Time to share another leg of The Big Trip. This time, I'm writing about the England - Wales part of the journey. Unlike the Singapore Trip, I won't do a day-by-day account here though. More like a highlights-and-rambling-thoughts report kind of a post. I hope you don't mind.
Anyway, this part of the trip was a real whirlwind tour. So much so that out of the 10 days that we spent there, we only slept on the same bed twice, in two places (at a B&B in Plymouth and at a friend's house in London). The rest of the time, we were staying in different houses/beds every single night. It was crazy.
Part of me was really apprehensive about this trip because I didn't know how the two kids will cope with it all. But, they've been such great troopers. In fact, every time we got in the car in the morning, they asked: "So, where are we going to next? Who are we going to see? What are their names?" We only had very few dramas. Nothing at all that made the trip too tough, regardless of the heavy schedule.
Actually, there was only one major drama that I encountered. It was at Heathrow Airport. We just landed and were navigating our way out of that awfully busy and crowded airport when a local English woman just deliberately bumped me from behind and mumbled some insulting remark at me. I couldn't believe it. I looked at her incredulously and she just stared back. She was petulant and unrepentant. I was livid. I didn't know what her problem was, so I nearly lost it. Thankfully, I just about managed to keep my cool --- even if it was 6am at the time, and I just had a 12-hour flight, with hardly any sleep. There were a couple of minor local irritations at the airport as well, but I think my sensitivities were already partly heightened due to my earlier unpleasant encounter.
At first, I thought it will be another trip that would make me glad that I wasn't living in England. I mean, I've been to the UK twice before. Back in 1999 (hubby and I spent our honeymoon in cold, cold England & Scotland!), and again in 2001 (as part of a trip to Paris and Belgium). Both times, I've LOVED it as a tourist. Definitely a dream come true. But, during those times, there were some not-so-pleasant experiences that made me terrified about living in the UK. Those not-so-nice experiences - plus my fear of 8-month-long winters - just make me shudder every time hubby and I consider the idea of living back in his beloved homeland.
This trip, however, marked a turning point for me. Yes, in spite the awful welcome at Heathrow (and the threat of becoming frozen!), this trip to England actually made me WANT to experience living there. Not necessarily permanently. Just know what it's like. There are several reasons for this, I must say. And, it's not just because we had a fabulous time seeing London - and me, falling deeply and hopelessly in love with Cambridge.
Somehow, seeing some of our friends in the UK... and even meeting some of hubby's relatives... just made us acutely aware of how disconnected we are here in Australia. Especially because the kids are pretty much growing up without strong extended family connections and such. And, hubby and I just saw how much the kids adore being in the company of people we're connected with. It was really something that made us think.
Don't get me wrong. We LOVE Australia. This is home. I don't know if anywhere else would ever feel like home to our family. We're still not completely convinced that we want to exchange our life here in Australia for anything else in the world.
But yeah, I have to admit that even though I've never seriously considered the idea before, this trip to the UK actually made me long for something else in our life for some reason. So... who knows? 🙂
Anyway... the main reason for a visit there was, of course, The Wedding. One of hubby's great friends (a Geordie living in Plymouth with his family) was the best man at hubby and I's wedding in Singapore and the Philippines ten years ago. His daughter was also one of my bridesmaids. We also asked her to be my son's godmother. Even when their family lived in Cape Town, South Africa a few years ago, we came to visit them. So, yeah... our families are well and truly intertwined. In any case, it was the daughter's wedding and she invited my son to be a pageboy and my daughter to be a junior bridesmaid. They held the wedding ceremony at a small church just outside Plymouth. The reception was at this gorgeous historic country home called the Kitley House (yep, the kind of place that makes you think 'Jane Austen'!). And, the whole thing was just simply amazing. My boy and my girl loved their role (and their attire!). They did so well. The wedding was well-planned and wonderfully executed. Lots of beautiful little touches that made the whole event so special. As a bonus, our family even got to stay overnight in one of the incredible rooms at Kitley House, called "The Hubbard" (with an historic connection to the nursery rhyme, "Old Mother Hubbard"), courtesy of our generous hosts.
After the wedding, our family ended up on a road trip to see some relations in Wales (just outside Cardiff). After Wales, we went back to England and we had a quick passing-through drive to Windsor, just to show the Windsor Castle to the kids... before heading off to Wellyn Garden City, to see hubby's old friends. Then, we went to Cambridge to see more relatives. This one was a major family reunion, as I've never met all these relations before and it has been 20-odd years since hubby last saw this part of his family.
The next day, we went on a day trip to the city of Cambridge. And yes, as I said, I fell absolutely in love with the place. We went punting, viewing Cambridge University and its surrounding architecture and features. Our guide (a South African one!), even pointed a section of Cambridge U where they filmed the "flying lessons" segment of Harry Potter (whee!). Whilst taking there, I decided that I wanted an old, secondhand Jane Austen book. Silly, I know, but still. So, I got myself a lovely hardbound illustrated version of Persuasion from one of the quaint bookshops there (David's, I think, it was called). I also bought a touristy Cambridge U shirt from the market and a technicolour coat (seriously!) in one of the shops on the side streets.
After Cambrige, we went to stay at our good friend's house in London (Finchley). We also went sightseeing. You know, the usual stuff... Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace... We had a fabulous day! And, even though I've been there twice before, it felt like I was seeing London for the first time. And yes, fell in love with it too. Then, we went to another part of London for another mini reunion with hubby's old uni buddies. Another fab time. In each of our stop, the kids loved meeting the other kids of friends and family. It was really cool.
Seriously, my only regret about this trip to the UK is that we didn't get the chance to stay longer --- to see more places, to meet other friends we didn't get the chance to meet, and to spend more time with some of those that we didn't see enough of... (and perhaps, to shop more? ;-)). I'm looking forward to coming back again one day.