London & Bristol, United Kingdom (Country #2)

 

I have a confession to make- I’ve already written this post half a dozen times since returning from England only to find myself clicking “select all” and deleting it all hours later. Honestly, I want my first post about England to be about how it made me feel and how much I needed to take this trip, before I get into the specifics. My time in England moved me in a big way personally, and it’s been hard to accurately capture that in words for a public(ish) audience.  There are different types of travel. There’s the touristy song and dance, but there’s also the type of trip that’s about revisiting old friends and your roots, in a sense. Honestly, I was really anxious about this trip all the way up until I was checked in to my first hotel. But, to continue with this theme of honesty, I feel like the lessons I relearned in London are inspiring me to be much more open, forthcoming and genuine in my own life, and this post feels like the perfect spot to start.

I left my adopted homeland four years ago feeling like an absolute failure. I failed to renew my visa through my job. My grandmother had recently passed away. I failed my dissertation. I found myself rewriting it, as I attempted to adjust to life back in the US and a new job and faced the mounting realization that my ex-boyfriend and I were at the beginning of the end. It was a lot to deal with, to say the absolute least. Shortly after my breakup, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I think I was the only person surprised by this news. I’m really good at convincing myself I’m fine…but it’s been a struggle in recent years. And I’ve gotten to a points where I’ve had to have some honest talks with myself about how not fine I actually I am. In the time that’s passed since I left England, I’ve found myself in some incredibly low places, and the idea of returning to the place I long considered the place I was last truly happy filled me with this intense anxiety leading up to it. For better or worse, I also never fully disconnected from my life in England. Because of this, I found myself with a few precarious situations on a couple different fronts leading up to this trip, too. Going into this trip, I really felt like something was going to happen in a big way. I just knew something big was coming (perks of having anxiety, my friends!). I was also really scared that I looked back on my time in England with rose-colored glasses, so to speak. I was worried I had idolized this period in my life. I didn’t want to go back only to learn I was right, essentially.

I’m happy to report, once again, my anxiety had gotten the best of me and I was wrong. I fell quite easily back into my “Best British Life”. I had plans each night after landing Thursday morning in Gatwick. I met up with a friend with dinner, grabbed drinks with colleagues, and even found myself at a birthday party in Shoreditch on a Saturday night. I was honestly surprised at how easy it was to find people to meet up with for lunch or a pint. I’ve been to London a number of times in my life, both before and after my Master’s program in Manchester. I was really more interested in seeing the people I’ve digitally kept in contact with for years. There’s a time and a place for the touristy song and dance, and this was not the stage for it. I felt like such a lush meeting up with people daily for lunch and shopping and pints and dinner, etc. – but being able to make new memories in a “newish” place with dear, old friends who allow you fully let your hair down and truly be yourself is one of life’s rare treasures. Three moments from London, however, will stay with me for the rest of my life:

Moment 1: Old Thameside Inn

Lesson 1: You have a pretty damn beautiful life filled with beautiful people.

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I sat along the Thames at the Old Thameside Inn, pint in hand, waiting for my friend to return from the bar, and looked down along the river towards the Gherkin as the sun set and the wind blew the hair off my face. Something about meeting up with old friends and feeling like no time had passed on such a gorgeous night, in such a beautiful place, was just heartwarming. My friend returned from the bar with a pair of fresh pints and we continued on into the night, reminiscing of our friendship built on hazy, nights out filled with one too many pints and drunk renditions of songs from Les Mis followed by hung over mornings filled with soccer matches and bacon sandwiches. We had a lot to catch up on -and it felt like any old night out back in Manchester, except with much better scenery.

