Mind the Gap
October 02, 2013

Hey kids, Big Ben!

The trip I just returned from was monumental for a number of reasons. It was the longest vacation I've ever taken, the furthest distance I've ever traveled, and my first international trip. Oh, and it was our honeymoon.

We'd been talking about it since we decided on a date for the wedding. Actually, even before that. It was originally going to be a summer trip to Switzerland, and then morphed into an early fall trip to London, Belgium, and Germany.

Why those places? London because I've been obsessed with it since age 12, Belgium because neither of us had been there, and Germany because the husband had spent a decent chunk of time there and I wanted to see his old stomping grounds.

Rather than write an entire post that covers the whole trip, I'd like to break it down by country. So let's start with London.

But lets back-up a little, because I feel like I should explain the obsession with all things English, which probably started with music. At age 12, I had just discovered Depeche Mode, New Order and the Smiths (some of my all-time favorite bands) - all hailing from England. And then I started discovering that other things I loved were also English (Monty Python, Dr. Martens, and Wallace and Gromit, to name a few). I read books about England, watched English movies (I love the accent) and started referring to my mom as "Mum". The more I learned, the more I got the feeling that I would really like it there. But me actually visiting England? It never seemed to work out.

So when we started trying to figure out where to spend time on this trip, I basically said "London" and anywhere else was fine. So we decided to fly into Heathrow, and spend a few days in the jolly UK.

Despite my extreme desire to go to England, I didn't exactly know what I wanted to do once I got there. Really, I just wanted to be there, but I asked friends who had been and who were currently living there for recommendations and they were tremendously helpful.

We stayed in the Southwark neighborhood, right next to the Thames, and it was a perfect location. A lot of what we wanted to see was close by and everything else was just a tube ride away. We crammed a lot of museum visits and site seeing into four and a half days, and while it's tempting to list everything we saw, I think some highlights will suffice:

The tube ride from Heathrow to the hotel - part of this ride is actually above ground and the husband has a photo of me looking out the tube window grinning from ear to ear as the tube sped through little neighborhoods that looked like they were right out of the movies.

The Royal Observatory, Greenwich - the home of Greenwich mean time and the prime meridian of the world! There's a small museum in Flamstead house that explains the importance of the prime meridian and Greenwich mean time and I found it totally fascinating. The entrance fee also gets you into the Meridian courtyard where you can take a photo standing on the prime meridian. The National Maritime Museum was in the same area, and we also spent some time there (they had some awesome models of ships), but the observatory was probably my favorite.

The Tower Bridge - It was a 15 minute walk from our hotel and I loved seeing it every time we walked along the river. There's something about that bridge...

The Tower of London - Tickets were a wee bit expensive, but they offer guided tours led by one the Beefeaters that work there, so we did that. It was more fun that wandering around by ourselves and I think we definitely learned more (which made it feel like the admission price was worth it). Also, the crown jewels!

The British Library - They have a small permanent collection of various things, and it's much more than old books. Some of the notable items we saw: the Magna Carta, Jane Austen's writing desk, Beowulf, some cards and notes written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and some very old, but well preserved maps. I thought it was one of those places that we'd just wander in and leave after fifteen minutes but we ended up looking at almost everything they had on display.

The Dr. Martens store on Carnaby Street - I didn't need to buy shoes, but I decided to go in anyways and when I walked through the door I heard "Is It Really So Strange" by the Smiths playing. It felt like a sign from the universe that I was supposed to be there.

The whole time we were there, everything felt a bit foreign but so very familiar at the same time. I was actually afraid to admit to myself how much I liked being there, as if it would somehow jinx things and something bad would happen to change my feelings about England. But everything was absolutely fine and I already want to go back. In fact, I wish I hadn't waited this long to get my ass over there, but I'm so, SO glad I finally did.

Next up, Belgium...



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© Whitney Brandt-Hiatt: All writing, images, and photogrpahy are the property of Whitney Brandt-Hiatt unless otherwise noted.