Dover, England: The White Cliffs of Dover or Taking the F Train to Pound Kingdom (Mike)
As we walked along the jetty that leads from the marina to the main part of Dover, the first thing we noticed was the hilarious nature of British signage. Everything has a silly sounding name. We passed “The Great Shaft” (a set of stairs built into the surrounding white cliffs that let you climb up for a view) and shortly thereafter, saw a pawn shop called “Pound Kingdom.” Then you have the great sounding firms like “Grimsby and Smee.” As we walked, we all read the signs aloud in loud, faux-British accents. I’m sure the locals really appreciated the seriousness with which we were taking their entire culture.
After the magic of Honfluer (see Laura’s great post for details, I just Honfluered in my pants from thinking about it), we weren’t expecting much from an English port town, but we were pleasantly surprised with Dover. The streets of downtown Dover became more charming as we moved away from the industrial harbor area and soon we were passing hundreds-of-years-old churches and pubs.
We hiked up a winding green hill to the imposing Dover Castle, which perches on top of the impressive white cliffs. The area is known as the key of England because this was the landing point for early invasions into medieval England from the French coast. You can actually see France on a clear day and we were surprised by how narrow the English Channel is in certain parts.
The castle itself is brimming with history. Originally built back in the day by Henry II, the castle was used to house troops during the Napoleanic wars and played a critical role as an operational center during World War II.
We started with a guided tour of the ancient tunnel system under the castle. The first thing you notice is that all the tour guides have British accents (of course), which makes them sound about 1,000% more credible than the most credible American. If our guide had cheerily told us old chaps that the tunnels had first been used as a dragon hatchery, I would have believed him without the hesitation.
Using radio clips (most notably a clip from the King of England’s speech announcing the start of WWII, which is featured in the amazing and aptly-titled movie, The King’s Speech), immersive films projected onto the stone tunnel walls, and interactive war maps, the tour told the story of the rescue of British and Allied troops at Dunkirk beach and how it was planned and executed from underground offices in the exact place where we were standing, 80 meters under the surface of the earth. The operation ultimately saved about 350,000 allied troops and prevented a crushing German victory.
After we emerged from the tunnels, we hiked up to the Great Tower, which was the all-stone castle (with 30 foot wide walls) where the King slept and entertained guests. The castle, unlike others in Europe, is decorated with authentic furniture from the period, so it looks like a functional castle on the inside.
Perhaps the most fascinating feature was the King’s bed. No, seriously. This thing was way smaller than you expected (not because people were shorter back then, but because they actually all slept in an upright position in those days to encourage good digestion; sleeping lying down is actually a recent trend…go figure), and it was colored in primary blues, reds, and yellows that made it look like a kid’s bed. When I asked about the lame colors, the guide informed me in a lovely British accent that the pigments needed to make these colors were extremely rare back then and thus very expensive. The pigment used to make the blue, for example, at that time came from a single mine located in Afghanistan, and you can imagine the costs involved with getting that. So having a bed that looked like a Toys-R-Us playpin was actually how you rolled big pimpin’ style back in the day. The bed was so important that the king actually traveled around with it and set it up wherever he happened to be staying. According to the guide, the bed along with its blankets made of red squirrel skin (which they let us touch), was worth 3 times more than the entire castle itself. Whoa. When my bed is worth more then 3 times my house one day, I’ll know that I really made it big.
Here’s an example of how nice the English are: while in the castle, we had a hankering for fish and chips (naturally) so we asked a female guide if she had any recommendations. After giving us two, and then consulting with the security guard about his favorite options, she then got out her walkie-talkie and literally radioed out to the entire guide team “…(pshhhk) say chaps, what’s the best place for fish and chips in Dover? I reckon castle street, but what do you think? Over.” 3 seconds later: “(psshht)Yeh, castle street is your best bet. Over” was the response from like 3 other guides who immeidately stopped what they were doing to radio in their culinary advice. So Castle Street it was. We walked back down the hill and ordered 3 huge plates of fish and chips and took it out to the city square where the sun was actually shinning. Despite the lack of ketchup (a huge black mark against Europe in general…how has Heinz not broken into this market?), the extra crispy and flaky fish and chips were fantastic. After soaking in the sun and absorbing the fried-food grease, we headed back to the marina where our ship was docked. Another conquering of a port stop for team ML2 (Mitch/Lindsay and Mike/Laura, get it?). We’re looking forward to coming back to England and I personally am very excited to revisit Pound Kingdom. 🙂