stop in for gelato one day and thinking how big of deal it was to make a trip there last year. i now felt like a local. and i was speaking some more italian.
joshua and i took a weekend out to see a family who was hoping to hire us as au pairs near florence. we stayed with them in the hills that face fiesole and i imagined myself living there; the trips to florence i would take and the times i would just sit and look at the hills. in the end, it was our visas that didn’t permit us the opportunity to consider the position.
i took another day trip to meet up with a friend from nearby seattle. funny how paths collide across the world.
mugnano might be an ideal town to reside in - its tasteful murals scattered throughout the village.
for two straight weeks at ulrike’s, we had torrential rain. on a drive to cortona it just hailed and hailed - bigger hail that i’ve ever seen. while i was sitting in the car waiting for it to stop, i thought that if i plugged my ears it might just look like the poplar seeds floating in the air. but they were free-falling fast, and even when i plugged my ears, i could still hear the weather.
we left ulrike’s when our plans with sam and kate were finalized. i found an english couple that owns a bed and breakfast on the east coast of italy that would take the four of us on as helpers. i had never been to the east coast of italy. i was thrilled as i hopped aboard the overpriced train and began my journey through the sibillini mountains. they were splendid and mossy and tall, unlike any other scenery i’ve witnessed in italy. it was nice to discover something new.
lynne, of lynne and rupert (the english couple), met me at the train station. she drove back through the hills and this was the first time i had seen so many gorgeous plains and hills without a house in sight. i felt like i was in what umbria is supposed to be - the green heart - but i was, in fact, in le marche.
the bed and breakfast was amazing, pool and wine and wine and all. sam and kate met joshua and i there the morning after we arrived and together we stayed for three weeks. our days consisted of half-nine starts. we’d sit outside in the wicker chairs with the cappuccini i’d make for everyone, eat our toast in the warmth of the morning and wait for lynne and rupert to arrive.
we painted and touched up some rooms, hung curtains, finished the work of transitioning an old pig sty into a livable little cabin. i would like to live there - a small square layout with a bed and a table, and awning outside and an outdoor bathroom and shower. the windows made up the majority of the front wall and look out onto porchia, a nearby village. in the vegetable garden, there were sunflowers that opened up facing the hills and porchia - they have a gorgeous view.
in the afternoons we would have the lunch that lynne would prepare - always amazing - then get back to work for a couple of hours. we’d cool off after work in the pool.
it was forever hot there, but there was forever tea served as well. the english are big influencers on their drinking of tea.
on days off rupert would take us to towns or places he enjoyed. he’d tell us bits of history and i always knew that i would never have come across these kinds of treasures on my own. he also took us to the apartment lynne and rupert share in montalto - the small stacked apartment of three stories. everything inside was perfectly laid out and the top floor as a room solely for the bathtub is a dream…the french doors open up to a balcony with a view of the hills. imagine that.
kate and sam and joshua and i walked to the nearby village often - for gelato mostly. and once we went out to eat at quatro stagoni - amazing pizza, which we also had at the house after pick-up orders.
one day we went to the piano grande - this amazing plateau in the middle of a valley that is full of wildflower fields and hilltop towns, not to mention the local and delicious pork sandwiches.
there were insane hornets at the b&b. larger than the size of my thumb, and i know i have small hands, but still. they would buzz like no other and it was amusing to watch kate so alarmed sometimes.
picking cherries and handing them off to lynne to be made into something tasty was always a treat. rupert and her could cook like no other. at dinner, i always knew i was in good company; the wine from the local cantina that was poured and the conversations that went on!
there were a sets of guests along our stay and all of them were people that lynne and rupert knew. we had fun getting to know them for a few days, learning and playing poker, and sharing time at the beach as rupert let us borrow the car. the adriatic sea was to die for - i think it is my favorite. kate told me last week that my eyes are the color of the adriatic.
the last day of our stay we all spent by the pool, relaxing and playing cards, drinking buck’s fizz and leftover beer from the day at the beach. one last cup of gelato in town in the evening. and, one last game of poker. at one in the morning, there were the four of us laying on the rooftop, stargazing.
