Tag Archives: Horley

Traveling in Europe: Horley, England

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Six Bells--You can see how low the ceiling is.

My recent trip to Europe began with flying into Gatwick airport, which is south of Victoria Station by a half-hour train ride. I stayed in Horley, Surrey (a suburb next to the airport) because I was only there for a day and a half. The first night, after a nap to reset my clock, I just wandered down the road to Ye Olde Six Bells. It was quite dark with inadequate lighting. I also brushed against overgrown nettles. Luckily it was just a light brush because my leg itched for about an hour.

The history of this pub goes back around 700 years, when a man named Norman Lord want refreshment to get through the long sermons at St. Bartholomew’s. A place that old has whitewashed walls, huge dark wooden beams, low ceilings and rambling rooms. I imagine that over the centuries the rooms were added one at a time, the wooden floored ones being the oldest, though no floors would be original. The first floor might very well have been packed earth and straw spread  over it.

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A conglomeration of woods.

Buildings throughout the medieval era were white washed to preserve the mortaring and stonework and to add light to dark structures only lit by candles and oil lamps. Six Bells was all of this, with a note on the ceilings saying “Duck or Grouse.” Above the bar it said, “Before you ask, yes we have hit our heads a lot.” Since this seem to be the normal height for old pubs I must assume that people were shorter at one time, plus I imagine the places were time consuming and expensive to build, and space wasn’t wasted on high ceilings. It may have kept the warmth in as well.

Unlike North American pubs, many British ale houses or public houses are part restaurant and you’ll see people bringing their children. The central and oldest area is the bar, and rooms jut off in three directions for diners to sit.

The Six Bells menu is quite extensive and I had  a fish pie, since it seemed traditional British fare; a mixture of peas (the English love their peas), potatoes, shrimp, smoked haddock and cod in a white wine, coriander cream sauce, with a salad of red onion, tomato, spinach and tongues of cucumber in a simple vinaigrette. It was tasty and filling, costing around 10 pounds. I was too full to try dessert, which some British just call puddings in a generic way. I like to sample new ciders and England is the place to do it. I tried the Aspall Suffolk cider at 5.5% alcohol (higher than most of the beers on tap). This drink worked very well with the smoky taste of the pie and I think the food brought out the cider’s flavor. Aspall is a light golden color, light on the tongue (medium effervescence), crisp apple taste and not overly dry. The flavor isn’t too strong but it’s more noticeable than Strongbow’s nondescript taste. Of all the ciders I tried on my trip this one remains one of my favorites.

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Aspall Suffolk Cider

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The fish pie at Ye Olde Six Bells

I would recommend Ye Olde Six Bells. The rest of Horley seemed rather small. The second night I had Chinese food and though it was a simple fare of broccoli, chicken and mushrooms I found the chicken tasted old. Not bad but not fresh, and I’m quite sensitive to the change in meat flavors. It could have contributed to the stomach unrest that hit me the next day as I arrived in Amsterdam.

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Six Bells at night: a conglomerate of eras

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Accommodations: Of B&Bs and Couchsurfing

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Turret Guest House's single room

With my recent trip to Europe I used a combination of bed and breakfasts and couchsurfing. I also booked some places beforehand and others a few days before arriving. September is still a pretty busy month for tourists and leaving things last minute can become difficult especially the more popular cities, such as Amsterdam. On the couchsurfing.org site you can list yourself for host or surf or both. People list profiles and reviews, and you choose which person would suit you best and send a request. Some hosts will just give you a space but don’t have time or are not interested in showing you around, talking with you or whatever. Whereas other hosts state explicitly “don’t treat this as a hotel” and want to interact with the surfers in some way, maybe even show them around.

Of my couchsurfing experiences, one was made last minute when problems happened with a B&B. Most of them were great, with friendly hosts willing to chat, share dinner or even show me around. One was not a great experience, the host being rude, condescending and living in a very dirty and smelly place. It was uncomfortable to be there and when more couch surfers arrived, he was friendly to them so maybe he did forget I was coming and was embarrassed by that. However, three surfers when he had said he had room for only two meant one person slept under a towel the second night because of insufficient bedding and bed space.

I stayed at the Turret Guest House in Horley on my arrival and it was basic, a little rundown, tiny with the smallest shower in existence. A large or tall person would have had trouble fitting in the shower; I could barely turn around. The towel was small and thin and when I asked for a second I got a bath mat. They talked about raising the price in the near future from 38 pounds but I think they need to upgrade a few things. The breakfast was fine and they pick and drop you off at the airport.

I eventually just went with the B&Bs because my money was working out better than I anticipated. I also worried about inconveniencing a host. Some give you a key, some won’t. In certain cases you need to be out of the place when they are and if you come in late at night, would you disturb them? My first B&B was in Delft and I had booked it online a couple of nights before. For this purpose I brought a laptop with me but I didn’t have a phone. Booking as I went actually became a bit stressful and next time I would see if I could get a cheap phone in Europe since my own didn’t use a SIM card and wasn’t compatible. When I arrived at that first B&B I waited an hour and a half and the woman never showed. Eventually I trundled back with suitcase to the tourist information center that most cities have. Luckily Delft is small and I was trying to book in the town center.

