Happy Holidays From Cambridgeshire, England

First off, Happy Holidays! Andrew and I wish all the best for you as this year slows to an end. And what a terribly crazy year it has been (emphasis on the terrible). Here’s to hopes that 2016 won’t rear it’s ugly head again, and that this Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa will lift everyone's spirits as high as they can go. Hope your week is full of family, friends, love and laughter! 

I figured that I would recount some amazing and romantic Christmas vacation tale in honor of the season, but when I finally got around to brainstorming I realized that I have never actually taken a vacation over the holidays. I mean, it’s not a surprise. I’m typically still in school, praying that my two week break will seem longer than it actually is. But even now that I’m out of grade school and onto bigger and better things (i.e. school you have to pay for...), it’s still nearly impossible to get away during all of this Holiday commotion. I have two sides of the family with two separate plans that dictate most of my time, plus I have gift shopping, cookie making, hot cocoa drinking, etc., etc. All of the seasonal necessities. 

So I suppose that the best I can do for a Holiday themed article is to recount a journey that perfectly represents my idea of the holiday season. Just a few weeks ago, we posted an article about our visit to the Ely Cathedral. That article featured a short descriptive prose I wrote for a competition. There was a limit of 800 words (which is way less than it seems for a fan of run-on sentences), and it had to fit the theme Lonely Planet was searching for. I picked that experience to write about because it was one of my favorite trips I’ve ever made with Andrew, but I wasn’t able to enumerate as much as I would have liked. A lot of the personal aspects of the trip that I included ended up in the trash bin. And why do I think this trip is holiday themed, you ask? Well, it was cold, rainy, romantic, and hectic. Plus, it was the first actual “winter” I’ve experienced in a long time. The holidays are more about feeling than time of year, right? (You’ll just have to let it slide this once).

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Last year a week before Easter, Andrew, his parents, grandma, great grandma and I all made the long journey to Cambridgeshire, England. I had never been out of the Country before, so stepping out of the plane into ice and wind was like standing on my head. In the pit of my stomach I felt the strange sensation that I was halfway across the globe, but my mind couldn’t fully grasp it. Everything looked so normal! At that point, the only difference between England and home was the dialect and Costa Coffee shops.

It took awhile for everyone to settle. Andrew and I bundled up in the only winter gear we owned; for me, that was my dad’s oversized blue marshmallow jacket and my infamously overworn black jeans. We took the first few days to explore with the family and get the lay of the land. We walked to the neighborhood bakery for breakfast, went shopping with Andrew’s parents, and took the train to some adjacent towns, seeing sights and eating lots of food. Mostly chips, dips, and booze. 
Our journeying with the family helped us build the courage to journey off on our own, even though we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. 

Andrew and I looked up the bus schedule online and scoured it for answers. We needed a one-way to the Ely Cathedral, a 1000 year old monument just a 45 minute bus ride up the road. With small change in our pockets and flimsy tennis shoes we walked to the nearest bus station around eight in the morning, already exhausted from the thin, bitter air. The bus took longer than expected to show, so we ended up waiting with some English punks who must’ve lived just down the street. It was strange but exciting, and we were hoping we didn’t seem like tourists. Boy were we wrong! 

Once the bus started rolling we couldn’t help but smile. We scored the top row of a two-decker bus, and the windows were bigger than the giant suitcase I had lugged around just a few days ago. The streets were extremely narrow, and although we attempted to play it cool, we clutched eachothers hands a little tighter as branches smacked the glass. That was the first time we really saw how beautiful England was. The fields were wide and dark green, harboring little sheep and goats as they trotted around looking for more food. You always get the chills when you finally see something you have seen in thousands of photos, yet in real life it is so much better. All I could think about was how lucky and grateful I was: I’m in a different country, I’m out of my comfort zone, I’m holding hands with the love of my life, I’m doing something important. It was surreal to say the least. 

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The next hour was a flurry of confusion and shivers. We didn’t have a valid map, but could see the Cathedral from the bus window. We didn’t know what exit to take. We didn’t know which direction we should go. We simply didn’t know. So, we just went and hoped for a miracle. We got off at the next exit, maybe a mile away from our destination, and started walking. Our momentary miracle was that the hail didn’t start until we were at the bottom of the hill, just a few hundred feet away from Ely. It was a heavy downpour, and it stung our poor frostbitten faces just a little too much for my liking. We broke into a sprint, cracking up as we slipped over the old stone floors, and covered our noses from the pummeling ice bullets. I think we said it was a race but I don’t remember who won.

Since I’ve already spoken so much about the Cathedral itself, I’ll just say that we went in and came out different people. More calm, more thoughtful, more appreciative. It doesn’t matter whether you’re religious or not, the history, talent, and lore behind a monument of such magnitude is awe-inspiring to say the least. 

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Once we stepped back out into the rainy day we knew we were hungry. We asked the lady sitting in her dark cave of an office in the Ely Cathedral gift shop where to go, and she pointed us towards a quaint tea shop just down the road. We half-walked half-ran, mostly to avoid the rain, but also because hunger is a great motivator. But once we were inside you couldn’t have moved us for a million dollars. The shop was extremely narrow and had three floors, and of course we went straight to the top, peering out over the bustling street. I must apologize in retrospect to the kind waiter because there was nobody else in the shop and the kitchen was on the ground floor. We sat there, eating our tuna and corn sandwiches, for longer than acceptable. 

Once we realized how late it was getting we headed back to the bus. Little did we know, the bus that would take us home was already done for the day. We waited in the freezing cold for what felt like forty-five minutes, only to be told by a compassionate passing bus driver that we were completely out of luck. With our last handful of cash, we ordered up a taxi and waited in the parking lot of the closest grocery store. The man that picked us up was clearly done for the day. On the last stretch of land before getting home he started swerving into the grass patch on the side of the road. To this day we assume he completely dozed off and nearly killed all three of us. But, we made it home. We didn’t die (phew!), and we learned that we could take care of ourselves. Later that night we snuggled in close on our deflated air mattress and tried to fight the draft, still smiling from our first big adventure. 

My favorite memories of Christmastime are the late nights spent chatting, or the early morning when you’re too tired to move but you still get up and join the fun. The holidays are a change of pace, and our trip to the Ely Cathedral, and England in general, was one big, mammoth change. We adapted and enjoyed and made memories to last a lifetime, and that is what I strive to do every holiday.