Dating an Englishman, I’m learning, has several advantages:
- When we go out to eat, we get top-notch service, the best of the best — mainly if we have a waitress. Our water glasses won’t even get below an inch with females refilling them a bajillion times more simply on the off chance that Andy may say, “Fank u f d worta.”
- We get the best service at clothing stores, too. Females that work there are eager to talk to him to hear his accent and males are eager to help because . . . well I don’t know. But just by being near him I also get amazing service. I’ve never felt so pampered in all my life.
- Everyone is so friendly, so so friendly! I don’t think I’ve come by one cross person ever when we go out. Everyone smiles, talks to him. I guess by default they include me to keep him happy, but still — I won’t focus on that. I’ll focus on how everyone’s so sweet.
- The English seem to have a more brash way of ending service which means that anxious feeling of please-remove-this-salesperson-from-me absolutely disappears when you have an Englishman by your side. We were in REI once and a cute brunette came over to help him with a jacket. Once she heard his accent, she wanted to help him with any and everything the store sold — If his eyes darted to a shirt, she ran to snatched it up. If his gaze paused on a sweater, she wanted to know his size. “Fanks. Du’t need anymoor ‘elp” and with a sort of flourish of his hand, the girl disappeared. “Holy crap!” I said gawking at him with an open-mouthed expression. “Wot?!” he asked alarmed. “You have the power to make salespeople disappear?!” “O no . . . ” He froze, holding a jacket to his chest. “You just dismissed that person — dismissed as in, ‘I’m done with you, leave’ and they listened!!!” I inhaled in awe, wanting to acquire about his magical ways. “O reela?! U mek me sound like a rite dick. Should I apologize?”
- Another advantage: People open up about odd desires and tell interesting stories. For example, standing in line at a gas station, one woman touched Andy’s shoulder, left her hand there, and leaned in close to his ear to whisper, “An English accent is one of the top three sexiest accents.” Another woman — who married an Englishman — informed me I should watch Andy closely because “I’ve had females reach right across from me to flirt with my husband!” She then proceeded to tell me — in great detail — what more she said to the other woman while I imagined her poor bloke being confused as to why a seemingly nice lass wasn’t allowed to chat with him. Another story: A woman refused to give Andy his change for gasoline until he said the word ‘thirty.’ This, too, wasn’t his first request at pronouncing this number. “Fer-eh,” Andy told her, sometimes quick and unamused, other times with a smile, depending on his mood. Rest assured though, a smile invites in more pronunciations.
- Yet another advantage: Because he lives in England, he took me to England! This trip meant the world to me. Since I was in elementary school, seeing England has been my number one travel goal. Looking back though, I’m glad I never went before now, because being able to go with Andy, made it immensely special. Seeing him where he felt most comfortable, seeing where he grew up, meeting his family and friends — That was what made the trip meaningful . . .
Over Thanksgiving break, we made a last minute decision to spend our time in the UK. We got an afternoon flight to Atlanta then Atlanta to England.
Things started off really well, too. We were able to grab a drink at an airport restaurant and relax before our flight.
Yep, things were flowing nicely — We went through airport security fine, boarded the plane fine, even got a compliment from the stewardess . . . at least I, uh, think it was a compliment when she said, “Awww, look at you two! Are you on your honeymoon? You’re wearing matching flannel shirts!” Not planned, by the way; we are just that cool. Anyway, we smiled and settled into our seat, ready for the eight and a half hour flight to England. Let me say here before starting, the longest flight I’ve ever gone on was to Florida in high school which was one, a long time ago and two, an estimated four hours. That’s less than half this massively long flight we were about to undertake. So. Let me just put that out there and that I have apologized numerous times for my behavior because I was just a smidge bit of a bad flying partner. Just a smidge.
Alright, so we take off, we are flying in the air, and I was excited, overjoyed really.
This was our first flight together, our first travel-trip! I was looking forward to having hour after hour beside Andy, and in my mind, we would talk and laugh and get to know one another even more. I pictured the hours flying by and us even desiring a longer flight because we had such a grand time. However, Andy had a different plan in mind. He sat down and, once we were in the air, immediately put on headphones to watch a movie. “What are you doing?” I asked, confused. Did he not want to talk to me? Did he not want to see me? “Wot?” he looked just as confused and moved his headphones to hear me. I repeated the question. “I was . . . watching a movie,” he answered dumbfounded, pointing at the screen, wondering why I could not figure that out on my own. “I knooow that,” I said, trying not to pout, “but whyyy? Didn’t you want to talk?! Don’t you want to see me?! Weren’t we going to do things together?!” I’m not going to lie — His mouth dropped open a bit as if I had performed a magic trick in front of him. “L? Do things? What were you hoping to do?” He proved it was possible to look more confused than before. “We are locked on a plane. In the middle of the air. About to go over the Atlantic Ocean. What could you possibly want to do?” I began to sulk. “Don’t you want to talk? To see me?” He laughed, a very abrupt he-thinks-I’m-insane type of laugh. “L. I’ve seen you. I know what you look like. And trust me, we will have more than enough time to talk.” Then, as if that was the end of that, he put back on his headphones and returned to watching his movie.
