Just warning you now, this is a SUPER long one. And this will be a 4 part series. So, grab a cup of tea, sit back, and take your time with this one….
I will always think of this time in my life as what started it all. It is the trip that brought my fiance and I really close together (now husband!) and also the time I decided to follow my heart instead of what, I feel, society was planning for me instead. All my peers at the time were getting ready to start Senior year of high school and getting their college plans together. I, on the other hand, graduated a year early, packed away my suitcase, and took my first trip overseas to England right around the same time I would have started my first day of Senior Year.
About 4 months from the trip, I was officially a High School grad. The England trip was on the calendar and it was quickly approaching! My parents took me out to dinner to Frische’s (Big Boys are the best) as a celebration. They let me order whatever I wanted and however much I wanted (let’s be honest and say this sort of thing NEVER happened growing up lol it was rare we ever went out to eat). After the awesome meal, they parents handed me an unexpected present after we finished eating. When I opened it up, it was a really nice Sony DSC h-7. I remember wanting to cry with happiness (but I didn’t) because I had never gotten such a nice (and expensive) gift before.
They told me they wanted me to have a nice camera to be able to document my England trip with since I had been showing so much interest in photography. And man, I don’t think any of us knew how much this gift would end up doing for me. ALL of these photos in this 4 part blog series were taken with that little camera. It wasn’t a DSLR or anything really fancy at all. But it took great pictures and made it so easy to document my journey there. 8 years later, I’m happy to say I can look back on all of these and feel pretty proud of them. Because this trip is where I feel not only my journey as a person really began, but also the time I decided I wanted to try out being a professional photographer. And well, here I am following that same dream through. So, really, looking back on it all, I owe a lot of it to my parents for providing me with such support for what they knew too would be a defining point in my life.
But, let’s fast forward a few months…. August 24, 2007 I still remember very vividly, the drive to the airport. Because I was so extremely excited, and was embarking on a journey with my fiance who was sitting next to me. And his face. His smile…. offered me all the reassurance I needed. But then I remember seeing how sad my parents were. And how sad that made me feel. And I remember after checking in, getting my bags off, and walking down to security, it was so hard to say bye to my parents. I kept a strong face for them, as strong as I could. But I already had missed them so much. And this was the first adventure I went on without them being included. And I remember being so incredibly sad about that. When we finally parted ways, I remember crying through security, and down the halls to our terminal and Paul was wondering if he made the wrong decision of taking me to England. But once I saw that plane, I had no doubt in my mind that I was eager and ready despite my unavoidable sadness leaving my family behind. It was also my first time I ever flew on a big jet plane. And I was so nervous, excited, relieved, even a little scared of what could go wrong. And then, my mind was running wild with emotions from everything, I started to play back all the things people were saying to me before this trip. Back then, I was being told by my own friends and family that I was making a big mistake. That I was going to regret what I was doing a couple years down the road. Not experiencing senior year. Not going off to college when all my other friends were. People were expecting me to leave the country and come back pregnant and they told me my life would be ruined. But somehow deep down, I felt like I was doing what was right for me. That I was smart enough to make good choices. That I was determined not to ever truly fail. That I was SO ready to experience the world and what life had to offer. I needed to grow outside my comfort zone and to start experiencing the world for what it really was. To be able to tell my own stories and live a life authentically for myself. So after a couple quiet break downs in the airplane bathroom, 1000’s of feet up in the air, I sucked it all up and looked forward for the rest of the trip and reminded myself that I would never have another experience quite like this. And I was right.
I was too excited to sleep on the plane. I remember it was incredibly important to Paul to let me have a window seat so I could see the world below as we journeyed across the ocean that separated us. I remember looking out, leaving behind North America, and for many hours only seeing water below. And I remember how incredibly uncomfortable that made me feel. I remember how weird it felt to be so close to space and was reminded of how small my problems as an individual really are.
The whole time we were heading to England, we were chasing the sunrise and I remember thinking in my mind of all these incredible metaphors to paint the story of this little journey I was already undertaking. I considered us “Chasers of the Light” and kept that in my brain quite vividly throughout our whole journey. Then, I started to really take in my first visions of how huge this world really is. And really started to feel the distance that Paul and I were dating across because the internet has a funny way of making distance feel non existent these days. And remembered that for Paul to ever come see me the previous 3 years we had been dating at the time, he had to do this trek each and every time. Quite often by himself. Out of his own pocket. And I remember this was the first time for me that I really began to TRULY appreciate the sort of sacrifices he made to make our relationship possible. Up to that point, it wasn’t possible for me to truly understand.