Something about this moment along the Thames made me realize just how lucky I am to have these people in my life. I met my first friends in my Masters program because I was lost on my way to class. And now, almost 5 years later, I’m back in Europe to see the people I met through those first friends. It stuns me to think all this happened, essentially, because I didn’t know where I was going on Day 1. Personally, I always felt a bit more at home with this friend group. I missed my tribe, and it just felt so good to be back. I had already been feeling it in smaller waves, but I left that pub just awash in a new appreciation for the people I have in my life as we carried on into the night to see the new flat my friend had recently bought. The night carried an air of familiarity with hints of our new grown-up lives. 

Moment 2: Clifton Village, Bristol

Lesson 2: Life is going to take you to some unexpected places, but there will always be constants in life.

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Part of the point of this trip was to go to Bristol to visit my cousin and his family, who had recently moved there. I had never been to Bristol, so this gave me a mini-stage for the touristy song and dance. The kids have a list of favorite places in Bristol that they couldn’t wait to show me. Those two kids are tremendous tour guides, just for the record. I would highly recommend taking any chance you have to be led around a new city by a pair of little ones, both under 10.

Shortly after arriving in Bristol, I found myself making granola with a family friend of theirs in the kitchen for the church. The church was associated with the kids’ school and we were off to pick them up once we finished bagging all the granola and school let out for the day. We picked up the kids and headed to a park so they could play with their friends for a bit. As we sat in the park, watching the boys chase a soccer ball around, I couldn’t help but think back to my time as an au-pair in Australia. It was a familiar scene for me.

I thought back to what was essentially a panic decision, made because I made the mistake of graduating in 2011, in the thick of the recession. So as a fresh grad in 2012, desperate to get back out of the house, I took a nannying job for three children in Brisbane. Something I never thought I’d ever do. I had actually even reconnected with the family in New York this year, too. While in Brisbane, I decided to go for my Master’s instead of the law degree, something else I never planned on doing. It hit me just how much ground I’ve covered in recent years. I earned my Master’s, got a few different jobs, and had lived in Australia, England, and New York and made friends literally all over the world. While I can have days where I feel like a waste of life, this was an important realization for me. It made me smile.

After essentially circling the globe and all this ground covered, though, I was still in a park watching children chase a soccer ball after picking them up from school. All I could do was shake my head, laugh to myself, and think about how, quite literally, some things never change.  

Moment 3: Crying in the cab on the way to the airport

Lesson 3: Things don’t always go how you planned – and that’s okay.

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I was on my way to the airport, looking out the window from the back seat of the taxi, and tears started to fall down my face and into my lap. I tried to wipe the tears away with the cuff of my jacket before the cabbie noticed and asked me what was wrong. I spent a lot of time thinking about things I wish I done differently on this trip. I thought about the things I would have done the same on this trip. I thought about how I didn’t know when I would be back, but deep down, I knew I would be someday. I looked out the window, at the emerald, green countryside, and just knew that things went exactly the way they were supposed to. As is the trend in life, things didn’t go the way I wanted then, and I was probably happier and better off now because of it. The universe has a way of protecting you. I thought about how I didn’t want to go back home and how badly I wanted to return to a life in Europe. I thought about how fortunate I was to even be in a situation where I could be so sad I was leaving all this behind. As I continued to make my way to the plane that would take me back to New York, I just knew in my heart New York wasn’t my forever home. 

While the realization that a city isn’t for me, coupled with recently realizing this is the longest I’ve been in one place, would usually drive me to frantically search for my next move, I’ve found an odd sense of contentment with my life since returning. Things ended on a rather bittersweet note in London. But these moments have all shown me some great truths in life that I somehow managed to forget since leaving England. I really needed to take this trip, as cheesy as that is to say. I needed to go prove myself wrong that I wasn’t just idolizing my time in England and that my life there was pretty damn great. It still is. I needed to let the universe hit me in the face with these life lessons. I’m coming away from London feeling more zen than I have in years. Things will happen when they need to happen and you’re always exactly where you need to be in this moment. The best things in life tend to be those you didn’t plan for. Life contains new twists and turns around every corner, but, at the end of the day, you’ll probably still find yourself in a park watching kids chase a soccer ball.