Category Archives: UK

London, Part II: Tea, corgis, and art.

At long last, the wrap-up to our circumnavacation! I am finally getting down to the business of transcribing the record of our last day in London. Steve and I were feeling overwhelmed by all the traveling we had to do, but we had it in us to do one last day of sprint-sightseeing! We caught another quick breakfast with our Airbnb host, and took a combination of bus and Tube into town.

First on our list was Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column. It was certainly a grand and impressive plaza, but very little to actually do. We noticed some cleaning personnel pushing long-handled brooms around the bottoms of the large fountains in Trafalgar Square, clearing it of green mold, which certainly brings these historical monuments back to mundane reality. Our next two stops were Horse Guards’ Parade (where, predictably enough, there are guards on horseback standing at attention) and further down the same street, 10 Downing Street, where the British Prime Minister (currently David Cameron) typically lives. Eventually, we made it to Big Ben just as it struck noon, and Steve and I hung about Big Ben (which is attached to the Houses of Parliament) for a while, taking in the sights. Just across the street from that is Westminster Abbey, looking very grey, august, and full of gorgeous stained-glass windows. We ended up having lunch in the grass outside, enjoying the scenery, and after a lengthy debate, decided to pay the ridiculous fee of eighteen pounds per person (about $70 USD altogether!). Then we got up and started walking down the line outside Westminster Abbey, and my heart just slowly sank as we figured out the line was well over an hour long. After looking at each other, we nearly wordlessly agreed that while it was definitely worth seeing, it wasn’t worth sacrificing half of what we had planned for the rest of the day. We thus walked a little bit more around the Houses of Parliament, then moved on. Continue reading London, Part II: Tea, corgis, and art.

London, Part I: Bridges across the Thames.

The last few days of our world trip were a whirlwind in London, the capital of the United Kingdom. On second thought, there’s a good chance it was always going to be a combination of desperate last-minute sightseeing and window-shopping while wondering if we could fit more presents into our luggage for family and friends. But London, like Paris, has no end of historical jewels (figurative and literal) to dazzle the common visitor, and I had never been there before! The only saving grace is that there were no must-try restaurants, because no one is going to pretend English cuisine is the height of gastronomy.

We took the National Express bus down from Cambridge, and as soon as we got into Greater London, it became obvious that the last 1/4th of the trip would take as much time as the first 3/4ths did. We managed to badger the driver into dropping us off at an earlier stop than Victoria Coach Station, and took the Tube up to Camden Town, where we were staying. After a nap and shower, we took ourselves out to visit Hyde Park and the Serpentine (a long pond). It was green and pleasant, with rowboats and some stately looking swans. And giant too — it easily took a good 45 minutes to walk diagonally from one corner to another. At one corner, opposite Royal Albert Hall, we found a monument also dedicated to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, which looked like the British take on a Thai Buddhist temple. In other words, gold, baroque, and unappealing. After some quick dinner, we called it an early night, in preparation for two mad days of sight-seeing in London. Continue reading London, Part I: Bridges across the Thames.

In the heart of England.

We spent the last days of our world trip in London, but between Edinburgh and London, we made two stops in the middle of England. The first stop was in Stoke-On-Trent, in the Midlands, where Steve and I would reunite with his distant English relatives Jean and Peter, and the second stop was in Cambridge, just to the northeast of London, where we would be welcome by Sam and Sarah once more. Here is a little bit about our two lovely days with friends and family.

Last Thursday, we boarded the train at Edinburgh and took two connections to get to Stoke-On-Trent. Peter met us at the train station, and drove us to their home, a scant five minutes away. As we pulled into the front parking space, his wife, Jean, emerged from the house and waved us into their picture perfect, quintessentially English house. It was what I had pictured from books, movies, and stories, but exceeded even that, with all its old fashioned charm of knickknacks and figurines, elegant art and ceramics, and beautifully manicured garden.

By the kitchen, there is a small mirror hung with a set of clothesbrushes that I have read about in books but never actually seen in person. In the foyer, next to the door, is an elegant, embroidered hanging which says “Farmers Market,” handmade by Steve’s grandmother Alice. In the living room, ceramic plates decorate the top of the walls, a wooden duck stands in the process of looking over his shoulder by the fireplace, and the walls are hung with watercolors, pastels, lithographs, all in exquisite frames. The living room opens up to a small sun room, which invites one to step through and into the garden. Plain and simple, Jean and Peter have the idiosyncratically perfect picture of an English house garden. Their backyard garden is long and narrow, framed by hedgerows on both sides like their neighbors’ to the left and right as far as the eye can see. On both sides as you walk down, there are large, well-tended clumps of brilliant flowers. Most of them I can’t identify, but I saw varieties on sunflowers, calla lilies, sprays of delicate pink, hanging star blossoms of red that show dark violet petals. There are even several small trees growing between the flowers and the bushes, and underfoot, perfectly manicured, short green lawn that felt like a carpet. Beyond all of this, beyond the back hedgerow, there is an expanse of pastoral green rolling hills bisected by lines of dark green bushes and dotted with cows. Continue reading In the heart of England.

Flying home.

