I began rambling about my amazing trip with my friend Jon here a few days ago but never got to finish it. Today, I finally will.
After we enjoyed our time in Skipton exploring the castle, we jumped back in the car with plans of heading north to Scotland. We were torn between Glasgow in southwest Scotland or Edinburgh in the southeast. A coin toss in the car settled it and we headed toward Glasgow.
By looking at the free map from our rental car company, Glasgow didn’t seem to be much different than the other cities we had visited so far, just a little bigger. I could tell of this by the orange dot on the tiny fold up map. Of course, I was wrong. The landscape quickly changed as we cross into Scotland.
I thought we were prepared this time. That afternoon over coffee, I used my iPad to look up a hotel and copied the directions word for word on how to get us door-to-door to the hotel. As our luck would have it they were wrong. Or we just couldn’t follow them.
Glasgow has the most confusing highway system ever. When it became apparent we had somehow missed the exit by following what I thought was the correct sign, we had already literally driven completely through the city and were coming out the other side we turned back around. Or tried to. The highways all seem to merge and diverge in a crazy pattern. When we tried to get off one highway to turn around and head the other way, we were dumped immediately onto to another highway heading a different way. This happened over and over again, more times than he and I would like to admit.
After a few attempts, we abandoned the highways around the area we thought the hotel must be. We drove around through the cold, gritty city and got much needed gas and directions. Much to our surprise, we were close. We found our way to the hotel on the other side of the river and were glad to park the car for the night. We had a delicious dinner and had much-needed drinks in what is claimed to be the oldest bar in Glasgow. The drinks were good, the music even better.
The next day we were off again. We knew the day would mostly be spent driving, our ultimate destination an old WWII airfield hidden away in the eastern part of England that Jon had read much about. The drive went rather smoothly, and our biggest challenge was finding a place to stay that night. This was the first and only time that we were not booking a room that afternoon on my iPad but instead driving into a town whenever we felt like stopping and hoping to find a room.
Again, I picked a town by finding an orange dot on my trusty map. The orange dot was small, but the only one for miles and miles. When we got there, we drove around confusing side streets and roundabouts, following random cars that looked like they knew where they were going.
After driving through what we believe was the city center, we ended up on a road towards the city’s outer edge, or more accurately what seemed to be the woods. Somehow – I swear we could never find our way back if we ever tried – we found ourselves in a collection of circular one-way streets. There was a small restaurant and I ran in to ask if there was a hotel nearby. In her sweet English accent that I could barely understand, the woman behind the bar gave me directions, whirling her hands around in circular motions as she tried to explain them to.
Walking out the door and back to the car, I broke down laughing, knowing I really had no idea where to go. I couldn’t even understand the name of the hotel. I gave Jon the few directions I had understood (I don’t think at that moment he found it as funny as I did) and we started off. The road she told me to follow up and up and up the hill, was smaller than she had described. Our small Kia barely fit on the dirt path squeezed between overgrown brush. About halfway up the hill, through the trees and bushes, we saw a castle in the distance and a sign for The Piggery. I have no idea what it was – I thought about looking it up, but then thought better of it. I’m not sure I want to know.
At this point in the road, since there was a small clearing by the entrance to The Piggery and it seemed implausible that there would be a hotel at the end of the road, we turned around. We somehow drove back to the same restaurant and instead of going back inside, I told Jon to ask a woman who was taking a walk for directions to the nearest hotel. She directed us back to the same small road and said, yes, at the end, at the very top, was the only hotel nearby.
At the end of the road was the Knight’s Hill Hotel. It was an awesome hotel, with the most comfortable bed I think I have ever slept in. It was my favorite hotel of the trip, and one we never, ever would have booked or found if we had planned anything. We celebrated by eating big burgers and watching cool shows on BBCs discovery channel in the hotel’s library – which had no books. (Ok, so maybe there were five, but not enough for it to be called a library.)
Looking back on it now, it seems the each day, we got progressively more lost. Saturday was our last day in England. The plan was to find what we thought would be a vacant field, which use to be an airbase during WWII, drive back to London and return the car, check into a hotel and spend the rest of the day exploring the city.
Again, in trying really hard not to get lost, before checking out of the hotel in Glasgow we had looked up Google directions to the field. They were sort of right, just the streets out in the middle of nowhere were impossible to find. I’ll spare you the details of the time it took us to find it. Lets just say there was an intersection, and we took every which wrong way, for miles and miles, before finding the right way down winding roads til we found Thorpe Abbotts.
