When one sets out to explore the European continent for the first time, certain core (and by core, I mean ‘comfort zone’) countries immediately come to mind. Most want to see countries and cities that will be readily recognized by their friends when they get home. “You went to Dublin?! I’m so jealous, tell me everything!” That’s the line that most hope for when telling of their travels. I try telling someone about the day trip I once spent in Luxembourg and they just look at me blankly, thinking to themselves: “That’s in Indiana, right?” Then, “Surprise!”, your story is ruined, you then have to spend the majority of your time just explaining where Luxembourg is and more importantly what it is. By the time you get to the ‘good stuff,’ they’ve lost interest. And that’s alright.
There comes a point in every traveler when you have to resolve to leave your comfort zone and venture into places that you may have a hard time explaining ‘where-on-earth’ it is. That is where you find unforgettable travel experiences. Don’t let how many likes you think you may get on Instagram dictate where you travel.
England can be one of those comfort zone countries that’s first on your list to visit when you get to Europe. (If it isn’t, and you instead were dreaming of roaming the streets of Riga, Latvia for your first European adventure, then I’m impressed. For you, my friend, are a courageous swashbuckler of olden times. Please proceed to the nearest airport and conquer the seven seas of your imagination).
Now, I’m not saying all comfort zones are bad, I’ve heard comas are quite tranquil. England is in a ‘comfort zone’ for a few key reasons. First of all, If you’re a native English speaker (in other words, someone who is only capable of learning one language every 70-80 years) then you can leave your phrase books at home (although, they should write a few for some parts of England where sometimes you have to resort to sign language even to get directions to the nearest pub). Second, you won’t have to worry about the food and water quality there. This is where ‘England Myth #1’ needs to be addressed. It states: “All English food is boiled, tasteless, and altogether ‘icky.” NOT TRUE! I don’t know where or how this gossip was spread (probably French propaganda), but it ends here. In England you’ll be delighted with not only good ol’ pub fare (i.e. Shepherd’s Pie, Bangers and Mash, Fish n’ Chips, etc.), but also tantalized by amazing Indian food everywhere you look. Definitely not ‘icky’. In fact, I’d recommend keeping travel size samples of English food in your pockets so that the next time someone carelessly decides to recite ‘English Myth #1’ you can immediately force feed them a miniature Shepherd’s Pie, silencing that slanderous notion for all eternity. Trust me, they’ll thank you. (I’d recommend bringing along some napkins with the mini pies as well, I’m still brushing bits of corn off my coat from last week.)
Ok, so we have an idea of why England can be a comfort country. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering: “How can we keep that from happening?” I’m glad you asked. Even though England is a default comfort country, don’t worry, there are ‘un-comfort zones’ to be found! Take note, there are both good kinds and bad kinds of ‘un-comfort zones’. Dropping your wallet full of freshly withdrawn pound notes (along with your glasses) after dark in some random subway station by yourself surrounded by escaped convicts with tasers is an example of a bad ‘un-comfort zone,’ avoid these.
Comfort countries, in turn, have comfort cities. As a general rule, more comfort, more money. Needless to say, London is a comfort city. Amazing to visit, not so amazing on your wallet. For example, London’s restaurant prices are over 170% more expensive than, say, Budapest (which is definitely not a comfort city). My advice: if you have your heart set on London, then by all means go, but try to limit how much time (money) you spend there. In my opinion, most comfort cities can make for a very satisfying day trip. I saw Paris for the first time in a 7 hour layover (Always try to capitalize on your layovers. For another quirky tale on this, check out my Fiji page). After you’ve had your fix of comfort (psh…who needs comfort?) head up to the Cotswolds.
After driving about 100 miles northwest of London, you’ll swear you’ve traveled back in time (or to any BBC sitcom for that matter). Named after the Cotswold Hills, the Cotswolds run through six different English counties. In the U.S. when you cross a county line little changes, except for a boring green sign that says “_____ County Line.” In England, it’s much different. The accent changes, the industry changes, the architecture changes, each county has its own unique flare.
The Cotswolds are chock full of little villages waiting for you to discover. Each having its own Cotswoldy (definitely not a word) charm. When you visit the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, for example, be sure to check out Shakespeare’s residence. (By ‘check out’, I mean strictly abiding to the 3-step castle viewing process set out in the Northern Ireland page., of course)
Inevitably, you will be confronted with a small chalkboard street sign that has the words ‘cream tea’ scrawled on it.’ When you see this sacred billboard, liberally apply the brakes, find an appropriate parking space (on the correct side of the road), and run screaming with joy into that miraculous establishment as fast as you can. Nothing tops the euphoria that ensues upon consuming those glorious scones, accompanied with their trusty sidekicks, clotted cream and strawberry preserves. Washing it all down with a piping hot potta’ tea with milk, your life will flash before your eyes. All the while you’ll be wondering how you’ve survived all these years without once partaking of this invaluable gift to humanity (Well, that wasn’t dramatic).
After you’ve enjoyed your cream tea (if you’re like me, there’s going to be more than one round) set off, down the windy roads of south-central England. You really can’t go wrong once you’re in the Cotswolds. Stop at whatever town is your ‘cuppa tea (sorry couldn’t resist), whether it be Cheltenham, Broadway, or wherever your little rental Ford Fiesta will take you.
This is the part where I talk about pubs. Pubs sum up everything you could possibly want in an English adventure. Do you want to see architecture from the 16th and 17th century? Go to a pub. Do you want to sink your teeth into some freshly fried Cod or maybe devour a generous helping of bangers and mash? Go to a pub. Do you want an opportunity to hear English accents in their natural habitat? Go to a pub. Do you want a ‘Double Shot Caramel Macchiato with extra foam? Then go back from whence you came! Obviously you have to no appreciation for culture.
Then, there’s English Myth#2: Don’t order a beer in England, because they serve it warm there. What?! Ok, sure with beer that’s handcrafted like at “The Olde Swan” pictured below, you could risk ruining a good brew by refrigerating it. So while some beer there may not be refrigerated, it’s certainly cellar temperature. Let’s put it this way: England is cold, which means English dirt is cold, which means that English cellars are cold, which means…. I’ll let you figure out the rest. (I’m still working on bringing samples of English beer with me at all times to refute this second bit of malicious gossip. Only set back is, by the time English Myth #2 comes up, the beer is warm from being in my pocket with the mini shepherd’s pies.)
Now, you’re probably thinking “ok, say I take your advice and spend all of my time in the ‘un-comfort zones,’ how am I supposed to get a decent souvenir? True, the ‘comfort’ method would be to traipse into one of those touristy gift shops and grab a fist full of key chains. Feeling more adventurous (or more thoughtful)? Check out some ‘Charity Shops’ or better yet, head to the Rag Market in Birmingham. There, I found a genuine Harris Tweed hand-woven flat cap for £5 (normally £50). If you do the math, you could buy ten flat caps for the price of one, imagine that! With that kind of discount, you could even afford to buy souvenirs for people you don’t like very much (just kidding)!
So as you sit down and plan your European adventure, be it the first, second, or tenth time, go ahead and schedule in some comfort countries. But promise me this, that you will seek every opportunity to find the un-touristy, un-popular, and un-comfort zones, and when you go to tell me about your adventures, it better take a good ten minutes to explain ‘where-on-earth’ you were.
Editor’s Note: Due to the increase in hate mail from “French Propaganda Weekly” I find it necessary to inform you that in no way have I been paid by the English Tourism Board ‘s BETEFBFTM (Britons for the Ethical Treatment of English Food and Beer For That Matter) division (although it was tempting).
Still scrolling? Here are a few bonus photos to make it worth the trip: