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Adventure

A Day in Winchester

March 2, 2017

I have found the more traditional English experience is outside the busy hum of London. If you are like me and want to really experience something outside of the tourist hot spots, I urge you to take a short train ride in any direction out of London and explore a local town. On my first Saturday living in England I decided to visit Winchester, England’s ancient capital. Winchester is just an hour southwest of London by train. I think this is going to be something I try to do on free weekends to hopefully show you all the beauty that England has to offer.

If you think you can spare a Saturday while you are in London, I highly recommend visiting Winchester on a Saturday. The city is vibrant with locals and students and families from neighboring villages and it really sets the scene for an authentic English experience. There is an outdoor market in the city center with local vendors selling goods from yummy fudge or savory snacks to handmade goods like furniture and other trinkets.

I traveled by train from Waterloo Station as the trains to Winchester leave about every 15 minutes so minimal planning was involved. To make sure I had plenty of time to explore, I caught an early train to arrive in Winchester by 10am. Once I arrived in Winchester, I exited the train station and headed down the hill. I knew I needed to find my way to the city center, where the Buttercross is, which is a beautiful and intricate monument. Now, I didn’t have a map with me so I simply followed the early morning buzz. It’s not far from the train station at all, I found. There is something in the atmosphere on a Saturday morning in Winchester that will draw you to the market. Follow that buzz…it leads to magic!

Your first stop must be an Americano (which is just fresh brewed coffee) accompanied by a traditional cornish pastry from West Cornwall Pastry Co. It is right next to the Buttercross, smack dap in the center of all the fuss. Take your savory pastry and coffee upstairs and sit by the window. There is sure to be an exciting display below as the vendors ready their tents for the day’s patrons. Also, if you are as fortunate as I was, there will be a group of students from the university right outside the doors playing instruments and singing popular hits from the likes of Johnny Cash, Old Crow Medicine Show, and The Lumineers. It was almost as if Winchester knew I was a long way from home and needed that bit of musical therapy to start my day.

 

Once you’ve had your fill of yummy coffee and cornish pastry (which is a breakfast game changer for those of us who love savory goodies), take in the sights, sounds, and wonderful smells that are the Winchester weekend market. Take your time strolling up and down the stone streets and alley ways that weave throughout the city. There is no shortage of local shops and cafés to visit.

Winchester Cathedral is absolutely stunning. As one of the oldest Cathedrals in Europe and the longest in length in Europe, it is something magical to see. If you have time, take a tour with one of the lovely tour guides. They are on a walk in basis, so no need to schedule an appointment. I was lucky enough to get a free tour from my friend’s mother who has been giving tours of the Cathedral for over 30 years. She is brilliant. Jane Austen is the last famous person to be buried in the Cathedral which is quite interesting. There are so many other interesting facts about the Cathedral that you’ll learn if you take a guided tour. I’ve been in quite a few Cathedrals throughout my travels, and this one is quite special.

After touring the Cathedral, be sure to pop in to the Refectory and have afternoon tea and a pastry in the garden. It is a lovely place to sit and relax and reflect on the events of the day so far. Their cakes and pastries are delightfully sweet. You don’t want to miss out.

After regaining my energy over yummy tea and sweet treats, I was ready for the next item on my to do list; climb St. Catherine’s Hill. It is a short walk from the Cathedral, right past Jane Austen’s house. You can ask a local how to get to the path that leads to the trail head, just outside the city. Everyone is so kind and friendly, someone will surely point you in the right direction. Once at the trail head, you’ll notice plenty of people walking up the big hill. There are actually quite a few ways to get up the hill. Some are more difficult than others if you are feeling ambitious. I accidentally chose the most strenuous route which revealed just how out of shape I am judging by my hyperventilating only halfway up the short steep climb. Note to self: start running, Ryan. Either way you chose to go, it’s a beautiful walk (or in my case, it was a beautiful climb).

