Across the Pond - United Kingdom, United Kingdom
United Kingdom, United Kingdom
Let me start off by explaining how I got to the UK in the first place. For six weeks during the summer of 2012, I worked at KenMont/KenWood Camps in Kent, Connecticut. I was a watersport instructor and a counselor for the youngest group of campers. It was honestly one of the best decisions I've made in my life, and I met some of the most amazing people from all over the world!
Since camp ended, I have been to many places to visit some of these people who I now consider family (Florida, Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Connecticut, New York, & Philadelphia). As someone who loves to travel, I knew I would eventually want to visit someone in another country and see new sites, experience their culture and meet their family and friends.
It was a no-brainer after a while that I needed to go to the UK. I met so many people from this region, including two of my best friends- Sarah Jones (from Soham) and Harriet Miller (from Beaconsfield). Sarah and I were co-counselors and I worked with Harriet down on the waterfront. We talked about it countless times, and I would always say to myself, "I wish I could go to England..." After talking about it with people in a "wishful thinking" type way, I knew I needed to make it happen.
My journey started out at BWI where I stepped on my non-stop flight to Heathrow International Airport to London, England. I ended up sitting next to a girl I graduated high school with (Amy Stewart for you PM folks) so we caught up and she was on her way to France for a volunteer trip but had a layover in London. I arrived at 9:45 AM (4:45 AM EST) and was fighting to keep my eyes open
I expected it to take longer to get through customs, so I made an idiot out of myself when I turned around to ask a kind gentleman if I missed a step-all while Harriet was standing in the big crowd of people taking pictures of me! We of course jumped on each other and made a huge scene, but it didn't matter. I was so excited to see her!
Sunday, October 13th
Despite my fatigue, I was a "kid in a candy store" on the way to Harriet's house in Beaconsfield. Their cars were much smaller than ours, and there were NO four-way stops. Everything was a round-a-bout. The landscape reminded me of back home in Lancaster.
After taking a power nap and being greeted by Harriet's hospitable family, we sat down for a huge welcome luncheon. They asked me questions about living in Pennsylvania and what is was like to live amongst the Amish. We had a great time getting to know each other and learn about both cultures. They brought out the "crackers" which are paper toys that have prizes inside once pulled apart. It is normally a tradition around the holidays, but they wanted me to experience a tradition in their home and do it while Harriet was still around (Side note: She left a couple weeks after my trip for France for 6 months!) They also come with paper crowns, so Harriet and I proudly wore them for the rest of our lunch together!
Later that afternoon, we went to the Cliveden House, which was home to many political families in the 1600's on up. It is now a Hotel and part of the National Trust and sits on 400 beautiful acres of gardens, walkways, statues, and fountains.
We started out by walking through the garden maze. It had just been raining all day, so it was particularly fun to dodge our way around the maze of puddles. Everything looked exactly the same, but we finally made it to the center. We were so busy talking to each other and catching up that we didn't take notice to how we made it to the center and had trouble finding our way out. We had a 3:00 PM tour booked and it was about 2:45, so we didn't want to chance it. Harriet poked her face through the bush and asked politely if one of the workers could tell us how to get out so we wouldn't miss our tour! The look on the girl's face was priceless as she tried to figure out which bush the voice was coming from. She even came in and got us and we made it to our tour just in time. We saw the house, the gardens, the chapel, and walked down to the river. It looked like a scene from Pride & Prejudice. The tour guide kept bringing up stories of how cruel the Americans were to the British people. Being the only American on the tour, Harriet nudged me a few times, gave me the stink eye, and made it quite awkward!
We headed back to Beaconsfield and we had "Tea Time" with Mrs. Miller. This included tea sandwiches, crisps (chips), olives, desserts, and tea. Harriet made me try different food/drink like squash (the drink), chutney and Branson pickle. Harriet showed me around her town and I got to see different churches, hotels and houses. Everything was so cute and I loved the look. Harriet said a lot of horror scenes from TV shows and movies were filmed in that town at one graveyard in particular. We walked through The Crazy Bear Hotel where her brother used to work. It was so fancy that I was scared of breaking something- they had diamonds in the bathrooms! We stopped in at a pub where her friends to grab a cider and to relax and catch up in the cozy atmosphere. It looked like a living room in a farmhouse and had a fireplace and everything.
