So I’ve decided that keeping myself limited to only writing about my two week holiday from over a month ago is just silliness. I will finish them eventually, as I have so many fantastic memories and (what I think to be) helpful tips for each place. But as I only have FIVE DAYS left in my lovely new home, I have decided to focus on what’s been happening recently instead of what I did what feels like a lifetime ago.
For my first weekend back from my great European adventure, I had planned to go to Ireland or Scotland to visit friends who are abroad, as well. Unfortunately, I had been too busy traveling Europe to bother with booking a cheap flight and did not think spending £400 on a flight there and back would be a good use of my (very little) money. Monday was a bank holiday, which meant we wouldn’t have school. I knew I still wanted to go somewhere new and seize the opportunity of a three-day-weekend. Ross, who is a student who stayed with Sue and Pat in the past and was visiting us for a while, had just returned from Cardiff in Wales, and said that it only cost him £6 for bus from Cardiff to London. So I looked into it, and decided to add another country to my list!!!
I left Felpham early Saturday morning and hopped on the train going to London. I decided to book my bus later in the day so I would be able see a couple things that I missed when I went to London with my mom (that’s a bit of the adventure I have yet to share here, so you haven’t missed anything!). I walked around Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace first thing. The tickets online had been sold out and the queue was far too long for me to have enough time before my bus, so I walked the grounds and enjoyed the gardens. I would have loved to go inside! They have a Princess Diana exhibition currently going and that has drawn a lot of attention and crowds. In fact, Sue and some of her (and my!) friends went into London yesterday for the exhibit! She knew how much I wanted to go and bought me a book walking through Diana’s lives, and Joyce and Eileen, who are two of Sue’s friends who have become friends of my own, bought me a beautiful teal and gold journal. I was completely shocked and so grateful for both gifts! Sue said she thought of me when she saw the book and knew it would be perfect for me. Knowing that someone saw something and thought of me enough to be compelled to buy it is just so incredibly sweet to me.
ANYWAY! Once I walked around Kensington, I started toward Harrods. It was just as overwhelming as I expected. Floor after floor after floor of absolutely anything and everything. I didn’t stay there as long as I thought because in the mass of stuff I struggled finding anything I actually wanted. Quite overwhelming, even for a pro-shopper like myself. Plus, they didn’t have a sale section anywhere obvious, so I made my way out and toward the bus station.
After a little bit of waiting in a nearby coffee shop, I made my way to the Victoria Coach Station. The bus had an outlet for my phone and “free wifi” that didn’t work, but the four hour ride went by relatively quick! I ended up reading a book on my phone that I had started months ago when I actually had enough time to read books, and before I knew it I was in Wales! WooHoo!
I hopped off at the Sophia Garden Station and walked 15 minutes to the city centre of Cardiff. It was fantastic! The Welsh flag was hung down the streets, and there were loads of people out shopping, going for dinner, and just genuinely having a good time. It was a really lively environment. My hostel, Mrs. Potts, was right in the city centre and had a wonderful location. This was my first (and currently, only) experience staying in a hostel, so I was pretty nervous going into it. The staff was immediately welcoming and showed me to my room. I picked this place specifically because instead of wire bunks where you can see everyone else in the room, they had built-in bunks with a curtain to create your own little space. Each bunk had a light and outlet, which made me feel much better than leaving my phone out to charge where someone could snag it.
I asked the guy at the desk if he had any recommendations for food, and he pointed me in the direction of a restaurant with traditional Welsh food. Unfortunately, they were all booked up (even for just one person!!!), so I went next door to the Pizza Express (a popular chain in the UK). It was a bit awkward eating by myself, I will admit, but I had my book on my phone, and the waitress was very friendly and spoke with me for quite a while, as well.
I got back to my hostel around 10.30 and was surprised to find that everyone in my room was already asleep in their bunks! In the morning, I was the last one out of my bunk at 8.30. It was rather nice not having loud, obnoxious bunk mates.