Tomorrow is our last day in the UK, and also our last real day of travel outside the US. I’m trying to take a moment from our hectic schedule and clamorous inboxes to think about what’s going on. We’ve been traveling nonstop, barely sleeping in the same place for more than two nights, since we left Normandy, and I have several entries half-written in a Word document just waiting to be posted about our time so far in Stoke-On-Trent, Cambridge, and of course London. (Oh, and Paris too, can’t forget about that.)

Time however waits for no one to digest, contemplate, reflect, and move on from these experiences! As we reach the end of this trip, each day has become more filled and hectic than the last, right up until Tuesday, July 22, when we will board a plane to Barcelona, and then Charlotte, North Carolina. I must be grateful that the flight will not take us over any war zones, civil or international, to my knowledge.

What will it feel like to be back in the US again? I don’t know. I have been excited to return for weeks and months, thinking about our dog, our friends and family, and everything familiar we are aching and yearning to see. I have been excited about moving to a new place, a new community, starting my graduate degree and learning things again. But at the same time, I think things that Steve and I have come to love about living abroad and dislike about living in the US will come into sharper relief, illuminated by our experiences of different ways of life. I’ve been very impressed with how many people around the world have been easy to talk to, kind and generous of spirit. I have enjoyed the benefits of different systems of taxation, healthcare, social welfare, service and hospitality, transportation, immigration, and the list goes on! Some of those things the US do very well; some of those things I wish they would really change. On a more mundane level, I’m going to be stunned again at how much things cost (cheap compared to Europe, expensive compared to Asia!), how many people drive, how much food I’m getting in a serving, how far away things are, and how incredibly easy it will be to do or buy anything I want. Steve meanwhile has made ominous predictions about how long we may be detained at immigration. Though neither of us have ever been seriously interrogated about our journeys outside the US, the longest conversations we have with immigration officials is undoubtedly with US customs when we come back into the country. Nobody anywhere else (with one or two exceptions) cares; at most, we get asked two questions about how long we are visiting, and less than a minute later, are stamped and sent on our merry way.

Truth be told, I am a little scared about going back home. During the past eleven months, we have traveled to broaden our horizons and become acquainted with more worlds besides ours, and we don’t want to return to find ourselves constrained and caged. For me at least, I’ve traveled to gain a deeper appreciation for everything we have, and I don’t want to go back to using resources and spending money the way we did before. We’ve traveled to get away from the same old same old grind of jobs and weekends, but what does that mean if we’re heading back? Essentially, I am unsure how exactly we’ll be synthesizing the elements of our travel life, which we mostly loved, with our life back in the States.

I won’t stop writing for the moment, however, as we have a bit of travel left to do back in the US. After we arrive back in the States, we will stay with Steve’s parents in South Carolina, then visit my parents in Boston, before going to Chicago and reuniting with our friends there. Finally, we’ll drive to Durham through Cincinnati with all our worldly belongings and settle somewhere before I start school in mid-August. There’s still some travel left for our circumnavacators! And of course, one more day in London. I’ll write again soon.


Wandering down the Royal Mile.

For me, Edinburgh will always evoke an image of calm and comfort, a cup of fragrant earl grey, and a scone piled high with butter and jam. Steve and I spent almost three days here (July 14-17), walking through very historic streets and scaling its heights to see the surrounding scenery, and braving the occasional showers. We left too soon, but I have hopes that we’ll be back.

We stayed for three nights at an apartment in Edinburgh’s Old Town, and spent most of our time wandering up and down the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a gently sloping road which bisects Edinburgh, dividing the New Town (not so new, dating from the 1700s) in the north from the Old Town in the South. On the western end is Edinburgh Castle, and after walking by about 45 stores specializing in kilts and cashmeres, on the eastern end is Holyrood Palace, where the Queen keeps her apartments when she comes to Scotland. Just south of the palace is Holyrood Park, a vast inverted green bowl that rises hundreds of meters into the air. It is punctuated by brown rocky craigs and hills, and from street level, you can see people climbing their way up the hill like so many ants. It is an imposing height, but not at all an imposing hike, as we covered the highest peaks of the park within three hours (including a half-hour nap!). Continue reading Wandering down the Royal Mile.

Planes, trains, and automobiles.

Written on the East Coast Line
King’s Cross, London, England to Waverley Station, Edinburgh, Scotland
Monday, July 14, 13h40

Two days ago in Paris, Steve and I embarked on the last leg of our trip, little knowing that it was going to take a good 36 hours longer than we had bargained for… since we’ve been traveling for about 10 months now, I had thought we were justified in giving ourselves a few pats on the back, being old hands at this travel gig, and getting ourselves from one place to another with a minimum of fuss. Well, hubris never pays. Travel mistakes this half of the world are more expensive to boot!

Our plan was to take a carsharing trip from Paris to London (Eurostar trains making the same trip costing well over 250 euro for the same privilege), and then catch a train in the evening heading up to Edinburgh, which would take us about 5 hours. This covoiturage (or BlaBlaCar as it’s called in other countries) deal is usually pretty good. You pay a pittance to travel in a carpool with other people, and go distances that would usually cost hundreds of euro on a train for less than 50. Our covoiturage trip was amusing enough, as we packed in 7 people in one minivan, and received strange glances from both the French and English authorities, but man if it wasn’t a circus show when we tried to make the Channel crossing. Continue reading Planes, trains, and automobiles.