The arduous journey to Oxford began, at least in the immediate sense, on Thursday (9/17/15). I decided to fly out of Dulles in DC this time, as a direct flight is much cheaper and much less of a hassle.
I was also able to see a lot of my family that I hadn’t seen in any context outside of FB in a long time! And I got to have my last dinner in the U.S. with my big brother Myles which was pure awesomesauce, first and foremost because of the rib-breaking hugs he gives!
But after delaying the inevitable for as long as we could, I finally bid my dad, my step-mom, and America farewell. Let me be clear: it was definitely easier on some levels to make this trip again: I had done it before, I knew basically what to expect and kind of where to go, not as many unknowns as the first time. But I was still scared. Excited and so thrilled that I get this unbelievable opportunity TWICE, but still scared.
For me the hardest part is the anticipation of something, the waiting. Thus, I was not thrilled about the long hour and a half I’d have to wait prior to boarding my flight. Luckily, I met a really nice doctor on her way back to London and we chatted for a bit (luckily she was a nerd of the Harry Potter/ LOTR/ Doctor Who/Big Bang Theory vein as well) so the time went by fast.
The flight itself was completely full; actually it was overbooked. And I found myself sitting in the middle seat of the middle aisle i.e. if I had to pee, I was pretty much screwed!
I relaxed a bit more once on the plane, thanks in part to the Linux penguin who popped up on the screen in front of (credit to Harry for letting me know he was the official Linux penguin). Penguins are by and far my favorite (spirit) animal, so I took this as a good omen.
Also when we were driving to the airport, a car passed us with a license plate that read “BLEU CHE”. This had particular significance for me as bleu cheese was my mom’s favorite food of all time, and how random is that plate! So I had another good omen to keep in my back pocket
Miraculously I slept a bit on the flight, and despite the screaming child in front of me, went by relatively quickly. Before I knew it, we had landed at Heathrow. This instantly took my excitement from about a 4 to a 109.
Getting though customs took a bit longer than last time, but the line moved relatively fast and within no time I had officially crossed the border into the UK!!!! Retrieving my luggage was without a doubt the trickiest part as collectively my suitcases weighed 115 lbs. But still that’s less than last year!
It took me a while to find the bus from Heathrow to Oxford as I got three different directions from three different people. But luckily, after dragging my human-sized bags all over Heathrow I finally found it.
The bus gave me a bit of a respite and I slept a little on there as well. Fortunately, my stop is the end of line at Gloucester Green so no danger of missing it. The bus ride into the city was a literal trip down memory line, as I had thought of the city centre so often over the past year and now all of a sudden I was kinda sorta there again!
Once I arrived at the bus depot, I then began the next task of hailing a taxi. Once again this proved a bit more difficult than last year. There is a taxi pool not far from the bus, but as opposed to before it was totally empty. Usually they are lined up for fares. But the term still doesn’t start for a few weeks (I came early to do a preterm Latin course) so maybe that’s why. I eventually found one and proceeded to St. Cross College to check-in and get my room key.
This took all of 5 minutes (yay!) and then the porter Paul (who rocks) called a cab to come and take me to my accommodation which is about a 30-45 walk from the college. I arrived at Stonemason, my new (old) home at about 2:30 PM UK time, approximately 12 hours after my journey officially began.
I can’t even begin to describe how surreal it was walking into this room. It’s not the exact same one I had as last year, but they are all pretty much the same. And I’m a person who remembers the way things smell a lot, and man when I got hit with the room, I knew EXACTLY where I was.
At this point, I was running on adrenaline and knew that if I took a moment to rest I would crash from jet lag. Not so great for adjusting to a new time zone! So I got to work and unpacked, set up my bed, put my clothes away, and decorated in a very loose sense of the word.
The next task was to walk to Tesco’s for some groceries, as well as to this discount store on Cowley I love for a hairdryer, towels, and hangers. While I tried to focus on buying essentials, at Tesco’s my primary mission was to procure the magical Polish Cheetos I had experienced the previous year (once you’ve had them there is no going back!). Luckily Tesco’s not only still has them, but the current bags are MINIONS THEMED!!! FYI: learning that the Polish for Minions is Minionki was one of the most significant experiences of my life!!!!!
After striking gold, I then walked home and started laying claim to the fridge and cabinets in the kitchen. Like I said term hasn’t started yet, so I practically have the building to myself for a bit. At this point it was early evening, around 5:30 or 6PM, and I was trying so hard not to fall asleep.
Fortunately, my friend Yulia, who among with several others from Oxford kept in touch with me over the past year (thank you!), messaged me and asked me if I’d like to have dinner and then go out with her flat mates. I could’ve been near a coma, but I was so excited at the prospect of seeing her in person and not as a FB alert that nothing would’ve stopped me.
She met me at Stonemason at a little after 7PM, and after agreeing that it was the best kind of strange to see each other in person, we set off in Cowley to look for a place to eat. We came up with the idea to partially recreate the night we first met, which was at a college social event “A Night Out in Cowley”. I talked about this in a previous entry, but basically too many people came to the restaurant, and we ended up going with a smaller group.
So after a year of waiting, we finally were able to gain entry to the elusive Indian restaurant, Majliss. Dinner was ridiculously fun, thanks in part to our inability to understand the waiter’s accent and the unintentionally complicated question of “what do you suggest for appetizers?”
Mostly though it was just wonderful to catch up with her. It was like I’d never left
Afterwards, we stopped at Sainsbury’s, bought some beer and wine, and went back to her flat. I then met two of her three flat mates, as well as a friend of one of them. They are all awesome and incredibly fun, however, they don’t know I’m writing this blog so I will not name them.
After some great conversation and a couple of drinks, we set out to find a place to dance. We tried several locations but were disappointed, and once we realized we were going to have to walk a little farther than originally planned, two of the girls had to go back to the flat for something. So while waiting for them, Yul and I indulged our nostalgia again and went to the bar, Café Tarife, we went to after the restaurant incident a year ago. We ordered Mojitos like before and continued our exercise in cheesiness, enhanced by Yul’s checking-in with me several times to make sure I wasn’t getting sleepy (so sweet!!).
After some miscommunications the four of us eventually wound up at Maxwell’s where we were finally victorious in our quest for dancing! We stayed there until about 2:30 AM, but after having our space invaded one too many times by a drunk creeper, we decided to call it a night.
We then walked back to their flat, where I had left my enormous bag (I don’t plan well when going out!) and then I walked back to Stonemason which was only a few blocks away. Yul of course made sure I messaged her once I got home because she’s just awesome. And then, after being up for nearly 24 hours straight, I rewarded myself with the most magnificent crash in sleep history!
And so we end up back where we started. Me disoriented, waking up underneath a Union Jack, wondering where I was. And then I remembered. I remembered everything that had happened the previous night. I remembered the previous year. I remembered everything. And despite my grogginess, I felt nothing but pure thankfulness.
I’m so lucky to be back here. I’m so lucky for the friends that I have. I’m so lucky to get a second chance because I know how many people don’t. And while I know this year will bring both victories and hardships, both pleasure and pain, for the first time in so long I feel like I’m actually doing the right thing.