One of the best things about international teaching is the people. You tend to meet a whole lot of interesting people with interesting stories from many different places. Sam has been a great friend of ours since we met him teaching in China. Good heart. Solid dude. Great friend. Always down to meet up. He came and visited us in Feb when he had a break from school; we recently just happened to have a nice long weekend and decided to pop over for a visit. We can’t thank Sam enough for giving us a proper English tour; we hit some killer spots in a few short days. We gave him a few ideas of things that could be cool to do together but he really put together an awesome itinerary!
Sam said, “Since you’ve only got a few days, I said to myself ‘What are a few things everyone should do when they visit England?’ Well, you’ve got to visit a pub, eat fish and chips, and see a castle, at least!” (Great dude, like I said.)
Within an hour after landing we found ourselves walking through the beautiful Epping Forest. We were staying under the wonderful hospitality of Bill and Gina (Sam’s dad and his partner) and they live just across the road from this lovely forest that many people cycle and/or walk their dogs through. Beautiful forest paths and a couple of dogs who happen to need a walk were a welcome sight for us!
A short while later we were heading to one of the most magical places on Earth; The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour! Those of you reading this who don’t know me as well should know that I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd. Much of the Potter movies were filmed outside London and the studio space that was used during the filming was turned into a “making of” tour after the final movie completed production. Many of the sets, props, and costumes are on display while friendly (and just as nerdy) staff chat you up about your favorite films, give out some trade secrets and tell you stuff to watch out for during your next HP movie marathon. Walking down Diagon Alley was absolute magic! So was standing in Dumbledore’s office, walking through the Forbidden Forest, and seeing many of the special f/x and animatronics were just some of the many highlights. As the day turned into night, I remember standing by the Knight Bus, looking at No. 4 Privet Drive, sipping a butterbeer thinking, “This is so fucking cool.”
The next day following a wonderful English breakfast made by Bill and Gina, we hopped on the short train ride to downtown London. London is a really cool city; it has a flow and energy all of its own. It’s big, busy, and a touch mad at times, but along the way you hear so many different languages and see people of all sorts taking in the wonders of this place. Our first stop was the amazing Natural History Museum. Not only was it an impressive building, but it housed so many incredible artifacts like a first edition copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species and not one but two archaeopteryx fossils (only twelve have ever been found). Like almost every Natural History Museum we’ve ever been to, you simply can’t see it all in one day. A return trip is needed;)
After a few pints at a proper English pub, we found ourselves near the Camden Market for lunch. The market is this huge series of outdoor alleys and corridors full of food stalls and little indie shops. It’s a great place for a meal since it has a huge variety of cuisine and everyone in your group can get whatever they want! We ended up meeting friends of Alison and her family from back home in Vermont. Always great to catch-up with some fine folks from the 802.
Feeling the need to walk off our big lunch and earn some hunger points towards our upcoming dinner, we walked from Camden Market to Buckingham Palace. This was an awesome 3 (ish) mile walk that us through both Regent’s Park and Green Park. We also were able to see the upscale Mayfair district in all its bougie glory! Buckingham Palace was quite a sight; a must see while you’re in the city!
Alison had been in contact with some of our former Chinese students who are now in various universities around the UK. Many of them were eager to meet up and have a meal with us and they knew just the place! They picked out an amazing Chinese food restaurant which transported us all back to our time together in Qingdao. As a teacher it’s always nice to see your former students growing up, living their lives, and doing their thing. (We’d like to take a moment to wish all our former students the best in their future endeavors! Love you guys!!)
The next day we hopped back in the car and made our way to Wales. Just over the border is Chepstow Castle, the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain. The castle stretches out along a limestone cliff above the Wye river in a beautiful location. Not only does the remains of the castle give visitors a good understanding of castle design and purpose, it was also really quaint, charming, and peaceful. Definitely worth a stop!
Later that afternoon we found ourselves in the lovely little village of Cheddar, England (yes, that Cheddar!) We sampled some cheese before walking up the famous Cheddar Gorge. Beautiful cliffs tower over both sides of the road as cyclists, hikers, and other outdoor enthusiasts take in the remarkable and bucolic landscape. The top of our hike offered beautiful views of rolling country hills, charming little farms and villages, as well as the English seaside.
For our last evening in England, Sam brought us to the OG fish and chips shop of Weston-super Mare, Papa’s. Outstanding fish and chips! We also got it to-go so we could sit on the beach and watch the sunset over the water; what an amazing bonus!
The next morning we were flying back to Sofia but not until Sam showed us his last surprise of our weekend trip; Stonehenge! This was always something both Alison and I really wanted to see! Learning the history and significance of this prehistoric monument was so incredible! These stones are absolutely massive! The whole site and exhibit was really well done! I remembered learning about the henge on some Discovery Channel show when I was a kid and it was incredible to be to be seeing for myself!
We can’t thank Sam enough for organizing such a steller trip! (And for driving us around!) So good to see him again and share some really cool experiences! The UK has so much to offer. We’ll definitely need to take another pass through sometime in the near future. For now, Sam’s off to teach in the Bahamas, we’re off to do the same in Bali. Until next time, dear friend!
Peace & Love,
Grant & Alison