Tourist or Resident?: Trying to Find my Place in England
I am in that weird in-between place where England definitely feels like home because I am with Jonathan and we have a wonderful home with a rambunctious kitten running around, but I also still feel absolutely agog when I go to places around England that are unlike anything that you can find in the States, especially Iowa. This feeling of confusion multiplied when I had the distinct pleasure of hosting my very good friend Draven Haefs for a week and a half a few months ago (was it really that long ago, it feels like yesterday!) We had known each other from very brief encounters at school, but really got to know each other when he messaged me a couple of years back to talk to someone about England. We quickly came to see that we had a very similar outlook on life, and so I was thrilled when he told me that he had saved up and was going to do a once-in-a-lifetime trip to England to experience a bit more of the world before heading to college. I also felt a lot of pressure, though. I had to figure out what to show him that would make him fall in love with the quaint and stunning countryside of England as well as see the booming culture and history of the big cities. In other words, I was to become the ultimate tour guide.
These are the places that I chose, the memories we made, and the experiences we were dealt first-hand.
The first day with Draven is kind of a blur. He had chosen a very complicated flight plan to get here in order to cut down on cost, so by the time we had picked him up at the airport, he was already ready for a nap. To top that off, there had been some very sketchy handling of his luggage which caused him to be without any of the stuff that he had packed in his carry-on. He notified the airport staff and then we headed to the Trafford Centre because it's tradition. Jonathan and I have gone there every time that he has picked me up from the airport (except that one crazy time where I actually had to fly into London) and we have also brought all of our visitors from the states there. It's a good way to transition into the differences between the states and England. This shopping centre is absolutely massive and is decorated to the nines with imitation greek statues, marble staircases, and a food court that is decorated to showcase all of the different kinds of cuisine offered there. We also thought this might be a good place to stock up on some cheap items to keep Draven going until we could receive his luggage. Turns out that it's a bit too posh for just a few classic items, so we headed into Bury. This way Draven could have the chance to meet a bit of Jon's family before they went away on holiday and we could do a cheeky stop at Primark. I had never wandered around Bury before, so this was one of those experiences where it felt as new to me as it did to Draven. I was familiar with the stores, though, so while I headed straight to where I needed to go, Draven had a positive freak-out about how reasonably priced everything was. We got him what he needed and headed home for some beans on toast and an early night. (Yes, we treated our guest to luxury cuisine- beans on toast is a British classic!).
The next day was Manchester and Draven was a lot more awake as we all headed into the car to go to Bury. Jonathan needed to work that day, but there is a tram that could take us from Bury into Manchester city centre. Once again, this was completely outside of my normal comfort zone. It's funny because 4 years ago I was wandering around Belgium on whatever public transport could take me there, but I had grown accustomed to Jonathan taking me where I needed to go and guiding me if I ever got turned around. This time I was on my own. I had done a bit of Google Mapping the night before to assure I could get us to the Bury station, and soon enough we were there. We couldn't figure out where to get a ticket, though! A couple of volunteers heard us talking (in our very foreign accents) and came over to help. At that point it was just easier to tell them that we were both from America and couldn't figure out what to do. I felt so much like a tourist in that moment and not at all like I had lived in England for almost a year. At least I always have my American accent to fall back on if I ever look completely lost and like an idiot. We eventually got our ticket on the platform and were on our way to Manchester. It was exhilarating to be on public transport without someone that definitely knew what was going on. I had pre-planned a stop to get off at, but as we got into Manchester and I recognised my surroundings, we decided to get off at another one. This is where it felt a bit like home. I had been to Manchester enough to get around to all of the important things to see in the city centre. I brought us to the cathedral (which, despite it's scaffolding outside was still as stunning as usual inside). I remember the first time that I went inside and how amazed I had been by all of the different architecture. We then popped into a few shops as we walked towards the John Ryland's Library. The streets were full of flowers and little trees to write notes in memory of the Manchester bombing one year earlier. It made me so emotional to see a city come together and mourn the tragedy.
After pit stops in Starbucks, Paperchase, and Waterstones, we arrived at the John Ryland's Library. This was one place that I had never been before but was so excited to see, and I was glad that I didn't have to drag my poor husband with me through another historical library. That amazing man has the patience of a god, but it was nice to share it with someone that was equally as excited about historic libraries as I was. Entrance into the library is free (yay to free cathedrals and libraries) and we just took our own sweet time wandering around the reading rooms and looking at the artifacts that were housed inside. They had scraps of paper that came from a truly ancient Bible, and my personal favourite, a letter that Charles Dickens had wrote to a woman named Elizabeth Gaskell. I freaking love when I can see author's handwriting- it's like seeing a famous artist's painting. There were also old historical toilets that you were not supposed to take pictures of (I am assuming for privacy reasons), but there was nobody in and they were so interesting that I couldn't resist. I do think it would be bizarre to actually use the facilities, though! We finished the tour with the famous room that had books shoved into archways and is actually an area that students use to study in still today (which is so freaking cool- I can't imagine working in there). I couldn't get any decent pictures of that room because of the lighting, but just google "John Ryland's Library" and you can see it in all of its glory. It is so amazing to think that I live just a tram-ride away from a place as magnificent as that.
