I realized with a start last night that since going to England in May 2007, there probably hasn’t been a day that I haven’t thought about my two and a half days in the city — the culmination of which required my parents, sister and me to walk down a dark street at three in the morning, local time, to catch a train back to Gatwick Airport.
After graduating from college, my family wanted to take our “great European vacation” before I officially entered the workforce (which I did — three short weeks later). We travelled to England en route to Italy, where we toured around Rome, Florence, Tuscany, Venice and Lake Garda. It was, without a doubt, the trip of my lifetime. I can’t imagine anything more thrilling than waking up in a foreign country with the whole day ahead of you, the people you love more than anything at your side, a camera dangling from your neck.
While Italy was absolutely gorgeous, amazing and totally worthy of an entire blog in and of itself, it’s London that has somehow managed to stick with me — to the point that I’ve become a completely obsessed, reading up on everything I can find regarding the British monarchy, dedicating myself to shows like “The Tudors,” drafting a novel set almost entirely in the English countryside and prompting my sister to buy me presents with Big Ben splashed all over them. As I type this, I’m sitting at my desk with a wire-crafted Big Ben just to the left of my monitor, a postcard of the Globe Theatre below my screen and a tiny red double-decker bus to the right of that.
I am, to put it lightly, an Anglophile.
As soon as we stepped off the plane at Gatwick and were immediately bombarded with classic British accents, my sister and I tried in vain to stifle our giggles. Being obviously American and a woman with a slight Southern twange when I’m agitated, I can’t say I’ve spent much time tuning to differing dialects. But landing in a foreign country for the first time, the accents were all I could hear. And, quite obviously, they were everywhere! The young man sitting across from us on the train smiled wanly at our obvious enthusiasm in seeing the country for the first time, watching as our eyes lit up and we batted each other playfully as we approached the city.
Everything was new. Everything was fresh. It was so different and incredible, I didn’t have time to process what I was seeing as I was seeing it. I just kept snapping pictures — tons and tons of pictures. We made it to Piccadilly Circus, Kensington Palace, the Tower of London, Harrod’s. We saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. We even managed to make it over to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, just by the Thames, before another soaking rain began.
I had fish and chips and drank hot tea. My dad had “mushy peas” — which were, of course, exactly what they sounded like.
The thrill was just in being so far from home, spending time in a different culture and learning about new things. I might have only had a few days in England, but the memory if London will always stay with me. Hopefully I’ll make it back one day and, though I’m sure it will be incredible, I don’t think anything can ever beat the first time you step foot in a new place. That “first impression” — dazzling or, at times, unimpressive — is what sticks with you.
I’ve probably written about it before, but I’ve absolutely never felt more American than when I was travelling that summer. I didn’t understand what it meant to be an “outsider” — to be around people who don’t understand the only language you know. To eat different food, walk around a strange place, figure out how to travel by cab or bus or subway. Of course I was fortunate to have my parents with me — including my dad, the pathfinder. Our togetherness — and sense of feeling like a crew heading out on an dangerous expedition — erased any real sense of suspicion. But if I’d been on my own? Definitely a lot more intimidating.
In the most sincere, yet cliched way possible, that trip made me a different person. I’ve examined what I love about being American — being home — while looking at what makes British culture so interesting and appealing to me. Europe taught me a hundred and one lessons I don’t think I could have learned any other way — and I’ll never, ever forget that I was able to make that trip with my family.
But, since then, it’s been back to reality. Of course! I’m now a year older, currently sitting in my office in Maryland, working on my projects for the week. And daydreaming — starting little stories in my head. When am I not?