It was time that I got out of London, but this time I was staying in the country, strangely enough. This time I was escaping to the suburbs. This time, I was visiting Ozzie L and British C. Pretty extraordinary stuff.
They had very awesomely invited me to their housewarming/birthday bbq. They'd purchased a sweet little home out there and were ready to show it off. Well I wasn't going to miss out on that opportunity!
So after a Friday of drinks out with Sweets, Specs, Spaz, and a few other coworkers, I headed out Saturday afternoon to meet them in their fair countryside home. It actually wasn't far from London, despite my reckoning (which isn't much, given that I still don't understand the layout of London at all and the surrounding areas...ho boy, understand even less those areas).
In any case, it only took me about half an hour by overground train and I was there. Ozzie L very awesomely picked me up from the train station and we waited for another friend to arrive before zipping 10 minutes in the car to their abode.
Milton Keynes is an interesting place. Unlike most suburbs of London it was planned and built about 50 years ago, making it a pretty modern and new community. Most British really judge it for this reason, citing that it's a weird combination of all things new and its planned grid-like logic makes it unfriendly and fake somehow. I beg to differ, but then again all of the communities I've ever lived in have been like this...I'm from the States, where all of our cities are like this.
Example: all of the houses are built in rows and off roads in a logical manner. The trees and greenery were all planted with intention. The roads were laid down with the explicit idea that there would be as few traffic lights as possible, cutting down on city electricity consumption and traffic during rush hour times. This means when there actually is a rush hour because people are returning from work in central London, there is no stop and go pattern because traffic is allowed to free flow through the multitudes of roundabouts. Someone actually thought about this. There are literally only two traffic lights in the entire city. It's genius.
Similarly there are walking and biking paths along every road, allowing people to exercise wherever they want and keeping them safely away from cars and other dangers while enjoying the planted greenery. This is unheard of in London. Most of the time bikers just have to deal with the dangers that are the road and figure out a way not to get hit by cars. Not here. There are dedicated gravel and dirt paths for walkers and bikers that are off of the roads, similar to what we have in California. Boom, instant increase in quality of life. Again, someone thought about this.
There are also dedicated areas of the city for certain things. E.g. you want to have a fancy night out, so you go to the section of town where all of the nicer restaurants and wine bars are. They're all grouped together in the same area so you can drive there and stay there until you're done. You can also have a more casual night out in the less expensive pub area if that's what you're interested in, located in a different section of town. There is also a theater district, if you want a different kind of entertainment. I'll say it again: someone thought about it.
Instead of having a high street, which is what most communities have (including mine), they have a city center. Their city center is the biggest indoor/outdoor combination mall I have ever seen in my life. If I thought the Shepherd's Bush Westfield was large (and it was the largest mall in Europe until another mall (I think in France?) beat it recently), this is gargantuan. This is probably one and a half the size, if not bigger. The actual layout is also puzzlingly logical. It's single story so there's no confusion about what store is where, and laid out in a grid. The paths that go between stores are actually streets so you can easily guide yourself should you need to get somewhere. The center is so big that there are two or sometimes three of the same store in the entire thing, just in case you've entered the center on one side and want to go to a particular store so you don't have to walk an entire mall to get there. Yeah, there are like three Nando's at this place. Anyway, the idea of this place makes complete sense though - you need stuff? Why have a high street when you can have an entire mall at your disposal? Boom. Done.
This town's one hilarious and slightly nonsensical but definitely whimsical aspect: they have something called the SnoZone. It's basically a huge facility where they make enough fake snow for you to downhill ski. Yeah. Downhill ski...indoors. The concept is mind-boggling, to be honest. I would have never thought such a thing would have ever existed. As being from California you just need to drive five hours and you're in snow, why would anyone ever make that? Obviously it's taken me awhile to realize that not every country gets snow, even the miserably cold ones (apparently when it snows in Britain everyone gets really excited and then horrible things happen like all of the airports freak out and close down, the latter of which I have unfortunately experienced firsthand).
Anyway, that's Milton Keynes in a nutshell. Most British people scorn it and I loved it. It felt like a little slice of home in the middle of Britain. A little American suburb. I totally get it, it makes sense. It was purpose-built and well-executed for what it was made for. Logic, planned out.
So back to the visit with Ozzie L and British C. Lovely friends I met in New Zealand. They were having a bbq in their backyard. They have an actual backyard, which is more than anyone else can say who lives in London. Another perk of living in a suburb - a well-planned suburb at that.
Needless to say fantastic conversation ensued and a great time was had by all. I got to meet the community of friends they had made in Milton Keynes (since not too many people other than me and a select group of others are willing to come up from London, despite it only being a half an hour train ride and pretty cheap). They have a wonderfully diverse group of friends and it was wonderful meeting them all. Lots of professionals doing interesting things in their lives. Many characters. I hope to see them again when I'm visiting sometime.
And bbq. Oh blessed bbq. Ozzie L, being an Australian (obviously), knows his bbq. Bbq glory. He has the largest grill I've seen outside of the States. It was beautiful. I have no pictures, unfortunately, since I have once again failed to photo-document anything, being too distracted with good conversation and wonderful wonderful food. There is just something about a house, a suburb, the gathering of good people and warm conversation that just makes me want to eat. And overeat. This is the first time I've overeaten since I was in America. It felt...strangely comfortable through the discomfort.
Back to the bbq. So much meat to behold! Apparently Costco is an actual thing in Britain (much to my surprise, though I guess it shouldn't have been if I had thought about it - Japan has it, why not Britain?), and Ozzie L and British C had definitely ransacked the place with their car the day before. Costco hamburger patties and buns galore, the most tasty sausages I'd had in a long time, and an entire chicken (cut in half) were put on the grill. Not to mention grilled veggie skewers and mixed veggie chicken skewers. Oh glorious meats. There was also an incredible spread of chips, dips, noshables and snackies of all kinds. I was in munchers heaven, and so I continuously ate for what was probably a solid five hours.
We ended up staying up and chatting (and continuously eating and drinking) until around 1:30am. Pretty excellent considering we started at 4pm. :) Bbq of champions.
The next day was breakfast and walking around the town center before my return to sooty ungreen London city. A great reprieve from city life. Nice to know there are wonderful places outside of the city. Sometimes a girl just needs a break. :)
I look forward to seeing my friends again when Sweden comes to visit in another week. New Zealand friends, unite!