Monday, October 14th
After a good night's sleep, Harriet and I went to Oxford for the day to visit the town and the prestiguous University. We took a double decker bus, and I of course was in all my glory. The streets were made of cobblestone and there were tons of bikes everywhere. It was a picture-perfect town!
Christchurch College was the film location and inspiration from scenes from Harry Potter. Harriet is an avid, die-hard and obsessed fan of Harry Potter, so I think this was her favorite day. We asked some students where we could find Christchurch, and they warned us that we would be charged a good amount of money unless we told them we were prospective students. Harriet insisted that I pretend to be a student interested in doing grad school abroad, and that there was no way they'd say no to me. I was nervous to lie and therefore had to practice what I needed to say, so Harriet scratched that plan and immediately took over knowing we wouldn't get anything accomplished otherwise. She fooled them and we were in! (Do it now, ask for forgiveness later!)
The college was so beautiful and had a courtyard, statues, and different structures. I loved how the building had so much history and character to it. We watched a short film about Christchurch and then made our way to the stairwell where McGonagall welcomes the children into Hogwarts in Harry Potter. We walked into The Great Hall and walked up and down the tables and admired the stained glass in the windows. Harriet was squealing louder and louder with each row we walked up and down!
We walked around the town of Oxford and went into a few shops and visited the market (Thanks to Megan Kalany for the recommendation!) We admired the cake decorators, the flower arrangements, and everyone working hard at their stand. We got fresh treats from Ben's Cookies and milkshakes from Moo Moo's. (They had about a hundred choices, but I finally settled with Nutella. YUM!) We tried to go to the Ashmolean Museum, but unfortunately it is closed on Mondays. I had my first experience with Primark, which is like an H&M with Walmart prices. Harriet tried desperately to get me to buy footie pajamas because they are the hot thing in the UK (But really!)
Sarah was finally able to meet up with us! We went out to eat at Prezzo's and we caught up on the past year of our lives since camp ended. We had champagne with Mr. & Mrs. Miller and told them funny stories from camp and traveling. I felt so comfortable in their home and loved getting to hear about different places in the world.
Tuesday, October 15th
Our adventures finally began as we packed the car and headed down to the English Channel. The day started out dreary and rainy (Naturally) but the sun came out the closer we got. Our first stop was Beachy Head in Sussex, England. The ride there consisted of lots of singing and some occasional snoozing! Beachy Head was absolutely amazing. We first walked out to an overlook and talked to a couple about the area and some of their travels. (I learned quickly that people are friendlier here than in America and will go about the greatest stories and places they've been after you're merely said "Hello" to them. Pretty cool.) We walked up to where you could see white cliffs, rolling hills for miles, green pastures and the light blue water being reflected off of the sun. We had a picnic lunch of sandwiches, olives, mozzarella, chips and chocolate and enjoyed the views. It was one of the most peaceful places I think I've ever been.
If you look to the west, you can see "Seven Sisters" which are seven rolling hills/chalk cliffs. In order to get to the other side, you have to walk through a "Kissing Gate" where you have to kiss someone to allow entrance to the park. The pictures simply cannot do it justice with how beautiful this place was. We took the steps down to the rock-covered beach and explored for a bit. It was neat to see both Beachy Head and Seven Sisters by standing at one point and looking either way.
We grabbed some cider at a local pub near the park and were able to sit outside. We wanted to take advantage of this while it wasn't freezing cold or raining! I loved seeing the little cottages and it reminded me of being in some sort of fairy-tale land!
Next stop: Brighton, England.
This might remind you of a much classier version of Ocean City. It is a beach town with a boardwalk, ferris wheel, and different shops and restaurants. We walked around the beach and the pier before checking into our Hostel, which turned out to be quite an interesting experience. We met a girl from France who very much resembled the presence of Natalie Portman's part in "The Black Swan." (More stories will follow.) When we walked in, there was a huge Mac computer sitting on the desk and I exclaimed, "Whoa, cool! Every room gets their own computer?"--"That's mine" she said coldly. I wasn't aware that people ever packed desktop computers on trips!
