Me: Does the bus to Durham leave from this platform?
British employee: You mean the ‘coach’ to Durham?
No, I meant the bus, you insufferable fool. This is why we started the Revolutionary War. Semantics.
But to be honest, the sassy bus driver didn’t bother me so much bc my best friend of eleven years was waiting for me at the bus station upon my arrival with fresh fish and chips and a huge smile on her face.
For those of you who don’t know, I’ll give you the abridged version: Becka and I met at the ripe, ugly age of 13 when I moved in across the street from her family in Stafford, Virginia. It took all of five seconds for us to become best friends and we spent pretty much the entirety of 8th grade together until her family moved to Illinois before freshman year (her dad was Air Force and mine was a Marine). Two years later she was back, but junior year was hectic for us and seeing each other was tough, which made my moving back to California senior year even harder. Finally, when we went to college and finally could have lived closer to each other if we chose the appropriate schools, we did not even kind of do that. Somehow it ended up that she moved from Virginia to the west coast to go to school at WSU, and I left California for the east coast to go to WVU. Seriously. We literally switched sides of the country. Bc the universe has something against us being even remotely geographically convenient for each other. Whatever, we clearly have a pretty functional system seeing as we’re still so close so I’ll take what I can get.
Something that has not changed, is the childlike excitement I get whenever I know I’m about to see Becks. I think it’s bc we were so young when we became friends so that feeling comes back and I revert to a funny lookin’ prepubescent jumpin’ up and down waiting for my bus to pull into the station. Upon arrival, we took the bus from Durham proper (a cute little town about 15 minutes from Newcastle by train) to the outskirts of town, where Becka and her boyfriend Alex (yeah I know, another Alex - but I'm "OG Alex" so it's cool) share a duplex. It wasn’t until I arrived at her house that I realized how goddamn old we've gotten. I’ve known this girl since we were funny lookin’ adolescents and here she is giving me a tour of her home in freakin’ England where she lives with her fantastic boyfriend (who I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet till this week) in a big kid house that they’ve made into a home together. She’s so adulty, mind you, that I got to sleep in the GUEST ROOM with my own BATHROOM. WHEN DID WE GET SO OLD?!
Now to be fair, Alex and their landlord actually installed the shower head to make it a functional full bathroom on the evening I came into Durham, so that’s a new development (which took approximately 6 hours, frustration towards a Chinese woman named Shirley whose help was desperately needed yet impossible to access, a trip to the store, a few beers, a few expletives, and some moral support from Becks and I downstairs), but the point stands. She is officially an adulty adult. Like, when she comes to me, we’ll be cuddling in my bed and everybody shares a bathroom and there’s no cooking/cocktail-mixing/tidy/loving boyfriend around like there is at her place – seriously he’s an amazing cook/mixologist and a super neat person bc how could he not be, we share a name.
Becks and I used the time the boys took to work on the shower to play our ever-familiar game of catch-up. We’re more or less up to date on each other’s lives bc we chat on the phone once every other week or so for a few hours at a time, but somehow we always have plenty to say (especially me bc as we all know, I don’t know how to shut the hell up). We laughed at the fact that we’re both about to start another year of school in a new place after 11 years of friendship. It feels like we’re doing the same thing we did when we met but this time we’re in Europe – she’s getting her Masters in Hydrogeology from the University of Newcastle - and we’ll be graduating within a month of each other. We agreed that it would be pretty great if we could figure out a time travel situation and visit our prepubescent butts and tell ourselves that everything will work out even better than we ever could have imagined, but I guess we figured it out eventually without the help from our future selves.
The next day, we headed into Durham proper for breakfast before a tour of Durham Castle. We went into Durham Café for some of their fresh scones and a meat pie – and the scones in particular were delicious – but we ran into some trouble when our meat pie(s) came out. See, we’d very clearly only ordered one, seeing as we’d intended to share it like we’d done with the scone, but the manager had misunderstood us and brought us one each. Paying twice the price for food we weren’t hungry for and hadn’t ordered didn’t seem ideal, so after a bit of quick discussion, we called a server over and asked her to take one back as we’d only ordered one. She did not look excited and went to inform her manager of the mix-up. The lovely woman took it upon herself to come over and inform us that we had indeed ordered two meat pies (we most definitely did not) and that it was our fault they’d wasted the food. So for those of you who are like me and have worked in the service industry in the States, this is sooooo not how that conversation goes. First off, we were nothing but polite when articulating the problem, and were told in a solidly aggressive way that this was our fault anyway. Now in the States, even if it were our fault (which it wasn’t), the server would have simply apologized and taken it back, bc of our “the customer is always right” culture. Clearly that didn’t apply here, so after an awkward exchange and some contemplation of differing cultural norms, we resolved to ask Alex (who is British) if we were somehow in the wrong. Apparently no, this lady was just particularly rude. Meh. I will say that as wait staff does not work for tips in Europe, they tend to be less inclined to dote or be particularly attentive or apologetic if something goes wrong.
