I got an email from my office’s principal a few weeks ago asking if I’d be willing to give a presentation on her behalf at a science and tech conference in York, England, as she had something else come up.  My initial gut reaction was…I can’t.  It’s so far away!  It’s so much pressure!  It’s so much to ask of Shane!

And yet…it’s so hard to imagine passing up an opportunity like this.

Shane agreed, I couldn’t let something like this slip through my fingers on account of a few measly jitters, so tickets were booked, slides were prepped, and I was off to merry old England!  There were a few tears at the airport curb as I said my good-byes to Shane and Juliette, but once I’d settled into my seat with my complimentary glass of champagne and queued up La La Land on my personal TV, I felt pretty grand.

I landed in London on Monday morning and immediately hopped on the Underground to catch my train to York.  It was fun, flexing my navigational muscles again – took me back to my study-abroad days when I trekked across Europe with my rail pass and my backpack!  Conference festivities began that evening with cocktails and dinner at Gray’s Court.  Some parts of this hotel date back to 1080 and I felt pretty fancy, wandering the historic halls with my Pimm’s Cup in hand.

The dinner host told me I could catch a taxi back to my hotel at the taxi stand around the corner, “just look for the church”.  Found it!

Tuesday was full of keynote speakers and breakout sessions and some pretty epic struggles to keep my eyes open.  The day ended with a formal dinner at the racecourse and while I did my best to hang with the Brits (those folks can drink!), I turned in earlier than most, wanting to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for my Wednesday morning presentation.

My Wednesday spiel on the Allen Institute went off without a hitch, and after dealing out a few business cards and bidding farewell to my London colleagues, I found myself with 24 free hours in England!  I took my time getting to the York train station, stopping every couple of blocks to snap a picture of a particularly charming old building or peer into a lovely old courtyard.

I rolled into London mid-afternoon and rushed to check into my hotel, as I had a FaceTime date with Shane and Juliette that I didn’t want to miss.  The time change made phone calls tricky, but I was able to catch them for just a few minutes before they headed out for school and work.  My eyes welled up with tears the second I saw their faces – I tried to blame my emotional state on sleep deprivation, but the reality was that I really, really, realllllly missed them.  I was comforted, though, by the fact that Juliette seemed to be enjoying Daddy-Jules week.

Once I’d cleaned myself up a bit, I laced up my tennis shoes and set out to make the most of my several hours in London.  It was a beautiful afternoon, and while I was tempted to stop and stretch out on a sunny patch of grass in St. James Park, I kept moving.

I made my way past the crowds surrounding Buckingham Palace and breezed by Big Ben on my way to the river.

My plan was to cross the Westminster Bridge and then follow the riverfront to the Tower Bridge, hitting the main attractions and any hidden gems along the way.

And I saw a lot.  The Golden Jubilee Bridge…

This quaint little plaza lined with quaint little shops, where I picked up a couple of trinkets for Juliette…

And the Tate Modern!  Shane and I visited this place when we were in London in 2003 and it stands out as one of my all-time favorite museum experiences.

I wandered a bit through the permanent collection, spending awhile in front of a beautifully crusty Dubuffet and finding myself inspired to get back into the print studio by this Lygia Pape woodcut.

Such drama in this building!

I eventually peeled myself away from the museum, grabbed a panini and a latte from a little cafe, and set off again.

England, you are too cute sometimes…

Something good around every corner!

The Tower Bridge is so perfect it hardly looks real – while walking across it, I expected a Disney princess to pop out at any moment.

I wandered into this pristine little courtyard and again felt slightly out of touch with reality.

And then back into the bustle of the city…

As I approached this crowd I wondered what all the fuss was about – were they in line for a show?  A new iPhone release?  Turns out it was just a bunch of merry Englishman enjoying a post-work pint.  It was 6 pm and the pubs (plus their sidewalks) were packed.

More fun surprises…

This Sauerbruch Hutton project is one I’ve seen in magazines many times over.  London is such a lovely mix of old and new.

I made it back to my hotel just as the sun set, feet aching but heart full.  Europe, I’ve missed you!

I had a couple of free hours on Thursday morning to take another stroll before heading to the airport, so I walked over to nearby Hyde Park to check out the flowers and hang with the swans.

And then, too soon and not soon enough, it was time to say my good-byes to England.  It was a long day of travel (again made easier by that complimentary champagne!) and I tapped my foot impatiently while waiting to de-board the plane in Seattle, wanting to get home in time to pick up Juliette from school.  I was desperate to get my arms around that kid.  Shane thoughtfully anticipated my desperation and was waiting with Juliette for me right outside of Customs.  Gosh, it felt good to hold the two of them close.  I was home.

I’m so glad I seized this opportunity, so thankful for the chance to put myself out there in so many ways.  There were times when my head ached with jet lag and my heart ached with homesickness, but those were relatively small prices to pay for the horizons I broadened.  What. A. Trip.

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