the longest stretch

 

“Hey sweetie, I think she’s ready to nurse. It’s…it’s five AM.”


 

The thought didn’t occur to me when I sat up and switched on the lamp, nor while I was unbuttoning my nightgown, nor when I held my 11-week-old daughter in my arms and brought her to my breast. I didn’t think it while she was nursing in the dark bedroom (having switched off the lamp again; she finds the bright light so mesmerizing she cranes her neck so she can gaze at it and forgets entirely to nurse), nor when I handed her back to my husband so he could lay her down again.

But at six AM, while I sat in the living room with a hot cup of tea (the whole of which I drank, uninterrupted, while it was hot — another milestone), a scented candle burning (“Nonnatus House” scent), and my journal open on my lap — then, finally, I thought : this seven hour stretch is the longest stretch in her entire life that she and I have not touched.

Of course there have been many “longest stretches.” I’m not sure why it was the seven-hour stretch that sparked this thought. The first stretch was only several seconds : right after I pushed her out, when the midwife held her and brought her up to my chest. (But I suppose we were still touching — because her umbilical cord was still attached, and it went down from her belly and back inside of me — we were still touching even then.) So I suppose the first moment was when my husband cut the cord. (Except, wait, in that moment, she was laying on my chest, so even as that one connection was broken, another remained.) I suppose it really began, to be precise, when a nurse lifted her from my chest to weigh her, when she was one hour old. Those couple of minutes began the lifelong stretching of time that will slowly separate me from my daughter.


 

I remember when I reached the moment that marked the longest I had gone without seeing my father. He died when I was 20 years old, a sophomore in college, so we had been parted, at the very longest, for ten weeks, the length of a quarter-term. That eleventh week after he died, it was a new slap in the face in a series of many — I had crossed over some threshold. There had been many to cross and were (are) many still to come : there was the first midnight, marking the ending of the last day we had shared, and the beginning of the first day of my life that he was not alive for. There was the ending of the month of February, marking the end of the last month when he had ever lived. And later came New Year’s Eve, ending the last year of my life I would ever share with him. I have recently entered my thirties : the first decade of my life he wasn’t here for (he just barely touched my twenties).

Someday, God willing, I will reach the tipping point where I will have lived more of my life without him than with him. And I hope to surpass his age, someday having lived a longer life than he did. By that time, my daughter and I will have had our minutes and hours stretch into days and weeks, and likely months, that we have gone without touching. And this will be a blessing.

I think of my father every single day — there was a time, after his death, when I don’t think a minute went by without my thinking of him. That stretched to hours, as my grief faded, but it has stretched as far as it will ever — I don’t believe there will come a day when I don’t think of him. I know there will never come a day when I don’t think of my daughter, no matter where she may be. And someday, when her life takes her far from me and her father, I trust that she will think of us.

 

wherever I’m with you

The last time I made a post here was April 2, 2019 — almost a full year ago! By April 2, 2020, we will (God willing) have a newborn baby with us, in our new home in central New York. David and I have never been very good at staying put but we’ve made a pact to stay in this location for at least two years (ooh).

Right now, I have been living in our new apartment for about four days. It is still primarily a city of boxes, but we have carved out areas of sanity : the master bathroom, the corner of the living room, the table, the galley kitchen. I brought my beloved pothos plant, Hestia, all the way from Idaho. She traveled wrapped in newspaper in a carry-on suitcase and I repotted her when we arrived at my mom’s house for Christmas. As I write this I can see her on the table beside me — she is flourishing! Travel and moving evidently comes fairly easily to Hestia — all she needed was fresh soil and a few big drinks of water and she perked right up.

I’m not sure that’s quite as true of me, although certainly big drinks of water are helping. All of these transitions at once, though : it’s a lot. I quit my job in December and don’t know when I’ll return to work, or whether I’ll return to my field (counseling) or branch out into something new. We moved across the country, and meanwhile I’ve been growing us a baby who is expected to arrive sometime in March. My body, home, and vocation have all been dramatically changed in the past several months.