I got breakfast at Greggs, which is “the largest bakery chain in the United Kingdom” (thanks, Wikipedia) and walked around the city for a little while with my coffee. At 11, there was a free walking tour of Cardiff (www.freewalkingtourscardiff.com if you’re interested!) that I planned on taking. It was absolutely fantastic! And free! Of course, you tip at the end, but I had a wonderful guide who showed us (a group of 30, it was intense) the entire city, gave us bits of its history, and told us traditional Welsh stories. I met a woman from Australia who had been traveling around the globe for the last two months. She had been to 16 countries and had just spent two weeks in Morocco. She had so many cool stories, and we would chat as we walked from place to place. It was a perfect way to start my day and I would highly recommend it to anyone going to Cardiff.
It started raining as soon as the tour ended, so I walked back to Mrs. Potts to charge my phone until the rain cleared. Once it did, I went straight to Cardiff Castle. Are you surprised? Of course you’re not! I am the master of predictability!!!
I had an audio guide to listen to walking the grounds of the castle, but I did splurge the extra three pounds (oh no, three pounds!) for a guided tour of the castle. I took the last tour of the day, which worked out for me because there were only 4 of us and most people had left, so it was like having the castle to ourselves. I was able to ask all the questions I wanted and take loads of photographs, and our guide had wonderful stories about each room that I would never have guessed walking on my own. I’m a huge advocate for guided tours because people have a way of bring the history to life. They can make you feel like you’re a part of it just by walking through the halls and sharing a few of their secrets.
Once I left the castle, I did some souvenir shopping and got a quick dinner. I ended up turning in early because I liked my hostel and sleep had been rare to me that week. I planned out my following day, packed up most of my things, read my book, and slept quite soundly.
I woke up first in my room, got ready quietly, checked out, put my backpack in their luggage room, and went out early to enjoy my final day! Cardiff has quite a few shopping arcades, and they opened at 8 AM (unlike most of the other shops) so I headed that way. Most of the shops inside the arcades were still closed, as it was a bank holiday and a Monday, but there was a cute cafe open that I moseyed into. I decided to just go for it and get their “big breakfast,” and the barista convinced me to try a Nutella latte. Everything was delicious! It was a proper British breakfast.
I saw a lady walk into the cafe with a little suitcase and sling-bag. The day before when I was hanging out at Mrs. Potts, she had come in the same time as me and had sat next to me for a little bit, but we hadn’t really spoken. When she went to sit down, I told her I remembered her from Mrs. Potts and wanted to make sure she knew she could leave her luggage for the day so she didn’t have to carry it around. She told me that her flight was in just a few hours, so she was going to get breakfast before heading to the airport. I asked where she was from, and she had come from Munich, Germany for the long weekend. She was traveling alone, as well, and asked if she could sit with me, which I was thrilled about (WOOHOO NOT EATING ALONE!). We traded travel stories and pieces of our lives in our home countries. We covered families, favorite places we’ve been, our career paths, education systems in our countries, and all with ease. It was a lovely conversations, and we ended up chatting for close to two hours. She had to go to the bus to catch her flight, and as she was leaving, she said “So what’s your name?!” I knew all about her brothers, her job, living in Munich, and where she went to university, but hadn’t even known her name. Funny how things like that work, huh?!
I spent the rest of my day shopping because, again, I am the master of predictability. The arcades were so lovely to explore and poke into, but I went to plenty of the big chains, too. I’m definitely going home with more than I came with. Pray for me to find a way to make my two bags less than 23 kg/51 lbs each.
I made my way back to Mrs. Potts, grabbed my backpack, packed my new goodies away, and headed back to the coach station for the journey back to London. A couple of trains later, and I was back home in Felpham around 10 pm. Went to bed, woke up, and went and hung out with some pretty cool kiddos the rest of the week!
The next weekend, I stayed in Felpham the entire time for the first time since I’ve been here. And I really, really needed it! My mind is constantly taking in new things and adjusting to differences. I’m trying to be 100% here in England while also keeping a foot back home with my family, friends, and school. I’m giving all I have and more to this experience! So a slower weekend at my second home was exactly what I needed.
Friday I celebrated with some of the staff (I think I mentioned this in my Switzerland post) for Adam and Sam, as they are both getting married this summer. It was a hoot and a half. I love the people I’ve had the pleasure of working with for the past nine weeks, and being able to hang out with them outside of Downview made those relationships even closer (and even harder to say goodbye to).
