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The London Post

March 6, 2013

My family has never been rich. We’ve never been poor by any means, but we’ve lived modestly. My sister and I had very, very good childhoods; I sometimes can’t get over how much we lucked out with our parents. Seriously. Our house was — is — filled with love and care and comfort and fun. It’s in a tiny town where we’re some of the better-off, but it’s next to the city where I went to middle and high school. That city was home to many of my classmates, some of whom, even at the age of 11, had been traveling the world for years. When we traveled, my family went to New Hampshire and Maine to visit my grandparents. Now, don’t get me wrong — I love my grandparents, and I’m not saying that just because they’re reading this (hello, grandparents!). When I was 11, my parents planned a trip for us to go to Munich, where my father spent two years at university. My parents’ families were stationed at military bases in Germany for a few years, so my sister and I grew up hearing stories about life there, and we were eager to catch a glimpse of it in the spring. But the preceding December, my father lost his job for what I maintain to be the most idiotic reason, though that’s beside the point. The point is, the trip was cancelled, and any plans of international travel were put on the back burner, slowly simmering for the distant future while we figured out what our immediate future would serve. I was sure, though, that I would be able to see more of the world than the Eastern seaboard of the States one day, whether or not with my family, when I had grown up.

I suppose it would be accurate to say that I’ve grown up.

As a kid, I always wanted to go to England — more so than Germany, actually, despite the stories. I have no clue why, though. I went to a Shakespeare drama camp when I was 9 (yeah, I was that kid), and even then I just added “See the Globe Theatre” to the pre-existing list of reasons to go. When I was 10 I asked my school librarian how possible it would be to have an English pen-pal, and she wrote to a school in Liverpool asking if something could be arranged (nothing was). Going to England was on the bucket list before I knew what a bucket list was, for some unknown but really stubborn and determined reason that I never outgrew.

And now, after spending the weekend in London, I can finally check it off the list.

I got another stamp on my passport. I saw the Globe Theatre. I saw Big Ben, or I at least heard Big Ben and saw its clock tower. I saw dozens and dozens of lions and unicorns (in statue form, of course), and I saw more statues and swans and expansive lawns in Hyde Park. I saw an exhibit about clocks in the British Museum and an exhibit about identity in the Science Museum and an elephant in the Natural History Museum. I discovered that the British Library must be one of the grandest libraries in the world. I bought a book about Shakespeare that has the price listed in pounds on the back cover and has the phrase “buildings were six storeys high.” I visited the house where Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, and I visited 221b Baker Street. I crossed Abbey Road. I climbed Primrose Hill and strolled through Notting Hill. I walked along the Thames and across the small London Bridge and the much more impressive Tower Bridge and the slinky Millennium Bridge. I ate at a place called Eat, and I ate at a pub, and I ate Cadbury eggs. I almost got hit by a car 5 times and by a double-decker bus once. I was told by a faceless voice with a British accent to mind the gap between the train and the platform while getting off of the Tube.  I took an overground train through the country and rode on the top deck of a double-decker. I toured the studios where the Harry Potter movies, movies that I dislike about books that I love, were filmed. I went through one-and-a-half battery lives of my camera and took more than 900 pictures (you think I’m exaggerating. I’m not.).

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And really, I got to see everything I dreamed of seeing, as a kid and as a teenager and, apparently, as grown-up. During my four days there, I just kept thinking, “You did it. You got yourself to London, England.” And this post is a bit sappy, and I do apologize, but it’s been a bit of a sappy weekend. It’s been a weird mix of feeling insanely independent and insanely indebted to my family. This entire semester wouldn’t have been possible logistically without their help, but they’ve also given me the confidence to do these things and the mindset to properly appreciate these opportunities. And I would rather have my childhood at home with my parents and sister than a childhood traveling the world with a family far less wonderful. It was a weekend of being in awe at a city that so embraces its history and culture, a city with old and new politics and architecture and literature. So many gorgeous works and words are rooted in the city. And it was a weekend of feeling incredibly fortunate just to be there.

I didn’t want to leave London yesterday. I wanted to keep exploring, keep chatting with a friend from school doing her study abroad there (hello, Justine!), keep being in London, squeezing years of dreams into more than four days. But I had to get back to Paris. So I boarded my train and as we departed, I thought, “You did it. You went to England. You did everything you wanted to in London. You can die happy now.”

And then I immediately thought “No no no no I take that back; I still have so much to do.”

I’m not done yet, Europe. And London, I hope to be back one day.

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