And then, like magic, the sun rose higher, brighter, and mightier. Clouds parted ways and gave me the sight to see all the land below. But this time, it was the European continent. It was England. Right there below me. It looked so luscious and green. Weird patterns stretched across the many miles that made the countryside as we headed for London Gatwick. The plane started to make it’s descent and my heart raced with excitement, nervousness, and a whole lot of fear that I was trying to control. But, we made it down safely. And I give props to the pilots who did it so effortlessly through such cloudy conditions. When we landed, we made our way off the plane, through the airport, and met up with Paul’s dad who was the one picking us up. Right away I could already see SO many differences with how the airport was laid out. The English accents on the intercoms. The signs, cities, and other gates going to places I only read about in books. People from all over the world in more diversity than I knew was imaginable. Even the signs for “Restrooms” read “Toilets” and I remember thinking that was so funny. From this point on, my observational skills were working in overdrive and I simply came to a loss of words. I was too tired to really feel much at this point and just really took everything in. It was non-stop sensory overload. I remember getting to his dad’s car. Sitting in the back seat with the steering wheel on the opposite side, driving on the opposite side, and seeing cars doing it so effortlessly probably made me the most on edge and completely taken with curiosity and wonder. During the drive, I couldn’t shut my eyes even for a second as I studied how their highways rolled onward and how everything was done opposite to us in the states. I never quite got used to it. It took just under 2 hours to get to Paul’s house in Sturry, England. The house he grew up in. The house I heard only stories of and saw only a few photos of. And to see how different architecture is there, how different people walk, talk, act on the roads, and what people consider normal there felt like a whole other world to me. But, you start noticing things that are similar too. When we left the states it was 4pm. When we arrived at his home in Sturry, just outside Canterbury, it was 10am and the day was just starting. It was really weird because it felt like we lost a whole day. But gained it at the same time. And the problem with jet lag is if you let yourself sleep right away, it takes forever to get on their time zone. So, we unpacked, settled in a bit, and tried our hardest to stay awake. So, Paul took me on a walk through his little home town. This adorable little village was filled with so much character and charm, I felt like I was walking through a storybook. Not to mention, their trees are seriously stunning. SO many weeping willows! Over the next few days, we spent some time exploring the little towns of Herne Bay, Reculver, Fordwich, and Canterbury. There was SO much charm and beauty in all these places. Not to mention history. The photo above is the town hall of Fordwich. It is awarded of being England’s smallest official village. And man, was it tiny lol! This town hall was built back in the 1500’s and the main door to get in is so small I even had to duck to get in. Then, immediately entering the door there are steps that take you up so steep it almost felt like we were climbing into an attic. But inside, there were treasures of all kinds. Old trunks, antiques, ropes, old maps, and even books. If I could make that place my house, I would have done it. Another day, we went to a place called Reculver. This place is rumored to have buried a viking giant under these ruins. I remember wanting to break out my inner archeologist to find out. Read about the incredible history of this place over here. Another day was spent exploring the cute coastal town of Herne Bay. It was funny because to me it was kind of a chilly day, I had a jacket on and my hair down to keep me warmer with the cloudy day. And when we got to the rocky beach, there were people out swimming and sunbathing. I think it was 65F outside. Canterbury is the city Paul grew up in. It’s where he went to school as a kid. Where his parents would do their Christmas shopping. Also where a good majority of his family lives. It’s where all the happenings happen. His village of Sturry is just northeast of this beautiful city and after spending some time through Canterbury, my heart quickly fell in love. Canterbury is best known for it’s giant cathedral. In fact, nothing in Canterbury is allowed to be built taller or bigger than it. It still stands to be the oldest man-made thing I have ever seen (except Stonehenge but I’m willing to bet men didn’t built that one 😛). It was built in 1070 A.D. and when we walked through that structure, I was both completely awed by its architectural beauty and also over the fact it is older than my own country by over 3 times!! I mean, when this thing was built, people still thought the world was flat and there was no such thing as North America. I mean, seriously. How can that not grasp your heart with awe?! Especially as an American. Also, the old, stone floors inside the cathedral are slightly caved and warn where 1000’s of steps have been taken and it’s so smooth you could easily slip over it. I remember reading it was built over previous Roman foundations and much of Canterbury was shaped by the Roman empire back in the day. Main street is built over the old roman roads and when you go in their local bookstore, they even have a dedicated museum to pieces of an old Roman bathhouse right there in the middle of the book store. You cannot even imagine how much excitement I felt over all of this. We spent several days really taking in the sights of Canterbury. Having Paul being from there made it even better because he was my own personal tour guide. He knew exactly what I loved to see and what I loved to do. I remember he took me out to lunch one day when he got out of work to a place called Old Weaver’s Tavern. It, just like almost everything in Canterbury, was older than dirt itself and when we walked in, he had to duck his head because the ceiling was so low. Same with our waiter. And we went outside and ate out on their patio under beautiful sunny skies, blooming flowers, all the while right off a beautiful little creek that runs through the city. It was most definitely picturesque. Afterwards, he took me on a little boat ride to see views of the city that he too had never really seen before and I got some amazing photos that I still absolutely adore. Needless to say, I’ll never forget that day. Canterbury has a lot of little nooks and crannies filled with old and new. There was so much to explore and do. I remember we didn’t really shop that much because I had so much fun just walking around, taking pictures, and just soaking in as much as I could. We would sit and people watch (in a not so creepy way), I listened to the sounds of everything, heard more French accents and language being spoken more some days than even English (France is only a 90 mile ferry or train ride away), and just in general really enjoyed Canterbury. It was nothing like my city of Cincinnati and I absolutely loved that. Everyday was something entirely new and I remember thinking to myself this is the way life is meant to be lived. We closed off that week by going to a place called Chatham Dockyard in the village of Chatham. We got to explore through a WWII British Submarine and their naval museum. I even got to see American WWII trucks and it reminded me of how much I was missing home. But even moreso, how far away I really was from it all. Afterwards, Paul took me to the memorial dedicated to Pocahontas in Gravesend closeby. The reason there is a memorial dedicated to her in Gravesend is because she was traveling across the Atlantic, on her way to London, and died of bad pneomnia just before reaching her destination. Kind of sad really 😦 But I thought that was so sweet he wanted to take me here. Growing up, Pocahontas was my favorite Disney movie and has always been one of my favorite female characters in general. In fact, I idolized her growing up. So, I felt very excited and happy to be there and may or may not have shed a couple happy tears.
Stay tuned for parts 2, 3, and 4! -Brooke