Saturday was my graduation day!! Woohoo!!! I’m a college graduate! What better way to celebrate it than in England at a proper afternoon tea?!
Flashback to my very first day in England over nine weeks ago when I went to Sunday lunch with Sue and Pat and seven of their close friends. Those seven friends (Jacqui, Eileen and Tony, Ben and Bobby, and Anne and Murdough) ended up being seven of the people I’ve continuously seen over the past two months that I have been here. They have become friends of my own and I am so grateful for meeting them all that first afternoon! If you recall, at that first Sunday lunch, the comment that made me crack up and still comes up was when Anne called me “the colonist.” Anne took it upon herself to educate my colonist ways and show me what a proper afternoon is like! And with all but two that were there that very first day.
Our afternoon was fantastic. We started by toasting my graduation, which meant so much to me. It was quite hard seeing lots of my friends post graduation photos that I wasn’t present for. So having such amazing people surrounding me and raising a glass to my academic success meant the world!
The spread of food was absolutely gorgeous. It looked like a movie set for afternoon tea! A variety of finger sandwiches with the crust cut off beautifully. Adorable tea cups and matching saucers. Scones, clotted cream, and jam (I made scones with my Year 5 students and I must say, these were 100x better). A stunning lemon cake. Desserts I don’t know the name of but thoroughly enjoyed eating. It was a beautiful afternoon with beautiful people.
Since we’ve returned from Easter holiday, my students have been learning about the Tudor Era. Which means I have been learning about the Tudor Era with them and then trying to teach them with the very little knowledge I had at the time. I say at the time because I am an extremely knowledgeable source of information about the absolutely insane Tudor times! I am quite knowledgeable on the Battle of Bosworth. The student acted out the battle and successfully killed King (Curly – a nickname given to this student because of his hair) Richard III. I lead a Tudor trivia game with a group of students, then continued to create a Tudor family tree with a heavy focus on Henry VIII and all his wives and what not. I can name each of Henry’s wives in order, how they died, who had which kid, and random bits of information that are now currently overwhelming my mind. I have cooked a Tudor meal called Vegetable Pottage. I have even drawn myself as a Tudor. So, because of all this Tudor talk, I decided to visit the heart of it all. Hampton Court Palace!
Hampton Court Palace was where Henry VIII lived from 1529 until 1547 when he died. I was able to see the kitchens, state rooms, the Great Hall, and walked through his intriguing life. I am absolutely fascinated by the Tudor times and stopped at every informational point to read more about the palace. They even had an interactive show with people dressed up like the famous Tudors and presented us with a bit of their lives. They sang and danced and played instruments and it was horribly cheesy, so I obviously loved every minute of it.
This past Tuesday, I was able to surprise Skype my Indiana students at Thorpe Creek! Unfortunately, something in the connection was awry and my screen was frozen on Sarah, my lead teacher’s face, so I was unable to see their adorable selves. Hearing their voices and chatting with them was enough for me, though! They had so many wonderful questions about England, my students here, and what I miss from home. Their last day of school is this coming Thursday, so we are going to Skype again on Tuesday, but this time with all of my English students! They are all so excited, and I cannot wait for these two groups of students who mean so much to me to “meet” each other!
This past weekend, I went to Brighton with my lovely friend Sarah who is from Andover in England. She’s been such a darling to me since I have been here, and I cannot wait for the next time I get to see her (that means either she’ll be in America or I’ll be back in England!). I took the train in to Brighton and met her at the station, and from there we let the day take us where it may! We went through the Lanes, which are winding alley ways with loads of shops and cafes. We made our way through the Royal Pavilion and the gardens that surround it when we saw a crowd of oddly dressed people from afar. Sarah recognized some of these outfits as being Morris dancers.
For those of you who are like me, here is a little information about what Morris dance is from our trusty source, Wikipedia.
“Morris dance is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers, usually wearing bell pads on their shins. Implements such as sticks, swords and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers…The earliest known and surviving English written mention of Morris dance is dated to 1448.”
There were many that Sarah said were dressed as traditional Morris dancers, but there were some groups dressed in all black with feather headdresses, dark face paint, ladies dressed like pirates, and men with hats covered in flowers. We were absolutely perplexed as to why. So, of course, we ventured to them.