I’m writing something in much more detail about our visit to Thorpe Abbotts, because it is one part of the trip that has really stuck with me. Knowing nothing about Thorpe Abbotts, the 100th bomb group or any of the many airbases scattered throughout the English countryside during WWII, I left there knowing I would never forget it or the stories of the men who were based there.
I promise to post more about the visit later this weekend.
But, needless to say, due to the time we spent looking for the airbase, then the time we spent slowly exploring the small museum there, we didn’t spend any time exploring London. And I was fine with that. I felt lucky to have seen as much as we had, and have been to London before.
One part of the trip I keep getting asked about as a single mom is – you left Logan for how long? Where was he? This was the longest I left Logan since he was a baby and Nolan and I would travel to Houston to MD Anderson Cancer Center once a month for him to be treated as part of a clinical trial. Logan and I are very used to our little routine and life together. Since it is just us, we talk. A lot. He’s very verbal for his age, speaks incredibly well and can carry on long conversations. He also comprehends a lot.
I left for England Tuesday afternoon and returned Sunday afternoon. I told him about a week or two before the trip that I was going. Since my friend was using his flying passes, there was no way he could even go if I had wanted him to, and honestly, I needed some time away. After a rough few months, the stress of making a major decision regarding work and our life, and long hours due to my commute, I needed a break. An adult-only break.
But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t agonize over the decision to go. My friends Jenna and Erica listened to me worry endlessly about leaving him. I questioned if it was going to be too long, how hurt Logan would be that I was going somewhere fun without him, or that he would cry to me over the phone to come home. I felt guilty, nervous and like a horrible mother.
But something inside of me really wanted to go. I knew I needed the trip, a chance to get away. While in Turks & Caicos a few weeks prior, I met a 9/11 widow at the pool, where our sons were playing together. When she asked about where Logan’s Dad was and I told her, we immediately connected over stories of life a single mom, helping our boys cope with the loss and the challenges of moving on. When I mentioned the trip she told me: “Remember, just like in an airplane, you must put your oxygen mask on first. Go.”
Knowing another mom had taken a weeklong trip, too, and with my friends’ encouragement that Logan would be fine and this would be just a blip on his radar when he got older, if he even remembered it at all, I knew I had to go.
When Logan asked why and where I was going, I told him. When he said he would miss me, I was honest, and said I would miss him very much, too. When he asked why he couldn’t go, I explained that while we have so much fun together and will do lots of exploring as he gets older, sometimes, he needs time to do things alone with his friends, and mommy does, too. He would shake his head up and down in understanding, then calmly ask, “How many days will it be again?” I’d answer. Then we’d hug and go back to what we were doing.
He stayed with my Mom and Dad who had some fun plans for the week since family was in town, there was a family engagement party (congrats Chris & Kat!) and my sister agreed to take him to his friends birthday party on Sunday. Every night when I called, he barely spoke to me for a few minutes before he was rushing off with a, “Ok, bye, Mom! Love you!” so he could go back to whatever he was doing.
When I came home, he was so excited to see me and ran into my arms. I had promised to bring him back something special, and he loved the British Airways plane I pick up for him. He has an innate interest in planes and had a gazillion questions when I told him those planes flew all around he world.
What surprised me most was his interest in where I had been and what I had seen. Knowing I’m usually a freak about taking pictures, he asked to see them, and then asked questions about the few I had taken. I gave him the leftover English coins I had, and he thoroughly examined them before stashing them away for when we go back to England one day. We talked about how each country has different ways of doing things: different money, different ways of talking, that the people sometimes like different food. He absorbed it all.
But his favorite souvenir from the trip was the worn map we got had gotten for free from the rental car company. Multiple times, he asked me to draw the route we took through the countryside with my finger so he could see where we had gone. The morning after I came home, he crawled into my bed with his airplane and map and pretended the plane was flying into London, landing precisely on the airport sign. I was both the control tower giving him permission to land and the passengers on the flight cheering when it touched down.
He asked to bring both the map and plane to school. After putting his sweatshirt in his cubby and kissing me goodbye, he walked over to where his friends were playing, slightly shaking the map in one hand while flying the plane with his other.
I listened and watched through the classroom window as I slowly closed the door. One of the boys came over to him and asked him what he was holding. He stopped making the airplane motor noise immediately and proudly said: “My Mommy went to England and she drove through the country. This is the map she used. Wanna see?”
I closed the classroom door as he unfolded the map out on the little table to show his friend, and others crowded around him.
That moment melted my heart. And I knew as long as I took him on the adventures we’ve dreamed of together, he would understand and be proud of the ones I needed to take alone.