Earlier this week, I started writing about my favorite moments in England. Here’s the second part of that list.

5. Visit from Dad

I have a pretty big family, which meant that none of my siblings were able to visit me while I was in England. My dad, however, did manage to pop over for a quick trip over Thanksgiving. I spent a few days showing him around Birmingham, introducing him to my friends, and taking him to all my favorite places.

Then we spent a few days in London, where we saw some of the iconic sights– the Tower of London and the London Eye, most notably. Then I spent the rest of the weekend showing him the parts of London that I love most, which involved dragging him through markets and parks, pointing out all the things that I find beautiful about the city.

It was a special visit for both of us, since it was the only time we saw each other during the year that I was abroad. My dad got to visit England for the first time, and I got to experience the country all over again through his eyes. (Also, I got to prove to him that I’m not as inept with directions as he’d always believed I was–this was MY turf, and I knew just how to navigate it!)

6. Christmas Volunteering

Since I wasn’t going to be with my family for Christmas, I decided to volunteer for a few days. I found an organization in London that provided shelter and support for the homeless during the holiday season, and I signed up immediately. I’d wanted to do something rewarding, but little did I know that those few days would be some of the most eye-opening, awe-inspiring days of my entire year.

I got close to guests of the centre as well as fellow volunteers, and heard as many heartwarming stories as heartbreaking ones. The overall sense that many of us left the centre with was hope. So many of the guests continually thanked us volunteers for everything we did to help them, from simply smiling or talking to them like normal human beings to providing them with the resources they needed in order to get their lives back on track. There was an overwhelming sense of unity, warmth, and friendliness in the shelter, which are traits you don’t often see in London.

7. Durham

I would be lying if I said I went to Durham for any reason other than to see one of the sites that part of Harry Potter was filmed. The history of the Durham Cathedral made me forget about Harry Potter for a little bit as I saw the tomb of St. Cuthbert, the 13th-century Chapel of the Nine Altars, and some seriously impressive Norman architecture.

However, I immediately remembered the reason for my visit when I walked into the courtyard and found myself at Hogwarts. Harry Potter was such a big part of my childhood, and simply by standing there, I fulfilled such a big dream!

8. Betty’s

Ever since I arrived in England, my friend Molly had been telling me that there was a tearoom called Betty’s that I needed to go to because it was an essential English experience.  I finally had a chance to see what she meant when she took me to the posh tearoom in December. Surrounded by oak-paneled walls, silver teapots, dishes full of sugar cubes, and exotic tea blends, I really felt like I was experiencing something essentially English.

9. New Year’s

I had a chance for another inherently British experience when I went to a ceilidh on New Year’s Eve with Molly and her family. (To put it in American terms, a ceilidh is like a Gaelic version of a square dance with someone who calls out the dance moves while a band plays traditional music.) Much like some of the other things on this list, I liked it so much because it was something that isn’t on the typical tourist agenda. It was an incredibly memorable night full of food, fun, friends, and more dancing than I have ever done in my life, and I’m so grateful that Molly and her parents invited me.

10. Heights of AbrahamMy springtime abroad was full of many out-of-country excursions, but one mid-March outing that I took in England was planned by my friend Kristian. I joined a group of friends for a trip to the village of Matlock Bath. We spent our day at the Heights of Abraham park there, touring the caverns and admiring the views from the hilltop park.

It was a perfect trip for me because I got to admire some of England’s amazing natural beauty as well as spend a day with some great people. Again, it’s not something that often ends up on the itinerary of someone visiting England, but that’s probably part of what made it so special.

And when I look back at all of my fondest memories of this country, it’s things like these that determine whether or not I enjoy a place. For me, travel isn’t about just visiting the tourist sites and calling it a day; it’s about discovering something new, something unexpected. It’s about the excitement I feel when I experience something and immediately know how I’m going to share that story. And most importantly, it’s about the people that I meet along the way.

Love, Elizabeth