I think all this change may be why some of the unpacking has been so comforting. There may be a lot of change, but many of our beloved items are the same, and they feel like an anchor : the colorful blocks I took from my father’s office after he died, the set of coasters that looks like a sheep that my friend Ruth brought us from Ireland, photo books from our past travels, the quilt made from fabric scraps from years of Grammie’s sewing. These things have moved with us many times and each time we unwrap them from bubble wrap or old t-shirts and cardboard boxes, it is a bit like seeing a friend or a familiar patch of land.

I wonder if David and I will ever be “rooted.” Our origin is in travel : we met while studying abroad in Germany. We grew up on opposite sides of the country, and we’ve already lived together in several states in our five years of marriage. Sometimes we fantasize about how it might feel to stay somewhere for ten years or some other incredibly long time. No matter where we live, we’ll always be far from some part of our hearts.

It’s corny, but Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros kind of hit the nail on the head when it comes to how I feel about David :

Home, let me go home — home is wherever I’m with you…

Life in the West

We moved to Idaho in June and have spent the summer alternating between settling in and traveling on weekends! We were able to head out to Washington two times to spend time with David’s family, and we also had the pleasure of hosting David’s sister & her husband, and later, David’s parents. We also spent a super fun weekend in Los Angeles for our friends’ wedding, so all in all, it’s been a pretty busy summer! Yesterday, we kicked off the fall season with a day-long Hogwarts Express Day celebration.

Life in Idaho has been a real adjustment, and I’m sure there’s plenty more adjusting to be done. But there are many lovely things about our life here : our apartment is in the most perfect location. Our next-door neighbor is super kind and helpful. My best friend Lindsey lives in town (!!!) so we get to hang out ALL THE TIME, which after years of always being in a long-distance friendship is pretty awesome. David is doing well at his new job. And I have access to bazillions of beautiful, hilly running trails. During summer I ran usually six days a week, but I’ve just begun training for a half-marathon in October, and I’m running three days a week and lifting weights three days (plus one rest day). I miss my trails, though, so I often add a long walk on lifting days. (Sometimes I add a long walk on running days, too.)

I’m working on navigating the counseling licensure system here, and in the meantime just housewife-ing to my best ability. Cooking, cleaning, you know. Recently, I’m most proud of my frozen bean-and-cheese burritos that David can take to work for lunch, crockpot steak fajitas, and the “sorting hat” cupcakes I baked for our party yesterday. I’ve also had plenty of time to read and get to know the local public library system.

 

moving again

When David & I moved in with my mom last summer before traveling abroad, we had a goal : we would enjoy time with my mother, dog, and hometown, and by the spring, we would move again.

Here we are in May and we just finished packing up our “moving pod.” Next week we will start our 2500 mile drive to our new home in Idaho. David got a great job out there in the data analysis field, so we’re headed west again!

Our time in New York has been so special to me. We’ve gotten to spend lots of quality time with my mother (and with Pip the Kerry Blue Terrier!), and being in my home environment has been so nourishing. I love my childhood house and I love the wood paths nearby, where I’ve run or walked daily. I still dream that someday we will settle in New England, but for now, this job opportunity for David was too good to pass up. We’ll enjoy being close to David’s family and my extended family and friends on the west coast, too.

We found a sweet little apartment with the help of my best friend Lindsey who lives in Idaho (another perk of moving!!), and we’ll be setting up house out there in early June. Maybe I’ll get back into writing a bit more often again (how often do I say that?). Lots on my mind lately : slow/sustainable fashion, baking, how to make a new place home…but lots to DO as well, like, you know, moving across the entire country.

 

how things look right now

…because everyone seems to be asking, anyway.

Since David and I returned from our grand European tour, we’ve been living in my childhood home, with my mother and the family dog, Pip. While I know moving back in with your parents isn’t exactly on everyone’s late-twenties bucket list, it’s really been lovely. For one thing, I think something about losing a parent at a relatively young age (in my case, I was twenty when my dad died) shifts the way I think about my family. Even if most of the time we’re just doing regular stuff like watching TV together, going for a walk, or running errands, I really value my time with my mother.