After that, we wandered through some side streets, picked up some sandwiches and chocolate at a local Sainsburys and had a wonderful little picnic on the green by the cathedral and football museum. It was a nice opportunity to just catch up on everything and let Draven try some new British munchies. It was such a gorgeous day out and we had fun people watching before getting his phone sorted, grabbing a Hufflepuff shirt from Primark, and heading back to Bury. Jonathan still was stuck in work meetings, so we browsed some of the shops in Bury while we were waiting. At this point, I was so proud and confident in myself for doing Manchester without assistance, that combing the stores in Bury happened with ease. We talked about some of the British treats that we saw and Draven kept an eye out for European Fanta because he had fallen in love at lunch time. Seriously, it's a thing- I went through the same experience. We also came across the largest display of Lucozade that I had ever seen, so i'll post that for your viewing pleasure. After that, we met Barry and Jonathan for a nice dinner and went to pick up Jasper the cat to bring home and watch while Barry and his family were on holiday.
The next day was probably when I felt most like a resident of England. Draven lost a battle to jet lag and slept in quite late, so the plan of going into town dissipated and we just wandered around the neighborhood for a bit, heading into the local corner shop to get some Galaxy chocolate to nibble on while we walked to the pub and kept an eye out for the local sheep. We went to Asda that evening to get some Fanta and other classic British treats like Cadburys and pastries, then came home where I made us a vegetable curry with naan bread and poppadoms, and we stayed up late playing a Best of British boardgame where we tested each other on our knowledge of England. Needless to say, I am pretty sure that Jonathan won, but Draven and I were not THAT far behind!
The next day was the Lake District, which I was very adamant on us going to. We had a couple more city days planned, but my favourite part about England is that you can get the vibrant culture-filled cities within an hour from some of the most stunning scenery in the world. It was the weekend, so Sophie and Joe joined us and suggested that we have breakfast at this adorable little cafe on a farm where the Queen had dined once. Draven and I had these massive crumpets (because can you really say that you've been to England if you haven't had a crumpet) and then we headed to Grassmere. I actually hadn't been to Grassmere before, so I was excited to see a new place, and was happy to be with people that knew where they were going and had been there before. The well-known bits about Grassmere is that they have world-renowned gingerbread (which is incredible by the way- if the smell lures you in, it's definitely worth waiting in the long line to get some) and that William Wordsworth lived and died there. I studied loads of Wordsworth poetry in my years as an English major, so this was a huge deal for me! It was really a quick pit-stop, but it was amazing!
We then drove through some stunning countryside on our way to Ullswater where we got a delicious ice cream and did a little hike that Jonathan and I had done last time we went to Ullswater. Because I had done it before and had been to Ullswater a few times, I didn't feel as touristy, but I still had to take loads of pictures, because the Lake District is so stunning. There is a reason why there were so many poets that lived and wrote about the nature around here- it's worth writing about.
Sophie and Joe had to go then, so Jonathan, Draven, and I decided to go check out the waterfall trail that I am always dying to see, but once again it was crazy busy and we didn't have the change to pay for parking, so we used it as an excuse to drive to Wastwater, which is my favourite of all of the lakes. It's more deserted and there isn't a town around it, so it's so peaceful- not to mention absolutely breathtaking. The drive there is a lot more off the beaten path, and there's lots of little turn offs, but that meant that we got to drive with the windows down as we passed sheep and hills and finally arrived at our destination. It was just as beautiful as I remembered and I was so glad that I got to share it with Draven, as he said it was his favourite lake that he had visited. Even Jonathan took a few pictures, which is rare of him! We drove back home (which seemed to take forever) and got a classic chippy and watched Michael McIntyre (Britain's best comedian in my opinion) to end our day on a very British note!