As we were unpacking our things, we tried to make small talk with her. After Sarah asked her where she was from, she replied, "Can you just stop talking to me? I don't want to talk to you right now." Aca-awkward. Harriet had to leave the room because she was laughing so hard at this girl's blunt response when Sarah was only trying to be friendly.
We discovered a parking ticket for $160 American dollars on Sarah's car in the exact location the Hostel told us to park. Beyond livid, Sarah marched back in and showed them who was boss. (Meanwhile, they told me to stay and guard the car because I'm not stern enough to scare the Hostel staff into paying for the parking ticket.) After a few fun conversations that I am so glad I was not a part of, the Hostel paid for the parking ticket and we went to a local restaurant to have a proper "Fish & Chips" meal. We went downtown and watched part of the World Cup game and called it a night.
Wednesday, October 16th
The next morning, the French girl's alarm was going off for about 5 minutes when Harriet got up to attempt to shut it off. We didn't know whether she had gone outside or was getting breakfast and forgot to turn her alarm off. Harriet climbed up to the top bunk, reached over to grab this girl's phone, and discovered the girl awake and in her bed staring at her and holding her phone in her hand. Talk about a wake-up call when both screamed, Harriet jumped off the bed and the French girl apologized endlessly.
Another one of our roommates arrived, saw the desktop computer and sat down to check through e-mails thinking it was a public computer. (See, I'm not the only one!) The French girl decided that day that she wanted to be friends with us and told us different stories about her life and her experiences.
It was raining that day harder than I've ever experienced in my whole life, and we had one-person umbrella for the three of us. Taking one for the team, I used my scarf as "protection" above my head and we sprinted through the town to different shops and eventually stopped at "Costa" which is a better version of Starbucks. The shops and restaurants in the town were too close together to drive, but not exactly the distance you want to walk/run in the rain. Our longest sprint involved us running for about 3/4 of a mile to get to the Aquarium. During our run, Sarah was spitting off a few choice words (She's not a fan of the rain), Harriet's umbrella blew inside out and she started screaming, and I'm in the back of it all laughing hysterically until Karma slapped me in the face and the front of my boot split open!
After we arrived at the Aquarium, the staff asked us to take our picture. Really? We looked like wet dogs. I was so wet that it looked like I accidentally fell into the ocean or just took a shower fully clothed and my hair was jet black. After perusing through the Aquarium, we went back to the hostel to play an intense game of Mario Kart and then headed out to see Sunshine on Leith,which was acclaimed to be the 'feel good' movie of the year. Sarah & Harriet made fun of how cringe it was as I sang along to the songs with the cast members!
We met two other guys from our hostel and invited them out with us- Jay from South Africa and Max from Germany. We played foosball at a sport's bar and got way too competitive about it. We went to a few different places with them and had a great night!
Thursday, October 17th
We walked around Brighton and visited the Palace and the gardens surrounding it. We almost went inside until we discovered they charged a pretty hefty admission fee. Harriet, being the rebel that she is, decided to go in and look around as far as she could without having to pay the admission fee, and got stuck inside as a massive group of French students on a field trip trapped her in.
We then went to Devil's Dyke right outside of Brighton where you can see for 60 miles on a clear day. We had a bit of trouble finding it and pulled over because we saw a car sitting there. The man in the car was startled as Harriet ran full speed at him, barefoot and crazy (I'd be scared too...) and started to drive away! Sarah and I started waving our hands out the window to let the gentleman know that we come in peace. The view at Devil's Dyke was amazing, and again, pictures can't do it justice. You couldn't see 60 miles on this day, but you could see a lot of the rolling hills and the valleys.
Harriet departed ways with us to head to her grandmother's birthday party in Somerset while Sarah and I went to her town of Soham, right outside Cambridge. Sarah accidentally took a wrong turn and went straight through the city of London and hit heavy traffic. The plus side was that I got to see where the 2012 Summer Olympics were held! After we arrived at her house, we had a huge dinner with her sister Emma, her brother-in-law Brian, her nephew Sam, and her friend Dan. We had a three course AMAZING meal and I was again asked about what it is like to live in Pennsylvania and to be an American. We sat and talked for a couple hours and I instantly connected with them. They were so welcoming and fun to be with, and Emma even said how it felt like we already knew each other. Sarah and Dan wanted to expose me to some trashy British tele, so we had a few good laughs at just how horrible it was. Brian and Emma were horrified that this is what Sarah wanted to expose to me on a once in a lifetime trip!