We did enjoy our food though, so we paid and made our way to Durham Castle, for which Becks had organized a tour bc she loves history and learning things and I also like to know things about stuff bc we are nerds so it was no surprise when it was the two of us and about 12 senior citizens walking around enjoying the tour. Our secret was out. We are grandmas. Secret aside, the tour was actually super interesting and really enjoyable and I learned that STUDENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY CAN LIVE IN THE CASTLE AND THEY WEAR ROBES TO DINNER AND HAVE FEASTS AND PART OF HARRY POTTER WAS FILMED THERE AND I ESSENTIALLY HAVE BEEN ROBBED OF THE OPPORTUNITY TO BECOME A WIZARD AND IT IS COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY UNACCEPTABLE. I did, however, get a picture of the Harry Potter film setting though, so I have now walked where amazing wizards have walked and that’s like almost as cool, right? No? Ok.
After breakfast and our tour, we headed to Newcastle to check out Becks’ new campus and take a tour of the city so that she could get her bearings. My dad used to take me to his college classes with him when I was a kid so I promised Becks that I would behave just as well as I did then (I lied though bc I was like a really good kid and now I’m kind of an *sshole adult). The campus itself and the city center were both absolutely gorgeous – Becks is going to have a great year out there. Granted, it was so unbelievably windy that it was like walking around in a wind tunnel 24/7, which was not ideal (especially later when it meant that our train was cancelled, and we had to find our way back to the bus station bc somehow buses are safer than trains in friggen’ hurricane force winds??). Whatever. We came home to Alex getting ready to make stuffed mushrooms - which were absolutely delicious - before playing a few rounds of cards and getting ready to pass out after our day of walking 20,000 and 18,000 steps respectively (she’s like 5 inches shorter than me so she needs more steps to go the same distance).
The next day was deemed a “chill day” and I could not have been more excited. The strep throat was still beating me up a little and I hadn’t stopped moving since I’d gotten sick and I was legitimately psyched not to have to change out of comfy clothes all day. Becks was worried I would be bored but I was seriously pumped to do nothing but hang out and chat and play cards and talk all day. It was fab. About halfway through the day, we decided to take a long walk down the nearby river just to get out of the house, so we went upstairs to get ready, and naturally by the time we came back down, it was raining. A lot. Welcome to England. We decided instead to take a much shorter walk to the nearby pub for a few beers and chats, which we enjoyed immensely aside from the part where we were the only two girls in a pub full of old, white men… but what can you do. We spent the rest of the evening providing moral support while Alex cooked a fantastic Thai curry before watching a movie and getting ready for bed bc we’d have to be up early the next morning to make my bus and her train to get into Manchester and Newcastle respectively. Just like when we were in middle school, we left the house while my hair was still wet (I never could make myself wake up early enough to let it dry before I left), Becks looked gorgeous and put together, I looked less that, and we chatted about our new schools and programs and how our time together flew by faster than we even thought possible. As per usual, we had a quick goodbye that involved yet another form of transportation taking her away from me as I stand in the street looking like a lost puppy (last time it was a trolley in the Czech Republic, this time it was a taxi in England). But at least this time we know there’s no way we won’t see each other soon bc despite the fact that we’re in two entirely different countries, it’s still easier (and cheaper) to get to each other than it ever was before. How neat is that?
So for now I’ve got another hour of nap time before I have to switch buses in Leeds and eventually make my way to Saskia’s place in Manchester, and as such, this is where I leave you folx for today.
PS. Being in a foreign country where they speak your first language but you still barely understand what they say makes you feel incredibly unintelligent.
About the Author
Mouth like a sailor, great lacker of empathy, paper cut survivor, avid arguer, harsh critic of people who put clothes on their pets, easily distracte
USA, Mexico, Iceland, Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Malta, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Hungary, England, Poland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Scotland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Croatia, Greece
The Baltic countries,
if Covid allows for it (Latvia, Estonia, maybe a stop in Finland)
(in August in the US)