Monday, December 29, 2014

The Holiday

It all started with a desire to immerse in the British culture and get to know the Brits as much as I can, because for me, a country isn't a country without its people. I found my aim in Host UK, an organization that plan for international students currently studying in the UK to go and spend a weekend with a British family. As a guest, you only pay for your travel expenses, and the organization does its best to match you with a couple or family that have interests similar to yours. I choose a fairly high budget as I was hoping to go to Scotland but I got a more peaceful choice...Cornwall. It's a county on the south west coast which seemed a very nice place to relax and enjoy the English country side. As I wasn't going home over the Christmas vacation, while my two closest friends were, I imagined how halls will be empty and how lonely I may feel and so decided to ask to be hosted over Christmas.

Everything was set and I went off in my journey from Southampton to Lostwithiel, Cornwall at 6 am on the 23rd of December 2014. The train journey is worth writing about for the fascinating scenery and for some tips on exchanging trains but I'll leave that to the UK transportation post. I stepped down from the train to find my host, Pat (72), right there waiting for me and I'm sure I wasn't too difficult to be recognized in that small lost town in the south of England. We got into the small Fiat car, with me still confused and going to sit on the wrong side, and went off driving in very narrow two-way roads where you depend on your experience of the road, I guess, to slow down or stop for cars coming the opposite direction (it wasn't as scary as if Cameron Diaz was driving but these curved turns were definitely a thrill…people who watched “The Holiday” will relate).

Fortunately, it was a short drive and Dick (80) was home to give me a very warm welcoming in their lovely house. I was offered tea or coffee (I brought my barista instant coffee just in case they were too traditional and didn't drink it but they had a cafetière and a French coffee blend...I know I sometimes fall in the stereotyping trap!) and when I returned to my room the tea tray was waiting beside the bed. I was overwhelmed with the 5-stars hospitality!

Both Pat and Deck have been to Cairo on a vacation in the late 80s, and fortunately had a very good time there, also much earlier than that in 1953 Dick was working for the English military and serving in Fayed, Ismailia (I talked about the lovely buildings the British left there and thought of keeping out of the other things they left as well :) Deck politely asked if it's alright to put on the news every morning, as some disturbing news from Egypt may be covered. I shamefully admitted that I've not been following the news closely as it drains my energy and then I cannot really work or concentrate on my studies. You see, Dick watches Aljazera for half an hour every day in addition to the BBC because he doesn't find the latter very objective (I know!!).

After a lovely lunch of homemade tomato soup from home-grown tomatoes made by Dick, as it was his turn to cook that day, I sat off with Pat in a tour to see the village. Back again to the windy tiny roads and after a short ride we parked at the top of a hill and walked ahead to see the church which will be attending on Christmas Eve. It was a lovely small ancient church supported by some construction rods as renovation work was in progress. The outside of the church was surrounded by a cemetery with some grave marks as ancient as the church itself. Pat commented on how it'd be lovely to be buried there while I was silently wishing her a long healthy life.

The hill overlooked a river that seemed too shallow for me though I can see few boats on its banks, then Pat explained that it was a tidal river that sort of dries in the winter but boats can sail in during summer though it requires excellent sailors to avoid the shallow parts. This was technically in another village, Larren, which mainly had small stone cottages that were simply amazing. I had my camera and was tempted to stop and take some photos but then didn't like the idea of looking like a tourist and decided to only keep my mental images.

Many of us have this idea of how westerns mind their own business and don’t pay attention to others, which was another stereotype corrected, as Pat expressed how she’d like to live on the river banks but at the same time wouldn't like to live in a village where everyone can know what she had for breakfast.

We had slow-cooked pheasants for dinner, for which Dick generously replaced wine with stock, after knowing that as a Muslim I cannot have wine even cooked in food.

Tomorrow, is the big day, the Christmas Eve which certainly need a new post.

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