England: A Home Away From Home

I knew I’d love England. I knew that it was somewhere I was supposed to see, explore, and experience. I think writing this article has taken me so long partly because I’ve been living in denial that I’m home again.

6a86391ab0f7b8a1dc9c8b8043582ad2My trip from Llandudno Junction to Windsor was not as direct as my train ticket would have implied, and I got the sink or swim lesson on the tube. I had to jump off my train at London Euston, take the tube to Paddington, and then take a train from Paddington to Slough, and then take one last train to Windsor & Eton Central.

I was pretty impressed with myself when I managed to make it happen without missing any of my scheduled trains. I made it to the Paddington train to Slough with about one minute to spare! I was pretty much winning at this whole London tube thing.

After minding the gap, I decided to follow the crowd and see where I ended up. I found a Waitrose, which I was dying to check out. Noted. I also realized that my uncle wasn’t kidding when he said that it would be pretty tough to miss Windsor Castle. When I got to his flat, my uncle was working, so I decided I might as well make myself at home.

In the morning, I headed into London to be a tourist. I met up with a tour guide, hopped on a bus, and made my way to Bath, with a quick pitstop at Stonehenge. If I’m being honest, Stonehenge is cool, but not my favorite thing I did. If I’m being super honest, it’s a bunch of really big rocks. Yeah, it’s mysterious and cool, but an hour would have been way more than enough time to check it out. We were there for almost three… the fact that it was FREEZING probably didn’t help add to the experience.

But then we got to Bath. It’s such a cool place and I could have spent a weekend there. We had about four hours to check it out, which was definitely not enough. Everything – from the architecture, to the food, to the things to do and see –  were beautiful. I didn’t want to go home when we did, but I’m so grateful to have spent the afternoon wandering through the city streets.

When we got back to London I decided I’m too young to not go to a bar. Luckily for me there was a football game on, not the American kind, and I made some fast friends by asking who we were supposed to be cheering for – they gave me conflicting answers and bought me beer. We talked about American politics, Brexit, and our similar experiences as Catholic school kids. They also made sure I got to my train station safely after the game. It was day two and I decided that as long as I could get to Paddington, then I could find my way home.

The next day I woke up and took full advantage of the sunshine, embarking on the Long Walk. The Long Walk is a part of the Windsor Great Park and stretches 5.3 miles (2.65 miles each way) from the George IV Gateway at Windsor Castle to The Copper Horse statue of King George III found on the top of Snow Hill.

Note to self – wear more comfortable shoes next time because the bleeding heels made for a really long walk back… pun intended. The views though. Stunning. I can still feel the sun on my face as I sat next to the statue on Snow Hill overlooking Windsor Castle. I can still feel the cool breeze racing through my hair with golden fields of canola plants as far the eye could see.

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Since my uncle was working and being nice enough to let me crash at his pad, I figured the least I could do was make him some dinner. He mentioned spaghetti, so I headed to Waitrose to pick up the goods. I also bought beer – lots of craft beer – and custard.

Dear America, we need to make custard a thing because it is heavenly goodness in a cup. No, really, let’s make custard happen.

I had the best night hanging out with my uncle. We checked out the local Windsor pubs together and talked about home. He also thought my spaghetti was the best thing he had ever eaten in his entire life. Future husband, please take note that I can cook.

The next day, I headed into London to catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen in nearly 12 years! I lied and told my Mom that he reached out after seeing my posts about being in London… not 100% true… she’ll know the truth now. We actually matched on Bumble (don’t freak out Mom) so I sent him a Facebook message and we decided to catch up for dinner and drinks after he got out of work.

We met up in Soho and ended up shutting down the bar. I don’t think I’ve ever drank so much gin in my life. The hours flew by like minutes as we laughed and reminisced on the summer we spent together in Maine. We stumbled to the trains and we kept giggling about how we couldn’t believe it had been almost 12 years because it felt like no time had passed. We got to our platforms, hugged and departed in opposite directions.

Jon, I still owe you some gin this fall.

The next day, I spent the entire morning exploring every inch of Windsor Castle (that was open). My Uncle laughed when I told him how long I was there because apparently he’s never spent more than an hour.

St. George’s Chapel alone was enough to keep busy for hours. I mean, I stood next to King Henry VIII’s burial site for a solid 30 minutes. I placed my hand on the burial site of King George V and his wife, Queen Mary of Teck. I saw the final resting place of the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and King George VI. I had to sit in one of the prayer areas just to have a teary-eyed moment. Tears of awe, wonder, and amazement streamed down my face, and I was grateful and my heart was full.

Inside Windsor Castle, you’re not able to take photos due to it being a royal residence, but it was incredible. The ornate details in each room and in every aspect of the decor. I found myself exploring the halls of the State Apartments, taking in every inch of Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House and the Semi-State Rooms. I accidentally found myself in the middle of a changing of the guard ceremony, and I stood in wonder of the hall lined with the names and family crests of every Knight of the Garter. I never wanted to leave.

After spending almost four hours roaming around the castle grounds, I decided it was time to get back to reality. I walked away completely content, and after nearly five days in Windsor I felt like I was home. I made my way to London to take a hop-on/hop-off tour. I jumped off at Kensington Palace and never got back on. I sat by a pond and fed swans and ducks some bread I bought at a deli. I sat under a tree in the parks surrounding Kensington. I had an afternoon tea at The Orangery. It was the perfect way to waste some time before heading back to Windsor.

Connecting from Paddington, to Slough, to Windsor & Eton Central with ease was making me start to feel like a local – luckily for my uncle, this means he came home to fresh cut flowers, more local beer, and snacks for days from Waitrose. We spent the night with his friends from home yelling at Alexa, listening to music, and laughing while munching on Doritos flavors you can’t find in America.

The next morning we made our way into London together. My uncle told everyone I was going to be the tour guide since I knew my way around so well. With an exception to one minor detour and with an assist from my dear friend, Google Maps, I was pretty successful in not getting us lost.

We also learned that in pubs you should just order off the menu. One of my uncle’s friends wanted a house salad with a scoop of tuna salad on it. You would have thought she had asked for their first-born child. Also… beer should never be served cold. It tastes so much better served at cellar temperatures.

Sitting on that train on my last day in England was one of the saddest moments of my life. I spent most of the afternoon holding back tears because all I could think about were ways to never leave. Maybe my boss would let me work from home… in England. Maybe I could have my parents send Camden over… to England. Maybe I could find an amazing job… in England.

I felt gutted to leave. England stole my heart in a deeper way than I dreamed it ever would– like a summer love that ends too soon, leaving you lost in the wonder of it all.

See you again in October.

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