The bed-and-breakfast sits about a mile from the historic City Centre of Canterbury, tucked into the somewhat-modern suburbs of the British town. The perfect distance, as it turns out; one can find a peaceful night's sleep outside the hubbub of the action, but get in a good walk when it's time to explore.
With a backpack slung from one shoulder, I cross a pedestrian bridge over the A28 and approach the stark, gray stone walls encircling the city. They're about a thousand years old, and look it: forbidding, in a way, and yet softened over time by weather and distress.
Cars whip by, blurring the faces of the drivers as they hurry past, on their way to another appointment, continuing what likely is an ordinary day. I pause on the bridge, sipping some water, and wonder: Do the people racing along even know these walls are here?
A few hours later, sitting at an outdoor table at The Old Buttermarket - having switched from water to lager - I chat with a local named Devon and float that question. "Well," he says with a half smile. "It's like this. You're from Colorado, right? I 'spose you don't notice the Rocky Mountains anymore, do you?"
Then he lifts a pint to his lips and we both take a moment to savor his wisdom.
It reminded me of the day, years ago, when I climbed the steps of Rome's subway system, smack into the daunting image of the Colosseum looming overhead. Two thousand years old, and now flanked by fast-food restaurants, pharmacies, and a dry cleaner. Did the old guy manning the newsstand across the street ever see Emperor Vespasian's handiwork? Or had this colossal stone monument merely become wallpaper?
We usually travel with a tangible purpose: to visit friends, sightsee, experience new cultures, or to fulfill a wish list. As Paul, a teacher from Wales, told me, "People just go places to tick them off a list; they have no other reason for doing it than to say they did."
Which may be true for some. But what I've realized is that, regardless of the original intent, our travels deliver an intangible benefit of getting away.
We recognize what has become our own wallpaper.
Because Devon's right. I've had the stately Rocky Mountains as a backdrop for almost thirty years, and I'll admit there are days when I never see them, even as they radiate through my windshield. I've become numb to the glory before me, just as these commuters in Canterbury are blind to a fifteen-foot stone wall that has embraced their city for more than a millennium.
And there's no shame in this; we become oblivious to things around us over time, whether it's a mountain range, a medieval cathedral, or - unfortunately - a loved one. We're stimulated on a regular basis by an overwhelming influx of new data, new images, and we lose sight of the majesty of a Colosseum . . . or a person.
But a change of scenery revives the wonder, if only temporarily, and allows us to appreciate again. When I land at Denver International Airport after ten days in the UK, I stop in the concourse and gaze out the floor-to-ceiling windows.