Never in my life had I ventured to Europe. Have I dreamed of it since childhood? Yes. Did I choose European History as a AP class in high school simply because I craved to learn about the long and complicated and fascinating history of the continent? Yes. Did I pick up a certificate in European Studies my third year at university? Yes.
But had I actually ever been? Heavens no. I fantasized about biking through Copenhagen, wearing an extremely fashionable outfit while eating a pain au chocolat in Paris, feeling the history seeping from beneath the Ancient Greek ruins and temples, and so much more. But that journey never began – until now.
I stepped off my international flight into Heathrow airport in London, England, and onto my first European soil. It seemed like any old massive, bustling international airport, of course, but I knew that it was finally happening.
As a freshman at UW-Madison, I had lived next door to an exchange student from London named Katie. The universe moved mountains to put us together, and it was obvious from our first s’more that we were going to be best friends for life. I spent a year teaching her the ins and outs of American slang, fast food and holidays. She spent a year describing similarities and differences between the US and her home in the UK. I drank my first English Breakfast tea (with milk of course, since apparently no self-respecting Brit would drink it without some) and watched my first English comedy shows with Katie. (Side note – who knew British and American humor could be so different?)
As my desire to travel through Europe heightened, it also narrowed down in terms of a specific location for me to spend a semester abroad. I needed to drink real tea, I needed to visit my best friend, and I needed to understand this strange, sarcastic humor!
And so I landed in Heathrow airport in the middle of January with two large suitcases and a whole lot of plans. Let me tell you, they don’t always work out. I took a bus to a second airport, I waited an hour for an uber that never showed up and I wandered around looking for the taxi rank, but eventually it happened. I showed up in Katie’s doorway.
Besides seeing her for the first time in almost two years, meeting her wonderful family face-to-face instead of on a screen, and actually walking down the streets of a lovely little English suburb outside of London, one of my favorite experiences in my first days was going to The Tea House. Who knew that they have entire restaurants based on tea time! I should have known – and it was better than I could’ve ever expected.
Katie and I shared a teapot of English Breakfast with adorably mismatched floral tea cups, sugar cubes and milk. The decor really speaks for itself here. The food? Absolutely amazing. I had a feta, avocado and sundried tomato ‘toastie’ that (almost) puts an American grilled cheese to shame. As we finished gorging ourselves on lunch and tea – daintily, as you must in a tea house – our server came to ask us if we wanted any fresh cake to finish off our meal. I looked at Katie and there was no hesitation between us as we agreed to hear the list of flavors. When the words ‘lemon curd’ left our server’s lips, Katie glanced at me, knowing that no other flavors were needed after that.
After finding room in our stomachs for dessert, a delicious lemon curd bread and butter pudding with clotted cream, I found myself stumbling over the confusing coins and pounds to pay the bill, but I needed the practice. As we left to wander around town, something within me finally clicked. I was here. I was with my best friend. I just drank tea and ate a lemon curd dessert. And as we walked, I couldn’t wait for all the other adventures I could foresee in this fascinating country that will be my home for the next few months.