The rental car was returned today, so we’re officially without a car for the foreseeable future. It’ll be a huge relief not to have to find parking anymore, or to negotiate the donkey-path sized streets of Whitstable and Canterbury that the locals insist on driving at highway speeds, but it’s a little nerve-wracking to be at the mercy of public transportation. I (Brad) drove the mighty Ford Focus Estate back to a cleverly-hidden lot in Maidstone, which is only about 25 miles from Whitstable but seemed like it took all day. I’ll spare some of more embarrassing details of the journey there, but let’s just say that Holly’s virtuosic navigation was sadly missed. I also learned some things about fueling vehicles here: Diesel pumps come in two flavors — one for big trucks (HGVs) and one for the commoners. I provided endless entertainment for the locals as I searched for a pump whose nozzle would actually fit the car. (The attendant finally took pity on me and announced to me — and the rest of the patrons — that the idiot in the Focus should try pump #1.) The good news: the car only consumed about 4.5 gallons of diesel in about 250 miles of driving. The bad news is that diesel goes for slightly more than the equivalent of $10 per gallon.
After dropping off the car I found a spot to get some lunch and coffee, then trekked to the nearest train station, eager to start living the car-free life. Walking through town was much more relaxing than driving, and it was only a few minutes to the station. There, I discovered that the station had enjoyed its heyday many years earlier, and that Southeastern can’t be bothered to staff the station with human beings. No worries — I’d done my homework, and knew the details of the ticket that I needed to purchase. There was a single vending machine, and it also seemed to know what needed to be done: I’d take a train to Strood, hop onto a different train for the four-minute ride to Rochester, then change trains again for the final run into Whitstable. All told, it would take about an hour and a half and cost roughly $25. I then learned that the vending machines either don’t take £20 notes, or this particular machine didn’t like my particular 20s. After a moment of panic, I realized that I could come up with the fare via a combination of smaller bills plus every coin in my pocket save a single pence. Whew. I also learned that the trains pretty much run on time, which is good since the ticket machine apparently thought it was reasonable to leave a “layover” of just four or five minutes between train changes. I also learned that there’s a large population of foul-mouthed school kids who ride the train from Faversham to Whitstable, but that’s perhaps a topic for another day.
Our house is a quick 10-minute walk from the Whitstable station, and by 4:00 I was safely back home again. Holly had been working the phones all day in an effort to find us long-term housing, and about 10 minutes after I walked in the door we got a call inviting us to see a promising property in Canterbury yet this evening. If we had a car, we could be there in 15 minutes and check the place out. This car-free stuff is already a drag! We decided to take the plunge and figure out how to get all four of us there on short notice via the local bus, but the house’s owner took pity on us and volunteered to come pick us all up, drive us to Canterbury, then back again after the viewing. We couldn’t turn down such a generous offer. Not only did we get to see a new housing prospect, we got to witness how a local drives on these roads. It was truly educational to see how he hustled his whale-sized Jaguar around the lanes. (I suspect Holly would use some additional adjectives…)