We had been to Canterbury many times before. As a matter of fact, I proposed to my wife there, three months after we had first met, in 2008 with the help of an airplane pulling a banner. Back then, it had all been very hectic (for me, not so much for my then future wife, who was unaware of the preparations). The pilot initially cancelled the whole thing because of strong winds at his airport, eighty miles north of our location, then texted again to say he’d be ready to go, then texted that the start had been delayed, and it went back and forth at least five or six more times. Then, two hours later, while we were in the middle of lunch, said he’d arrive within ten minutes and needed us to be on an open space, ideally close to the cathedral.
I gently (as gently as one can manage, if one’s panicking about missing one of the most important moments in life) pushed my wife to finish her meal and asked the waiter to pay, making up an excuse about the opening hours of the cathedral. We were only half way there when the plane passed. My wife was so shocked she didn’t say anything for a while and took more than an hour to give her go-ahead with this whole marriage business, but we did get married three months later and have been happily married ever since.
Luckily, yesterday’s visit was more relaxed. We initially had looked into doing some hiking in the nearby Downs, but then decided against it on short notice, because of the weather forecast, which was predicting some rain. As many of you know, Canterbury lies in Kent, about 100km southeast of London, only 25km away from Dover, at the southeasternmost tip of Southeast England, and even close to the lovely fishing village of Whitstable on the northern coastline of Kent, a place we like to visit at least once every year for the famous oyster festival. From London, Canterbury is only 50 minutes by (infrequent) high speed train, and 1h10m to 1h40m by (frequent) regular train.
Canterbury has roughly 50,000 residents, but feels significantly bigger, with its bustling high street and the masses of tourists blocking the streets everywhere. Canterbury boasts a whole three UNESCO World Heritage sites, ranking second in the UK after London (with five): St Martin’s Church is the oldest church in England. The church and St Augustine’s Abbey were founded during the early stages of the introduction of Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons. The Cathedral combines various styles, mainly Romanesque and Gothic, and is among the most beautiful churches in the world by any measure. Its enormous choir is one metre longer than its nave, several meters elevated, and feels like a cathedral in its own right. Canterbury is the seat of the Church of England. Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered inside the Cathedral on a Tuesday in December 1170, by knights of King Henry II. Later Thomas was sainted and the Cathedral became a place of pilgrimage.
Besides the beautiful world heritage sites, we also walked about town through the medieval streets (today many buildings are from later times, but overall Canterbury’s town centre largely retains its medieval character). One of the highlights of our trip was our visit to the (free) Grayson Perry tapestry exhibition entitled “The Vanity of Small Differences”, which consists of a series of six large tapestries, two of which we had seen before at the Royal Academy of Art Summer Exhibition some two years ago, and which tell the life story of a fictional character named Tom from toddler in a working class family to death by car accident as a rich old computer entrepreneur. We had previously read Jonathan Jones’s recent Guardian article “Quote me on this, Grayson: you’re not a true artist at all”, and got into a heated debate with each other as to if Grayson was an artist or not (I lean towards Jones’s view, my wife doesn’t).
We felt extremely lucky to have, without any research, accidentally stumbled across what must be the best pulled pork place in the world, Pork & Co. Bar and Kitchen in Sun Street. I’m from Bavaria, where we love our pork, but I can truly say this juicy meat ranks among the best I’ve tasted. They also offer a nice and creative variety of coleslaw and other sides. We went for the delightful chilli coleslaw. In addition they automatically include a serving of leafy salad.
The Canterbury Festival, which is on from this weekend for three weeks, has many things to offer, too, we just didn’t find time to check it out.
If you’re looking for a nice day- or weekend-trip destination from London, Canterbury should be high up on your list.
After we arrived back at London St. Pancreas station, we dropped into the wonderful German Gymnasium for a quick cocktail. The restaurant has been called ‘the most beautiful in the world’ and certainly must be among the top ones in London. Our two cocktails “Das Beste” from the category “Foam” and “Symphony No. 4” from the category “Jelly” were fascinating. “Das Beste” is a play on Mai Tai and has a thick foam of apricot on the top. “Symphony No. 4” combined homemade Kir, orange & cinnamon, and thousand flowers jelly with Calvados, Cointreau infused jasmine tea, mimosa syrup, apple and lemon juice, in a way that worked extremely well, tickling your tongue and sending sensations down your spine. The mini-pretzels that came with it lent a nice German touch to it all.
We decided to return soon and try out their food, which has received some reviews that were not damning (“at least […] two dishes are reasonably pleasant to eat”, according to the Guardian’s Jay Rayner, well there you are), and ranges from bar snacks like the famous curry sausage to more sophisticated dishes like beef broth with liver dumplings (one of my personal favourite German dishes).
Watch this space for a review of the Gymnasium sometime in the near future.