Thursday, July 30, 2009

In Blarney Scotland!

I am still seeing plaid scarves, tartans and kilts a week after we left Edinburgh. I saw so many in those two days that my brain is aswirl with the patterns and colors of Scotland, land of the Lochness monster, malt whiskey and hagris (cow's stomach). The most amusing T-shirt in one of the tourist shops was a drunken Lochness monster, rising out of the lake in a a plaid tartan playing bagpipes. The most revolting thing was cow's stomach which is part of the traditional Scottish breakfast spread. Those who tasted it said, no, it does not taste like chicken.

By the way, you pronounce it Edinbura, something I would never have known had I not visited the place and pronounced it wrong to the locals. I was surprised at the number of foods The Scottish put malt whiskey in. The funniest one was fudge! The bookstores have whiskey tastings, like wine tastings in the United States. Yes, this is a my own generalization, but to me Scotland appears to be a country of jolly alcoholics, judging from the number of pubs on within spitting distance. Kind of like the number of Mormon churches in Orem, Utah.

In comparing the Scots to the English, which they don't like, it's quite a sensitive subject, you see, I find the Scots to be loud and lively, with a distinct sense of fun. The English are quiet and more reserved and don't like to call attention t to themselves. But the Scots seem not to mind the limelight.

Edinburgh Castle seems to be the crown jewel of the city. It also contains crown jewels worn by some of the monarchs, dating waaaay back into the nether reaches of time. It is where Mary Queen of Scots was born and crowned queen as a baby.

Three-hundred fifty pound cannon balls that must have obliterated everything in sight!

This little Scottish terrier is named Greyfriars Bobby. He is significant because in the 1850s or therabouts he was the epitome of loyalty to his master. When his master died and was buried in the local cemetery called Greyfriars, Bobby would lay on his grave every day for 14 years until he died himself. I bought the story and read it to the kids and immediately got choked up because I didn't realize such loyalty existed. As humans beings we visit graves of loved ones sporadically, maybe once a year, or maybe not, but now I want a Scottish terrier. I know, totally irrational, but I still want one.

THE cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter on napkins. It has a great view of Edinburgh Castle from the back where she wrote. Some of the students had lunch here, and reported that it is very good. It was fun to see the origins of Harry Potter.

Baa Baa White Sheep all over the hills. Talk about free range sheep! This is sheep country, and they are fat and fluffy, the happiest sheep on earth, apparently. All our sheep photos were taken from the bus window, and so they are a bit fuzzy--just like the sheep! I will have to rely on my sheep salt and pepper shakers as a ceramic reminder the real thing! Oh, and my cashmere scarf which I told Darren I would have FOR LIFE and that it was definitely worth the price. He said it would absolutely be worth the price if I didn't lose it, which is highly probable, I must admit.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Trip up North

We returned Friday from one amazing, fast-paced, see everything in five days kind of trip. Here are just a very few of the highlights. I will get to Scotland, land of white, fluffy sheep and malt whiskey in a couple of days. That deserves its own entry.

Sammie at the Jorvik Viking Centre in York.

The Shambles in York, the oldest medieval street in Europe.

From the top of the York Minster, a cathedral that took 275 years to build.

The winding staircase leading up to the top of the York Minster. Nearly 300 stairs! Talk about motion sickness.

The magnificent spires of York Minster.

The ruins of Fountains Abbey, an enormously wealthly sprawling place that engendered much anger against the Catholic church. Many felt the monks should not be living so lavishly, and that the church had become corrupt. Henry VIII was responsible for destroying some of it during the 1500s when he tried to make the Britons Anglicans, not Catholics.

Darren at Fountains Abbey.

Fountains Abbey was the perfect place for Nathan to release all his energy. He and Leah scrambled all through the nooks and crannies of these ruins and it was a glorious English summer day, about 70 degrees, and we all thought it would the perfect place for a wedding reception, a very expensive wedding reception.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Queen was at Home

We knew we'd get poured on, but we went anyway. We knew there would be loads of tourists like us, trying to see the changing of the guard. We knew there would be confusion about if they were really going to change the guard given the weather. We knew if we lost each other we'd truly be lost. Thank heavens I had my multi-colored umbrella, the one that stands out among a sea of black ones.

But you just can't go to London without seeing Buckingham Palace. It isn't as interesting architecturally as other palaces. It's design is RAAAAWTHER dull. But there is a living queen inside the castle and she's been queen for nearly all her life, and that's really something. Whatever their opinion of the monarchy as an institution, I doubt many British people would make light of her years of service.

What we actually saw: policeman on horses telling people to clear the way, policemen on foot telling people to clear the way, a few fuzzy black-headed guards through the gate and the Union Jack flying on the top of the palace, signifying that the Queen is in London.

"When the flag flies up there, that means the queen's at home," I told Leah.

