England: Off the Beaten Path

By Alicia Squillante

Traveling abroad was always an item on my bucket list. Growing up I developed a bad case of wanderlust after a few trips north, usually to North Carolina, Ohio and everywhere in between.  After I graduated college in 2007 I decided to plan my first solo excursion outside of Florida and from that point I knew I was in love. When I was approached about traveling across the pond to England for a month, I nearly jumped out my chair to accept.

Now, to put it in to context, I had ulterior motives for wanting to take the longest flight of my life across the great big blue. To give a bit of backstory, it was a tale of boy meets girl; boy lived in the UK and girl lived in the Sunshine State.  I’d known him for absolutely ages, twelve years now to be exact, and while we had gone through all the various stages of friendship and more, we had never met in person. At long last, he flew here to visit me several months ago and we hit it off extremely well.  So, just this past July, I decided to reciprocate and go and see him. It was absolutely the time of my life.

The flight over was extremely long and boring, and it was very disorienting taking a night flight and traveling across five time zones. I watched the sun set and rise again within only a couple of hours.  I arrived with no trouble at Gatwick airport in London and went through the tedious process of going through passport check and customs. It was extremely surreal thinking of myself in another country, so very like our own and yet still so different. For example, instead of restrooms they’re very plainly called ‘toilets’ and the doors to the stalls extend practically to the ground for maximum privacy. I found that to be the case in every single ‘loo’ I went to.

Driving in England deserves a chapter all on its own. When we reached the car park (parking lot) I noticed just how small the spaces were between the cars and ascertained that even on my best driving day I would have had real trouble navigating that lot. Now, you would think that driving on the opposite side of the road would have been unsettling for me, but really it wasn’t that bad. However, watching all the drivers navigating from the ‘passenger’ side, well that flew me for a loop every time. The countryside itself was very much like ours except for the distinct lack of palm trees. One thing that I always enjoyed was the wind turbines. I was always impressed with how large they were and just how many I saw.

The town I stayed in for the duration of my trip was a teeny tiny little speck in the middle of nowhere, called Rainworth. It is approximately a half-hour south of Sherwood Forest and a good solid 40 minute bus ride from Nottingham. In this tiny little town is four grocers, one of them a pub turned Tesco, a couple of Chinese restaurants, a terrible ‘American-style’ place called the Fresh n’ Tasty and a hardware store that we really wanted to go to, but that was never open except when we were riding past it on the bus.

During my first week in Rainworth I’d like to think I learned a lot about how life really is like in the country that brought us Doctor Who, Harry Potter and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It’s really not nearly as exciting as all that. Apart from the exceptionally loud neighbors, nothing very interesting happened. The sun was up at four in the morning and didn’t go back down again until well past ten at night. I only heard a police siren once and the loudest thing besides the neighborhood kids was the budgies (parakeets) the back neighbors kept in the garden. Clearly, if you wanted excitement in that town, you had to make it yourself.

The very first trip outside of Rainworth, or ‘Renneth’ as the locals call it, was to the neighboring town of Mansfield, about a twenty minute bus ride straight down the main road. It’s a smallish town but it had a lot of character and, although it didn’t have a huge variety of stores, it was still very charming and had all the basics that you needed, including a Boots (their version of a Walgreens), a TK Maxx (the same as TJ Maxx here) and a delightful bowling alley I wouldn’t discover until later called the Superbowl. Instead of Wal-Mart they have ASDA (owned by Wal-Mart). Instead of Super Target they have Sainsbury’s and instead of Aldi they have-no wait. They have Aldi! So there you go.

Now, I’ve run out of room and I’ve still got an entire month to traverse so please join me again next edition where I’ll cover my trip to Nottingham, my first encounter with a British pub and more entertaining adventures in the East Midlands. Until then, happy travels! If you would like to learn a little more about Mansfield, please visit http://www.mansfieldtowncentre.co.uk/.