When one contemplates traveling, the first thing that needs to be determined is the answer to the question: where to? I have traveled quite a bit in my life and I have recently found that it is by no means a mistake to let your intuition guide you in the search for an adequate destination. Maybe there’s a friend you haven’t seen in a very long time, or there’s this town that you’ve read about so many times in your favorite novel or this stunning beach you saw in this one movie that was no good at all, but boy, this beach! No matter how that one particular place, which you now can’t seem to get out of your head, got there in the first place, several years of experience have made me an expert in the field and I strongly advise you to follow your gut feeling.
My gut feeling together with the restrictions dictated by a tight budget have brought me to England and I’d like to invite you to, retrospectively, come along with me on the journey, because not only have I discovered a beautiful new destination, but I have also added new places on my travel to-do list.
The first stop on my itinerary was Whitstable. I tiny town about 60 miles east of London. A good friend of mine lives there and on first sight I instantly realized that Whitstable wasn’t the god-forsaken place in the middle of nowhere, which I had thought it to be, not at all! Having arrived there, after passing little more than an hour on a train from London Victoria (Southern Railway – oneway tickets cost about 20 Pounds), I discovered a charming little town on the southeastern coast of England.
Of course I’m not the first to discover Whitstable’s qualities – thousands of Londoners have done so long before me and on the weekend they flock to the east in order to enjoy a range of distractions from the hectic city. There’s a beach of course, where the ones who consider themselves lucky to still have some money in the bank, can try to buy one of those tiny huts that crowd some of the stretches along the coast. Be aware though that the best ones can cost you up to 15.000 Pounds, and they don’t include the property they’re built on. If you know what the terms „beam reach“, „starboard“ and „hoist“ mean, then you might want to go sailing. Excellent location and good conditions will make the space on the sea scarce on busy sailing weekends.
Of course there’s one downside when you’re staying with a friend, you’re absolutely not in the position to make any recommendations on where the future Whitstable disoverer might want to stay overnight. But seeing that the streets are filled with tourists, especially in the summer and even more so on the weekend, I am quite certain that by searching the usual websites adequate, or even luxurious, accommodation can be found quite easily (unless of course someone else has found it before you…). But this is all meaningless, when it comes to the upsides of visiting a friend who happens to live in a lovely sea side resort, especially when this friend is able to provide insider knowledge about what to do in and around Whitstable.
First things first. There’s one vital condition that needs to be satisfied when one sets out to do some touristic discovering – regardless how small the place – a decent breakfast that provides enough energy for several hours of walking, looking, taking pictures &c. The best choice in this case is a so-called „full English breakfast“. Howard’s Kitchen, a charming little Café/Restaurant in Whitstable is an expert in the field. Typically consisting of 2 eggs (scrambled or sunny side up), 2 sausages, 2 strips of bacon, fried tomatoes or mushrooms and not to forget the notorious baked beans, in some cases you might even find smoked fish on your plate, all accompanied by your choice of drink and buttered toast. I was only able to ingest about 2/3rd of the full amount, or what felt like approximately 5000 calories, but – and here comes the positive effect of this type of culinary start into the day – I didn’t feel hungry until about 6 p.m. of the same day. So there was plenty of time to discover Whitstable whithout the distractions of a hungry stomach.
You may want to start out by walking along High Street, which I would call the main route through Whitstable. On the weekend the street is busy with all kinds of locals as well as tourists going about their business of weekend shopping, finding the right place to get coffee or souvenirs and so forth. When walking north, High Street splits up into Harbor and Sea Streets, from each of these routes it’s only a short walk to the shore, where you’ll find your usual array of cafés, bars, or just plain beach, which in Whitstable’s case is shingle beach.
Along the waterfront you may want to take a break at the „Tea Gardens“. Situated just a few steps above the beach, inside a beautifully landscaped garden, it’s only open during the summer months and provides for an adequate outdoor setting to observe the obligatory English tea-hour. If in contrast to me you do get hungry, you might want to try for the oysters. Whitstable and oysters go hand in hand, according to my travel guide (Lonely Planet England) they’ve been harvested here since Roman times and whoever likes them might want to try Whitstable’s best known oyster place „Wheeler’s Oyster Bar“. Of course I can’t recommend it, since I didn’t eat there, remember I wasn’t hungry!
Anyhow, there’s still plenty to see in Whits, as I recall the locals like to call it, for example walking back and forth between the beach and the streets that run parallel to the shore. This is accomplished by sneaking along so-called alleys, tiny public pathways that connect the streets with the waterfront and which, due to being lined with a thicket of plants and flowers, make you feel like a smuggler in the old (pirate) days.
And when you’re finished with walking, sneaking, or whatever else you’ve done on your day in Whitstable I suggest you spend your evening hours in a traditional English pub. For people like me, coming from a country that has no sea, there is only one rule whenever I get near any body of water that rightfully qualifies as „sea“: Spend sufficient time near the water! So my friendly host and I chose a pub called „Old Neptune“. Not only is it located right on the beach, it’s also one of the favorites with the native Whitstable folk (which is always a good sign for any place where food and/or drink is served) and there’s even live music on some nights. No better way to end a lovely day in a beautiful little town than spending it with a good friend and one or more glasses of ale.
Oh and by the way, if you happen to bump into one of those celebrity people who like to come to Whitstable, like, say, Rod Stewart, my advice is, don’t look at them too intently. They might just turn to you and say something like: „Yes, it’s me!“. But of course that’s only hearsay and you always have to use a bit of caution when talking to people who live near the sea, it might after all just be a fish story…
Next stop: Canterbury
Traveling to England: I took Aer Lingus from Vienna, Austria, but wherever you’re traveling from, London is a popular destination, you should be able to find good fares from most points around the globe, I suggest a simple airline search with e.g. Google.
Connection: From London Victoria take Southern Railway, one way tickets cost about 20 Pounds. If you’re using public transportation in England I recommend purchasing a round-trip ticket whenever possible – they usually reduce the cost of traveling considerably.
Information about Whitstable can be found on Canterbury’s official tourist information site, however an internet search will come up with several other sites that offer information on tourist activities, accommodation etc. in Whitstable.
On my travels through England I have used the latest edition of Lonely Planet England as a handy source of all kinds of information, especially concerning public transportation, basic historic information and accommodation.
Susanne, 28 June 2009