i could have stayed at the b&b for a while longer, and like i said, live in the old pigsty. but there would be large groups of guests to arrive as summer continued on. this would be another place i’d have to return to, and as we all packed up the little red car, rupert welcomed us back whenever.
on the coach to rome, it hit me that i would be leaving italy again.
we parted ways with sam and kate and then things got complicated at the airport and at one point it seemed that perhaps i might not have to leave. but, around eight at night i was flying to england. as we took off, i could see rome all lit up and it reminded me of landing in bologna two-and-a-half months ago.
it was another night of sleeping in a train station, but this time in london. at five am, i hopped aboard a train to folkestone and penny, the owner of terlingham vineyard, arrived to pick joshua and i up.
when we got to the house, she offered us each a cup of tea, but all i wanted was sleep. i curled up in the cozy cellar of the house and slept for the remainder of the day.
i stayed at penny’s for about a week over a month and learned quite a bit about wine and the vineyard. when i first arrived i wondered why i was here. why was i not in italy in the sun? why was i here in the cold and the rain? but over time, the sun came out a little more, and i realized how close to home i felt, even though i was still so far away.
i think heading to england was a good transition stage. last year when i came home from traveling for six months, i had spent time with sophie in the warmest parts of europe and then was all of a sudden home. it was a shock to my senses, my climate, and my emotions were already out of control after having that experience and then returning home. i think it’s hard to realize that whilst others are at home, time goes by so quickly. whereas, whilst traveling, and whilst everything is new and stimulating, time slows down a bit. there isn’t a strict schedule to follow, you are free. you can leave a place if you want to leave or stay longer if you want to stay longer. there is always a way. but, honestly, if there is one thing that traveling has taught me it is that - there is always a way. i am young and have the ability to make choices that can direct my life in one way or another. it’s hard to realize, but you can leave or stay whenever or wherever you want, you can not follow your schedule - and although it may have different effects at home or at a job…there is always a way. there is always another job or another place. a friend once told me, ‘as important as you are, you get to a point in life where you understand that the world will still spin if you’re not there.’
anyway, my time at terlingham vineyard was very valuable - both in the things i began to realize about myself and about life, but also in the knowledge that i gained. i was back to working in customer service (a good transition to getting a job back home), giving tastings and offering tours of the vineyard. i learned about and participated in the process of bottling and labeling wines. i learned a lot about having a small business and making or not making money from it. i learned that keeping up a vineyard - even a ‘small’ one - is hard work. however, i was reassured in my interest in wine and my eagerness to learn more about it. i could see myself working in a winery or having my own wine shop one day.
the bike rides here were beautiful too. down to the folkestone harbor or just to the community center to hop on the internet for a few minutes. i walked along the hills that stand above the main city center and got a whole different view of the town. i took buses upon buses to visit other areas in southeast england. i walked to the point at the end of the warren - or at least as far as the tide permitted. i had fish & chips in england!
you know when you live somewhere and you, at some point, learn how many stairs there are to walk up in the dark, or how many steps it is to the bathroom? i had just got the hang of that at penny’s. i would count eleven stairs up from the cellar and then feel my way across the kitchen floor. i would always stop though and have a break in my count. the view from the window, of france across the english channel, all lit up at night - sometimes i would just stand there. and pick up my count where i left off.
in early august i was feeling a bit down. the family vacation that i go on every year would be missed this year. this would be my first time being absent from our two week stay in the san juans. there have been many times on this journey that i have wished my family were here with me - to see and experience the things i am. to share memories with. even just to have a cup of tea with. to have them be able to understand. but this time i wanted to be at home. i wanted to be on the boat with my dad and my mom and my brother. eating mom-cooked and dad-caught dinners on the deck. crowding around the campfire. sitting on the couch inside the cabin or in a wooden chair outside on the beach, walking down to perriwinkle cove, dipping my feet in the pacific. time and time again, i reassure myself that i will be there next year, or maybe even visit before then. time and time again, i hope to share journeys abroad with my family in the future. there is always a way.
in mid-august, i heard from sam and kate. they had arrived back from switzerland and were ready to have us whenever we fancied. joshua and i chose the 18th, which was the day following the venetian fait in hythe.
since sam and kate had not yet gone back to work, we’ve all been putting in some work around their house, which sam inherited from his godfather a few years back. it’s amazing what some new layers of paint can do! it makes me excited to one day have my own place that i can fix up and maybe rent out or do a house exchange sometime if i get that urge to travel - i will. i have learned so many new skills and thought up so many new ideas on this journey that i think need to be put to good use!
we took a day-trip to cambridge in some sunny skies and a few trips closer to the city on greyer days. have taken some walks through the forest and a lovely park. we visited the science museum and the natural history museum and, my favorite, the tate modern, along the thames embankment. they had a rothko room there that i wanted to sit in forever.
we’ve met lots of sam & kate’s friends. and even set off chinese lanterns up into the sky! we went to brick lane and frequented the vintage shops, and the international food market. we’ve ridden the underground and the overground, and been to chinatown where the lanterns hang pretty in the sky. we’ve been drinking shandies galore. we went out to the pub the other evening and danced the night away to good ol’ tunes like ‘brown eyed girl’ and ‘all night long’. while dancing, i was told by some guy that i was probably the happiest person in there.
as funds are dwindling on this last stretch of the journey, its another good transition to going home. we’ve been cooking homemade meals. we’ve scoped out most of the free things to do in london, and taken part in them. there is so much that is accessible on a flat wallet. i plan to do the same and scope some things out at home. it will be good to have a paycheck, but it has been amazing to see where i’ve gone and the things i’ve gotten to experience on such a small amount of money. there is always a way.
kate went back to work on monday (this has cut down my tea drinking from about ten cups a day to seven), and sam is on call. i’ve been taking it easy here at the house, just sorting out some packing and doing some things i’ve said i’d do but hadn’t gotten around to. another good transition. i’ve been cherishing the moments i’ve had while traveling, cherishing the many people i’ve met and enjoyed spending time with, cherishing an amazing friend and partner in travel. i’ve been looking forward to going home and seeing family but not dwelling on it. my time here is still my time here. time at home will come soon enough and then i will focus on that new journey.
our last venture into london brought us into leicester square, unplanned. here i saw the apple market. here i saw the vegetarian hole-in-the-wall, food for thought. this is where i came the first night of my journey - unplanned- nearly eight months ago. and here, as i realized my time on this journey is coming to an end, i began to reminisce. it’s funny how life brings you back to places, to memories.
when in south-eastern england, take advantage of the stagecoach public bus system especially when traveling with another person or with a family. it’s ten pounds for a “family explorer pass” which entitles two adults and up to three children access to any bus in the east-sussex area for an entire day. and for an individual traveling solo, the fee is five-pounds, eighty-pence. oh the places you could go!
i choose rye. a woman in a women’s institute group that i had given a tour of the vineyard of earlier in the week recommended i make a visit to the town. and i feel like quite the tourist snagging the front seats on the top level of the double-decker. but what a great way to see the coast! two hours west of folkestone, the wednesday rye farmer’s market is shutting down, but the town is still quite engaged with activity.
the canal is flowing beneath the sun, and beyond the main square of town where cafe and tea rooms are bustling with afternoon traffic, mermaid street stands calmly sloping upwards. the cobblestones feel good and cool beneath my feet as i walk up the lane that i have read about just previous to making this trip to rye. supposedly this is one of the most photographed streets in europe, and i snap a few more to add to the count. the architecture is truly english and possesses traits from the late-medieval style. each house has an uncanny name posted on it’s doorway or porch railway. “house with the seat” and “house with two doors” and “the house opposite” are all names that strike my fancy.
