It was September 2005, and I was nervous.

I had just moved to London.  It was my first time to go overseas to actually live somewhere, instead of just traveling through.  After accepting a spot to study for a Masters degree in International Relations at King’s College London, the butterflies in my stomach were in a perpetual state of fluttering.  And looking back, I don’t think the butterflies went away at all that entire year in the UK.

Flash forward six years, thousands of cups of tea, and even more thousands of crumpets, and I once again felt those butterflies fluttering in my stomach while on a British Airways flight back to London.  This time, I was headed back to revisit old memories while celebrating future ones–my dear friend Sonja, an effervescent Northern Irish gal, was organizing my “hen do” in honor of Leon’s and my upcoming nuptials.

A hen party is to the British what a bachelorette party is to Americans, and in the UK they go all out to celebrate.  Sonja coordinated with friends in the States, Rose, Kristin, and Esther, as well as friends in London, Julie, Kate, Sy, and Olof, to plan a week filled with everything from prancing around London in tiaras to going on a late-night Jack the Ripper tour.

As I sat on the plane headed back to where I’d enjoyed graduate school, I definitely had one of those moments where you feel like you’re getting hit in the face with reality.  I left for London in 2005 as a wide-eyed 22-year old, and I was returning as a tired-eyed 29-year old (work and wedding planning will do that to a girl).  It was exciting to have the chance to revisit the past while looking forward to the future.  And of course, it was fun to take a break from the pre-wedding diet and indulge in the staples of British cuisine, namely chocolates, biscuits, crumpets, fish and chips, and curries.

The days flew by, and it was nothing short of unforgettable.  It is so accurate that, with close friends, you can always pick right back up where you’ve left off, even if years passed since visits.

And pick right back up we did.  Looking back, I don’t know how, but we managed to cram in about two months’ worth of fun into about four days.  We strolled through Borough Market, shopped Covent Garden, had afternoon tea at the Lanesborough, ran around Harrod’s, visited King’s College, walked the entire city to take photos of everything from St. Paul’s to Trafalgar Square to Big Ben, had a private tour of Parliament, ate fish and chips, and so on.  Not to mention that we were able to meet up with Jazz and Tracy, dear friends I met at church while we were living in South Korea, at Spitalfields Market one afternoon.

And that didn’t even include the hen night fun.  Sonja had organized girls’ nights out to go dancing one evening, and to hit a karaoke room the next.  Of course, with hen nights, the bride-to-be is meant to be paraded around the city while wearing outrageous get-up (in this case, a “bride to be” sash with twinkling red lights, a faux veil with pink devil horns, and a sparkly wand) and subjected to whatever “dares” the friends can come up with.

The first evening, while dancing with the girls, I had to answer a series of questions which Sonja had emailed to Leon before the hen trip.  If I got them wrong, I had to spin a little dial and conduct the dare which the plastic needle landed on.  Of course, the questions were things like, “If Leon were an animal, which animal would he be?” and I got a few wrong.  In the course of that evening, I had to dance on a table for 60 seconds (not ideal when there’s a very short ceiling and you hit your head) and ask three random blokes for their phone numbers (during which one of said bloke’s girlfriends became a bit hostile).

The second evening was a bit calmer, if you call cramming a group of girls into a karaoke room and giving them crazy wigs and hats “calmer.”  We sang our hearts out and ended the evening with very hoarse voices.

Before you could sing the first line of “London Bridge is Falling Down,” it was time to head back to the States, and to reality.  I was truly humbled and thankful for the planning and organizing by Sonja, and for the kindness of friends to take time out of their schedules to celebrate with me.  Blessed are those with good friends, indeed.

It was cathartic, in many ways, to visit a place which meant so much in the past, and to celebrate the present and future with those whose friendships mean so much.  One great benefit of getting everyone together, bridal party and girl friends, before the wedding is that everyone will already know each other before the big day.  But, more importantly, it was really special to see two big chapters of my life, the London chapter and the D.C. chapter, converge.

Needless to say, London will always hold a special place in my heart.  It is truly a city like no other in the world.  Where else can you receive a Masters degree after being taught by professors knighted by the queen, and then six years later run around in a crazy costume, announce that it’s your hen party, and have an entire dance club erupt into applause and cheers?

   The ever historic, ever modern, London