The United Kingdom has part of my heart.
If you’ve been following along, you know I traveled across the world to meet my best friend for the first time, an amazing woman/wife/mum I “met” through Instagram over two years ago. What started as a simple following, and occasional interaction, has bloomed into the greatest real-life friendship ever. And it’s no secret that we wish the trip never had to end! I feel very fortunate for Instagram, for being part of our story.
This trip was actually a birthday surprise for Kristi, which turned from a 6-day-trip into a 10-day-adventure dream! It has proved that no distance is too great (not even 3,800 miles) for best friends like this. It was my first trip across the pond and it far exceeded all I had anticipated, since I’ve been dreaming of England since I was six. (Ask my mom about my “British accent” obsession and how she hated it!)
Kristi and I made so many memories, visited so many places and had so much fun. I loved just BEING and doing life with Jake and Kristi and their beautiful family.
I’m sharing the highlights from each day below, and saying with confidence, if you ever get a chance to visit the UK, GO GO GO! And if you ever find a friendship that changes your world, hold on tight and never let go, no matter the distance.
Momma Meets UK
My flight with Wow Air brought me into Gatwick Airport on a Saturday morning. I had to keep telling myself that it was real! I was really there! I was about to meet my best friend! Those first hugs were my favorite.
It was a 2.5 hour drive back to Peterborough, and the rest of the day was spent resting, drinking tea together (finally!!) and playing with the kids in the garden. Realizing that even though we had never met before, it was like Kristi and I had known each other our whole lives, and that was a very cool feeling. We spent that evening drinking wine, watching The Heat and going to bed early.
Before I left the states, I shared my concerns with Kristi about church in the UK, because that’s so important to me and I wasn’t sure what to expect. The minute we walked into Bretton Baptist on Sunday morning, I felt like I was at home! The worship was amazing, and the teaching blew me away, God was definitely present. And the British accent of Pete Lummis while he spoke about “living in the world” was captivating (have I mentioned I love British accents??) If you get a chance to attend a service at BBC, do it! I promise you’ll feel at home.
After church, I got to meet Kristi’s mum and stepdad and we went for a traditional English meal at The Cuckoo. It. was. incredible. I ordered the Roast breast of turkey with lemon & thyme stuffing wrapped in bacon. It was also my first experience with Yorkshire puddings and man! YUM. The pub environment was half the fun of the lunch, it was definitely a place to add to your list!
Monday was “Kristi-and-Monica’s-Day-Of-Fun!” (and if you didn’t know, we are huge FRIENDS fans!) She took me on a touristy day around the city she was born and raised in, and fun was an understatement.
We took the train from Peterborough to London, listening to “our playlist” on the old school iPod nano the whole time. Kristi’s mum picked us up from the terminal and I got to experience London traffic for the first time. Driving on the wrong side of the road, in the wrong side of the car is hard enough…add in London traffic and let’s just say I closed my eyes most of the time! This day in London was Kristi’s birthday gift to me, since our birthdays are 12 days apart and we wouldn’t be together on mine.
We finally arrived at the surprise location…
I. was. so. excited. and shocked to see the car pull up to the Eye. I told her I didn’t want to be a tourist when I came to the UK, but this was the exception. Because can you really see London if you don’t see it from the sky? To make the experience even better, we had tickets for the Champagne Experience! Bubbly on top of the world with your best friend. WHAT!!! After chugging our champagne near the end of the ride, we held hands and laughed as we walked around London while everyone looked at us like we were crazy girls.
The aquarium was so much fun, despite the penguin exhibit being closed for renovations. Sea Life is a beautiful place to bring your family (or your best friends) and there was so much to see. I even touched a starfish!
We finished London by walking along the Thames, even though Big Ben is currently being cleaned for the next couple of YEARS! We took photos, laughed so hard, visited Kristi’s nan, and her mum brought us back to the terminal for our return train ride back to Peterborough. We ended up getting McDonalds and having to wait outside the train for 30 minutes before they let us on! Note to self for next time: wear a coat in London in March!
Tuesday was filled with a slow morning, and then off to Stamford to venture around Burghley House and take photos. Kristi is also a photographer, and this is one of the locations she takes photos at. It was such a treasure being able to spend time taking headshots of each other, seeing the beautiful “castle on a hill” and just getting to BE in a beautiful England location that I’ll never forget. We didn’t go in the house or the garden, but I’ve heard both are beautiful.