in a book called “the hidden places of the south east” (see new edition here) that i had happened upon in the rows of penny’s little bookshelf, i read about the way that rye was once a quite flourishing fishing village. the book goes further to explain that “…the silting of the harbour gradually denied the town a means of earning a living…” and thus, rye faced a “period of decline”. this recession however, preserved “the buildings which would have been updated in more prosperous circumstances.”
walking out of mermaid streets cobble-stoned delta, i stumble across the old cemetery and the cathedral, a castle that overlooks the canal. i also come upon the lamb house where the author henry james drafted up many of his novels. i can imagine the walled gardens and this charming enclave an inspiring setting to compose language.
the further into the small town i go, the more i envisage those from hundreds of years ago fitting right back into rye in the present day. i would also expect them taking great pleasure in the weather today, and i decide it is too nice of a day in england to spend indoors and so i skip the tourist sites and make for a neighborhood footpath. the town is small and i end up back in the main square with a good remainder of the late afternoon to occupy. though, i am happy to have encountered rye and all of it’s history that is still so very apparent.
aboard another bus i hop with my explorer pass and i disembark near to dymchurch which a friend of my host’s son has recommended. again, i think it is too nice out to spend walking in and out of each shop and so i find the stairs to the promenade that runs along the shallow beachfront and begin walking. just over the cement ledge i can see heads bobbing in the water, children splashing one another with the waves that have gathered sand as they roll in and out. i see an older couple swimming together on a part of the beach where no one else is. as the man plunges into the sea and makes his stroke toward his missus, i think they are gorgeous. i hope to have someone to swim with on a sunny day when i am that age.
the promenade continues on and on until it hits the hythe firing range. i make my steps away from the beach and off of the cement, onto the grassy pathway and across the street. there is a sidewalk and further ahead i can see a bus stop. there are no times listed but as i read another section of the orange and blue sign, i can hear the bus pulling up behind me. perfect timing, and the neon letters claiming “dover/folksetone” as this bus’ destination reassure me that i am in the right place at the right time. i flash my pass once again and climb aboard.
the upper deck is full of clammy beach-goers. well, i guess beach-leavers now. the a/c is low but the chance of catching the bus and the general feeling in the atmosphere that everyone on board is simply exhausted from a beautiful day in the heat makes me think to myself it’s just one of those summer days to remember and treasure.
(might i add that on the way to rye i spotted a little beachfront cottage with driftwood letters spelling out Beach Haven - the namesake of one of my most cherished places on earth, but in the san juan islands in the puget sound which is seemingly a million miles away right now! it’s nice to be reminded of the places one thinks of often and holds dear to their heart.)
the sun is out and beaming, and it’s my day off. i sleep in and eat breakfast while watching the bbc news. the weather report reassures me that the sun will remain throughout the day and so my plans are set in stone. my legs are tired from walking along the victorian promenade in brighton yesterday and from the evening trek home from the train station, but i think i will go with the feeling, and make some more headway on destroying the soles of my beloved leather sandals.
out the door i go, following gibraltar lane and canterbury road into folkestone and down to the sea. there are many people out; too many for a monday. don’t people usually work on mondays? no suits or nylons today; the brits are in their shorts and bikini tops, following in the same direction as i, toward to beach. i grab a soft serve cone and in the heat, am instantly committed to chasing each and every drip.
penny has suggested i make a visit to the warren, which is a bit more off the beaten path than the small triangle of a sandy beach that is easily accessible and completely packed. i walk along the clay path, being ware of the nettles that are at my sides.
there are considerably less bodies on this beach and as i step along the seaweed covered stones, i keep an eye out for fossils like penny has told me to. but the water catches my eye, and distracts me from my fossil hunt. it’s more turquoise than ever and i feel like i should be in greece or somewhere gorgeously crisp and equatorial. the sea is calm and the water lulls up onto the pebbles, making a delicate white foam.