His tone made me uncomfortable — literally uncomfortable in my seat. It was as if I suddenly realized I was trapped on a plane, flying over the the soon-to-be ocean, and for the life of me I could not get cozy. I leaned, I stretched, I twisted. I did everything but lie in the aisle or turn my body upside down with feet in the air and head near the floor. “W-o-t are you d-o-i-n-g?!” Andy asked, probably because I accidentally kept smacking him with my blanket or pillow or, uh, elbow as I tried to finagle a way to get comfortable. “No, no, you just watttch your mooovie, be happy, just waaatch your movie,” I said as I seemed to be having a seizure getting settled. He turned and did as suggested, which both infuriated me more and made me more uncomfortable. How the hell was he so snug? I looked around at the other passengers. No one was budging. How the hell was everyone so snug?! I felt all muscles spasm and began to freak out. I needed to get off! I needed to get off the plane!!! “Why don’t you stand up?” Andy said when I began to breathe like I was going into labor. “I CAN’T!” I may have been screaming. “I NEED TO GET OFF THE PLANE!!!” “L. Wot?! How do you suppose we do that? Do you want to sky drive to the ground? Huh? How do you logically think we can do that?” and suddenly, it was movie time again.
In an effort to calm down, I decided maybe a movie was best . . . but I wanted to watch the movie with him. “Hey,” I tapped on his shoulder and whispered into his headphone-covered ear. He sort of snapped the headphones entirely off. “Yes?” “Hi!” I said and smiled. He didn’t smile. “I um, didn’t know if we could . . . watch a movie?” “Yes!!! That’s a GREAT idea!” He smiled now, relief resembled more a visible aura around him. “Yes!!! Let’s watch a movie. Do you need help setting it up?” and he leaned over me to set up my screen. “Um, well . . . I wanted to watch your movie . . . ” “Oh, okay,” his confused expression was returning but disappeared quickly. “No problem! I am watching Finding Dory so all we have to do is . . . ” and his fingers moved rapidly over my screen to pull it up. “No,” I stated then a bit more shyly. “I wanted to watch your movie . . . like this . . . ” and I leaned, well actually more like full-on draped my body over his left side and peered into his movie screen. He froze. No one moved a muscle. I peered up at him, head still on his shoulder, and smiled. “See? Isn’t this nice?!” “You want to sit like that?” he didn’t smile back. Again. “Well, yes. I want to watch your movie. With you. Together. Like in a movie theater! We haven’t ever seen a movie together, Andy! This will be fun!” He laughed then, probably because not only what I was saying was absurd but the way I looked was ridiculous; he appeared to being wearing me as a human scarf. He pushed play and we watched the movie.
Ohhh did we watch the movie though. About ten minutes of it . . . until I developed a crick in my neck and became (I didn’t think it was possible until that time) even more uncomfortable. I huffed loudly and flung myself on my pull-out airline tray and faked sleep. That lasted about ten minutes . . . until I looked up and sweet Andy had stopped his movie, put on an eye mask, and — I swear — had his mouth open, lightly snoring!!! I became irate. I pretended to get comfortable but I admit (I’m a horrible girlfriend) I really just wanted to wake him up. How dare he fall fast asleep when I felt miserable! We should both be miserable together! We should both be talking about how long this flight was! Hell, we should both be talking! That was the plan after all! My pillow may or may not have slapped him in the face. “WOT ARE YOU DOING?!” he asked with wide mad-man eyes. “Andy. I’m just not comfortable,” I said before turning and trying to fall asleep on my other side only to hear him mummer, a little too loudly, “Someone duct taped to the wing of this plane would be more comfortable!”
So. That was our flight. For eight and a half hours. A constant repetition of the above. Andy ended up sleeping more . . . and watching two full movies . . . and being happy as a little clam on board. I, on the other hand, got absolutely no sleep, saw no movies, and was fit to be tied. I will say this: We did talk, ohhh how we talked but our conversation consisted of one thing: How to avoid me making him miserable on the flight home. (And, spoiler alert: Thank GOD that was resolved.)
Okay, so eight and a half hours later, we arrive in Manchester at 7:00 a.m. and are picked up by his sweet parents. I had met his mother when she stayed with Andy for a few days but I had only talked online to his dad so I was extremely excited to meet him and spend time with them both. Bless their hearts too as one of the first words they wanted to know was what any normal person who picks someone up from an airport wants to know: “How was your flight?” Andy just grunted and walked faster ahead. I smiled, I was there now! No need to harbor ill-feelings or dwell on the past, my love!
