The British Isles

It’s hard to call our time in the British Isles anything but a trip home. I’ll forever love Southeast Asia, and the lessons learned from this year will take a while to unpack, but small details — like drinkable water, or metered taxis — were sorely missed. And after wearing a layer of sweat for eleven months, I’ll gladly take a scarf and jacket on a brisk overcast afternoon. Combine that with native English speakers and suddenly Britain is more “Welcome Back” than first-time trip.

To use their own phrasing, London is “proper massive!” — true in both figurative and literal senses. An immense 21st-century metropolis, glass and steel permeate the city. But unlike the majority of New York or Kuala Lumpur, contemporary London structures do more creative things than simply “go up”. Curves, twists, overhangs, and other design elements add artistry to each building and a welcome diversity to city blocks. And, like many European cities, old castles, bridges, and cathedrals still dominate parts of the skyline, showing tradition and character around every corner. For a tourist, a never-ending maze of discovery in all directions.

Dublin, on the other hand, is anything but endless. At just over half a million residents, it’s shockingly small for a major European capital. Brick and stone still dominate the skyline, and few buildings have grown past a few stories. But its old city centre, still paved with cobblestone and lined with small shops, has a charming town feel. And every site is only a fifteen minute walk away, which gives the entire place a level of intimacy lost in other cities. Add the locals, affable and delighted to help any wayward tourist, and you’re left with an endearing town full of personality where I thoroughly enjoyed my time.

I’ll continue to mention that I’m driven by my stomach. And for a year abroad, there was no better continent than Asia to fill my belly with mouthwatering foods. But there were certainly things I’d missed. Like cheese. Oh the cheese. Ambrosia that I’d longed for. Even the best Asian dairy holds barely any taste and European cheese is a wondrous drug that I can’t put down. Similar cravings for soft bread and warm butter — simple meals that were long overdue. And beers. From hoppy red ales to velvety stouts. Of course, England and Ireland have their own unique flavours. And I couldn’t get enough sausage, black puddings, meat pies, and mashed potatoes. Extremely heavy, exceptionally unhealthy, and terrifically delicious.

Photos by Amanda Gansfield