Next day was York which was also a suggestion by me. I knew that London was going to be amazing, but I wanted Draven to experience a city in England that was considered quaint and had all of the English charm while also holding loads of history, architecture, etcetera worth seeing. I'd been to York once, three years ago, but it was just like I was going for the first time. We climbed up the stairs onto the Medieval walls built in the year 7 A.D. and followed the stunning sight of the York Minster. Once we had gotten quite close, we got off and kept going until we were right in front of it. I adore Cathedral towns, because they make sense. The cathedral right at the centre can't help but draw you in and everything leads back to it, so it's hard to get lost. We couldn't go inside because there was a sevice as it was Sunday morning, so we kept walking until we came across the Shambles which is my favourite part about York. It's amazing that the little area has been there for so long and it truly fulfills all of my visions of what I thought England was before I came. Draven seemed just as smitten as me while we waited in line to go into the many Harry Potter themed shops and walked past little placed with classic boiled sweets and other paraphernalia. We had lunch at Pizza Hut (not very British, but pizza sounded amazing) and then hit up other shops including one with handmade journals and one with second-hand books called "Amnesty Books". There was a fight that happened in the street, so Jonathan and I watched that for awhile while Draven went to check out a little coffee shop, and then we went to look at the Monastery ruins on our way back to the car. We packed A LOT into a couple of hours, and even though we didn't go into the cathedral and spent most of our day going in and out of shops, the charm of York did not fail to get to me and I felt like a proper tourist as I got overly excited about how cute or beautiful everything was.
London was next and made the business of York look and feel like child's play. The big thing that we did was walk along the Thames starting from The Tower of London and ending at Westminster Abbey. There is so much that you see in that walk- you get to see Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Pauls Cathedral, Shakespeare Globe Theatre, book markets, London Eye, Big Ben (kind of, but the scaffolding is ridiculous), and then of course Westminster Abbey. The walk is long, and in this case, the it was also really hot, so we had a pit stop at Nandos for some delicious lunch and unlimited cold beverages. Believe it or not, though, I didn't really feel like a tourist. I think it was the 5th time that I had been to London and seen all of these classic landmarks, and so it didn't faze me and Jonathan even commented that it was really bizarre that I hadn't taken my phone out to take a load of pictures. The one place I hadn't seen before was Westminster Abbey (Except for a glimpse when we were on a tour bus last September), but all of the gates were locked and they weren't letting people in, so it was just a glimpse at the outside once more. We also did a walk from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace because those are two huge London destinations that I once again had experienced many times prior, and finally we did Picadilly for some book shopping and Camden Market for some yummy treats. It was a lot to pack in, but we did it and I feel like I managed to show Draven all of the important and well-known loves of London in a short amount of time. I think the fact that I didn't feel as much of tourist here as usual was a big step in assuring me that I really was a resident of England now. Who would have thought that I would ever become so accustomed to a city as big and well-known as London?
The last couple of days were a lot more close to home- Draven and I spent another day in Bury going to the little art museum that is housed there, checking out the Bury Cathedral (which is actually really stunning), flying around the shops for snacks, and spending almost 4 hours in this adorable little coffeeshop called Bloom where we actually got to just sit down and talk about life for awhile. While travelling England with Draven and Jonathan was amazing, we hadn't really had time to just catch up and have a proper chat. I don't really have any friends here in England yet, so it was nice to do that because it is one of the things that I miss most about America, apart from missing my family. The people at Bloom came over towards the end and asked us if we wanted anything else, so we got a piece of cake to thank them for their hospitality and went on our way (we had obviously out-stayed our welcome). The day after that was a similar chain of events, but in Preston. We were originally going to take the bus, but I wasn't feeling very great, so Jonathan took us in and dropped us off. We went to some shops for last minute shopping, I showed Draven the Harris Museum and library, although we didn't spend much time there because we had to meet Sophie for lunch. That evening, Jonathan, Sophie, Draven and I went to a local pub for some massive portions of food and to take part in a pub quiz (I am telling you- I tried to give him the full British experience). We came back and both did some major packing and then had one final chat before we had to drop Draven off at the airport the next morning.
Even though I felt like I was as much of a tourist as Draven was half the time, I have to give myself credit for knowing what places would best showcase England and would show someone who had never been here before the full picture. While there were some parts that were very new to me, or where I took as many pictures as Draven did, I was the one that knew where to take us for lunch, and knew where the best Lakes were. I also showed myself that I still had that adventurous spirit where I could hop on a tram, after relying on help from the locals, and get to where I needed to go or wander around a city I had never been to for a few hours with someone as clueless as me and find some hidden gems. It was so so wonderful to have a friend over in England to show my new home to and who appreciated all of the effort we put in to making sure he truly had the trip of a lifetime. Here's to hoping we have more visitors in the future and that we didn't scare Draven away!
If you ever want to visit England, give me a shout! I have been a tourist and a resident here, so I know all of the best places and would love to work with you to create the best trip possible for you no matter budget or location!
A.C. Woodruff xx