I did so much during my year abroad that it’s not entirely fair to condense my experience into a list of “bests” and “worsts,” but I thought I would share some of my favorite memories from the nine months I lived in England.

Last June, I received my acceptance letter from the University of Birmingham. The next three months were full of preparations for the coming year that I would spend in Europe. I spent so much time taking care of the details like paperwork and packing (while also working full-time to earn some last-minute travel money) that I didn’t have time to form many expectations.

All of a sudden, it was mid-September and I was on a plane for my first ever international flight. I had vague images of fancy teatimes and thatched-roof cottages and ancient churches and verdant pastures and many rainy days, but I really had no idea what kind of adventures were in store for me.

With every week came a new experience. I was constantly seeing, doing, and trying new things. I’ve spent hours looking through pictures and reading through my journals to highlight my favorite travel moments in the magical land of England, and now I present my top ten to you, in two installments.

1. Canals of Birmingham

I spent so much time walking along the canals of Birmingham that it’s impossible not to include them on my list. The entrance to this canal was right by my flat, so it made perfect sense to walk along the dirt path to class and to the city centre. It was a great setting for a leisurely stroll with friends, and I even went jogging there a few times. (And by “a few” I pretty much just mean “twice.”) One of my first little adventures in England is when my flatmates and I walked a few miles along the canal to a nearby village, where we stopped for a drink at a cozy pub before embarking upon our adventure home.

The special part about these canal memories is that I couldn’t have experienced them as a tourist. The fact that I lived there made it possible to spend so much time by the canals, soaking up the natural beauty of England.

2. Stratford-Upon-Avon

After spending my first few weeks settling down in Birmingham, I finally took a trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Truthfully, I had been too afraid to navigate the train system on my own, but I went with some other people and saw just how easy it was to walk up to the counter and buy a train ticket. After this day trip, I had some fantastic new friends as well as the confidence to travel on my own. As for the town itself, the birthplace of Shakespeare has a reputation of being a little too touristy at times, but it is a must-see (especially for a literature nerd like me), and I’m so glad that it was my first outing in England.

3. Liverpool

Shortly after my Stratford-Upon-Avon outing, I took the plunge and hopped on the train by myself for a trip to Liverpool. As cheesy as this will sound, I spent the day in awe of what my life had become. In just a few hours, I managed to see one of the largest cathedrals in the world, multiple museums, the shell of a church that had been bombed in WWII, and so much more. I picnicked by the River Mersey and smiled at the prospect of all the exploration that I knew I would accomplish over the next year.

Though I still remember how interesting those churches and museums were, the specific details have faded due to the sheer amount of other interesting things I’ve seen in my travels. The one thing I’ll never forget, however, is the intoxicating excitement that I felt, knowing that the upcoming year was filled with potential for the incredible.

4. Southern Coast Hike

In the first few days of November, I stayed in Brighton, where I spent my time working on homework, writing poetry, hiking, admiring sunsets and sunrises, and recuperating from a busy few days of London sightseeing. I spent a little time seeing the city of Brighton, but during most of my stay, I could be found lounging on a bench by the rocky beach with a book or journal in hand or rambling along the white chalk cliffs that line England’s south coast. Though the days I stayed in London just before heading south to the seaside are somewhat of a blur, I clearly remember how relaxing and refreshing my Brighton adventure was, and I’m so glad that when I planned the trip, my instinct told me to allow more time in Brighton than in London.

This concludes the first part of my England top-ten list, and I’ll be posting the other six items later this week.

Love, Elizabeth