Visiting another country always means confronting the information and presuppositions about it that you have. I could not say what other people’s associations with England are. They may associate it with the Beatles or Mr. Bean. When I look at the postcards which are being sold in England, most of them present the Houses of Parliament with Big Ben, red buses or the Queen. Perhaps these are the elements of the English landscape that many people think of when they think of England. Aside from those elements, I have associated England with iconic bands, Shakespeare, magical imaginary lands created by such writers as J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and with the many stories about kings and queens who ruled in the British Isles for centuries. I was curious to see what it would be like to live here and confront the image which I had.
When you are prepared to see the historic places and landmarks, you certainly do not expect to see numerous villages and open fields. But, in fact, that is what you will see as soon as you depart towards Cambridge from one of the airports. There are many small villages which surround the big cities. You will see small houses and cottages with colourful gardens and you will be surprised how loud silence can be when you are far away from the city. And even if not everyone knows how to get to a village a few miles away, most people will want to help you and the next thing you know the person you asked for direction is asking another person which bus stop is the right one for you to go to. Such kindness makes you certain that you will not get lost here.
When you finally get to a city, you see immediately that the associations with monarchs and great writers are quite right as you marvel at the buildings of Cambridge and Oxford, to provide two examples. The statue of Henry VIII is proudly looking into the distance on many of the buildings and when you open a guidebook, you will find out about the famous poets who were educated there, such as Lord Byron, Thomas Gray or Ted Hughes. You will find numerous collections of Shakespeare’s works or quotations and people who work in those cities know many stories connected with the history of the place and you never know what you are going to hear about. All of this made me think that, perhaps, there are so many historical novels, TV series and documentaries about English history and culture because it’s everywhere and people like to know more. A lot of cities are proud of their grand cathedrals, many villages are homes to old abbeys or manors. London itself is a great museum of British history and art with its architecturally diverse buildings, countless monuments of historical figures and museums which exhibit the most famous as well as the brand new pieces of art.
All in all, I found out that the image that I had in my mind and which I had acquired during my studies was quite accurate. England is rich in stories and for me it is one of its most distinct features. The point for me was to see what is different and what is exactly the same as I had imagined and I found the answers. And no, it does not rain that much.