Soon, we were in their warm car. It was a rainy and cold thirty-nine degrees there so combined with the cozy feeling of the heat and hearing their calm voices, I fell fast asleep. Andy woke me on and off to show me bits of England as we rode from Manchester Airport to his home in Sheffield. Sheffield is where Andy was born and raised, and I could not wait to see where he grew up but to be honest, my excitement was too high because it had the opposite effect and tired me out. I could not stay awake to save my life and before I knew it the hour and a half car ride was done and we were parking in his driveway. Once inside, we talked to his parents a bit but overcome with exhaustion again, we decided on a nap which truthfully, I could have slept for what felt like days but I wanted to see Sheffield, see his parents, and go out with them all to celebrate being there! Our night ended with visits to the most amazing, quaint pubs, a lovely dinner (or tea as the English call it), and a stroll through the heart of Sheffield where the city was bustling with excitement for their Christmas market. Afterwards, it was back to bed and I cannot remember a time where I slept as good as I did on that night.
Day Two: Birmingham and Stratford-upon-Avon
After a super quick introduction to Sheffield the day before, we were off driving a little over an hour away to Birmingham to see a friend of mine from college. This was both strange and awesome: Strange because the first full outing we did in Andy’s England was to see a friend of mine in a country I’d never been to! However, I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to catch up with her, meet her husband and her beautiful daughter, and introduce her to Andy. I’m so upset I didn’t take any pictures, but it was wonderful and I’m so so thankful we had that opportunity!
With the sun falling fast, Andy and I drove south another about forty-five minutes to Stratford-upon-Avon where we settled in for the night.
Day Three: Stratford-upon-Avon, Watford, and Wembley
Once daylight was visible, we had tea and breakfast.
Can I make a side note here that I could completely live in England? I’m a massive tea fan and the fact that everywhere you go — restaurant, house, you name it — people assume you want tea and ask how you would like it is divine. I have had tea black my entire life and until I went here, I didn’t know there options for tea: With milk? How much milk? With sugar? How many sugar cubes? Spoiled was how I felt every single time someone English asked me about my tea preferences.
After, we were off to explore Stratford! As an avid writer and reader, this spot was one I could not wait to visit because it is the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Nestled on this gorgeous river, the area is beautiful and peaceful.One aspect I loved most were the beautiful barges floating on the canal. They made me feel jealous of those who lived inside, those that had the ability to sail wherever would next be called “home” . . .
Once we passed, we followed the sidewalk and slipped under the last berries of autumn into the heart of Stratford.
To say the town was gorgeous is an understatement. It was beautiful and filled to the brim with picturesque English stores and restaurants. Not only that, but all places we went had begun decorating for Christmas. The British, I was soon to discover, are crazy passionate about Christmas. More than Americans, which I didn’t think was possible.
We only had a little bit of time to be in Stratford before we had to move on so once we walked a bit, we came to the part I was waiting for: Shakespeare’s home. The building itself was more massive than I imagined and it was odd seeing the town set up around it.What was also strange was seeing people walk by his home without even glancing at it. I asked Andy if people there were fascinated with Shakespeare as much as they are in America and he said it may appear not because he is more on their doorstep, which makes sense but is also baffling that I seemed to be the only person there interested in the most famous, world renown playwright.
I could have spent an entire day easily in Stratford, but we keep moving, this time to Watford. The day was still overcast and rainy but at some points, there were patches of sunlight breaking through the clouds.
Andy said often, “Welcome to England. This is typical English weather.” I think he was worried I would be put off by it, but I love rain and if I’m honest, overcast days are better for my MS so England and I got along just fine. It was a bit cold but bundled in a scarf, hat, gloves, and winter coat, I was super cozy.
As he drove, the sun began to come through so I busied myself taking pictures of towns we passed. One aspect that surprised me in the best way was the large amount of undeveloped land, most of which had sheep on it. I swear we saw as many sheep here as one would see cattle in the States.
Soon, we arrived to our destination: Warner Brothers Studios, better known Harry Potter World! I’m a massive Harry Potter fan — I have and read all of the books, I’ve seen the movies. J. K. Rowling is a highly talented writer, and I will argue for hours on end about her series deserving to be in the literary canon. She is one of few authors that can craft such an emotional and high-interest tale that appeals to a variety of age groups. She is incredible to say the least . . . which will get me off of my soapbox for now. Andy though knew my admiration was deep for Rowling and Harry Potter so he surprised me with an early Christmas present to Warner Brothers Studios, the location for most of Harry Potter and the place where all set pieces are kept!
We had a special deluxe tour which meant we were guided around the studio by a woman in a small group (instead of roaming aimlessly with 120 other people). Inside, everywhere you looked held either actual props or was the set itself.