Friday, October 18th
Sarah and I went into Cambridge and went out for lunch at a cute restaurant called "Bill's" where you can also buy different jams, spices, and bags. This is another town with a prestiguous University and reminded me a lot of Oxford with the cobblestone streets, bikes and students everywhere. We walked through different markets where they had fresh bread, flowers, and produce. The buildings were all so neat to look at- much different from living in a nation that does not have that much history to it. We went to Primark again and I bought a new pair of boots to replace the ones I damaged in Brighton.
After our trip to Cambridge, we had another night of good food and good company with Sarah's family and Dan, played with Sarah's dogs and watched Silver Linings Playbook. They had a lot of "I can't stand Americans, but I like you" type jokes!
Saturday, October 19th
Before taking us to the train station in London, Dan took us to see the Ely Cathedral. It was huge and so beautiful. They also had a festival going on while we were there, so we looked at the different crafts and items the vendors had out for sale.
We arrived in London and headed straight for Emily's, a friend of Sarah's where we were staying. It was nice to unload our luggage (especially my two weeks worth!) and not have to carry it around on the subway. We went back up to London and had lunch in Covent Garden and saw some street performers. Some of the street performers were humans dressed as statues that looked as if they were levitating. There were magicians and singers who could have been professionals. We stood on the balcony of a restaurant/bar in the square with Emily and their friend Nick met up with us as well. We watched the Magicians and then went around to different shops in the Covent Garden area and had a night out in London!
Sunday, October 20th
We had a typical English breakfast at a nearby cafe and rode the 4.5 hour train to Edinburgh, Scotland. The ride there was the ride that inspired JK Rowling for some of the scenes from the Hogwarts Express. The minute we got into Scotland, pastures filled with sheep quickly turned into mountains, cliffs by the sea, and buildings. We were greeted at the train station by the amazing KATE KING and her roommate, Chloe! She drove us around and showed us some of the neat buildings in Edinburgh quickly before we went grocery shopping for the week. We were definitely a melting pot of friends, all being from different countries. We stayed in, ordered pizza and watched some Scottish TV.
Monday, October 21st
Kate took Sarah and I up to the Edinburgh Castle. The view was amazing and you were on top of the whole city! The city is neat to look at because it is so old. A lot of the buildings were black and looked like they could crumble at any given moment. We walked through the market area and got the best pulled pork sandwiches from Oink while Kate gave us a history lesson about Edinburgh.
Harriet finally arrived in Edinburgh and we picked her up from the train station and went right to a Haunted Dungeon tour. Edinburgh is considered to be one of the most haunted places in the world- home to an eerie history of cannibalism, lynchings and other types of murder. We didn't have time to drop Harriet's luggage off at Kate's, and the tour told her they wouldn't be able to hold her luggage because of being so close to the train station where they offered holding services (for $50, of course). So, Harriet decided to wheel her luggage around the tour.
I was not a big fan of this attraction choice, but I also didn't want to wait out in the rain for an hour while my friends had fun without me. Even though I can barely make it through The Ring without crying of fear, I sucked it up and put on my big girl pants.
The tour started in a courtroom setting where they staged how different unfair trials would take place. They pulled different people (involuntarily) in the group of tourists and assigned different roles to them and threw them in jail if found guilty. As we transitioned to the next room, I made sure I wasn't in the front or the back and that I had someone on either side of me. It was particularly nice to have Harriet next to me because her luggage blocked us from being attacked!
In the next room, they gave a short lesson on how people were thrown in jail or put in dungeons. The actor in this room asked who was the witch from the previous trial in the courtroom, but she wouldn't confess to it because she was too scared. I could see her hiding behind everyone and the actor got more and more angry as no one would confess. Finally, my "good friend" Harriet pointed to me and said, "She's the witch!" I felt my stomach drop and started to panic...No no no! The actor looked at me in disgust as if I were lying and I repeatedly told him I wasn't the witch. She still wouldn't confess, so he said he was just going to pick a volunteer and of course, he picked me.