Once I reached the top, I was taken by surprise the most wonderful views of the English countryside below me. You can see the whole of Winchester at the bottom of the hill. If you come prepared (which I didn’t), pack a picnic and a blanket and truly allow yourself the time to enjoy it. It really is a beautifully peaceful sight, even with the cows freely roaming around. That’s another thing…make sure you watch where you put the blanket down if you picnic. Cow pies are hard to miss, but accidents happen.

After spending time wandering around the top of the hill, I decided to head back down, this time a different way than I came up. There are a set of steps on the back side of the hill that are still steep, but way better going down than coming up I imagine. The steps lead to a valley that you can walk back around to the paved path that goes along a creek back to the trailhead. You’re sure to pass plenty of kind local faces out for their afternoon walk. People in Winchester are so friendly. Just in the way they carry themselves, you can tell there is a certain kindness about them.

The paved path took me back to the gravel parking lot at the trail head. To get back to the city center, I took the path that led through the water meadows. It is another beautiful walk along the river where swans are leisurely floating by. It is a scene straight out of a Disney movie. The trail will take you right back to the Cathedral.

On my way back into town, I passed a corner pub called the Wykeham Arms. If I were to imagine a classic English pub, this would be it. Old carpet, old wood walls, beer steins hanging on the walls for every young local lad who has earned his right to have a pint legally, and dogs! Yes, dogs in the pub. In America, dogs are mostly just allowed on patios but in England it is common for dogs to be inside local pubs. I absolutely love it! Have a pint and sit back and take in the joyful roar of old friends catching up and natives meeting for their daily pre-supper libation. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with someone and learn a bit more about the place.

When visiting a big city, such as London, don’t be afraid to venture outside the comforts of the city limits and explore one of the many hidden gems that surround the hustle and bustle. You won’t be disappointed. Which town should I visit next? I’m thinking the location of one of my favorite films, The Holiday, is in my near future. I’ll see you soon Surrey!

Adventure

My first week in London

February 22, 2017

Brace yourselves for my reality of moving abroad. I wish I could say this is going to be a glamorous and picturesque rendition of my first week in London, but I find honesty is one of the most important qualities in any relationship. As painful (and embarrassing) as the truth is to share with you all, it’s all part of the journey. I will add though that my head and my heart are in a completely different place now than they were last week. I feel it’s important to know that before you continue reading.

I’ve been planning this move for over a year at this point. The beginning of 2016 is when the flame was ignited in me to uproot my life and move across the ocean. Why? I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but I do know that my heart was being called to London. Now, you can imagine that a year is quite a bit of time to think about something like this. It’s also plenty of time to romanticize a place and to build up expectations that are so far beyond reality it’s a bit embarrassing to admit.

All of this dreaming and fantasizing led to HUGE disappointment once I landed in London and arrived at my new flat. The reality is, the touristy historical parts of London make up about 15% of the city. The rest is not so victorian and glamorous. I share a flat with four people I’ve never met who have completely different lifestyles than me and we only have one bathroom to share between the five of us. That’s right. Do the math on that one. Five humans, to one bathroom. As a 25 year old woman, this was a shock to the system to say the very least. Now, you must be thinking “but surely you saw pictures of this place before hand and knew what you were getting into, Ryan?” Well, yes, I did see pictures of this place but I guess I hadn’t quite grasped the reality of sharing such a small space with four other people. The photos also did not do justice to the location of the flat. Imagine a quiet residential area where English is not the native tongue. I mean I thought I moved to England, right?

Within the first day I cried so much, I was surprised my body kept producing tears. I was like a fish out of water. I had bitten off more than I could chew while being thrown into the deep end without knowing how to swim. All of the cliché one liners that you can think of…that was how I was feeling. I was at an all-time low, which is when I had to decide to either pull up my sleeves and keep moving forward or head straight back to the airport and return home to the safety of my home town.

