It's a funny thing to travel half way around the world. In one respect, life stops. I have thought precious little about the looming election in America. I haven't thought about how much work I need to do in just a few weeks to get my classroom and curriculum and (more terrifying) student government prepared. (I've never been in student government. Not just as a teacher, as a human being. What the hell did I just agree to do?!!) There is so much to be done that I have been storing away in the far corners of my brain. Out of sight, out of mind, right? It's nice not to think about things you don't want to think about.
On the other hand, things you knew very little about (or hadn't paid attention to much) suddenly take on greater focus. London leaving the EU and the PM's successive resignation, for example. Abnormally wet weather. Annoying tourists.
And then there are things going on at home that remind you of how very far away you are and how much you wish you could do. Hearing about the shootings in Orlando made me feel very far away. Getting texts from my cat sitter about how Izzy is doing. Facebook images of everyone enjoying the sweltering Utah sunshine.
Three weeks away is a long time, and I am ready to go home.
I miss driving. I miss the bike trails by my house. I miss my cat. I miss my bed and my big American shower. I miss cell service and Internet whenever I want it. I miss the clothes I left at home. (Ooh how I miss variety in my wardrobe!) It has been a practically perfect in every way kind of trip, but I am ready to leave.
Not particularly excited for the process of actually leaving, though. Nicole and I were talking the other day about how if we were given the power to apparate either to or from a location, which would we choose? Both of us vehemently declared "from!" I am not looking forward to tomorrow!
Fortunately, I think I'll be able to actually make it home with all the souvenirs I bought. In the past I was bringing home clothes and scarves and chocolate and the like. Now my suitcase is bursting under the weight of ten new books. That said, time in the London Underground teaches everyone that there is always room for one more, and somehow I think I've managed it.
(We do need to leave now though, before I find another book to buy and the whole thing explodes.)
Our last day in London led to a bit of an escape from the crowds in favor of time in Hampton Court Palace. Hampton Court is best known as the home of Henry VIII (one of them, at least), but its history is far more than just Henry - the palace had a revival of popularity during the late 17th century, which is why the architecture of the place is so disjointed. It's a history lover's dream to visit. So many amazing historical events are echoed in the walls of the palace. In three consecutive rooms, for examples, are evidence of the first three of Henry's wives; this shows just how long it took to build the place and how quickly he went through women. There are amazing wood carvings throughout, best showcased in the great hall, once used essentially as a canteen for visiting guests. This large hall has wood carvings throughout the ceiling. It used to hold the letters "A" and "H" entwined all around the room (for his second wife, Anne Boleyn), but after Anne was beheaded the letters were carved out. One was missed (on accident or on purpose is anyone's guess) in the top of one of the corners. This room also has heads in the eaves, meant to remind guests that the King had eyes and ears everywhere.
Henry VIII really is one of the most fascinating contradictions in history. On the one hand, he was Defender of the Faith - a staunch religious theologian who was studied and had great knowledge of doctrine. On the other hand, he was married six times (under increasingly dubious circumstances) and known for his unforgiving and unpredictable temperament. He's quite the character. Apparently he was the first king to have a full body portrait painted. He looks pretty formidable in the portrait, staring the viewer down with complete confidence. In truth, his life was a mess. He was injured in a jousting accident while married to Anne Boleyn and never fully recovered. He was in near constant pain. Plus, he had this nasty habit of marrying wives who couldn't give him a son, died when they did manage to give him a son, and were often adulterous or independent or not happy with HIS adultery and independence. What a disaster. Henry did manage, though, to set the line of succession before he died. His sickly son reigned for less than a decade, his Catholic daughter mercifully reigned for about that long as well, and then the world was granted Elizabeth I, one of the greatest monarchs in British history.
In addition to the information on Henry and the Stuarts that came after the Tudors died out with Elizabeth and the eventual entering of the Hanovers with George I. My favorite part of Hampton Court, though, are the gardens. Mary II (not the bloody one) was a great lover of plants and the gardens are filled with plants from all over the world. I especially love the fountain gardens because water and ponds are so beautiful and soothing and I want one. (I should probably get a yard first. I have a feeling my cat and an indoor fountain would be not a brilliant idea.)
We decided to play tourist after Hampton Court and went to King's Cross for the requisite Platform 9 3/4 picture. The platform has moved every time I've come. It was never between nine and ten - platforms nine and ten are actually across the tracks from one another, so it couldn't be there anyway. First it was back a long way and hiding near the toilets with just a wall. Then I came back and it had moved to a different location, this time with a luggage cart half way through so you could pretend you were going in. Now they've finally realized the money they could make and they have a whole photo area set up like Disneyland, where, apparently, you queue for about an hour, pick your props, and have a worker fling your scarf into the air so it looks like you're moving before you exit to a gift shop where you can buy the picture and a million other things (if you want to wait in another really long line.) It's probably a good thing that I was running out of cash and had a few more gifts to buy or I'd have had to beg Greg and Nicole to wait while I bought more things I didn't really need to take home.
We saw Aladdin as our final show of the trip. Ironic to see a show about a hotter than hot desert hours before I fly back to one. Truthfully it wasn't my favorite of the trip by a long shot. The added songs were disappointing, the character development was flimsy, and the over abundance of campy humor was "meh". I wish they'd have taken a cue from Lion King and Beauty and the Beast and been a bit more grown up - the best thing about those adaptations is that they graduated from cartoon status and focused on telling a story with heart and maturity. This show felt like a step backward in a lot of ways. (Also, their Jasmine was terrible. Pitchy and whiney and awful. Not impressed.) "Friend Like Me" was good, but I expected more out of this show. Ah well. When your summer includes fifteen professional productions, odds are one of them will be disappointing. We've been incredibly lucky with the rest of the shows we've seen, so no complaints here.
Well, my bags are packed. I'm so grateful to have taken this trip. I really do think the chance to travel as freely as I do is one of the greatest blessings of being single. Seeing the world and experiencing new things is such a gift. It changes a person completely to look inside a new culture and to view their own culture from a different angle. There are many things about England that I will miss. I will miss the landscape. I'll miss the weather (even the rain - scorching heat when I get home. Boo.) I'll miss the yoghurt. I'll miss watching the show "Have I Got News For You" at night (hilarious). I'll miss the easy access to hundreds of years of history.
But there are many things that this trip has given me that remind me of how much I love home. America may be the land of Hershey's chocolate and loud extroverts, but it is also the home of wide roads and efficient travel. It's the place where you can drive forever on one road and see nothing at all. It's a place founded on independent and daring thinkers. I'm not so geocentric that I could say that America is the greatest country in the world, but it is my country, and I love it dearly. Even though I'll be spending forever on a plane tomorrow, aside from getting home to my cat, the moment I'm looking forward to most is when I arrive in customs and see the American flag. It's a fantastic thing to travel, but it's just as fantastic to come home again. I'm ready.