We ended up spending an hour watching 10 different Morris groups dance because it was absolutely fascinating! There were many older men and women involved, and we were so impressed with how sprightly they were in these dances! The dances were very intricate and each group was unique.
We were also shocked to see many people our age involved, and ended up becoming very invested in certain groups because of the attractive young men in them. Hehehe. After we left, we even ran into one of the groups (with one of the young men!) randomly in the street and continued to take this photo because we’re 22-year-old girls and we cannot be stopped.
We continued to walk around and made our way down to the sea. After picking up some fish and chips and watching a flock of seagulls successfully steal a bag of donuts from a screaming teenager, we walked down the Brighton Pier and into the arcade. Originally, we were just going to try a couple of the crane machines to win a stuffed Minney Mouse or Minion. Then we found some tickets someone left from a game, and decided “Well, we should try to get a few more so we can get a little prize.” Two hours later, we had successfully won over 700 tickets and walked away with three packs of Haribo sweets, a deck of cards, and a Brighton bag. It was like channeling our inner 10-year-old (I mean, I spend enough time with them anyway) for the afternoon.
We explored the rest of the pier for a little while, then made our way back to land to do some shopping. Obviously. Master of predictability. I was very good though because I am already returning home with much more than what I came with, so I used the little self-control I have.
Other little tid-bits from our day include going to Starbucks twice (they spelled both our names right the first time, but the second I was “Matty” which is my least favorite incorrect spelling of my name), walking through the music festival that was in town for the day, eating dinner at Nandos with one of the groups from the festival, and buying tacky tourist sweatshirts from a souvenir shop when we got too cold.
Since Sarah drove, we grabbed our Haribos and roadtripped to Felpham to have a SLEEPOVER!!! We changed into sweats, chatted about One Direction and boys and friend drama, listened to music, and ate sweets. I’ve missed doing things like that since I’ve been here.
After saying goodbye to Sarah on Sunday, I went to watch the 10K run that was happening from Bognor, through Felpham, then down the promenade back to Bognor with Sue and Pat. There were some very interesting characters, and watching it made me miss the Indy Mini! It was a stunning day for it, as well. Once we went back home, I got some work done and (believe it or not) started packing some of my things. Sue and Pat made me a proper Sunday roast for my last Sunday in England, and it’s seriously as good as everyone says. I am really going to miss their cooking (and them too, obviously, hehe).
So this is it! It’s my last week in England. We have a pretty packed week in class, but with lots of fun things planned throughout the school. I had some time with the kids today to ask about their highs and lows from the weekend or the coming week, and many of them said their low was that I was leaving. I get lots of extra tight hugs saying “I don’t want you to leave.” I have a few students who have offered me their birthday money to change my flight to later or to pay for a Visa so that I can live here. A few students have decided that they’re going to fit inside my suitcase (good luck finding the space) and come back to America with me. I wish I could figure out a way to be in two places at once. I knew I would love this experience, and kids always steal my heart regardless of where they’re from, but I never expected for Felpham to become a second home to me.
I want to give a special thanks here for everyone I have met during my time in England. I was quite nervous coming to a place completely new to me with absolutely no one with me. I’ve always loved traveling, but had always done it with my family or friends. When I was at Indiana University, I had loads of my friends at school with me and wasn’t too far from home. Home has always been close and the important people in my life were always present. This experience should have been terrifying and constantly nerve-wracking, and although it was at times, I felt completely welcomed and accepted. More than that, I felt at home. Sue and Pat took me in and treated me as if I was their American daughter. Their friends became like aunts and uncles. The teachers at Downview took me in as a colleague and friend. My host teacher, Adam, even became a sort of big brother. The students treated me as a teacher, a big sister, and even a motherly figure. If I had left my family, friends, and country behind and landed in England to an unwelcoming host family and a closed-off school, I might not have lasted all 10 weeks (regardless that I was in a place I had always dreamed about). But I landed in England to a home. And I’m leaving England with a new family. As much as I’ve loved jet-setting around Europe and exploring castles in England, the best memories I am taking home are of the people I have met in the little village of Felpham in West Sussex. They might not see this, but I hope they could feel my love and appreciation for everything they did for me.
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
– Miriam Adeney