We got to enter the actual Great Hall with Professor Minerva McGonagall, Albus Dumbledore, and Severus Snape’s outfits overlooking the tables.
It was around here, one of the tour guides loudly asked, “Let’s hear it for House Hufflepuff! Who is in House Hufflepuff?!” A good amount people cheered. Andy and I just looked at each other. I had come decked out in my Ronald Weasley Slytherin sweater (I realize that contradicts . . . let’s move past it) and Andy wore an equally green sweater to show what house we belonged in. The woman continued, “And let’s hear it for House Ravenclaw! Who is in House Ravenclaw?!” More people cheered; we yawned. “And what about House Gryffindor?!?!” Before she could even finish the word, the room boomed with their ecstatic cheers. Andy and I rolled our eyes. “And what about . . . House Slytherin?!” she finally asked. We had been waiting for this moment and mustered up the loudest cheer we could . . . only to find we literally were the only ones to celebrate. We paused; the Great Hall was quiet. “Get out,” the woman said flatly. Nice to know we were accepted.
We moved past our not-brightest-moment, seeing the intricate Yule Ball drink fountain, which was just as impressive and just as large as it appears in the movie.
Then the Yule Ball outfits . . .
Notice how closely Hermione’s dress color matches Professor Dolores Umbridge’s color (seen below). This was done purposely to give Umbridge the appearance of seeming equally sweet, innocent and good, like a grandmother would be perceived. However, as her powers and evilness grew, her color pink grew brighter. If you looked closely, the pins on her dress were skulls, showcasing true evil.
Next, we saw costume designs where the actors’ wigs, prosthetics, and all else were used.
After, we continued to various rooms in the studio. First, Dumbledore’s office and all of his memories . . .
Then, the potions classroom! This was one of my favorites because there were numerous glass jars and I swear there was no repetition of what was inside!
After, we headed to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters to see the Hogwarts Express . . .
and celebrate over some delicious butterbeer (and later, butterbeer ice cream!) . . .
then a walk to Creature Creation!
We were able to stroll down Diagon Alley, passing Ollivander’s Wand Shop . . .
and Eeylops Owl Emporium and Magical Menagerie for a hopeful peek at a Hedwig-look-alike.
Lastly, we passed sketches, paintings, and models of everything from the Whomping Willow, Aunt Marge, and prefects’ bathroom to the Durmstrang ship, brooms, and Privet Drive. Then — right at the very end — we finally got to see it! Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry which was truly magical!
Overall, this trip was amazing! I could have spent all day inside and still want more. Apparently the longest someone stayed in here was thirteen hours and the shortest was forty-three minutes. I vote the first amount!
Full of Harry Potter and magic, we drove back to Wembley where we had delicious — what I call and have been waiting for — Cheeky Nando’s. Let’s backtrack: One of Andy’s and my first conversations was on Cheeky Nando’s. It seemed to be this secret society that only Brits knew and they would giggle while Americans looked on confused. I didn’t want to be a confused, stupid American! I wanted knowledge! Power! I wanted Cheeky Nando’s! “But what is a Cheeky Nando’s?” I’d ask him often only to get a laugh and a sort of nostalgic glint across his eye. That no-answer left me researching, coming across articles like this where a Brit took an American girl to get some cheeky Nando’s or this titled “Americans on Tumblr are Trying to Find Out What a ‘Cheeky Nando’s’ is and are Struggling,” which proved to me I wasn’t the only American confused and doing research. Thank God because let’s be frank, United Kingdom, the answer is not easy and I’m blaming y’all. So here is my experience trying to determine what the heck is a Cheeky Nando’s.
Me: “Andy, for real. What is a ‘Cheeky Nando’s’? You said it’s a restaurant but I don’t get it. Why does everyone there go crazy for it? It seems to have a cult following similar to . . . Taco Bell here . . . but not.”
Andy: “Wot’s Taco Bell?”
Me: (Let’s just take a moment to imagine my facial expression, America. And that facial expression is exactly how Andy was looking at me when I asked what a Cheeky Nando’s was. I let this pass. It was too much at that moment, too too much.) “What is it?”
Andy: “A cheeky Nando’s is when you go out with your mates on a Friday night and you are planning to just go out but you start drinking and one thing leads to another and you go out-out.”
Me: “That’s so confusing. Sooo a ‘Cheeky Nando’s’ isn’t a restaurant. It means ‘drinking with friends’?”
Andy: “No. Well, kinda. Nando’s is the restaurant.”
Me: “Then why does everyone call it Cheeky Nando’s . . . ?”
Andy: (Giving me a look like I was the strangest person) “No, no one calls it that. It’s just Nando’s.”
Me: (Of course.) “But you said cheeky — Why? What does cheeky even mean? Why is a restaurant cheeky?” I felt lost.