Also, as any of you who know my in real life are already deeply aware, I am absolutely passionately obsessed with my dog, Pip. You know how some parents worry that they’ll finally cave and get a puppy, and then their kids will lose interest? Yeah, I’m not that kid. Pip is thirteen years old and I still think (know) that he is the greatest animal on the planet.

While we’re here, I’m doing a hodge-podge of home and personal projects while applying to jobs (no luck yet, but I’m not exactly rushing), and most importantly, David is working very hard to try to finish his doctoral dissertation. It is all that lies between him and his PhD, and y’all, it is a lot of work. He’s in his office most of the day and has Skype meetings with his advisor regularly. Living at home has allowed us the luxury of time : David has lots to focus on his work, and I have lots to take care of projects and decompress from the world’s most stressful job. I loved my time at the domestic violence shelter/rape crisis center/human trafficking service center but, I mean, as you can guess from the workplace, it was extremely high stress.

So here we are, living a calm and cozy life that feels a bit like a break from real life (but, I must always remind myself, is in fact a real life). I read a lot, I try to cook all the meals and keep the house tidy, and I daydream and worry far too much about what our future holds.

On that note, I’ve got to go tidy the family room and do the dishes. And perhaps have a cup of tea while I’m at it…

the end of one adventure

Well, it’s been a few months since we finished our trip and you may have noticed a lack of updates on our travels. We got so busy and involved in experiencing our trip that blog-writing fell by the wayside…so I’ll give a quick overview of our last few weeks of the trip.

After our wonderful time in Sweden, we spent about a week in Cologne, Germany. My good friend Peter lives in this city, and it was great to see his life there, experience the city, and meet his girlfriend. We also met up with our friend Matt, who had been in Berlin for a conference and came and spent a night at our AirBnB with us.

 You may have heard that the Kölner Dom is large : you have been misinformed. It’s impossibly large.

Germany was, as always, a fun opportunity to brush up on our German skills. We’re always rusty, but it’s always fun to practice.

We were good guests and ate all of the delicacy that Peter ordered for us in a restaurant one evening — Mettbrötchen. This consists of…raw ground pork on top of some bread, with raw chopped onions on top of it. It was a deeply challenging food to eat, but Peter and his girlfriend raved about how delicious and beloved this food is.

After another visit to Cipressa — documented in a previous post — we went back to the U.K. Our first stop was a London suburb where we stayed with an online friend of mine, Katharine, at her family home. Internet friends are not (always) serial killers, guys!! Katharine is super nice and not ONCE did she or her parents attempt to kill us. In fact, it was relaxing and fun and delightful to get to know Katharine “IRL,” meet her lovely parents, stay in their beautiful house, and explore their town. Said town happens to be the site of a, er, famous agricultural experiment. What famous agricultural experiment? Well, if you knew as much about the history of statistics as David did, you’d know. 😉

David and I dipped down to Alfriston, England, for a two-day trip. Why Alfriston? Well, we knew we wanted to spend some time in small-town/rural England, but we didn’t know where to go. So we spent one long evening in Cologne choosing. I set up a complex system involving each of us choosing three possibilities from a list, researching one another’s choices, and presenting the options before having a final vote. My goal was that this way, neither of us would feel bad that the town “we” wanted to visit won. In the end, we both felt guilty : David initially chose the town, but I researched it, so we both felt like we were getting our way while denying each other their choice. But we got over that pretty fast once we got to Alfriston and both fell head-over-heels for the town. We stayed in a 13th-century inn…

which provided hiking trail directions & sack lunches for folks wanting to explore the South Downs trail. There were two hike options : one was a 1.5 mile hike of the town, the other was a 13 mile hike to the ocean and back.

We took the 1.5 mile hike the evening we arrived, after visiting the Clergy House, the first property ever purchased by the National Trust. It dates back to around 1350! It was amazing to visit.IMG_3411

We took the other hike the following day. The long hike ended up being more like 15 miles because we occasionally strayed from the path, either on purpose or because we were confused.

