When others dream of laying on a beach in a postcard perfect tropical location (not that I don’t – sometimes), I dream mostly of crumbling castles, acres of perfectly mowed green lawns, and the homes of my literary favorites – Austen, Brontes, Wordsworth, and Dickens.
Yes, I dream of England.
It has become an interesting wave of fandom in America, this love of English things. In some way, we always have loved the romanticism of the castles, the ambling words of poets talking about moors, the sea, and lurid tales of dark London streets, and with the renewed popularity of the Royal Family, it seems like everyone is on the Anglotopia bandwagon.
Let me say, I’ve been on it for a long time. Since about age 13, when I thought Prince William was the hottest thing since flamin’ Cheetios and every other girl was screaming over Leo DiCaprio from his Titanic fame. I fell in love with England, and as the internet continued to evolve (think: 1998 forward), I was able to soak up more and more of England. I read its history and its authors, and then I started on British TV shows and films.
I only considered colleges where they had a study abroad program in England. I was damn determined to get there. By my third year in university, I had a choice between many schools in the UK, including the very famous St. Andrews (where said prince was studying at the time), Oxford, and Cambridge. I gave it a good, long think, and then, before I knew it, I was off to Oxford. Not matriculated, per say, but able to study there like any other student.
Three months in England, even in the sometimes dreary autumn weather, I fell more and more in love with the country. I found out that should drink tea with milk and sugar (not something I was raised on, but wow, life-changing) and that something called spotted-dick came in a tin. I went to private tutorials in buildings older than European civilization in my home country, and I had to work harder than before to make the scores I wanted on my weekly papers. It taught me a lot about self-reliance, determination, and perseverance.
But every day I walked through town, every weekend I spent in Bath, Stratford, or London, I knew that something would never leave me about this country.
Fast-forward to real life. The moment I settled overseas, now five years ago, I knew that I would see England again. It was a matter of finding time, saving up, and just – going.
And finally, last summer, it all came to be, and my next several posts are going to be about the good, the funny, and the lessons learned whilst traveling in the UK.
Before I would head to London, though, I had a two-day stopover en route in Abu Dhabi.
Etihad Airways was running a special for travel, including a 2-for-1 night stay in an Abu Dhabi hotel. Already, the hotels were running good prices, so I was able to get the Ritz-Carleton for a brilliant rate for the two nights. I can’t say I’ve stayed anywhere quite so luxurious in my life, and I probably looked it as I rocked up from a 10 hour overnight flight with very little sleep and a whole lot of exhaustion going on.
On the plus side, I spent an entire day in the 100+ degree desert heat by the pool, going between putting on sunscreen and dipping into the gorgeous Ritz pool. That’s a positive start to the holiday, for certain.
Before my London flight, I took a tour of the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a gorgeous white marble mosque just across the street from the Ritz. It is led by members of the mosque, and it takes visitors through the inner courtyard, worship halls, and some of the most amazing tilework I’ve seen. As a woman, I was required to cover my head and be covered from neck to foot in loose clothing, just about. There are clothing pieces available if needed at the mosque, but it’s just as easy to dress appropriately before visiting. I really do recommend a guided tour, as you’ll learn more than just wandering around and taking pictures.
Abu Dhabi is an oasis in the desert, a lovely place to stopover between continents and spend some time in luxury. I may have only had a day, but it was enough to recharge before the three-week journey ahead through, around, and up and down the UK.