He told me to walk down the steps to the dark dungeon by myself and check out the area to make sure it was safe enough for the rest of the group to come down. My knees were shaking and I didn't think I could physically make it down the steps, so I stopped halfway and ran back up and yelled, "Its clear!" He told me I had to go the entire way down, so I made it down to the last step and yelled back up, "Yep, we're good!"
"THE WHOLE WAY DOWN." Jeez...okay.
I barely made it out of the dungeon before I was "captured" by another actor and thrown into jail. He repeatedly slammed the door and told me to scream as loud as I could. Apparently I'm a great actress, because everyone at the top thought someone was actually hurting me. Then, the actor gave me a high-five and said, "Wow, that was really good."
Our knees were wobbling the rest of the tour and all the actors chose to pick on us three and one other man the entire time. We never stopped holding hands as we walked through the dungeon screaming and flinching. Actors either tripped over or made fun of Harriet's luggage, but I believe it kept us safe. At the end of the tour, they get a picture of you during a terrifying part of the act and then display them on TV screens once its all over. You know its bad when strangers point and laugh at your TV and thank you for making their day.
That night, we went out for pizza and met up with our beautiful friend, Nat Cummings! Sarah and I met her on a trip we took to Miami earlier that year. We then went to another place where they had live acoustic music. It was a great way to relax after being traumatized!
Tuesday, October 22nd
Harriet, Sarah and I bought bus trip tickets to see life outside Edinburgh. Our tour guide was amazing and so friendly. He was very personable and talked to each tourist to find out their story and where they were from.
We drove through The Highlands and Glencoe, which was the setting of the quidditch scenes in Harry Potter. It was rainy and foggy, but it was still so beautiful and looked mysterious. The tour guide played Scottish bagpipe music (Sarah's favorite!) and gave us commentary about everything we saw. We saw Highland cows, mountainside springs, and mountains for miles. We stopped a few times so we could get out and see more than we could behind the window glass. The colors of the mountains and plants really stood out even on such a dreary day.
The sun came out as we got closer to Loch Ness. It has always been my dream to visit Loch Ness one day, and I can't believe I actually got to see it! I've always been fascinated with unsolved mysteries. The town was very quaint and I loved the townspeople- they were really into the Loch Ness Monster and would tell us different stories on theories about what people think they saw.
We boarded a little boat and got to have an hour cruise on Loch Ness. It was beautiful and very peaceful. You could see mountains for miles and we got to visit Urquhart Castle, which is now just some remains. We sat with the bus driver from our tour and got to talking about his life. He said he used to work, retired and then needed something to do, so he went into the tour guide business. Sarah and Harriet told me about how men who wear kilts are allowed to carry knives as weapons, and I didn't believe them until one of the men on the boat confirmed it. He didn't have it with him that day, but he regularly carries a knife in his sock...of all places!
With so many mountains surrounding the Loch, it would cast shadows which would appear to make long, dark figures. It put it into perspective how some people would think it was a monster. think being on the Loch that day was one of my favorite memories from the trip!
We drove back to Edinburgh a different route and were home 12 hours later. It was a long day, but very worth it. Not being a morning person, Sarah snoozed quite a bit of the journey, but Harriet and I made sure to wake her up whenever we saw something worth seeing!
Wednesday, October 23rd
We decided to be adventurous and athletic and climb to the summit of Arthur's Seat, which overlooks Edinburgh and the sea. We had to stop a few times to take a breather! Once we got to the top, it was a gorgeous view, but a tad windy. We had to sit down in fear that we'd get blown off!
On the way down, Sarah and Kate jumped ahead and headed back to the car. Harriet and I took the wrong path down and ended up on the other side of the city (whoops!) Harriet may or may not have slipped more than once down the muddy trails. I was a good friend and helped her up...after I laughed and took pictures, that is.
We called Sarah and Kate numerous times without any luck, so we just started running after looking at a map. They called us back and we formed a plan to meet up, but they couldn't stop the car so they kept circling a round-a-bout until we could jump in. I would've paid money to be a fly on the wall...