And it…was…AMAZING! David had the map, and I had the directions, and together we followed this beautiful hike that took us up into the hills, through pastures of sheep and fields, into forests straight out of the Shire, through little towns, and to the Seven Sisters cliffs on the coast. The entire day was like a dream. We stopped for tea in the afternoon, and when we finally got back to our hotel in the evening, we had time to shower and head downstairs for dinner in the beautiful dining room of the inn. It was honestly one of the best days of the entire summer, and it’s in the short-list for best days of my life. We have a new dream of someday hiking the entire South Downs trail now!

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We returned to Katharine’s home and spent a few more days with her lovely family…and one day with ALL THINGS HARRY POTTER. We spent six hours at Leavesden Studios, where the Harry Potter films were created…but I could have spent days, literally. It was an incredible place to visit and we saw SO much cool behind-the-scenes stuff.

 

After this excellent finish to our visit to England, Katharine’s lovely dad drove us and Katharine to Cardiff, Wales. We spent two days there, exploring Torchwood landmarks, admiring the bay, visiting the Doctor Who Experience, and visiting the National Museum. Katharine hung out with us for part of the time before heading off on a camping trip with her friends. We are so grateful for her friendship and help!

Our last stop was DUBLIN, and we went hard. After three hours of sleep and an incredibly early flight from Cardiff, we literally went straight to the Guinness Storehouse and had a tour (complete with pints) at 11 AM. Our AirBnB in Dublin was beautiful and cozy, and we had a quiet evening in due to pouring rain.

Our final full day of the trip was packed…and amazing. We took a walking-tour of Dublin and learned a lot of history about Ireland. In the afternoon, we saw the Book of Kells, which was truly incredible. In the evening, we ate traditional Irish food and spent the evening in a pub listening to live music.

We got up early on the day of our flight home, in order to have time for fresh doughnuts and a visit to Christ Church Cathedral. 

It was hard to believe that our trip was coming to an end, but we enjoyed our last morning nonetheless, and left Ireland even more in love with the country and each other than we were when we’d entered it. Our long flight home passed over Greenland, which has been since added to our list of future trips. I’m so, so glad that we did this slightly crazy trip when we had the chance, and so, so grateful that we were able to do so.

DublinHapenneyBridge
just before leaving Dublin

Tübingen

In case you don’t know any of David and my background as a couple (which you probably do, because if you’re reading this, you’re probably either my mom or David’s — hi Mom!), I’ll give a brief overview.

David and I met in the spring of 2011 in the city of Tübingen, Germany. We attended different universities but both schools sent students to the same study-abroad program. (In fact, the program was part of the Oregon University System — which I attended — and David’s university system in Arizona was testing out whether they could send students to the same program successfully. David was one of two students from Arizona whereas the vast majority of our cohort attended school in Oregon, including myself. I think Arizona’s test was a MAJOR success for me personally. Thank you, Arizona university system.)

We first saw each other at a Greek restaurant on April 1st, but didn’t speak until the next day during a walking-tour of Tübingen. I noticed David’s boat shoes and polo shirt and thought he looked like the kind of preppy boy with whom I’d attended high school. This made him seem familiar and unthreatening to me, so I awkwardly walked up to him, stuck out my hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Laura.” We chatted throughout the rest of the tour, along with another person who has become one of our dearest friends, Jenny.

At the time that we were attending study abroad, I was in a relationship. I had met my then-boyfriend Peter (still a dear friend today) in high school and we dated for the first three years of college. He saw me through incredibly difficult experiences, including the death of my father the year before I met David. Peter and I were already drifting apart by the time I arrived in his home country of Germany, but didn’t formally break up until a few days after I returned to the United States. So, when I met David, I wasn’t looking for a significant other, and I didn’t think about him in that light for quite a while. His experience of meeting me was rather different, but being the respectful person he is, I did not know that for a long time.

Throughout the semester, David, Jenny, and I became friends. Jenny and I were (and are) very close and David often joined us on outings. In the final week of the semester, through a series of conversations, David and I developed a deep emotional bond. In the weeks afterwards, while we traveled our separate ways (David solo, and me with my family), we each began to realize the extent of our feelings for each other. (Well, David had known since he met me that he was attracted to me, but had quickly pushed those feelings aside out of respect for the fact that I had a boyfriend. I hadn’t realized that I was interested in David — probably also out of respect for my boyfriend, subconsciously — until I was writing in my journal while in Italy with my family. I still remember the moment that I realized that I was writing an awful lot about David, paused, and quietly said, “oh, shit” aloud.)

