The Longest Journey

When I began this project of cleaning out my older posts, I couldn’t help but to feel nostalgic. “Revisiting” these trips took me to another time in my life. But as I’ve now come to posts about more recent trips, I find myself feeling nostalgic about experiences that happened only a few years ago. Except, isn’t there a set period of time that’s supposed to pass before nostalgia kicks in? Of course, aren’t we all nostalgic for January 2020 at this point? Those trips taken only a few years ago feel like a lifetime ago now.

When the quarantine first started, I wrote that we should enjoy this moment of forced stillness, because soon enough things would be back to normal. And now, well, here we are. I do think better things will come out of this. With travel, specifically, I really hope we can improve upon the stressful, borderline madness that we go through just to get from one place to the next. I look forward to traveling again and telling new stories. I feel the same level of anticipation as I did as a young girl, staring out my classroom window and knowing there was a whole world out there to explore. But I have enjoyed reflecting on past adventures and seeing them from new perspectives, given everything that’s happened since I wrote about them

My trip to the Lake District was taken two years ago. But the story actually begins much further back. Back during a time when you could walk right up to the gate at the airport to greet arriving family. Back when there were smoking sections on airplanes, which is how I arrived in Madrid with a massive headache. I was there to study abroad and once the headache passed, the fun began. I very quickly found myself enjoying the Spanish nightlife. I loved that I would take a nap after dinner, then wake close to midnight to begin my evening. My friends and I would dance until just before dawn, then grab a chocolate (ahem, hot chocolate) and churros while we waited for the metro to open so we could go home and pass out. But after a few months of this, my roommate and I decided that we needed a break one night. Well, it was less of a decision and more of a spontaneous agreement to accept another offer from some very charming British boys.

We had met the British boys at an event for students who were studying abroad. They invited us to a pub when the event was over. That’s when we discovered Molly Malone’s, the place where all the British boys were hanging out. After chiding them for not embracing Spanish nightlife, we quickly found the appeal of the pub. It was a bit easier there. People respected your personal space. “Wonderwall” had just come out and the pub played Oasis non-stop, and it was wonderful. Over the rest of the semester, my roommate and I found ourselves at that pub more and more frequently.

I can’t remember what prompted the topic, but one evening I listened to the boys talk about their favorite place in the U.K., the Lake District. I had never heard of it before, but they all agreed that it was the best place to be. Their faces softened as they described it, the distant look in their eyes indicating that their minds had left the pub and drifted northward, across the Bay of Biscay, the English Channel, and over the English landscape. It sounded magical. If I were listening to them today, phones would quickly come out to share pictures. But this was years before we had pictures on our phones. In fact, nobody carried a phone back then. While studying abroad, I would call my parents once a week from a pay phone to let them know I was still alive, then quickly end the call before the charges accrued.

After listening to the boys, I decided that evening that I wanted to go to the Lake District. I imagined it to be like the setting of a Jane Austen movie, one of those dreamy, romantic, misty and lush pastoral surroundings. But once I left Madrid, my adventures backpacking around Europe only included a quick stop in London. In the following years, I returned to London and to Europe, but never made it to the Lake District. As time passed, I eventually forgot about it.

Many years later, towards the end of my first trip to Edinburgh, I was sitting in a coffee shop along the Royal Mile, sipping a latte, listening to bagpipes being played on the street outside, and perusing the brochure from the small group tour company I had just discovered. I had enjoyed my experience with them and was curious about which other tours they offered. Flipping through the pages listing tours of Scotland, I came across a tour of the Lake District. I immediately thought of Molly Malone’s and the British boys. I had never considered that the Lake District was so close to Scotland. I knew that I would be making a return trip to Scotland as soon as possible and I decided that the Lake District would be on my itinerary.

The following year I came back to Scotland for a longer visit. After a weekend in Edinburgh, I was off on that tour of the Lake District. The scenery was stunning. I’m including pictures below rather than waste time on adjectives. At various times I felt like Elizabeth Bennet, like Beatrix Potter, and even like Mr. Toad on that wild ride. As I tried to capture what I was seeing, trying to get that perfect Instagram shot, I found myself thinking about those British boys. I thought about how this place was exactly as they had described it. Or, perhaps it was exactly how I imagined it while listening to them describe it. I never came across pictures of the Lake District on my Instagram feed, so my only expectation of it was based on images stored in my imagination many years prior. And it did not disappoint.

But as lovely as it was, I wonder how much of my experience was shaped by those British boys. Would I have even gone on the tour if it wasn’t for them? Would I have flipped past that page in the brochure? I wanted to see this place which they had spoken of so fondly. It held meaning to me which wasn’t even connected to the Lake District. It was connected to that time in my life when I was fulfilling my childhood dream of studying abroad. When I was finally off to see the whole wide world. I was grateful that those boys had told me about this place. And, in many ways, I was grateful that it had taken me so long to get there. It gave me a deeper appreciation for the journey life had taken me on since I met those boys. I was in moment nostalgic, and in the next, ready to move forward. Ready to claim the Lake District as my own experience.