It’s funny how God can plant something in you that grows over a year and really stirs in your soul for such a long time and in a single day, the enemy can come in and completely uproot all of that faith. Well, let me correct myself. The enemy can TRY to come in and uproot what you planted in faith. I learned not long ago that the voice of fear and doubt and loneliness is the exact voice of the enemy. It’s way easier said than done (trust me, I’m still struggling with it on a daily basis) but don’t believe those lies. Don’t dig up in doubt what you first planted in faith. Yes, change is flipping hard and it’s ugly and scary and often times messy. But you have to trust that God is going to bring you through what He brought you to. The purpose may not be what you originally thought, but you better believe that God is growing you and shaping you through every single experience in life and that His purpose is far greater than anything your little brain could ever comprehend. Overcome the doubt and fear by refusing to listen to what the enemy is trying to tell you. Look past your circumstances to what the bigger picture is…that you are here for a purpose and it’s your job to keep moving forward and persevering! “You got this!” is something I tell myself multiple times a day by the way. It really helps.

So yes, even though I live in a not so glamorous part of London and even though I haven’t quite found my sense of community yet, London is still a magical city. I was walking through Westminster last week and looked up at Big Ben and said to myself “Ryan, you live here now. This incredible historical building is part of the city that you now call home.” I mean people only dream of even visiting London and here I am living it.

In one short week (which actually felt like the longest week of my life) I’ve done almost a 180 degree turn. I’ve reconnected with friends I haven’t seen in years, I’ve joined a church and a serving team; I’m finding my way around the city better. God keeps blessing me with little beams of light to help show me that this is all part of His plan. Every day is a new beginning to be productive and seek peace and joy and that’s what I intend to do. So when things don’t turn out quite the way you planned them in your head, remember that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means something better is ahead. You just have to keep moving forward.

So stay tuned as the days get brighter and the weather gets less dreary. If you’ll hang in there with me, I think we’ll manage to make quite an adventure out of this!

Ryan xxx

Adventure

I’m moving…again!

December 14, 2016

Ok friends! It’s time for the big reveal I’ve been talking about for the past few days! Are you ready for it? I’ll give you a couple of hints… Think tea time on the River Thames, afternoon strolls in Hyde Park, and brunch next to Big Ben. Got it yet? Alright alright, no more guessing. I’m moving!! Across the pond to the land of Her Majesty the Queen! That’s right, my journey is taking me clear across the Atlantic Ocean to the beautiful city of London! One more time…I’m packing up and headed to London! Goodness, every time I say that I get butterflies in my tummy. This has been a long time coming. Really, I wish you could see the excitement on my face as I’m writing this. I have been waiting so long to share this with you all!

Rewind about 9 years to my first trip abroad. As a young 16 year old, I experienced Europe, and more specifically London, for the very first time. That was all it took. I was bit by the travel bug during that first adventure. There was no going back. From that summer forward, it has been my true passion to travel and experience the world first hand. Adventure feeds my soul.

Fast forward to three years ago (almost to the day). I got the call to move to Nashville, TN for a fancy corporate job. Now, I’d never considered actually leaving the comfort of my small town, North Carolina life (aside from traveling and returning of course), but it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up as an eager, jobless college graduate. So I packed my life up and off to Music City I went.

Traveling and adventure is amazing, but a few fleeting days in the incredible cities of this world just isn’t enough for me. It always leaves me wanting more time. Which brings us to January 2016. To the moment I came to terms with what my heart has been trying to tell me for so long. I realized one day at work, sitting at my desk in my cozy little cubicle, that I was moving to London. It wasn’t a “maybe” or a fleeting feeling brought on by a New Year’s resolution. No, I knew in my bones that London was going to be the next place I called home and that Nashville was the stepping stone for that. Nashville has been the prepping room, the dress rehearsal for the next main event. The people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet, the friends I’ve been blessed with, the family and home I’ve created in this beautiful city has all been preparation for my next big adventure. LONDON! Are you as excited as I am yet?

Nashville will always have a big place in my heart and it will always feel like home. I will take the friends I’ve made here with me in my heart (and on this blog of course as I suspect you will meet some of them as you keep up with my journey). In all honesty, I wouldn’t be brave enough to embark on this big adventure without their love, support, and encouragement. Nashville is my launching pad of sorts.

So, off I go to Londontown with a bag full of oversized sweaters and a heart full of dreams. I’ll be sharing more and more details about the big move, so stay tuned!