We then drove to St. Andrew's, which is where Prince William & Kate met at University. We went out to lunch and went to an old fashioned sweets shop and drove around looking at the campus and the buildings. We could see signs that said, "Will & Kate had their first cup of coffee together here!" and so on. Harriet LOVES the Royal Family, so she was again in all her glory.We went out to the beach and walked around--naturally, Harriet was barefoot again in freezing temperatures and high winds. The beach was beautiful, and you could see mountains off in the distance. Right next to the beach was the world-famous golf course.
There is something I love about a road trip. We drove through the countryside of Scotland singing, pointing out beautiful landscapes, and being goofy. Kate was kind enough to stop alongside the road and let me get shots with my camera.
Once we got back, I met up with my cousin Sean and his wife, Ellyce who are living in Edinburgh. It was great to see them and catch up about what they are doing with their lives! Afterwards, I met up with the girls and Nat again for a night out dancing in Edinburgh.
Thursday, October 24th
We walked through Edinburgh so that Harriet could see some of the places we went to before she got there. We walked the Royal Mile, saw the Edinburgh Castle, and bought a few souvenirs. We went to an antique shop to help Harriet shop for clothes for her upcoming ski season in France (She didn't like our picks) and got lunch at Oink. From there, it was time to say goodbye to Scotland.
We took the 4.5 hour train back to London again and got pictures at Platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter. After an hour of traveling through the subway system with our big bags, we went to the wonderful Kate Dodd's house! It was so good to see her and catch up with her. We ordered Chinese food and watched some trashy British tele. We only got to see her that night because she was going away for the weekend, but we had a great time with her despite the time being cut short.
Friday, October 25th
Harriet and I went into London to buy our tour bus tickets to see the city of London! I was thrilled and loved every minute of it. We got to see The London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and Buckingham Palace. I loved that there were parks scattered throughout the city. We got dropped off at The River Thames and took a riverboat tour (Side note: it is pronounced "tems". I was the bulk of all jokes for mispronouncing it!). We bought hot chocolate and enjoyed the chilly ride.
We went to Harrod's after our day of sightseeing and met back up with Sarah. The watches at Harrod's were about $30,000 and toy cars were more expensive than my actual car. The place was decorated for Christmas and we looked through the ornaments and decorations. We then walked through the Harry Potter section where Harriet took a broom off the display, once again proving to us that she does what she wants. They had fancy desserts, expensive clothes and luxuries. I definitely felt out of place!
We had a fun night out in London and met a lot of great people from all over the world. Without the help of Kate who was London-savy, I was stuck with two friends who both thought their bus route was the way home. We ended up taking the wrong bus and I won't tell you who was right and who was wrong, but there were a lot of "I told you so's" uttered.
Saturday, October 26th
Harriet and I finished out the rest of our bus tour and went to the Horse Guard's Parade and got a closer look at a lot of the other places we saw the day before. We did a little shopping on Oxford Street and met up with Sarah to head back to Harriet's house in Beaconsfield. Our last evening together, we went out to a an Indian Restaurant for curry and then went back to Harriet's for tea and some time with her family. We were exhausted from all the traveling and therefore were kind of loopy. We spent the night laughing about the most random things and enjoying our last night together. I honestly couldn't think of a better way to end it.
Sunday, October 27th
We made a big breakfast together, got a tour of Harriet's garden and then packed up the bags for the airport. Even though the ride was bittersweet, we spent it just like we always would-- singing and dancing! I cried like a baby getting out of the car as we said our goodbyes. I think it was a mixture of knowing my amazing trip was over as well as not knowing when I would see them again. My "good friends" didn't even tell me that I had black tears running down my face from my makeup as I walked into the airport, but I wouldn't really expect them to. That is why I love them!
I met so many incredible people during my time in the UK. They were so hospitable and so welcoming when they knew nothing about me. A lot of the people I met asked about my story and were interested in getting to know me. I was soaked in different cultures, exposed to other landscapes, and experienced life outside my comfort zone. Traveling makes you feel more deeply for people and see the highs and lows of this world. You're forced to hear different viewpoints and opinions when you're taught that your ways and traditions are the right ones. It teaches you patience, understanding and empathy. It makes you see that even though the world is different, people are generally the same.
I'm so glad I got to experience life in the UK! Thanks to everyone who made it so wonderful for me.