I looked up other places but had a fairly limited budget for what I could spend, about 50 Euros which is the equivalent of

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98 Plantages spacious room

about $65 CAD. I let the woman at the counter know this and she found me a place not listed on any site. The owner had just returned from vacation. 98 Plantages was a short walk from Delft center. The Dutch do this thing where instead of saying 98 they will say eight and nine or eight and ninety. I thought the woman had said 89 so after no answer I remembered being told this the night before and went up to 98 Plantages.

Liesbeth met me and was immediately so warm and friendly, helping me carry my suitcase up the stairs and giving me Imodium for the tummy issues I was having. She also suggested a few places for dinner. The room was clean, bright and newly renovated. It had WiFi, a  TV, a complimentary half bottle of wine and a table. The room was about 52 Euros. Like any place I stayed in, in Europe, the buildings are centuries hold, with little insulation and large windows. Cars going over cobblestones are noisy and you’re bound to hear some sound in the mornings. It didn’t bother me too much though.

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The lovely breakfast spread

The breakfast was more than enough though she thought I ate little and included spreads (salmon, pate) plus jams and the Dutch predilection for sprinkles on bread. I could have had more but my stomach was happy with this. Notice the Delftware. I stayed three days in Delft, one with a couchsurfing host and two at Lies’s. I’d recommend her place but you’d have to find it through the local tourist office as she’s not listed on a site. Of all the B&Bs I stayed at, I enjoyed it best.

Holland (and England) was a blend of couchsurfing and the B&Bs. It’s always good to find out if WiFi/internet is included, if there is a price with or without breakfast, if they have TVs, hair dryers, shampoos (if you want these things) and how close they are to public transportation and likewise, if there are a lot of stairs. People with physical problems will want to try to get lower floors or go for more expensive hotels that have lifts/elevators. I’ll talk about Belgium the next time around.

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Lessons Learned on Traveling in Europe

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Horley (near Gatwick) Station

I thought I would write a lot while traveling, even took a laptop (mini) to do so but there were quite a few factors that made me post only once. I managed to get some gut bug when I flew into Amsterdam. It might have been caused by suspect Chinese food in Horley (but then I’m sensitive to the change of flavor in meat–it might have been slightly old or…bad) or it could have been the water, which is far softer than Vancouver’s water and maybe my body just couldn’t adjust. Still, tummy troubles didn’t keep me down but made my day a bit slower to start.

In Holland, thousands of people use bikes. If I had rented one it would have been a nuisance because I don’t just take pictures of tourist attractions but of things on the street; leaves, textures, patterns. A bike would have meant that I would be hopping on and off constantly.

I found my suitcase was in fact too heavy and I would take even less next time, maybe buying more there. However I was packing for rain and cold and got a very warm, extended summer of 25-30 degrees Celsius. I didn’t wear some of the items I brought because it was too hot. Still, backpacking might have worked but I have a few back issues that might have made it worse, but lugging anything up narrow, multiple Dutch and Belgian stairs will indeed give you a workout, and thankfully, my knees are good.

Most B&Bs have towels, though if you’re couchsurfing, check beforehand. I did a bit of both with even a hotel or two in there. I hate water splashing in my face and have always preferred using a face cloth. While these are pretty standard in any hotel in North America, you won’t find one anywhere in Europe (Holland, Belgian and England were the countries I visited this time). I brought one but might have brought two next time so one could air and dry when using the other. I had to deal with a bit of mildew even in half a day of being packed wet.

Many European buildings are centuries old and, besides having many stairs, have very high ceilings. This means the light might be faint. If your eyes don’t do well in low light, bring another light. I also brought a container for water, which was a good thing when walking around all day. In Belgium a waiter told me it was against the law to serve tap water so you’ll pay as much for a small bottle as almost for a glass of wine. And on drinking, while cider is in the veins of the British, Irish and Scottish it’s harder to find in other areas. I usually found only one bottled type in various places in Holland but it was nonexistent in Belgium.

I took cash but also brought my bank card and credit card. While cash always works, a couple of times I had to use the

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An example of old, steep, narrow stairs in Amsterdam

credit card, for reserving a room, or for storing my luggage at a train station because the machines didn’t take coins. I never could find out if traveler’s checks would work or not, or if there was a fee.

Trains are plentiful and sometimes hook up to trams. Many of the information areas are helpful. However, I found the rudest service in London at the booths marked for information. While different people working about the station were helpful in telling me what line to catch, no one bothered to clarify that there are trains and then there are trains in England. There is the underground or the tube, which has trains, and then there are the overground trains. They come into the same stations and sometimes your ticket transfers between the two (and buses) and sometimes it doesn’t. The underground information people were not helpful with the trains and vice versa. No one bothered to tell me the difference. At Victoria Station there was in fact a Tourist Travel Information center, which no one told me about, but they helped me figure out the overground and underground trains to the airport (after three other ties). It was also cheaper to fly from London to Amsterdam than to take a train through the Chunnel. On the way back I took a ferry from Calais to Dover, so check all forms of transportation,  and several months in advance of your trip for the best deals.

This is an overview and I did so much walking and visiting of galleries and buildings that I was just too exhausted to write in the evenings. Over the next few weeks I will do reviews of accommodation, food and the places I traveled.

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