Hey all. Welcome back to another Where To? Wednesday. The audience seems to have an interest here, so we will keep the interviews coming.
victim guest is a friend whom I previously worked with, Vanessa Edeker. Vanessa lived abroad, with very young kids, while there. The interview today will not only be about traveling overseas, but also how life over there from here in the states. So let’s get Rome-ing!
Rome Across Europe: Welcome to Rome Across Europe’s “Where To? Wednesdays”. Always a pleasure to talk to you. Let’s get to it shall we? I know you once lived in Europe. How long did you live abroad?
Vanessa Edeker: I lived in Great Brittan for 8.5 years. Maybe a bit longer. I lived in the Northeast. In three sub-divisions of Newcastle. First it was Whitley Bay, then Tynemouth, and finally North Shields.
RAE: That’s awesome. I must say I am quite jealous. Living abroad seems like something everyone should experience. How was it being an American living in England? Did you feel out of place?
VE: Living there was great…after a while. There were a few logistical problems initially such as shopping for food. I’m used to shopping in a grocery store. But now it was like, “How do I get there?” Well grocery shopping is one of those times when most Northern Brits drive as opposed to taking the Metro. I didn’t know how to drive over there so I had to learn. This was not fun! And until I learned how my husband (then my boyfriend) was my chauffeur! Not fun for him and I felt like a kid again, and not in a good way. But I learned.
RAE: I’m guessing that’s not the end?
VE: No. So now I can drive to the store, but wait there’s another problem. The food over there. The fruits and vegetables are not as fresh as here in America. Variety is non-existent. Also the meat is ridiculously expensive, and cut so fatty! So, after a time, I learned that most locals only get their canned products, cleaning items and assorted sundries at the supermarket. For fruits and vegetables they went to the Greengrocer. Then they went to the butcher for cheap, but better raised meats, with way better cuts.
VE: So, now we know where to shop and how to get there. But wait, there’s another problem. Because we were there during the Mad Cow scare it was safer to avoid beef all together, even though it was sold cut off the bone. Now the challenge was to get creative with other meats and lots of veggies. Plus we had to make it palatable to a three year old!
I make a fantastic Eggplant Parmesan, but unfortunately no one over there knew what the heck an eggplant was! After a little English-to-proper English translation we figured out that I wanted an aubergine. And while we are on the topic of fruits and veggies, I am from Iowa so I am used to very fresh fruit and vegetables. That was not always available grown locally, and almost never in winter. There was a heavy import of hydroponically grown fruits and vegetables from Spain. This is what you were most likely to be purchasing at your local Greengrocer. Much of them were disturbingly tasteless or had a slight ash or carbon flavor to them. It took a long time to not notice that.
RAE: Anything else?
VE: Those are a few little issues that initially sprang up. Couple that with being a black woman with no idea of where to get my hair braided. PS – I did it myself for the first year, not fun! Many barbers did not feel confident enough to cut our son’s hair either. We found a barber relatively quickly who not only did a fantastic job, but made a point of steering us clear of those merchants that he deemed to be “Prats”. All in all, it took some getting used to.
RAE: Wow! I never considered day-to-day living across The Pond to be much different than here. I’m sorry you had to experience those things, but I am thankful that you were able to share them with our audience.
Regarding visiting places, where did you and the family tend to go?
VE: Well, because I had no real frame of reference beforehand, I had no idea of how much I would fall in love with castles and their ruins! I am such a fan of them! Some of my favorites were Tynemouth Castle and Priory; The Castle, Newcastle; Bamburgh Castle; and Alnwick Castle (loved this one, it was featured in Harry Potter as Hogwarts). There were many others too.
RAE: I can imagine.
VE: We lived right by Tynemouth Castle for several years and passed it every day. My oldest (son) grew up rolling down the steep sides of what was once a massive moat. It’s now a massive hill covered in fluffy grass outside of the castle. You could go inside the keep and purchase cute little wooden swords and shields to have little battles with. Most of the boys wouldn’t be caught dead doing that in castle near their own homes, only tourists were that pedestrian.
It was much more acceptable to grab up a stick and an imaginary shield and play. Now, when you are at an away castle then purchasing a shield with their crest was completely acceptable. Oh, and every boy, and some girls, had a shield with their home castle crest at home somewhere!
RAE: That is something I totally would have done when I was young. Heck, I would probably still do it now! Please tell us more about the castles.
VE: Castles were fantastic to explore. I preferred partially renovated castles for several reasons. If it rained you didn’t have to scrap the entire day like you would in a castle of complete ruins. Most of these castles were on the coast so you see the walls and such as they had been for some time while still getting a lovely view of what was there now. And where else but a partial castle ruin could you go in and see a historical museum then walk out a ways and stroll on the beach? Not to mention how entertaining it is for the kids and the photo opportunities were just magic!