Andy: “Cheeky is when you go out to Nando’s . . . for dinner . . . on a Saturday night and you end up going out-out. Five beers later your mates want to go to another pub but you had only planned to go out.”
Me: “Right. So cheeky and Cheeky Nando’s mean the same thing which is not a restaurant but drinking with friends. That’s the common theme here. Why don’t you just say that?”
Andy: “No, that’s not it at all.”
Me: (Clearly I wasn’t following) “Let’s start over. What is ‘cheeky’? What is the definition? What part of speech is ‘cheeky’? A verb? Definition: Drinking with friends, no?”
Andy: “Definition? Part of speech?” (He acted as if he had never heard those words before). “The definition is what I just said — It’s Friday night and say, you and me want to go out. We go to Nando’s and you say you only want a beer but we end up getting a lot more and then go back to your apartment and — ” (His eyebrows raise up and down)
Me: “Okay, okay, I get it! Cheeky means to have sex! . . . Wait, I thought you and your mates had Cheeky Nando’s? So you have sex with your mates?” (Keep in mind, we had just met. I wasn’t judging; I was only ruling out ‘boyfriend material’ at the time. Instead what Andy was ruling out was my certainty as the only thing I created was certain chaos.)
Andy: “WOT?!” (He seemed appalled.) “No! Bloody hell, L! No!”
Me: (Fresh start, fresh start) “Okay. Andy. Bless it. We must be on a different page. First. What is the de-fi-ni-tion of ‘cheeky’. Not a Cheeky Nando’s. Not an example. A definition. As in ‘Part of Speech: Verb. Definition: To drink and have sex.’ Like that.”
Andy: (Silent for a long time. I either made a break through . . . or I was speaking Parseltongue.) “Okay . . . okay. Right. . . . oh . . . kay . . . ” (After laborious minutes) “It’s just — This is hard. Really hard.”
Overall, America, I learned two things from the past months of dating an Englishman:
Part of speech: Adjective
Definition: To be up to trouble or mischief
Part of speech: Noun
Definition: A restaurant that originated in South Africa and has a Portuguese theme.
Therefore, all curious, a cheeky Nando’s is simply a way to describe a restaurant where apparently Brits go without intending to get into mischief but one thing leads to another and voila, they go out-out where drunken shenanigans ensue . . . I think.
Long story short, after all that talk I was ready for Cheeky Nando’s.
Andy: “What do you want?”
Me: “Um . . . what do you get?”
Andy: “Half chicken, medium hot peri-peri. Rice. Chips. Three extra hot peri-peri wings.”
Me: (Blinking at his no-hesitation answer) “Okay. I’ll just have the chicken.”
Andy: “But what part of chicken?”
Me: “Uh, what parts can I get?” (I looked at the menu again. There was every piece and every combination: There was a whole chicken, a half chicken, a butterfly chicken, a breast, a fourth a chicken breast, a fourth a leg, chicken livers, three chicken wings or five wings to ten or twenty to about twenty-five wings. There were chicken wraps and pitas, chicken salads and chicken burgers and grilled chicken, chicken on-the-bone and chicken off-the-bone. Then double chickens and even a chicken roulette, which seemed scary but intriguing. There was a fino platter and a meal platter and a full platter next to a jumbo platter which quite frankly all adjectives minus the fino meant the exact same thing. And yet, for the life of me I couldn’t find the word ‘thigh’ or ‘drumstick.’ It was KFC on steroids.) “Can I not just have one thigh?”
Andy: “Let’s come back. What sauce do you want?”
Let me tell you, the sauces were no different as there were fifty sauces. And fifty sides. And fifty desserts. Then fifty non-alcoholic drinks next to fifty-alcoholic drinks. Don’t believe me? Just try scrolling to the end of this UK menu. Dedicate some time, friends.
Our order ended with me telling Andy I fully trusted him and that “I just want chicken.” “Good thing,” he said before going to the counter and coming back with this . . .
which caused me to not-so-daintily express one, my happiness at having Cheeky Nando’s and two, my love for my boyfriend knowing me so well. Let me just add we ate everything. No shame, no shame at all.
What was a shame though was that with a stuffed belly, I passed out super early and that was the end to our exciting Day Three.
Day Four: London and Sheffield
The best way I can describe London is using my new British vocabulary. In one word: Posh. The buildings were beautiful and the women clad in fancy furs and dresses clattering on the sidewalk with tall stilettos beside men in button-ups and expensive-looking dress jackets and pants with perfectly polished shoes. These people slid inside Lamborghinis and Ferraris which zipped from one stoplight to the next beside more “common” model cars like Lexus, Mercedes, and Volvo.
