To which I responded, "You don't have the vacation days!"
To which he blithely said, "Yes, I do. So... what do you think?"
"I think it'd be great!"
Within a day or so I got an email from him with our itinerary. So we started to dream.
This was our first international trip together. But since we'd each spent an academic year in England, it was (and will always be) a friendly, familiar place. We decided that in addition to showing each other our 'versions' of England, we'd do things that neither of us had done, together.
Unfortunately, my uncle and another friend would be traveling at the same exact time, so we missed seeing them. But I did get to meet DC's friends, with whom we stayed the first few nights in London.
I can't tell you how wonderful it was to be there again -- my last trip was 10 years ago!
We stopped a few stations shy of our destination on the way to the V&A Museum, just to say hello to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and their neighbors. Lots of crowds and full regalia (even a horsedrawn coach sighting) at Buckingham Palace. We learned that it was a state visit from South Africa -- but didn't want to wait the 90 minutes (they'd just left to collect PM Zuma at the airport). Onwards!
I particularly enjoyed the lace displays and embroidery samplers at the V&A. I confess to short power naps in the fashion exhibition area -- dark lighting and Louis Ghost chairs were sleep inducers for us! Then a bit of shopping at Liberty, where I ogled all the eye candy, especially fabrics. But I decided my interest and skill aren't high enough for me to put down GBP19.95 for a single meter of fabric.
The highlight of our days in London were the museums (we also visited the Tate Modern and the Royal Observatory in Greenwhich), pubs, fisn n' chips, and friends. We also managed a bus ride, which was a nice alternative to the Tube.
We opted not to stop at DC's university town, since he hardly knew anyone there anymore -- I'd met one good friend in London, and the other is now at Oxford. So we went to Oxford earlier to spend more time with said friend. And I'm glad we did!
If one is a visitor or tourist to Oxford, one can see the facades of the colleges, but must sign up for a tour in order to get in (we passed by a lot of "___ College is not open to visitors" signs). Since JHJ is a student there, we got to see the inside of both New College -- where several of his family members, including his youngest brother, a first year, attended -- as well as his own, St. Antony's. Each college has its own living quarters, library, bar, dining hall... so the students hardly have to leave. It's like a whole other world behind those thick, centuries-old walls! The highlight for me was a quick look into the dining hall that was eyeballed (but in the end, not chosen) for the filming of the Harry Potter films. JHJ also took us to Turf Tavern, the pub at which Bill Clinton famously did not smoke pot, and, 'American Night' at his college -- beer pong, American music, and a room plastered with American celebrities.
My birthday fell on the day we were in Oxford, and DC made me close my eyes to receive my birthday gift. "What?! Isn't the trip itself the gift?" I opened my eyes to discover the Book of Common Prayer, which I'd been wanting, in my lap. A nice leather version at that (not the cheaper clothbound one I was going to get for myself). Spoiled!
Our last two full days were spent in Bristol, where I studied abroad back in the day. I have kept in touch with one friend there over the years, who stayed at Bristol University through to her Ph.D. in Medieval Literature, and now works there. She also met her husband there. What a great history with a place!
Walking around, it seemed like Bristol was a completely new place. I was totally disoriented as we walked from the train station to city center, so much more than usually so that DC joked, "Are you sure you've been here before?!" In the couple of days we were there a lot became familiar, but there were many new discoveries as well. Bristol and Clifton (the suburb where my dorm was) were much bigger than I remembered!
I was able to take DC to Christ Church on Sunday, which was meaningful because this was the first church I ever voluntarily went to as an adult. I don't even know what entered my mind to make me come there! But I remember that people were really nice, and I even started taking the Alpha course. I never finished it, but started exploring church after coming home from that year, and eventually became a Christian.
Before leaving Bristol, my friend made sure I got my pint of Guinness! After that, we went for Sunday roast, which is a traditional British Sunday meal -- DC's first.
It didn't rain at all the entire week we were there, can you believe it?! Don't let the blue sky fool you, though: it was cold! In the high 30s/low 40s! We stayed warm with accessories and all the walking. I had a wonderful time, not just because it was England, but because with was with DC. Thanks, love, for the best birthday ever!