Britain, Britain, Britain.
My thoughts on visiting the country of our colonial forefathers are still mixed.
Given all of the opportunities to travel anywhere in the world, why would a New Zealander choose to head there, a land with a very similar culture, but higher expenses, stodgier food and ‘orrible weather?
Nevertheless, there I stood in London, several weeks back, watching fighter planes streak over Buckingham Palace while the Queen, Kate and Wills and potty-mouthed Prince Philip appeared on the bedecked balcony in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
It was pure coincidence, rather than any particular wish to see the royals, that led me there.
London was chiefly about catching up with the multitudes of Kiwi friends who have now made their home there, but most of all, I was excited to join my mother and step-father on holiday in the English Lake District.
It is only six months since I last saw my family in New Zealand, and I was fortunate enough to be able to show my dad and step-mum around my favourite haunts in Berlin back in May – something you can’t do over Skype.
Still, I am grateful for any chance to catch up given the vast distance between here and home, and a heavily Scotch-accented bus driver whisked me away from London.
Soon, he threaded through dales speckled with rain and the schist wall-patterned fells of Cumbria at alarming speed to the northern lakes town of Keswick.
From there we navigated the narrow, but gorgeous hedged and walled lanes around bucolic Derwentwater by car.
If Keswick is already a departure from the commercialism of southern lakes destinations like Windermere, then the valley hamlet where we arrived was a complete breath of fresh air.
The vast majority of inhabitants were comical Herdwick sheep munching nonchalantly in paddocks, and on road sides.
Everything was pure verdancy, contrasted with black-coated lambs, brown bodied, white-headed yearlings and shaggy grey sheep – creatures much loved and supported by Beatrix Potter, one of the region’s most famous inhabitants.
And here we stayed.
Hiking, up hill and down valleys, past spears of turquoise Foxglove flowers, into the cosy teahouse where the enormous scones and rich clotted cream matched the equally curvaceous cafe matrons, to the top – and arresting vistas – of Catbells Fell, to the bottom of pint glasses and to the end of hearty pub grub.
The highlight was nonetheless the time spent with extended family and their dear English friends.
I imagine I was particularly appreciative of this since a few weeks earlier I learned of the unfortunate passing of my lovely German tax advisor.
Despite reflecting on Benjamin Franklin’s thought that nothing is certain in life aside from death and taxes, the sudden combination of the two was a tragic reminder of the fleetingness of life and the need to appreciate it, even more so when I consider how young she was.
Perhaps distance from family is something we get used to in New Zealand.
For example, it took 14 and a half hours of driving, or the expense of two flights, to make it back to my hometown from university, so it was not guaranteed you would make it home during the holidays.
But there are times when you can very much feel the distance of living half-way around the world, so being able to catch up with family once again in such a beautiful spot was a privilege and a treat.
And the food, well, I take back my harsh words.
Since the notion of living away from your home country is not uncommon nowadays, fellow travellers, how do you deal with being away from home and family?