We ended up finally deciding to try a long-distance relationship in October of that year, and here we are six years later, married and increasingly smitten with one another.

The point of this long tangent is that Tübingen, while sort of the ‘birthplace of our relationship,’ really felt less significant to us than Bloomington (where we had most of our visits, where we moved in together,  where David proposed to me, and where we lived for two and a half years after we got married). So much so that we nearly skipped visiting Tübingen, because neither of us felt that it was important enough to us to visit. It would be fun if it made sense, we thought, but wasn’t really a priority. When we were planning to meet up with my mom in Zurich — a plan that fell through due to some family stuff — we booked a plane ticket from London to Stuttgart and David found us a place to stay for a couple nights in Tübingen. It was less expensive to fly to Stuttgart than Zurich, and we’d be able to take a train to Zurich and meet my mother there before continuing on our trip.

As Tübingen grew closer, we each got more and more excited. Rolling into the city on the “Airport-Sprinter” bus from the Stuttgart Airport, we looked at each other and asked, “how could we have considered skipping Tübingen?”

We stayed in the most ridiculous AirBnB, a bizarre, tiny turret-shaped house beside one of the streams that leads into the Neckar River. You have to cross between two apartment buildings, down a driveway, through a lawn and down a set of stairs to even reach it. It was absurd but delightful and took us forever to find, even with directions. After laying down our packs and taking quick showers, we set out for dinner at the Neckarmüller, a beloved Tübingen restaurant where we enjoyed Käsespätzle & Flammkuchen, and of course beer (helles for David, dunkles for me, as always). Our conversation during the meal turned emotional as we reflected on our love for one another. The only detail I’ll share is that I knocked over David’s glass (and broke it) while reaching for his hand because my eyes were too blurry with tears to see properly. After finishing the meal — and apologizing profusely for the broken glass to our server (who said merely, “oh, es geht” — oh, it happens — with a tone that indicated it must happen about ten times a day — indeed, we’d heard it happen behind the bar about thirty minutes earlier) — we went out to enjoy another German tradition : ice cream cones while strolling.

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worth documenting

The next day, I finally got to eat some Krauterquark, one of my favorite foods. It’s basically a soft yogurt-cheese with herbs. It drives me nuts that I can’t buy it in the United States, and I’ve been saying to myself that I just need to learn to make it for six years. Maybe I’ll finally do that this fall.

We also visited our old class building — peeking our heads inside to see unfamiliar teachers — and walked around the town, commenting on changes we noticed (and more often, on how many things had stayed the same). Dinner was Döner from a beloved shop by the train station, followed by a bus ride up to Waldhäuser Ost — the dorm buildings where all the students had resided. Jenny, David, and I all had lived in building #15. If I recall correctly, Jenny was on the fourth floor. David was on the first, and I the eighth. We went for walks in the nearby woods and fields, where David had enjoyed long walks when we lived there, and where I used to run.

Our visit was brief, but by the time we left we were already hatching plans about a couples trip in future with Jenny and her husband Matt. I’m very glad we ended up staying in Tübingen, despite our initially casual attitude towards it.

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we’ll be back for more Döner!

they can’t take that away from me

The title of this post is, of course, a reference to the wonderful song. I’ve no idea who wrote it, but I think of this version : 

 

I wrote this on July 8, early in the morning, in the kitchen in Cipressa.

 July 11th is my father’s birthday. Born in 1948, he would be 69. He passed away seven years ago after a long and difficult battle with cancer.

I always miss my dad, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about him. We were very close, sharing a love of poetry, waking early, going for walks, running, and toast & tea. (I didn’t fully develop my love of tea until the past few years.) In Cipressa, my grief has been heightened. Probably some of this has to do with the time of year — I often feel grief more strongly around his birthday, the anniversary of his death, my birthday, and the winter holidays. And probably some of it has to do with vague memories of being here with him, in this house in Cipressa, when I was seven years old.

