A few eclectic reminiscences about our (my wife Flo, friends María and Neil, and me) recent excursion to England and Scotland. Yeah, I know -- vacation photos and travel trivia don't appeal to everyone. You can always read a book.
Here’s something I didn't expect: Mexican food is a thing in Britain. We saw numerous Mexican restaurants in Scotland, tried a few (one okay and one reported to be “very good.”) And then saw more in London. One explanation given to us by a Londoner – it’s easier for Mexicans to get into the U.K. than the U.S. Don’t know if that’s true but it sounds right. Mexican restaurants were more plentiful than Starbucks or McDonald’s. There's poor people's food everywhere, right? Chicharrones? Pig scratchings. Sangre/blood sausage? Black pudding.
Pub food is good. But then, bar food rarely disappoints as long as the beverages flow freely. That’s what vacation is all about, no? We tracked the best fish and chips from Bath to the Cotswolds to Oxford to London. We found several excellent examples and a few sorry dishes (usually promoted by the waiter as “no really, this is the best fish and chips in England.”) We ate our fill of bangers and mash, rashers, puddings and meat pies. Toad in the Hole. Even tried haggis. I drank more than enough ale and scotch. Had high tea a few times with more scones, macaroons and crust-less sandwiches than we could ever finish. A dish I remember fondly was served in a busy pub on the road to Chipping Campden - calamari and chorizo (Spanish). Tasty.
Near the beginning of our trip we visited Stonehenge. We’d been told that the place was kind of anticlimactic – after all, there’s not much going on except a bunch of old boulders aligned with the sun and the moon and the stars and the spirits of ancient tribes. Needless to say, I dug the place. It was true, there’s not much going on – except peace and quiet and a sense of eternal time not easily found in the ever-changing landscape and demographics of twenty-first century Denver.
We tried not to be ugly Americans as we were guided through the English countryside.
|Oxen in Oxford|
After the wedding (godson married an English woman; beautiful ceremony and festivities - the impetus for our trip), we caught a train to a land I never thought I'd visit.
In Scotland we took part in this conversation (more than once) with cabbies and tour guides:
Us: “Man, it’s cold today, and this is July! What happened to summer?”
Guide: “We had summer – it was June 21.”
It's easy to see that the Scots are a hardy people. One exuberant fellow, a gentleman in his seventies, walked us around Edinburgh at quite a brisk pace. Halfway up the hill to Edinburgh Castle, he stopped and said he had to quickly check his heartbeat – he’d recently had a “heart thing” and he didn’t want to push it. His quick check gave me the opportunity to catch up to him.
While we shivered in our tourist gear, our guides wore kilts and observed that it was a “wee bit warm.” Here’s what we looked like in the wee bit warm weather.
Didn’t matter. Scotland is a beautiful land. The friendly people have a sense of quirky humor that must come from centuries of accommodating the weather and terrain and fighting off Romans, Vikings, the English, each other, and so on. Plus, for fun they invented the game of golf – one of the most frustrating, perplexing, and addictive sports in the world.
One of our favorite places turned out to be Rosslyn Chapel (1446). Mysterious, mythic and legendary. Some key scenes from The Da Vinci Code book and movie were set here. The prominent face in the photo below is one of the Green Men. There are several all over the chapel. Many, many stories about this place.
Scotland joyfully honors its history and culture. There seemed to be a festival planned for every week in Edinburgh, often more than one, and there are numerous commemorations to the outstanding literary past and present: Robert Burns, Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson. These writers (and many more) are honored and celebrated with statues, buildings, holidays, and souvenirs. More modern writers such as Val McDermid and Ian Rankin are celebrities as much as any movie star - famous for writing books, of all things. Europe knows how to treat writers (see early La Bloga posts about Semana Negra - Spain, for example.)
|The Scott Monument - Largest Monument in the World to a Writer|
We finished in London. Fast, crowded, overwhelming. We climbed aboard a double-decked bus and checked out several of the famous and infamous sites in the Queen's City. We grew anxious to return home at the same time that we already missed London. We hoped to keep the memories.
|Crossing Tower Bridge|
|London - Old and New|