there is a cement esplanade that follows the shore and the cliffs out to a point. the point that is now my destination. the tide is in and there is not much beach to be seen. but the slow waves that are waking against the cement thrust their sound up against the cliff-sides that are to my right. it is like holding the largest seashell up to your ear, and the resonance makes it seems as though another volume of waves could spill over the top of the crags at any minute, turquoise and milky froth churning - overflowing into the sea.
about half-way through my roam to the point i begin to notice curious pathways that lead up some of the cliff-sides. and, a bit further on there is a tiny - really tiny - path that leads about ten feet up a rock. the path is made of carved out steps, and there are flowers and a makeshift trellis archway small enough only for one person to fit through. beyond the archway is a charming improvised lean-to, with a wicker chair outside its door. laundry hangs and blows in the breeze from the sea behind a tiny tree on the rock’s ledge. oh, how i’d love to make a place like this for myself; just the right amount of cozy space and a front yard of the sea. i can only imagine the character of the interior bits of this fantasy sea shanty.
further along still, is the first patch of pebbly beach in a long while. the cement esplanade runs out before it starts back up again, and the pebbly beach is a refreshing intermission to the stiff-stepped demeanor my walk has begun to take on. my feet and sandals sink into the slopes of the tiny beige stones, and once around a small corner, i find another beautifully built beach cabin. this one really looks like it took some effort to erect - with a hip-high stacked-stone base and pieces of driftwood to build up the rest of the facade. there is a stout decorated-style window fitted into the front, and a larger rectangular opening that almost looks as though it could serve as a kiosk counter for a little beachside bar or ice-creamery. the roof is thatched and has eaves that overhang and protect the shelter below. the beached boat beside it looks as though it is being lived in as well and i think of the abandoned june burn bungalow on waldron island in the san juans that i adore visiting every summer. perhaps this will have to be my abandoned cabin fix for this year. i would dare to enter but there are people picnicking and looking as though they are enjoying their privacy and company in the occasion of heat in this english summer. (at times i just dream of living life like the children of the book my mother used to read to me when i was younger, “we were tired of living in a house” [see some of the original illustrations/pages here on a blog that i found recently] by liesel skorpen and illustrated by june burn’s family member, doris burn.)
i continue on until i realize that the tide is too far in to actually get around to the point. i’d either have to take my chances of hypothermia in the english channel, or conquer the jagged rocks above the sea’s surface in my crumbling sandals. instead, i stake out an area of this secluded end of the beach, where people are sparse, and those who are, are even more sparsely clothed. i bask for an hour and revel in the grace of tiny yellow blossoms atop thick green stems that shoot out of the white stones and lay so beautifully before the backdrop of the hot blue marine.
i pack up so as not to burn before making the returning walk. and with each step back toward the folkestone harbor, the tide rolls farther and farther out. beaches lower than the esplanade that were once hidden beneath the sea, are now visible, sandy with bulges of barnacled boulders and ruins of wooden boardwalks or docks. the beauty of nature is in that enigma, that chameleonic habit that it embodies - the way that at one point in the day a landscape can look so extraordinarily different than at any other time of day, be it the light that is shed upon it, or the lack there of, creating and moving the shadows in the escarpments, the cycle of the ocean undulating in and in and back out again perhaps determining if a seaside shanty owner has a front yard or not, the petals of flowers opening or closing either granting a scape with the vibrance of color or concealing themselves and giving another aspect of the picture a moment to be proud; maybe the celestial luminosity in an inky night sky, or even the simplicity of the sounds of the sea echoing against a craggy wall. is the mystery not so completely gorgeous?
on my walk back home i think about the way that i can feel everything that is on the ground’s surface with the soles of my feet. it is as though i am wearing a thin sock, or walking on a piece of worn card-stock. i think about the places i have been and that my sandals now tell a story in a way, of my explorations and my journeys. the leather soles have been a part of every cityscape and landscape and wonder of nature i have encountered which are memories i feel blessed to have and will continue to enjoy; they are dear to who i have and will become.
and with the sun dimming i tread back up the hill of gibraltar lane, smiling with every bit of gravel i step on, every new scar that is being created on the soles of my sandals.