The thing about grief as I experience it — or one of the many ‘things’ — is the futility. No matter how strongly I feel pain, or sadness, or the gaping hole of his absence — and I feel all of these things very strongly sometimes — it makes no difference. I could tear down a building in my agony, and he would still not come back. Sometimes, I don’t even acknowledge my feelings to David, because it feels so pointless. We’ll be sitting across the room from one another, me twisted up with the agony of loss, and I think, If I tell David I’m missing Daddy, he’ll hold me, and I’ll cry, and then eventually I’ll stop and move onto the next activity because what else is there to do? Why bother?

On the anniversary of my dad’s death as well as on his birthday, I like to enjoy his favorite things — Indian food, Beck’s beer, poetry, jazz, and, if possible, strawberry shortcake the way his mom made it. Maybe we’ll ‘celebrate’ his birthday the usual way next week when we are in Cologne, as we’ll have a whole apartment and not just a bedroom to use, and we’ll be with my friend Peter, who knew my dad.

Last night, David and I were walking up to the tower that overlooks Cipressa. We were talking about vivid memories — which moments our brains have held onto with sharpness and color. Most of my vivid memories are from traumatic moments in my life, some of which involve my father and his illness and death. But suddenly, mercifully, a different memory popped into my head. It was the memory of a dream. In the year after my dad died, I had dozens of dreams about him. In almost all of them, he was dying for some reason or another, it was my job to save him, and I always failed. But in the very first dream that I had after my father’s death, I am on a stage, participating in a math competition (nervously, as someone not particularly talented at mathematics). I look to the audience, and am surprised to see Daddy, sitting in the front row. Our eyes meet, and he smiles at me and makes the “I Love You” symbol in sign language. And I feel like I can do whatever scary thing the competition throws at me — because my dad is still here, somehow, and he loves me.

the week in London

After our busy weekend, we still had a little time to spend here in the glorious city of London. Tomorrow we leave on a little weekend getaway for David’s birthday (as he proofreads for me and does not yet know where we’re going, you’ll have to wait to find out), so I am taking a little pause to record a bit about the last several days.

On Tuesday we embarked on a walking tour designed by our friend Matt. Matt lived in London for a year while his wife (also our dear friend) Jenny was completing a master’s program here. The walking tour was very enjoyable and mostly along the river. We began the day with time in my favorite part of London — Parliament Square.

We had a very enjoyable walk along the river, and saw, among other buildings, the Globe Theatre.

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We were very ready for lunch by the time we got to Borough Market! We began our meal with some vegetable samosas and juice. This was followed by one order of steak & ale pie and one of fish & chips (we shared everything). It was all very good, especially as we’d been walking all morning.

We continued our walking-tour and ended at The George Inn, a VERY old pub where supposedly William Shakespeare dined (as well as, obviously much later, Charles Dickens). Jenny & Matt sent us £10 before we left on our trip and told us to “get a couple of pints on them” — so of course we did so! I had cider and David had Old Speckled Hen, a favorite of his dad’s. On our way back to our AirBnB we crossed the London Bridge and had good views of Tower Bridge, which I adore.

On Wednesday we went to Paddington Station to pay a visit to Paddington Bear. David has never read these books but I adored them. We are planning to read them together later this year. 🙂 It was a lot of fun to see the painted bench & the statue in the station.

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Next, we went to the British Museum. David has very fond memories of visiting it with his parents and sister, Mary, when their family traveled abroad about ten years ago. We visited the rooms about the British Isles (both pre-Roman & Roman Britain) and saw Lindow Man (entirely by accident) which was pretty crazy. Then we stumbled upon, and followed, the LGBTQ trail in the museum. My favorite part was the cocoa cups owned by a British lesbian couple in the 19th century.

 

 

After this, we went up to Hampstead to visit the Burgh House & Hampstead Museum where our dear friend Jenny completed her internship while getting her Master’s in London. Hampstead is SUCH a lovely, quiet neighborhood. We chatted for a long time with the woman at the front desk at Burgh House and heard from her about how different artifacts of the house survived WWII, and the different people who lived in the house over the years. She also told us that one of the main ways they stay afloat is by renting out the beautiful hall for weddings. After browsing the house & museum displays, we had a lovely tea in the garden café there.

