I attended a Montessori school as a kid. There were no grade levels, as is standard practice in the Montessori system: my school had three rooms in it designated by colors and the pace of each student’s particular learning dictated which room he or she was placed in. Thus when people asked what grade I was in, I’d proudly say “purple room!” and almost immediately got a look that told me my audience thought me a little slow.
That expression always changed when my know-it-all self (some things don’t change) proceeded to recite the Gettysburg address and could name the 50 states and capitals in both alphabetical order and geographic grouping, all at age five. By the time I was seven, I could read and write, knew long division and could also play a few notes on the piano and show you the five basic ballet positions. I explain all of this as background for the experience I will now share with you.
After two years at this Montessori academy, my parents made the decision to place me in a private Catholic school. On the first day of classes, our teacher started by greeting her pupils and then telling us a few of the amazing things we were going to learn that year. She decided to quiz us on a long division equation and looked surprised when an overly eager little hand shot in the air, Hermione Granger style. That hand belonged to me (again, know-it-all) and I apparently wasn’t supposed to know how to solve this problem. I was asked to come up to the board and explain how I’d worked it out, so I talked through the steps out loud…. in a British accent.
I figured out pretty quickly that this was not a thing most people do. Until that moment though, I was 100% positive that the voice in your head was supposed to sound like Paddington Bear. He and his adorable little suitcase may have hailed from darkest Peru, but Paddington, the other characters and most importantly the dude narrating the show all spoke in that same amazing accent that so intrigued me. I think I assumed that omniscient narration was the same thing as your inner voice and that it was supposed to sound British, though I didn’t know what “British” even was. I’ve been apparently thus been drawn to Great Britain since before I could point it out on a map.
The older I got, the more fanatical I became. I soon determined that the United Kingdom was this far away land across the pond where some of my absolutely favorite authors were from and where so many of my favorite stories took place. Once I understood these things, the longing began. England beckoned me through lush descriptions of The Secret Garden. It called out through classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. It gripped me tightly through Sherlock Holmes’ capers and the quaint settings of Dame Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries. It pulled at me through the magic and whimsy of this series about a boy wizard that you may have heard of by some chick named J.K. something.
For one reason or another, the trip never seemed feasible; the time I did make it to Europe in my 20s, I missed out on the entire English leg of the tour to attend a wedding back in the states. Though I’ve made travel a priority consistently since that Europe trip, the price tag associated with London in and of itself always dissuaded me from making it happen. I also didn’t know anyone who wanted to see England for the same reasons I did. Visiting this place that I’d fallen in love with despite never having seen with my own eyes began to feel like a pipe dream.
One day in 2014, my cousin Alexis and I found ourselves a couple bottle of wine deep and discussing our goals for the future. We talked of careers, relationships, finances and travel. I asked her if she’d consider going to England with me. “Duh, mijita!” she said, sassiness on steroids on account of the vino. “Just one problem – I don’t gots the monies!” Neither one of did at the time, but we agreed to set date by which we’d make it happen. We named the goal then and there: London 2017.
This goal sounded great in theory, but almost two years later hadn’t built much meaningful momentum; Alexis was still working to get into nursing school and didn’t have much of a discretionary income and flight prices stubbornly refused to drop to a level I could afford. Then the ache to visit England reached an all-time high thanks to a series of books that I read in 2016. Kate Morton’s The Lake House and The Forgotten Garden and Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale took an already ardent desire to see England and through gasoline on that bitch. It wasn’t just London anymore; it was the seaside charm of places like Cornwall and the English countryside’s rolling hills and thatched roof cottages. With a decent on the horizon at work, I thought perhaps I could finally swing it. I told myself I’d start looking in a week or two, thinking in my heart of hearts that nothing would ever come of it.
The morning after I told myself that I’d at least try to book this trip, I awoke to an email in my inbox with a flight alert. I’d set one for London flights years ago with a ridiculously low threshold, an alert I’d all but forgotten about until I saw the email staring back at me. I opened it and couldn’t believe my eyes – the prices were low. And I mean low. I came to find out that this was all on account of the Brexit announcement, which made me feel guilty for about 45 seconds. When I saw a round-trip flight for less than $600 though, that guilt said, “Bye, Felicia!” and my credit card came whipping out.
I didn’t check with my boss at work, I didn’t check my own schedule. I didn’t ask to see if a friend or family member wanted to join or to verify what the weather would be like. I held my breath as my fingers furiously typed in the details, afraid that if I took too long, the spell would be broken, my laptop would turn into a pumpkin and the prices would skyrocket. I finally clicked a button to confirm my purchase. When the confirmation page appeared on my screen, I burst into a fit of tears.
Today is March 23, 2017, almost six months to the day since I booked my flight from LAX to Heathrow. I am sitting in a lovely coach house in east London courtesy of Air BnB. I’ve just enjoyed a fresh scone with butter and homemade jam as a midnight snack and am lounging in a soft cotton dressing gown as I reflect on the day. I hopped on and off buses and trains, stopped to sit and stare at parks, drooled over the collection of Egyptian antiquities at the British museum and even faked a British accent at one point just to see if I could get by. I went to an indie bookstore in Mayfair that I’ve stalked on Instagram for months and purchased a rare vintage Agatha Christie novel. I had a proper English tea service – sandwiches of Parma ham, arugula and red onion marmalade, scones with clotted cream and strawberry + black pepper jam, a slice of chocolate cake and a steaming pot of Darjeeling tea. I had a beef and mushroom pie and a pint of beer at a pub for dinner before catching Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap at St. Martin’s Theatre. I have to keep reminding myself that this is, indeed, real life.
I have another 7 days left here and so much more planned. I can only focus on the next 24 hours at any given time or else get overwhelmed by my own excitement. It seems surreal that I’m finally here after years of referring to the place like it was Narnia. My heart is full and my tears aplenty.
If this post is a little scattered, it’s because I am almost too giddy to focus. I will hop back on with updates in the days to come, hopefully with snazzy photos, a funny anecdote and a tiny bit more clarity. For now, I leave you with these emphatic ramblings of a girl with a dream realized, one who thanks you for sharing in her joy and wishes you travel breakthroughs of your own.