Four Hands

When I accepted my position with Harlaxton over a year ago, one of my friends skipped the congratulations and immediately said he was coming to see me while I worked here. A couple of months later, two more from the same friend group said they were following suit.

At the time, I really didn’t believe them. I expected them to look up flights and perhaps brainstorm some ideas of what to do while visiting England. I didn’t think they’d hop on a plane to travel across the world, but they did.

This is a recap of when four college best friends take on Europe.

Todd was actually a student at Harlaxton in 2014, so he was eager to stroll down Memory Lane. He constantly told me things about the manor before I arrived, and he lived for updates during my first few days here. Since he studied abroad, he is a well-versed traveller and became the organizer of the visit. He spent the week saying things like “Oh, this room was where…” and “When I was here…” He was like a man returning to his boyhood playground for the first time in years.

Nicky had never traveled internationally except for a trip to The Bahamas when she was young (if you count that). One of her friends told her that they ordered a Coke in Europe and it was served to them at room temperature; this caused Nicky to order a Diet Coke numerous times on the trip to see if that was a normal thing. She was always served a cold beverage, but her consumption became a running joke of the trip. We often told her to let her Coke cool before she took a sip. She also has a phobia of pigeons yet seemed to attract every bird in western Europe.

nicky

Alivia had never left the states before and was eager to see Europe. She messaged me on several occasions before coming to ask, “Does this outfit look European enough?” I don’t know if she listened to me because she brought her entire wardrobe. She toted it around in a purple piece of luggage that was big enough to sleep in semi-comfortably. But it was cool to watch her take on new culture.

I picked these three comrades up from the train station and, after some big hugs, took them to my mansion.

I gave them a huge tour of the manor—complete with bits of history, mysterious instances, and architectural styles. Todd was speechless out of reminiscence. Alivia and Nicky wouldn’t shut up. I don’t blame them though; I still get taken aback by this place.

We spent the first couple of days catching up. Lots of laughs. Lots of getting over jet lag. We played our college favorite board game—Settlers of Catan—five times, which says a lot about our friendship because sometimes Catan takes as long as Monopoly.

I introduced them to my co-workers, and a few of the students were intrigued that I had friends visiting. I don’t know if they thought I didn’t have friends outside of Harlaxton or what.

We had a walk around Grantham and got snacks for the visit. Alivia and Nicky’s first experience British grocery shopping was quite entertaining. “You mean they don’t have _____ here?” “What even is that and why do we need it?”

We also dressed similarly and had a stellar photo session while walking around the manor grounds. Aren’t they photogenic?!

***

The early bird gets the worm… and the cheap train tickets. We were DYING.

 

We took a day trip to London which started with an EXTREMELY early train to King’s Cross.

We saw all the highlights of the city for a packed day. Tower Bridge. Big Ben. Parliament Square. Trafalgar Square. The works. I’ve seen these things several times now, but I literally never grow tired of them. London is my place, y’all.

We also went to the National Gallery to see some art because we’re classy and whatnot. A traveling exhibit on Degas just happened to be there so we got to see hundred-year-old pastels. Beauts.

The day was perfect except I had sprained my ankle about a week before. I was doing fine, but not walking-all-over-London fine. I got back to the manor and took my boot off to find my ankle as big as a softball. I sported a crutch for the next few days. Moving on.

Squad chilling at Trafalgar Square after visiting the National Gallery.

The three of them parted from me for a while as I continued working throughout the week. They visited Amsterdam and Brugge, which was a recommendation by yours truly. I was pleased to know they absolutely loved walking around quaint, little Brugge. Alivia even said it was her favorite part of the trip.

***

We arrived at the weekend and I hopped on four trains and a plane to meet them all in Berlin, Germany.

 

I had been to Berlin before, but only for part of a day. It’s perhaps one of the best cities in the world for seeing how history shapes a place. Segments of the wall are still up. There’s a brick pathway throughout the city that shows where the whole wall stood. Parts of the city are still very divided culturally. And there are nods everywhere to WWII and Hitler’s reign. It’s as if the people there never want to forget the misfortunes that befell them, and they want to show the world that happiness can still come out of the most terrible circumstances. As our four hands touched The Berlin Wall, we felt those people.

 

After dealing with a very shady Uber driver who got us lost and tried to charge us twice the agreed payment, we also went to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. I visited Sachsenhausen four years ago, and you can read my original thoughts of it here. It was just as striking for a second time.

We did some touristy things in Berlin too. Holocaust Memorial. Brandenburg Gate. Graffiti-looking. There were times when we were speechless and there were times when we couldn’t say enough, which I think means we were getting the most out of traveling.

Other moments that I cannot express properly in a blog post were running through the middle of nowhere in Germany to catch a train, walking through an arctic tundra of snow to get from the airport to a tram stop, meeting a local in town who practically wanted to put us in his will, and secretly climbing to the top of the Harlaxton bell tower, only to step in literal piles of bird poop (sorry, Nicky).

Nicky dropped her solid white pea coat on the London tube, only to have it magically cleaned to perfection by British detergent that she called “sorcery.”

Todd ran into a framed medal that was sticking out from the wall in the manor. He slightly cut his head open, and the medal is still hanging crookedly.

Alivia bought England out of British Jaffa Cakes, but she worked them all off by lugging around her casket of a suitcase.

And I spent the week just trying to keep up with three people who have shared countless adventures with me over the years. But this time, the adventure was international… and the keeping up was quite a challenge with a sprained ankle.

As the weekend faded, I had to say goodbye to the explorers who came to see me, but honestly it wasn’t a sad goodbye because I know they’ll be waiting for me when I cross the waters in a couple of months.

I’m super thankful for a European adventure with three of my favorite humans, but I’m more thankful they brought a little piece of home to me while I’m here. So, a bit of advice: find you some friends who would fly across the world for you.

 
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