RAE: I bet. To most Americans, especially growing up, castles are either part of myth or stories like Harry Potter. It sounds like a lot of fun was had and memories made with so many castles as part of your daily living.
Let’s stick with castles for a bit longer. I am aware that Tynemouth Castle and Priory, in its 2,000 year history, was once one of the largest fortified areas in England. When you were there, in the castle, did it feel like you were very small? Like you could get lost amongst everything? Also, what was your favorite thing about Tynemouth Castle in particular?
VE: I did feel small in the midst of this huge structure, but since it is in ruins it does take some imagination. The most restored bit is the gatehouse which is devoted to tourist pursuits gift shop, etc…There was always maintenance being performed on it to keep up the structure, which is to be expected. But one of my favorite spots was out in back of the castle. It was this little chapel with a restored stained glass window. It was just beautiful and solemn feeling. It was this quiet place amongst the mayhem of screaming children outside (yes, mine included), chatting neighbors and the various sounds of village life from just over the hill. Very cool.
RAE: There are over 1,500 castle sites, give or take, in England. I imagine this makes it easy to get around and tour them? Or are they in groups? Like a handful here, one in this area and then more scattered about? In your experience how did you perceive it?
VE: It is very easy to go and view them. All of their hours of operation were posted online as well as if the castle, or parts of it, was closed for renovation or maintenance.
These places are full of plaques detailing interesting facts and stories. Because my husband and I like to wander around on our own, and read the plaques, we never had to wait in line for any real amount of time. And it allowed us to enjoy it all at a relaxed pace.
RAE: That sounds delightful.
VE: The one time that we went castle viewing with some of our friends, another American expat couple, they wanted everything regimented so they arranged for a tour. The whole thing felt so stiff. There wasn’t much time to actually get a feel for the castle itself. But that is the nature of a tour. Hit the high points and keep on schedule. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it just wasn’t our thing. We did an actual group tour once and the gentleman doing it was hilarious in an extremely dry way. It was fun.
RAE: Is there anything else you care to share about the castles?
VE: So to sum up…It is very easy to get to most of the castles. And it can be really easy to view them. Unless you want a tour which, generally, must be pre-arranged there isn’t usually any issue.
RAE: Perfect. That was quite helpful, and enjoyable. Let’s move on to the locals, shall we?
Were the people in the neighborhoods you lived in friendly? Was it easy to meet, and make, new friends there?
VE: If you want to get to know the natives up in the Northeast then you are going to have to do better than baking a cake and taking it next door. That will get you a “Hello” but, more likely than not, you won’t get past the threshold. [The people] have to know your face. That means that they have to actually see you about town several times before they will even initiate a casual greeting.
RAE: That sounds not too much different from some places here in the states. Not Texas though. How did you feel about it?
VE: I didn’t find it offensive at all. Think of it like being the new kid in a school where everyone grew up together so everyone knew what everyone else was about. They just want to get a feel for you. I found the Geordies, the people of Newcastle, to be very “emotionally conservative” as par for the course.
RAE: Fair enough. Anything special you did, or places you went, to meet your neighbors then?
VE: Pubs were a really good place to meet your neighbors. The locals will gather there not to get “off their face”, but to meet in that designated social area where it is not seen as undignified to be a little louder and a bit silly. Let off steam while no one is judging. This is where the locals will be most comfortable in approaching a new person.
And a quick heads up, ladies…Geordie lasses love their heels but not their coats, no matter how cold it gets! So, if you want to fit in know that you are going to be teetering in heels, without the benefit of a coat, around two in the morning at some point in your journey. But don’t complain because those girls are blast! And having cold arms and legs for a finite amount of time cannot compare to the stories you’ll have that will last forever.
RAE: Sounds like, overall, your time spent abroad was a very positive, and pleasant, experience. Do you have anything else to add before we say “cheers then”?
VE: It’s cold in England and not very sunny most of the time. But like anywhere you go, you’ll adjust. Just give it some time. I wouldn’t return to live there, however, just to visit. Been there, done that. I do miss my British friends!
RAE: Vanessa, you have been wonderful to speak with and have as a guest. I think we all have learned lots from you sharing your experiences living in England. On a personal note, I hope you become top of your class as you head back to school for your Master’s Degree.
And now for some history…
Romans had been in Northeast England since the latter end of the Iron Age
was deemed very important for a port. They occupied the area all around where the River Tyne
met the North Sea
. Just across the river from Tynemouth, in South Shields
, the Romans constructed a fort at Arbeia
around 160 AD. The Fort was originally built to house a garrison, then soon became the military supply base for the 17 Forts along Hadrian’s Wall
Thank you, again, to Vanessa Edeker for being our guest today. And thanks to you, the supporters of Rome Across Europe, for joining us on another Where To? Wednesday. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did.
Till next time, remember to keep on Rome-ing!