July 13, 2014

Eurotrip: England “For Real”

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” -Bill Bryson

While vacationing in Las Vegas earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting a British gentleman named Dan (whom I had a pretty big crush on mind you :)) and whom I’ve stayed in contact with since. When I originally told Dan about my July trip to the UK, it wasn’t looking like we’d be able to meet up as he was going to be out of the country the month of July for a squadron run (just casual Royal Air Force fighter pilot duties). As my trip neared, the squadron got moved which meant he’d be at his home base in Lincoln – but even still, I had no idea what my schedule was going to be like while I was over here. I was doubtful we’d have the opportunity to get together. After I attended a Pearl Jam concert in Leeds, I spoke with Dan who said he had the weekend free. I was heading to York for a few days which was a quick train ride away from Lincoln, and so my weekend plans were set.

I waited for Dan at a coffee shop, and when he walked in, it was surreal to see him after spending only a few days together back in April and chatting for months. It was great to see a familiar face being surrounded by strangers all week. I had a feeling of relief knowing I’d be in good hands the next two days with nothing to worry about.

The first night, we met up with Dan’s “mate” for dinner and sangrias. It was a tapas-style restaurant (which they pronounced “tap ass”) that was almost like being at someone’s house. We walked through the kitchen to get to the outdoor seating area in what I’d call a backyard – it even had a swing set. The food was some of the best I’d had yet, and the conversation was filled with laughter over lingual and cultural differences. Dan frequently gave me crap for saying “for real” after making a questionably true statement, hence the pun in the title of this post.

The next day was one of my favorites though. A large majority of my time so far has been spent alone or with other travelers. Even the people working in the cities are often foreigners with work visas. Spending time with someone born and raised in England was an entirely different experience. I learned more about the culture from Dan in two days than I probably did all week being on my own. I got to know England as a local instead of a tourist. We did very “normal” things and even went to a grocery store where everything was TINY! Dan assured me that it’s the U.S. that’s supersized, not the UK that was shrunken. Nonetheless, it was mini to me.

On Saturday, we walked around the city while Dan provided insight into the culture and history like my own personal tour guide. While walking around, he made a consistent effort to always walk on the side of me closest to the street as it’s considered common courtesy for men to walk street side so they would take the blow should there be an impact with a car. I got a kick out of how silly it sounded, but it is an endearing tradition I must admit. There is a cathedral in Lincoln that sits at the top of a hill and can be seen from anywhere in the city. It was massive and just beautiful. We walked the river and had a nice lunch along the way. Apparently, it was unusually hot and sunny so tons of people were out and about. I’ve been informed by multiple people that I’ve been very lucky my entire trip thus far to see so little rain and so much sunshine. I’ll take it. We sat outside for lunch and got to see a classic Vespa show (like an old car show but for scooters). We continued our walk down the river, saw some really old canal boat homes, and walked to a local park. Now I know what you’re picturing when I say park as it’s probably what I envisioned when Dan mentioned going there, but it wasn’t your typical city park. Outside of a few open soccer fields and a small play area, the majority of the park was open fields filled with free-roaming horses – no fences, no gates, just dozens of horses free to wander. Any time I get to be around animals I’m in heaven, so unguarded horses roaming entirely free amongst the public made me gushingingly happy. It was not something you’d see in the U.S. – way too many lawsuits as I explained to Dan. I spent the last five days touring cities so this was a much-needed breath of fresh air. We laid around the park for an hour or two soaking in the sun’s rays listening to music while horses continued to bother us (though we were never bothered) and follow us around from one spot to the next. They literally came right up to our feet and faces, not shy at all.

After the park, we got milkshakes (British style) and dessert and then headed back to Dan’s flat for a few hours of watching concert footage and jamming out to music – which is about my favorite thing in the world to do. It was a perfect afternoon. I even got a few new bands to add to my “to download” list – bonus!

Saturday night we met up with some of Dan’s friends for drinks at local pubs. We had a fun evening that ended with a late-night food trip where I ate and fell in love with my first Dunbar kabob.

Sunday we had a quick lunch at an adorable cafĂ© with another one of Dan’s mates (who gave me great tips for my next destination), and then Dan rushed me to the train station to catch my train to Edinburgh, Scotland. It was my first time riding in a car in the UK so it was an odd experience. When I hopped in the passenger seat (which is the driver seat location in the States), by habit, my foot reached for the brake that wasn’t there and my eyes wandered toward the rearview mirror that was facing the other seat. Dan made impeccable timing to the train station since we were running late. We said our goodbyes, which felt as surreal as our hello, and now on the train, I sit with gorgeous views of the countryside and coast reflecting on my time with Dan in Lincoln curious if I’ll ever see him again.

I’m back to nervousness mixed with excitement as I head off to a different country full of unknowns and strangers. I leave Lincoln with wonderful memories, increased awareness and appreciation of England’s culture, and an even greater friendship than I had two days ago (thank you, Dan). Goodbye England. Scotland – I’m ready!