Our London views were cut short though because it was around this time that I realized I needed to pee. Like really pee. The perplexing aspect though was that I swear I had told him many times but he continued to sight-see. I made one final effort. “Did I say already I have to go to the bathroom?” “No you didn’t, but you did now,” Andy answered and kept walking, unphased. What I learned was that when I thought I had told him fifteen times earlier, I had actually just told myself mentally. The unfortunate part was that I was beyond ready to use the bathroom and apparently it was not acceptable to traipse into an English bar or restaurant solely to use their latrine, though I would beg to say the owners of such establishments should prefer me to go in without an order to keep me from peeing in front of their door. Which is what was about to happen. And I told Andy so. His response was something about “Why can’t you be like a normal adult? Why are you like a child when it comes to weeing? Why do you wait so long? You are. You are just like a child sometimes.” Looking back, that was a kinda mean thing to say to someone that has a bladder the size of a single rice grain but I’ll let it go. Only because I put him through hell on the flight to England.
Regardless, he was walking faster. If there is one thing my hiking partner learned about me it is that when I need to pee, I need to pee.
Me: “This is dire, Andy. This is d-i-r-e.” It had gotten to the point that I was scouting out trees, pacing in patches of grass like I learned to do hiking.
Andy stopped walking: “Can you do six minutes?”
Me: “SIX MINUTES?!?!?!?! ARE YOU CRAZY!?!??! ANDY, I’M LOOKING FOR TREES RIGHT NOW!!! TREES!!! IN THE MIDDLE OF LONDON, A FEW BLOCKS FROM THE QUEEN’S HOME!!! Americans will truly be displaying how we are proper heathens, but truly — SIX MINUTES?!?!? I CANNOT EVEN MAKE IT TWO!!!” I was screaming. On the sidewalk. As fancy London people walked by me, looking at me like I carried the Black Plague.
Andy: “I don’t know what to tell you. You’re going to have to wait.”
Me: “ANDREW!!! I NEED A TAXI AND I NEED A TAXI RIGHT NOW!!!” I think my eyes began filling up with tears, causing Andy to grab my hand and race off, literally dragging me behind him through the city, past six minutes until finally — God BLESS, finally — we made it to a public bathroom . . . which was a floor below ground. He pointed and I ran . . . ran to metal bars, like the ones at train stations, blocking entrances except it blocked the damned entrance to the toilets. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND DOES THAT?! I pushed, I shoved, I screamed, I wailed; the bar wouldn’t move.
In that moment I debated a few things: One, I could jump the bar and if I was caught, I would have no problem explaining how dire the situation was. Two, I could just pop-a-squat outside of the bar in a silent (but not so silent) sign of protest at making people pay for toilets. Or three, I could cry and scream and wail loud enough for Andy to hear and find me. Which is what I did as I ran halfway up the stairs, bumping into him on the way down. “ANDY!!! YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR BATHROOMS HERE!!! WHAT TYPE OF TORTURE COUNTRY IS THIS?!?!” I shrieked while he was already pulling change from his pocket (I had no English currency). “Here,” he said, about to hand me whatever amount he thought I needed which terrified me because if he was wrong, I wouldn’t make it — would. not. make. it — up those stairs again. This was the moment of all moments. Our life thus far together had built up to this, built up to whether or not Andy would be awarded “Best Boyfriend in the World” recognition when I asked: “Andy. PLEASE come with me. COME WITH ME TO THE WOMEN’S BATHROOM!!! I don’t CARE that it’s female BATHROOMS!!! COME WITH ME, please!!! I’m about to pee right here — I cannot risk something going wrong and me not getting in.” He protested — a lot — but ultimately I won over when I grabbed his hand and drug him down the stairs. He slipped in the change, the bar slid back, and I cheered, truly cheered as loudly as I could muster while unzipping my pants before I even entered the stall. “THANK YOU!!!” I screamed behind the closed door as he disappeared back up the stairs.
In the end, I celebrated by taking a picture of my enemy bathroom and Andy then took a picture of me, the happy traveler again.
Andy though wanted to prevent this from happening in the future (as if I had a purposeful desire to repeat that horrendous, scary situation again). “Next time,” he told me, “give me more time, like fifteen minutes.”
Me: “Is that like ‘Fifteen minutes, check and see?'”
Andy, unamused: “No. That’s like ‘Fifteen minutes, check and pee.'” Clearly, after holding my hand to literally guide me to the female’s bathroom, he was in no humorous mood. I, on the other hand, couldn’t have been happier! Not only that but I dug into my satchel half a second later and found these English candies: Fruit Pastilles. They are addictive. Picture crack but waaay more serious, people. The rest of my England trip absolutely was based on where I could eat more Fruit Pastilles.
Onward we continued, in my bright and bubbly state, to see the queen!
Of course, we couldn’t really see the queen but seeing where she lived — in gorgeous Buckingham Palace — was enough. One thing that surprised me was that the palace is literally in the middle of London’s busy streets and her front yard was made up entirely of little brown pebbles. Andy said she has large gardens in the back, but I guess I thought a queen would want to have major landscaping and not rocks in her front yard.
