Arriving in Canterbury UK, the beginning of our pilgrimage – Day 1

Arriving in Canterbury, the beginning of our pilgrimage

From London, it is only an hour by high speed train to Canterbury.

We checked out of our comfortable apartment hotel, and made our way to The Wild Bunch, our favorite breakfast place located in Chiswick, London.

The Persian couple who own this lovely cafe wished us a safe journey and hugged me after we had finished our healthy breakfast.

Our 29 liter backpacks, which look fairly small, feel very heavy.
Perhaps too heavy to climb mountains and hills with…
Being autumn, we are carrying warm clothing like a puffy coat, a fleece, warm hats, gloves, and balaclava fleece scarves, as well as one extra set of clothing, mini iPads, cameras, chargers, and toiletries.

Each individual item is very light, but everything together adds up to a heavy backpack.
To add to this, we also must carry water and snacks, since much of the Francigena is through farm land and on foot paths, and there are no restaurants or cafes along some of the way.

Canterbury is a scenic ancient town, with cobblestone streets and a very old cathedral with stunning stained glass windows and spired towers.
For over a thousand years, pilgrims have been walking to and from here, in search of miracles.

Canterbury feels so quiet compared to the high level of noise in the streets of London, but I was still surprised by the many tourists in the busy streets of Canterbury.

Since our guesthouse asked us to check in after 2PM, we made our way to the center of town to look around.
We strolled along the beautiful canal, with its emerald green seaweed swaying in the shallow currents, and admired the beautiful gardens along the canal.

There was a community fundraising competition of handmade scarecrows.
For a small donation, we were given a map of the gardens, and the list of all the scarecrows.
We were asked to choose the two scarecrows that we liked most, mark them on the map and hand it over to one of the volunteers or the kids who helped in the fundraising.
It was fun to see all the creative scarecrows.

In the center of town, we had a lovely lunch in a Turkish restaurant.
They served the tastiest Dolmas, grape vine leaves stuffed with rice and pine nuts, using purple rice.
They also had stuffed tomatoes and eggplant, which were very delicious.

As we passed through the beautiful stone gates of the ancient town, I saw some pilgrims walking through town.
They all wore the same t-shirts with the Via Francigena logo on the front.
On their backs they carried much bigger backpacks than we have, along with a hiking pole in each hand.

I looked at the nearby store window and saw our own reflection in it.
We did not look like “serious” pilgrims, as they did.
We looked like regular tourists on a stroll around town.

On the streets I saw two nuns dresses in black cloaks.
Their cloaks were dirty, and one of them was so heavy, she had difficulty in walking.
The other carried her coat hanging over her shopping bag, and it was dragging on the dirty streets, collecting dust and dirt.

I wondered how these nuns, who devote their lives to an awareness of a higher power, can be so sloppy and gluttonous…

My mind quickly drifted to the Japanese Shinto priests and Buddhist monks whom I frequently see in Japan.
Their robes are spotlessly clean and they are so mindful, aware, sensitive and elegant.
They are rarely this gluttonous and mindless.

Moments later, I felt ashamed of myself for noticing these details about the nuns.
What and whom does it help to be so judgmental….
Children are often sloppy and without self control, yet we accept it and know that one day they will grow out of it.
These nuns are like those young children.
One day they will grow out of it, too…

We wanted to stay at the lodge of the Canterbury Cathedral, but it was fully booked.
We chose one of the guest houses that was highly recommended by other travelers.

Honestly, I cannot see why they recommended it.
The owner, who opened the door, had a bit of an attitude and he smelled strongly of garlic.
The corridors and the rooms of the B&B have worn carpet and smell musty.
The shower is a tiny cubicle with almost no room to move your arms, but at least we had hot water.

We put our backpacks down and sat on the lumpy bed to meditate.
I was feeling bad for again noticing all the minuses.
Pilgrims are not supposed to be picky, they are supposed to spread the light….

I hoped that our meditation would warm up the energy of the dingy room and improve its vibrations.
For the hundredth time I told myself NOT to read other people’s reviews of places, but to go with my instincts when booking places to stay.
People really did rave about this guesthouse with many five stars Google reviews.

We reminded ourselves that this is a pilgrimage, that we are not doing a sightseeing trip in search of delights, but are foot pilgrims who sometime have to stay in humble houses, because they are simply near the path.

That night we strolled around town , sat in the large and comfy Starbucks to do some research, and shared a veg sourdough pizza and a green salad.

Tomorrow we will attend the Sunday service at the cathedral and get a personal blessing for our pilgrimage.

With warm blessings,

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