Going back in time requires no supernatural powers, no new-fangled machines with walls of blinking buttons and levers—walking into an era long-gone can be achieved as easily as walking through a wooden doorframe with the right mindset.
Two years ago I underwent a transformation experience when I stepped foot in my family’s homeland for the first time. It was not only the refined beauty of England that left me dumfounded, but the ageless grace it seemed to breathe into many years of history. The weathered roadways, the proud façades, all reeked of quaint authenticity. We were wide-eyed, beaming, reverent, our souls ravenous.
Honorable Mention 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Of all of the destinations we dropped in on—Big Ben, the London Eye, the West End theatre district, Westminster Abbey—what remains most vivid in my memory is an obscure little pub on Fleet Street named Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, where Charles Dickens himself had spun his Tale of Two Cities. The ambiance was just shy of bleak—the ceiling was low, the small space dimly lit, the air musty and dank. But there was a unique charm to be discovered in it, an almost homey and welcoming quality. The windows were clouded, yellowed like lucent pages, and through them peered we into a world no longer our own. The panes filtered the late afternoon glow and the sun stream danced on the rustic wood of the tabletops as if to beckon us.
In that instant when we crossed the threshold of the present and the yesteryear, I fell in love, charmed by the plainness and honesty of the décor. The furniture was modest, ordinary, unassuming, but to my eyes far more grand than simple. But what transfixed me was not the physical pub itself, but its history. To think that on the floorboards beneath my feet once walked the likes of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain! What great fun my imagination had painting pictures of Dickens sitting at the back table while we dined! I could see him hunched over a plate, scribbling furiously and perhaps basing protagonists off of the colorful characters he observed entering and exiting the building.
On display sat an old copy of A Tale of Two Cities proudly propped open to the page on which the pub is alluded to. We felt as though we may have been in the book ourselves, standing beside Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. We even experienced all the flavors that true English food has to offer: Bubble and Squeak, a traditional dish composed of fried vegetables; Bangers and Mash, a potato and sausage dish typical to British pubs; and Yorkshire Pudding, which turned out not to be pudding at all! For the first time, I was experiencing a revival of centuries past, and the tale that had once seemed so dry to me was bursting with fresh relevance. I do not believe I knew anything at all about my English ancestry until that July afternoon.
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