After, we went to venture into the heart of London. On the way, we passed monuments to remember those lost in World War One. Andy told me people put poppy wreaths out in honor of those who passed because that blood-red flower was the first to come up on the battlefield. Now, poppies signify not only World War One but all wars the British empire was involved in and all the lives lost.
Then, there was a beautiful park . . .Horse Guard Parade, the site where the changing of the guard takes place,
and in the heart of London, we found stunning Big Ben and Houses of Parliament, London Eye, and Westminster Abbey.Overall, London held many over-the-top delights and boasted of everything from modern fast cars to elegant historic buildings. I didn’t think I would be charmed by London as I’m not much of a city girl, but I was won over. She’s a flirty city that draws you in and keeps you intrigued. Yet, what I loved most was exploring all she offered with Andy. Time seemed to expand and we were able absorb each moment, appreciate where we were together and enjoy that time so much so that that night, I went to bed full — not of food this time but of love.
Day Five: Derbyshire
Andy and I had planned a day in York to places he had mentioned in our first conversation: places to see the viking history, castles, and cathedrals and spots such as Betty’s Tea Room for fancy tea and those talked-about cucumber sandwiches. In the end though, I had stayed up all night after feeling ill so we slept in and missed our train. I felt guilty about this but in the end it was nice to have a carefree, slower-paced day which began with a gorgeous drive to a restaurant in the Peak District, an area known for its breathtaking landscape.
There, I stuffed myself on quintessential English food, exactly what I craved to try: pie and chips, roast dinner with Yorkshire pudding, sausage rolls, pork pie, and fish and chips (more on that later).
Following lunch (or dinner as he calls it), we drove by rolling moor after rolling moor . . .
I truly felt life there was in a beautiful painting. I told Andy this often and I don’t know how seriously he took me, but if I went back to England what I would want to do most is simply be a passenger in his car and slip down all of their moors, stop to take pictures and walk around, see as much of the land as possible.
I asked Andy what now-brown plant was on the moors since it seemed to be dead this time of year and he told me it was heather, the pink and purple plant pictured below (which I took shots of outside a London apartment).
To imagine their already stunning landscape covered in blushing pinks and purples — I honestly think my heart would burst from happiness.
Soon, our drive took us to well-known Chatsworth.
Chatsworth is stately home that has been passed down through many generations and has become a top destination in England so people tour it practically every day. Also, for those of you Jane Austen fans, this is where many shots from Pride and Prejudice were filmed. The drive alone to Chatsworth was worth it for me — There were deer covering the land . . .along with gorgeous pheasant, which I had never seen in person . . . Also, what was exciting was a Christmas market on Chatsworth’s grounds, which we explored before touring the house.
The home was gorgeous but you had limited access to most of it, which is understandable as the family still lives there. I wish though I could have seen those rooms used daily — the kitchen, dining room, others — to get a sneaking peek at what life is like. Still, the marble statues, impressive paintings, and general rooms in the house were incredible. We didn’t have a chance to tour the back gardens because it gets dark so early there in the winter. Even without it though, walking hand-in-hand with Andy through the Christmas market and Chatsworth home, it felt romantic, like a different type of get-away.
That night, we ventured out with a couple who Andy is close with, one of which I’ve become friends with talking online. While I was excited to explore England, I confess I was really eager to put faces with names of friends’ he has talked of to me and meeting this couple was at the top of my list. Also a note for excitement: Did you know some English pubs allow you to bring in your dog?! Yep, mainly when the pub owner has a dog and their dog is inside! I know. I was about to pack my bags and move to England in that moment. No bants.
Day Six: Peak District (Bakewell, Castleton, Matlock Bath)
I confess, this day was my favorite. While Andy was showering, I snuck to the kitchen to talk to his dad and asked him about his plans for the day. It seemed Andy and I were constantly in motion and I hadn’t had a chance to do the one thing I really wanted, which was spend time with his family. Luckily, I was able to convince his dad to set off with us so when Andy was ready to go, I slyly told Andrew he was allowed to come out with his dad and me. The three of us packed into the car and took to the road!
This day was packed full of the Peak District, which meant I had my heart’s fill of the gorgeous land.
This above picture is Stanage Edge, a popular spot for climbing and walking and a scene from Pride and Prejudice.
After our drive, we stopped in Bakewell for the most delicious lunch then window shopped around the small town.
I loved Bakewell — It was quaint and scenic, nestled next to a river which had a small bridge over it that had locks from lovers’ that placed them there.
Some of the locks had been there for an extended period of time — They were rusting and all luster had been lost; others seemed brand new as if they were placed there moments before we arrived, but in practically all, they had been meticulously etched to show lovers’ names.
We did not put a lock on because someone (*cough cough*) said the lock weight was destroying the bridge. I didn’t want to destroy any part of Bakewell so I appreciated the bridge and the symbol the locks stood for before moving on.