We ended our long day with a quick stop at the Twinings tea shop & museum (I drink at least one cup of Twinings brand tea every day) and dinner at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, another very old pub. (Lots of those in London.)

Thursday was our last day (until August) in London and was a Harry Potter day! (If you know me literally at all, you may have caught on that Harry Potter is my favorite thing in the universe.) We visited a few famous sites, including Leavesden Market (AKA Diagon Alley), the Millenium Bridge (which is featured in the movie Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince), & of course visited Platform 9¾ where we had our pictures taken.

Quick lunch back at the Borough Market so that I could FINALLY get my much-longed-for Prosecco spritzer. We had samosas and artisinal jammie dodgers.

Then, we visited Tower Bridge (my beloved!) and David took me on a fancy date night — first, dinner at an Italian place along the Thames, and then drinks at a bar on the 32nd floor of the Shard (!!!). It was SO fancy. I think the hostess could sense the Velcro on my sandals.

We had such a good time in London, but kind of ran ourselves ragged. That was partly because our accommodations tended to be waaay on the edge of town. So, once we were out for the day, we usually stayed out. Plus, there was just so much to fit in! We’re excited to spend another day or two there in August without the big checklist hanging over our heads. It was definitely a great way to start the summer off with a bang! Until August, London! 🙂

hello, London!

Our journey from the airport to our first AirBnB in London was very long. A bus, 2 trains, and a bit of walking later, we arrived at the first place (we moved to a different one on Monday). After washing up a bit, we went to a local pub and had meat pies and beer (or in my case, cider). Y’all. Random pub on the edge of London and the food was SO GOOD!! Yes, we were super hungry, but I think it was also just really good food.

Our first experience of staying in an AirBnB that we booked has been…underwhelming. It is very inexpensive, and although it takes a while to get into the city it’s very doable. However, it’s also pretty grimy…and the bed is excruciating. We finally figured out that it’s actually broken (the bed) which explains the bizarre and epic dips in the mattress. At about 1 AM, early on Saturday, we figured out a solution. David slept atop the comforter, diagonally on the mattress (which is pretty comfortable actually, it avoids the dips) and I slept on the floor on the mattress topper. David used a towel as a “blanket” and I use a sheet.

You know what…it worked.

Our first full day in London was Saturday. And wow, what a day it was!! We had a slower morning than hoped, but eventually got on a bus to downtown London. Yes, it was a double-decker bus, and yes we rode on the top right up front. It was very fun and we could see where the inspiration for the Knight Bus, squeezing through tight spaces, came. From up top your perspective is wider and it seemed like we were constantly squeezing through tight spaces. At one point a bunch of tree branches smacked into the window right in front of my face, and I couldn’t stop giggling.

you can't just walk in there, you have to Make An Appointment
Where the Queen buys wine. Note the golden “Royal Warrant” above the door.

Once we got downtown, we boarded our hop-on, hop-off bus tour. We saw St.James’ Palace and some of the shops with which the Royal Family does business. The shoe shop where Prince Philip gets his shoes, for example, sells shoes for £2000. The place where the Queen buys her wine has an average bottle go for £24,000 (!!!).

After just a few stops, however, the tour guide mentioned that it was the observance of the Queen’s birthday that day, and that we should get off the bus if we wanted to see the festivities and have a chance at seeing the Royal Family. We got off a couple stops later (after frantically whispering, and being confused as to why no one else got off) and walked across Green Park, following the crowds, to the gate at Buckingham Palace.

And. Y’all. We saw the end of the Trooping of the Color, including seeing THE QUEEN and many other members of the Royal Family. I was most excited to see the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, and her children George and Charlotte. I adore Kate’s sense of style and her personality seems genuine and kind as well. (Fun fact : we are both 5’10”.) We also saw the Royal Air Force fly over the Palace which was really exciting and cool.