Wednesday was Kristi’s BIRTHDAYYYY! After dropping the kids off at nursery, Jake, Kristi and I got on the road to Hunstanton Beach, which was a good hour and a half away. We drove past the place where the Queen vacations, and even a few miles of what looked exactly like the great Michigan outdoors! Hunstanton Beach was gorgeous. We took some photos (of course) and they showed me around. Beaches are different in the UK, not just because they are all rocky…but because you don’t see people just laying at the beach. The experience is about being at the seaside…not laying on it.
We visited the aquarium in Hunstanton, too, which was cool because it was so different than the one in London, and it had penguins…and otters! It was special getting to spend time with the Atkinsons here, looking at the sea life and watching Kristi touch a starfish so gracefully! 😉 I really enjoyed the SEA LIFE aquariums!
This was something I had looked forward to for quite some time…REAL fish and chips. And guess what, IT WAS AMAZING. When they handed it to me, my eyes bulged because that cod was MASSIVE. And the taste was incredible. I like fish and chips in Michigan, but let me tell you what…fish and chips at the seaside in England…nothing compares! So YUM. Before I left on the trip, my husband said he was jealous that I get to have real fish and chips…I didn’t know what that meant until I took the first bite.
I was told about these arcades before I landed in the UK, but I didn’t realize how big of a deal they were until we got to Hunstanton. 2 pence machines are “what you do when you go to the seaside”…and it’s all part of the experience. To some it might just be an arcade, but to me, it was watching Kristi and Jake be in their glory, being big kids…and that’s worth all the 2p! We finished Kristi’s birthday with Jake’s homemade dinner, drinks, my special FRIENDS cake and the hilarious game of Watch ya’ Mouth! So much fun celebrating with my girl and her family.
Thursday has it’s own heading because it was a pretty big day. If you don’t know why, be prepared to be WOWed here.
We had plans to get matching tattoos together on my last day. I was tattoo-less, so I had no idea what to expect. And despite being so scared, it went off without a hitch. Sure it hurt…it’s a tattoo! But what hurt worse was Kristi squeezing my wedding ring into my pinky while she was getting hers done! 😉 For a first tattoo, this was a great place to go. And like they say…once you get one, you’ll want more…yes, that’s true, very true.
And note to self for next time: check the daily mail every day!! (again, click here so you know what I’m talking about!)
After we learned about the unfortunate demise of Wow Air 21 hours before my flight back home, and after the sting of the tattoos wore off a little bit, we kept our plans to venture around Kristi’s favorite city, Stamford! It’s a beautiful, old town with 17th and 18th-century stone buildings lining the streets. It’s like driving through a movie! The quaint shops, beautiful numerous churches, and tranquility easily made it my favorite city, too! Plus, the Burghley House is here, too. I would seriously move to Stamford! You have to visit if you’re in the UK!
We left Stamford and drove back to The Cuckoo for beer and wine, and talked for hours as I sat in limbo of not having a flight home! It was glorious.
Honestly Friday and Saturday were a blur, all I remember was a campfire in the garden with American s’mores, and taking the kids to the local parks. Between trying to find a flight home that didn’t cost $2,000 and trying to keep calm…I don’t remember much else. Sunday was Mother’s Day in the UK and I was so grateful we got to spend that day, unexpectedly, together! All five of us went to Sacrewell and seen the animals, played on the swings, and ate some ice cream. It was a beautiful and perfect day, and the perfect place to take the family! Jake made a beautiful Sunday roast and we enjoyed the day knowing the time was dwindling before my flight home on Tuesday.
I was keenly aware the whole time I was in the UK that I was American. I would ask Kristi why everyone was looking at me and she’d say “because they can tell you’re American!” So when we sprinted through Heathrow Airport the morning of my flight, said a tearful goodbye…I was that crazy American girl in dungarees, sobbing the whole time. The TSA agent helping with my bags was very kind and helpful as I cried the whole time. And the man next to me on the 8 hour and 40 minute plane ride put the eye mask over his eyes and turned away from me because, even though he didn’t speak english, he knew he wanted no part of the sappy American chick’s sob story!
After landing in Chicago, I immediately knew part of my heart was still in the UK. No doubt. Between leaving my best friend and just knowing what life was like over there, it’s been a hard adjustment period being back home. I crave the simple, slower and even crazier driving life that is England. But every day gets easier, and being back with my husband and babies is good. It was also so good to get away, see new things, and refresh the soul.
10 days was never enough, but I am so grateful for each one. And September cannot come soon enough, as the Atkinsons “come home” to Michigan for 2 weeks!
Thank you all for following along on this journey across the pond, and for helping support us in this long distance friendship that is proving to be so hard some days. And thank you to all of you who supported me as I traveled, and those who helped with the kids while I was gone! Love you all.
Can’t wait to see where Momma Meets next…