Our next stop was to Castleton where we roamed the town and window shopped some more. The highlight of this day was small events though such as pretending I was moving to England and that Andy and I were going to live together. Three of us would scout out real estate listings, pointing to which ones we liked, which suited us more, which had aspects we desired.
The last stop this day was Matlock Bath. Night was setting in quickly so by the time we got out, many places had already closed.
We were able to skirt inside a delicious shop called F’coffee though, which by the way — as a person that detests coffee, this name is incredible. There we had yummy drinks, perfect on the chilly day.
That night, we dipped out again with Andy’s parents to meet his aunts and uncles for drinks and dinner.
Even better, we bumped into two of his good friends at a pub, which was so nice to meet them.
Day Seven: Sheffield
This was our last full day in England, and we spent it where we had started: Andy’s hometown. We started by eating their famous fish and chips, which by the way is incredible. My fish, larger than my face and that sucker went all in my belly!
After, we explored parts of Sheffield that were more beaten, more rough. Twisted around a construction site with barbed wire fences and abandoned broken-windowed buildings, tourists rarely go here but this is where I saw a surprising treat: incredible street art.
I have always been attracted to murals. I’ll find myself wondering in areas of the city I probably shouldn’t be in just to catch a glimpse of someone’s work. It was super exciting to see the city has artists that sneak out and paint the buildings alive.
When I look at street art, I hear music. Sometimes it sounds more like a rap, others jazz, and still more come in the sound of tear-jerking orchestra music. It’s that type of emotion, pulsing heartbeat though that keeps me wondering through the streets and looking at the art.
It amazes me that more people don’t venture outside to see street art. I get asked sometimes to go to museums and it always baffles me. Why do I want to go and pay money to see work that isn’t as current, that isn’t fighting as hard — this very moment — for its story to be told? I’d pick street art over any every day.
After I filled my camera with pictures, we ventured towards the shops and that’s when Andy’s friends called saying they were in that area too, so we met up at a bar then walked outside along the Christmas market and slipped into another pub.
I had so much fun this night, so much fun. His friends were hilarious and to-the-point, open and honest. We talked about everything from the presidential election to past relationships and hopes for the future, and before we left, tears were shed with Andy soon heading back to America. That’s what made me happy too: knowing that Andy has some really extraordinary friends that watch out for him, that have his interests at heart. With the evening hours continuing to creep ahead, we had to say bye and went back to Andy’s home.
Day Eight: Returning to the US
This day was a day of goodbyes. His sweet parents drove us the hour and a half back to Manchester Airport where we had our last chat in person for awhile.
Then we were off, boarding the plane again for another eight and a half hour flight back, which y’all, can I just say I have an amazing boyfriend? Remember how horrible I was on the flight over? Well we stacked up — bought playing cards and got a pen and paper to keep score, I got my book and pulled out my laptop, we were set to go . . . so much so that I honestly looked like this throughout the flight.
I hope I redeemed myself some or, let’s be honest, Andy will refuse to take me on any more planes with him which completely bypasses my plans for our future (*mumbling under breath*) of making him my sole travel partner.
In truth though, it seemed one moment I was looking out the window at the clouds and seeing another nearby plane fly by . . .
and the next minute we were landing in Atlanta.
This flight was perfect: We watched a movie together (NOTE: The same movie but on different screens — huuuge game-changer for me, guys) and Andy watched another film while I typed on my computer. We played cards, I read. It was wonderful — all I dreamed the first flight could be.
In the end, my heart was full of England, full in the best way possible. England was all I had imagined and more. Everyone I came across was sincere and friendly, and most were hilarious, bantering with one another and me openly. There was never a culture shock for me and, in fact, I had a constant feeling of belonging. While going out of the country made me proud to be American, made my home more meaningful, it also made me realize Americans do not joke around as openly as the English. In fact, we are the opposite and are raised to ensure political correctness; they are raised to air on the side of caution and to never ever offend. But what is wrong with skating on that line? What is wrong with jumping that line and offending people? I know someone who once said, “I hope I offend you. That means you’re listening. That means you care.” I agree. In England, people didn’t seem to be as sensitive, people didn’t seem to shy around what they wanted to say. They said it openly and honestly, and in turn I knew where I stood because of that. I appreciated that, mainly as the blunt and sometimes too-honest person I am. But overall, this type of atmosphere seemed more free and therefore, more calming. Sure, I’m stereotyping all of England based on my small encounter, but this is simply what I saw and experienced.
Often people apologized, saying they were sorry I was there for a short period of time because the country had much more to offer me. In truth though, this floored me. I felt England offered me everything I could possibly want: breathtaking landscapes, quaint pubs and towns, amazing attractions but most of all, wonderful people — You made my trip amazing, thank you.