Friday, February 27, 2015

Durham County, England

Finishing up my Christmas in England series feels a little silly in March. But then I look at why, why I haven't got around to it, and it's because I am living abroad in Europe, learning a new language, and making friends from all over the world. Sometimes as a writer you need to stop writing and just soak in life. That's what I've been doing. Plus, it's kind of fun to look back on the holidays which feel a lifetime away and remember all the true blessings I felt this year.

After my wonderful cultural immersion in Hereford, I caught a very early bus to a series of trains up north through the English countryside. It was between anxious dozes of this trip (no one sleeps well knowing they have three more trains to catch) that I caught my first sight of snowfall all year. Just a light dusting, but it was so beauitful I felt like I was riding a train through Narnia.

Stepping of my last train into the silvery Durham station sunlight, I found my wonderful hostess waiting for me eagerly at the gate. Shelly had been my much-loved nanny as a baby, who had married a wonderful Englishman and had lived in the north of England for the past 20 years. We had tried to arrange visits before, something always came up (as things often do with international travels). But here I was, finally stepping into her world, and the world my mother stepped into years ago. 

The first thing we did when we arrived home was head out to the seaside, which was bitterly cold in the dead of winter. Traditionally on Boxing Day, people come suited up in wild costumes to take the Polar Plunge concept to a whole new level, diving off the cliffs into the icy waters for a charity drive. Although I missed this episode, I decided a quick dip wouldn't be too bad.

 It was FREEZING! I will have to add the Boxing Day Plunge to my bucket list. We spent the rest of the night warming me up with hours of conversation, catching up on the past 20 years of our lives. 

The next day I went to church with Russ and Brenda Surman, the same generous couple who hosted my mom when she came to stay in England. After a wonderful service, we attended the church potluck (it's been ages since I've been to one of those), and then set out to explore more of the North Sea. No one would be surprised if they knew my typical Payne girl talkativeness got us all distracted from the roadway, and we ended up an hour south of where we were supposed to be, so I got to see even more of the seaside than intended (what a shame).

Finally we arrived at Seaton Carew, and we walked along the shore and I wondered if they thought I had brought some very French deja-vu with me as I walked in the same footsteps as my mother did 25 years ago. There is something rather sensational about placing your feet on the ground tread by your heroes. If there is one thing you cannot miss while in the north of England, it is their fish and chips! I got mine with the highly recommended smashed peas.

I could barely move after: the filet was as big as my head, and although it was just a little seaside dive diner, we knew the fish had been caught earlier that day along that very coast. There is nothing like fresh fish straight from the source.

The rest of the trip was spent exploring castles and Durham county. Shelly and her family were so generous with their time, making sure I could go get the best pictures I could, and her husband John turned out to be a fantastic source of history throughout the trip. We each added a piece to the Lego replica of Durham cathedral.

We stopped by all the nearby castles (England has so many!) I got a personalized walking tour of Spennymoor. We frequented the nearby shopping mall, the MetroCentre, which was the second largest shopping mall in the UK (we got our miles in). And most importantly, we stocked up on good ol' American food that runs a pretty price tag in Paris, like Tex-Mex salsa, peanut butter, and cranberry sauce. (Don't ask me why, but since moving here, I am always craving cranberry sauce.) Not only did they make sure I was well-fed the entire time I was their guest, but also well-stocked for my return home. When I said my goodbyes to them and to Janice, a friend and neighbor who I stayed with, it felt a little like leaving home all over again. They even drove me the three hours to Manchester airport on New Year's Eve for my evening flight. I don't know about you, but I don't know many people in this life so generous with their time, money, and conversation.

As Paris became a haze of orange-yellow street lights through the tiny airplane window, I felt a little conflicted. I had a home there, yes. But now I found a bit of home in England as well. And I still have a lot of home back in America. I guess it's true what they say, that home is where the heart is. And my home is getting global, fast.

No comments:

Post a Comment