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Lying just outside the famous Lake District, Penrith by itself is rarely a choice travel-destination. I went to Penrith just because it has the nearest post office where I could take a photo for my biometric residence permit card replacement. If you are an international student, my advice is to be careful with your own card. Even if you may have a pleasant day trip, the whole process of applying and waiting for the replacement card is unforgettable in an unpleasant way.
Penrith is a pretty town with a little clock tower at its centre. When I went there, the town was decorated with baskets of bright flowers. The weather was nice enough to put me in a good mood during my aimless walks along curved streets as I waited for the post office to open. It must have been a weekend day, as I remember a lively scene of people crowding the market and the local shops.
At some point in the far future, my memories of Penrith may become indistinguishable from the rest of the blurred image which represents England in my mind. So, while I can, I’m eager to share with you the little charms I encountered during my brief visit to Penrith.
- Penrith sells fruits I haven’t seen elsewhere in England
I thought that I was knowledgeable about the selling of fruits in England. For my first year here, I was always delighted to buy blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries and kiwis – the fruits not very popular in my home country of Vietnam. Clementines and bananas are the cheapest, while mangoes are too overpriced in the eyes of those coming from a tropical country like me.
In a delightful local shop in Penrith, I saw gooseberries for the first time in my life: beautiful, little green, round things that look like grapes but have light veins on their skins. Unexpectedly, I bought too many of them. Despite my excitement to try them out, I had to admit that they were a bit too sour to eat alone. Next time I will use them to make some sort of dessert.
The same shop also sold persimmons, a fruit common in Asia that I bet many of you haven’t tried. Of course, they were considerably more expensive than the ones sold in my home town. But after months of not having one, I allowed myself to buy one. Tasting its distinct and delicious sweetness made me feel emotional for a moment. Throughout my life, I have never doubted that fruits are the best products of evolution.
- I tried fish and chips for the first time
It is embarrassing to admit that I had never tried this signature English dish before going to Penrith. I had and enjoyed variations of the English breakfast almost every day in the canteen of my A-level school. But outside the school canteen, I forgot to explore the English cuisine, as multi-cultural England offers food from so many different corners of the world.
I had never come across such an enchanting fish and chip shop, as the one in Penrith. It was a little green house boasting a lot of awards and prizes, which were very promising. There were only a couple of cute tables with chairs inside and outside. I picked a type of fish randomly and listened to the delicious sound of the battered fish being cooked in hot oil. After waiting for some time, I was surprised to see the huge portion for such a reasonable price.
Ready to devour the fish and chips, I had never felt such a sense of “Englishness” before. The simple method of cooking really accentuated the freshness of the fish, which was claimed to be recently caught from the Atlantic Ocean. The potato chips were also cooked perfectly. It is always nice to indulge in some crispy food, once in a while. I wished they had given me more salad to go with the dish. But I had no other complaint. For the first time I was excited to try more classic British dishes.
- The museum and castle were unexpected surprises
I wasn’t expecting to see the impressive geology exhibits in the Penrith and Eden museum. I remember being struck by the intriguing rocks and fossils from millions of years ago that had been found around the area and were now being kept together inside glass boxes.
I have been to larger natural museums, but it was the little fossils in Penrith that made me feel disoriented. It is true that everything we know is located within the same air, the same planet, the same spacetime. But the worlds belonging to the prehistoric plants and animals would have been tremendously different from mine. I got more and more bewildered as my mind failed to make sense of that difference.
The ruined Penrith castle was the first landmark of Penrith that I saw after getting off the train. It was the reason I decided to spend time in the little town instead of taking the train to somewhere else Before going back, I stopped and sat for a while on a broken wall of the castle as the sun was going down. There were few sights of any attempt to preserve the castle. A group of young people were also sitting and standing against the walls.
There was something pleasant about being in a historic ruin without the hassle of being forced to take in its historical importance. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit and casually think about how time changes and destroys things. I wonder if this was the idea of those who oversee the site.
I am not sure if my purpose is to recommend Penrith for a day trip. It doesn’t take much time to take in what Penrith has to offer. It is likely that you feel absolutely no excitement over fish and chips as you have been too familiar with the dish all your life. Perhaps Penrith would have provided me with a very different feeling if the weather had been different. Perhaps it will not be the same to visit a place knowing what is in store, instead of being charmed by little surprises The truth is that I wasn’t in Penrith alone, but my partner would never feel like writing about the trip. Sometimes, the best experiences are personal: not to be shared by others.