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We were so floored by this experience that we walked away saying to each other, “we just saw the Queen of England. THE QUEEN!” There were large crowds streaming out of Green Park along with us. We went to a Marks & Spencer store across the street (thanks Jenny for the recommendation!) and got sandwiches, water, & a Victoria sponge muffin to try. It was all very tasty and our experience was heightened by the group of women (we think it was a bachelorette party — or as they much more cutely call it here, a hen party) sitting nearby, screaming the words along to “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” by Shania Twain while drinking champagne. I was surprised (and pleased) that British women know all the words to that song, too. David commented, “see? This is why drinking in public is a good thing.”

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surprisingly good sandwiches

After lunch, we got back on the tour bus and finished the “circuit.” We saw many exciting sights, including the Victoria Tower (which CONTAINS a bell called Big Ben, but which is NOT Big Ben. okay folks. we got it.), Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and a peek down the long lane into Buckingham Palace.

The tour ended at The Tower of London, where we could board a River Cruise included in our bus tour ticket. Before doing that, we visited the London Wall, built in 200 AD by the Romans. It’s always so bizarre to see structures of that age just…sitting there, in the midst of people eating ice cream and talking on their cell phones.

We also visited All Hallows By The Tower church. It is the oldest church in the City of London (which is not the same thing as London, but a part of London) and I was pleased to see a notice in their entryway that they are an Inclusive Church. It was a peaceful and fascinating place to visit. We even went downstairs into a small “chapel” to St.Clare which was VERY small and a bit spooky — turns out it used to be a tomb.

We then went down to the docks by the Tower of London and went on our river cruise. We weren’t super impressed, but it was fun to be on the water and see many of the sights of London from Father Thames himself. I fell in love with Tower Bridge. What a gorgeous structure!

As we left the river cruise, we happened upon this awesome statue of Boudica. We learned about her in a documentary about the history of London that we watched a couple of months ago. Boudica was a Queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe, and she led an uprising against the Romans in 60 AD and died after it failed. She seems like a complete badass. If anyone knows of a good novelization of her story, let me know.

Sunday was busy, too. We got up early and headed into the city to attend church at Westminster Abbey. It was an amazing experience and I’m SO glad we went. I expected it to be packed, but there really weren’t so many of us there. We were actually in the second row of seats (there were several seating sections, going out from the altar in three directions). Yes, the choir was there and sang. Yes, it was gorgeous. Yes, the boys really do wear those frilly collars. (And yes, they really are little kids. It was very cute to see how, although they were very focused during singing, they scratched their noses and stared at the ceiling during the sermon and prayers like any normal kid.) The sermon was given by Reverend Jane Sinclair, and dealt with how stories tell the truth more than history sometimes can. Receiving communion was, for me, a really wonderful spiritual experience. I always get a lot out of communion, but this was a pretty special one.

Sunday afternoon we went SHOPPING. Not exactly a complement to the morning, but fun nonetheless. I was very excited to go to a store called Long Tall Sally that specializes in clothes for women 5’8″ and up! I bought a lovely dress and tried on pajamas pants that were at least 6″ too long.

Today (Monday) we moved to our new AirBnB, which is SO MUCH NICER. Photos to come I am sure. We have an en suite bathroom, coffee and tea station in the room, and the location is way better. The bed is still not super comfortable (when will the world learn that spring mattresses are stupid and awful?? I will never understand) but given that I already fell asleep on it twice by accident, I think it will be fine.

After dropping off our bags, we went to take a ride on the London Eye! It was super fun.

Afterwards we got lunch by the river (hot dogs and frozen yogurt from fancy food carts) and then came back to the AirBnB, where we have been relaxing (and where I have been finishing this EPIC blog post) all afternoon. In a few minutes, we’re headed to the park across the street with sandwiches, and then we’re planning to go to bed at like literally 8:45 or 9 PM. We’ve been walking well over 10,000 steps per day (I can confirm this due to my FitBit’s enthusiastic buzzing) and getting usually a bit under six hours of sleep. 😀 This is obviously not sustainable!!

If you got through this huge blog post, kudos to you. We’re excited to spending the rest of the week continuing to explore lovely old London town!