"Maybe she's in there right now!" said Leah.

That led to just a few hundred questions.

"What do you think the queen's doing in there?"

"What does the queen do all day?"

"How many rooms are there in there?"

"How many bathrooms do you think are in there?"

"Does the Queen have kids?"

"So Charles will be King someday?"

"What are the guards guarding her from?"

I told her sometimes she comes out on the balcony and waves to the people, and that they all cheer.

"Maybe she'll come out today! Let's watch and see!"

So we watched for a bit and then walked around the park for a bit and ate a cookie until the crowds died down and then made our way home. First we stopped at some overpriced tea and crumpets, queen-type tourist shops with fancy T-shirts that say "Pussy Cat Pussy Cat Where Have you Been? I've Been to London to Visit the Queen," and such.

Not sure if the guard was changed or not.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Les Mis in London

These three cousins in this picture are primed for a night on the town at the Queen's Theater. They are seeing Les Mis in the West End and it will be one of the most memorable nights in their lives. Sammie, Adrie and cousin Kailey are "living the dream." They are so excited that they can barely stop smiling. Their excitement is tangible in this photo. They curled each other's hair and put on high heels even though it was quite a bit of walking to get there. They did makeup and much changing of clothes.

Darren and I were thrilled to share this memory with them. We kept talking about how grown up they looked. We wished that Alan and Kim, Kailey's parents, could be with us to watch them.

When we discovered we'd be able to see the play on Thursday morning, an energy shot through all three of them. Adrie had been wanting to see this play more than any other. While many of her fellow students were going to play after play, she was waiting, hoping for this one.

The girls didn't care that our tickets were in restricted seating, that they'd have to crane their necks in odd positions to see. They promptly went into the theatre and bought a Les Mis T-shirt. When Fantine began singing "I Dreamed a Dream" I hardly dared to turn to look at them for fear I might miss one note of that gorgeous song. But out of the corner of my eye, I could see their faces lit up with the pure contentment and joy that comes when one is soaring.

They didn't want to leave the theatre at intermission, instead they preferred to review the story and characters among themselves through wide-eyed grins.

As I sat watching, I wondered how I managed to live my whole life without ever seeing such an incredible piece of theatre. When it was over and my face was completely wet, I was almost angry. I wanted more. This is unusual for me. I am normally glad when plays are over since I have such a hard time sitting still for very long. Not this one.

I want to go back. I want to pay £50 to sit in the middle and see every inch of the stage. They say that art trumps life. And days later, as the songs go through my head, I am inclined to believe it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Platform Nine and Three Quarters

"Excuse me, sir, would you mind telling me where I might find Platform nine and three quarters?" This is the very King's Cross Station where Harry Potter came to board the train to Hogwarts. The trolley is permanently stuck to the wall.

The London Wall is the fortress the Romans built to keep out invaders. It was buried until the bombings during WWII uncovered the remains.

Stonehenge remains a mystery. How did they move the rocks 250 miles to this spot? Was it the Romans?

Anyone for a BAAAAAWTH? More Roman ingenuity.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The London Buffet

When we signed up to do London Study Abroad we were thrilled that we would have seven weeks "to do all we wanted to do." Hmmmmm. There is no way in the world we can do 1/3 of all we wanted to do here. We are staring at a mouth-watering buffet of options that we'd love to sample, even gorge ourselves with, but have only the energy and time for assorted appetizers and desserts. Partaking of the main course would be like Thanksgiving, where you have to lay down for a while to digest even though you want to eat more. That is London.

In this photo we are in front of the Globe Theater, yes the very one, where we saw As You Like It on Monday night.

We have been here nearly two weeks and we have done an amazing amount of things. We have five weeks left to see the plays we want to see, sample all the ethnic food, and visit more museums, cathedrals, abbeys and palaces. We live next to Hyde Park, but if you go in every direction there is more, more, more. In the evenings we walk past cafes that we promise to come back and sample. Logistically, there is no way. But we hope.

We have walked miles and miles around and my feet hurt, despite the pains I took to get the perfect walking shoe (see earlier email.) I soak them at night. But I can't think of spending even a day resting and recouping because I don't want to miss out on a summer day in London. The heat has been stifling, the hottest summer in years, but we are in London, and we are in London.

Darren has the added stress of having to actually work here when he wants to be out and about doing all. I know, there is no pity for the poor Americans who only have the summer for London. But I tell you, consuming London to it's fullest takes a lifetime, a veritable lifetime, one in which you will never cross the threshold to satisfaction.

And then there's Bath, Stourhead, Cambridge, Canterbury, Dover, Portsmouth and Edinburgh OUTSIDE London that are on the schhhhhedule (as Londoners pronouce it).

This summer we are eating one just one strawberry (and British strawberries are oh, so luvley) off the fruit platter that is London.