I can’t pinpoint exactly when my fascination with England began, but it was sometime in my early childhood, around when I first started to grasp the concept that there were other places in the world beyond my little pocket of rural central Missouri. I consumed a lot of fantasy as a child (both in story and cartoon format) and some part of me seemed to know that a lot of the fairy tales that captivated me took place somewhere else. Even as I grew to recognize that the stories were not actually true, it was undeniable that they originated from a very different place, somewhere that had a little more potential for old and mysterious magic. There were no fairies or dragons or castles in my backyard, just the neighbor’s cows. We didn’t even have dinosaur bones. But there were dinosaur bones in places that had a dinosaur feel, so maybe there were places that had the fairy and dragon and magic feel, places that had crumbling castles and ancient mossy gravestones. And at some point I realized that my favorite stories could be pretty neatly divided into two sections: realistic stories about kids my age and their horses or dogs and fantastic stories, far less rooted in reality. Roald Dahl was a particular favorite of mine, and C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. For several years, my absolute favorite book was The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle, which I had found soft and worn, tucked away on the school library shelf. It was the longest book I had yet read (364 pages was significant for a third grader) and it had that caramely vanilla old book smell. And then I got caught up in the Harry Potter craze of the early 2000’s, and found Tolkien shortly after. And some quiet, buried part of my brain realized all these beloved stories originated from the same rainy little island, and if there was magic in this world, the old, dusty, tingly kind of magic, it must be there.
I know England isn’t the magical fairy land that part of me wants to believe. I know it has a messy history at best in dealing with other nations and peoples, and isn’t perfect now (the same can be said for pretty much any country, but especially the traditionally rich and powerful ones like my home United States). Stories of kings and queens are much more fun than the problematic realities of monarchy. In spite of the flaws and mistakes, though, it seems I have spent most of my life trying to get to England.
I was fortunate to be able to spend a semester in London when I was in college, the realization of my teen and childhood dreams, and I’ve been trying to get back ever since. Kalen and I wanted to visit for our honeymoon, but couldn’t afford it at that point. We saved what we could around other life events such as moving and car payments and buying a house and fixing things that break in that house. We finally booked a trip a couple years ago, a lovely ten-day vacation in April 2020, and then nobody was able to go anywhere in April 2020.
But now, in 2023, we finally felt stable and safe enough to try again. It also worked out that this summer will be our ten year wedding anniversary, which helped me mentally justify a little more extravagance than we otherwise would have done. Our trip ended up spanning two full weeks, mostly in London but also with a day trip to Stonehenge and Bath and a weekend in Paris. After not only three years of lamenting the carefully crafted Vacation That Never Was, but also fourteen years of reminiscing, I realized that there was a very real possibility that I had built up my memories of London to something unattainable, and I dreaded the realization that I was trying to get back to an idealized version of the city that never existed outside my mind. I’m happy to report that wasn’t the case. Of course London isn’t perfect, and of course it wasn’t exactly how I remembered it, but our trip was phenomenal, and I got to share it with my best friend, my husband.
And I’m going to share a little bit of it with you, too, over the coming weeks, because there’s far too much to pack into just one or two little posts. Whether you’re planning a trip of your own and are looking for tips, or you’ve been on a similar trip and are looking to reminisce, or maybe you just like traveling vicariously through strangers’ travel blogs, I hope you’ll join me as I share our trip and what we loved, what surprised us, what went wrong, and the lessons we learned.