Those were pretty much the first words to come out of my mouth after arriving at Stanstead airport. Nothing too memorable about this airport experience other than almost getting in trouble with immigrations because I didn’t know what hotel we were staying at. Seriously, no one prepared me for any interrogations! I’m barely a legal adult, so stop asking me adult questions!
I realize there are too many exclamation marks in these first five sentences, which the TA in my fiction writing class last year said makes for bad writing, but I hated that guy so I’m going to leave them there. (Is retroactive spite a thing? It is now.)
Sweet English. When you’ve been in a country where you have to decode signs just to figure out where the bathroom is, you’ll be glad to move to a country that speaks your language, even if the culture is a little backwards (like driving on the left/wrong side of the road, or saying chips instead of fries). Okay, I’m only joking. Cultures are never “backwards,” they’re just different … and I happen to enjoy many of the differences in British culture.
But at that moment I was just really, really happy they spoke English.
I’m not against speaking other languages, mind you. Taking the fact that I didn’t prepare myself for visiting Germany and the attitude I had while there I hope you’ll forgive me for being an apathetic a-hole (pardon my German, I just liked the alliteration). I would like to think if I was plopped in the middle of a non-English speaking country right now, that I would embrace the language barrier and not complain about it. I guess that’s another one for the regret list. The best way to learn a language is to be immersed in the culture that speaks it. I went to Germany but didn’t learn much German. And now my current dream of one day being a polyglot is still a long ways away. Thanks, naïve younger self.
But what am I doing still talking about Germany? It’s time for England!
Alex and I rode into the City on a bus and met Dad on Baker Street, where we then ate dinner at a nearby pizzeria before going to the hotel to see Mom and Emma. They had arrived earlier that day, so the boring parts like getting Oyster cards and picking up Olympic tickets had already been taken care of. We were also already accustomed to the time difference (London is only one hour ahead of Sttutgart), so no naps were needed for us. Emma, on the other hand, fell asleep almost everywhere.
We did some things as a family, but most of the time we were split up. Mom and Emma did a lot of things around the City like seeing a live production of Shrek and going to a tea party. Dad, Alex, and I went to the Olympic events. That is, after all, why we had planned this trip in the first place. The first event we went to was water polo.
Now, quick interlude about getting our tickets. I don’t know if anyone remembers the backlash London got for their ticket system, but it really was awful. Many empty seats at a lot of games. People secretly trading for better tickets in back alleys…. And as Americans, we had no information about what teams were playing when we ordered our tickets months before; we just picked an event and a time and hoped for the best. With water polo, we ended up watching Montenegro vs. Hungary and Spain vs. Croatia.
It was pretty fun, though, and it was the freaking Olympics, so no complaints.
Afterward, we met back up with Mom & Em to tour the Churchill War Rooms, where I accidentally skipped a whole section and ended up exiting ahead of everyone and had to wait outside with no clue where anyone was for fifteen minutes. It was around this area that a train of cars with lights and a security detail drove by. We’re convinced it was Will and Kate.
We ate dinner at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, because Mom’s a big fan of him. We discovered after our meal that Brits don’t do “doggie bags.” You eat what you can, and leave what you can’t. It’s a bizarre idea for an American. (PS: remember to keep checking in on my food gallery to see yummy food pics!)
The next morning we toured the Tower of London. This place is amazing. If you ever go, I highly recommend you join one of the free tour groups because the tour guides are retired armed forces and dress up as “Yeomen Warders.” The guide we had was hilarious and kept advertising his Twitter account.
We then split up again so the fun, sporty people in the family could watch a soccer match at Wembley Stadium.
There are some things that just get me about this experience in retrospect… For one, it was South Korea vs. Gabon, which I would be pretty stoked about today because I’m kind of in love with Korea. But this was before I even knew what Gangnam Style was, so I rooted for Gabon just because Dad and Alex were.
The other thing is that apparently we were sitting next to The Fine Bros (of YouTube fame). Alex knew at the time but didn’t say anything because I had no idea who they were. Again, I would’ve been so much more excited than I already was if I was the person I am today.
The next day we toured Westminster Abbey and quickly looked at Buckingham Palace before going over to St. James’s Park for women’s beach volleyball.
The first game was Germany vs. Netherlands, and because we were sitting behind a bunch of Dutch fans (the people in orange) it was pretty entertaining. Then it was Great Britain vs. Russia… the energy was just wild; everyone was rooting for the home team. And finally, much to our satisfaction, was USA vs. Spain. Though it was the second string team (no Misty Trainor or Kerri Walsh), we were still happy to actually watch our own country play something.
And this guy was pretty fun to watch, too…
We had one last day in London, which we spent as a complete family walking around the City. We went over the famous bridges, took pictures of the famous sites, and stumbled across this cool place called the Burough Market. Lots of yummy food everywhere. Emma got wild game on a stick and Mom found a raw milk truck.
For dinner we went to a quintessential British pub. However, our waiter was from Spain and there were some translation issues in regards to the menu. One of the items was listed “gammon.” We’d never heard of this kind of meat, so we tried to ask the waiter what is was. Here’s a rough sketch of what that conversation was like…
Edins: Is it like beef, or pork, or…?
Waiter: No, no, no. It’s gammon. You know, gammon.
Edins: No, we don’t know. What animal is it from? A cow?
Waiter: No, no, no. Bigger than a cow.
Edins: Bigger than a cow? So what, like an elephant?
Waiter: No, no, no. Smaller than an elephant. Between a cow and an elephant. It’s gammon!
So Dad ordered it just to see what the heck this thing was. Turns out it was just pork. Apparently pigs are somewhere between the size of a cow and an elephant in Spain. You learn something new every day, kids.
But after such a great time eating and sightseeing and watching Olympic games, it was only natural that things would start going sour. Later that night at the hotel, we got some pretty upsetting news from back home. We’d left our bulldog, Tonka, with one of Dad’s coworkers since he had a bull terrier that got along well with her. But apparently Tonka had escaped under their fence and was missing. My grandma emailed us updates all night (well, all night for us) as they looked for her. She was eventually found by a neighbor, but the damage had already been done. The rest of our trip would have some merits, but we’d also be going through quite a lot of stress and illness, too.
The illness part happened right before we left the next morning to spend the weekend in Cambridge. Emma started throwing up, probably from her meat on a stick earlier, and would stay sick in bed the whole time in Cambridge. The rest of us had to rotate shifts staying with her so we could all get a chance to see the town.
That first night we had tickets to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A Shakespeare in the Park type of deal. Mom volunteered to stay behind, so Dad, Alex, and I were once again off on our own. The park it was in, however, was weirdly designed and didn’t have signs anywhere. We spent probably a good forty-five minutes walking around, looking for anything Shakespeare related. By the time we found the right spot, tucked away in a corner with nothing but a little poster on a nearby fence, we’d missed the first twenty minutes.
Our last day there we mainly rested and leisurely walked around. Because it likes to sporadically rain in England, we had to duck into some shops every once in a while. One of them was H&M, which I had never heard of before, so when they built one here in Fresno not too long ago I thought it was a British thing (it’s Swedish, in case you were wondering).
We also went in the famous Hardy’s candy shop, walked through another farmer’s market, and ate baked potatoes at a place called Tattie’s.
It was kind of hard to really enjoy anything, though. Our BnB was small and smelled weird. The weather was a little warmer and more humid than in London. And to top it off, the night before we would leave for Rome, Alex started vomiting too.
And thus the “fiasco” part of our journey would begin…