Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Well-Traveled Mind, or What I Did on My Summer Vacation

So my girlfriend Cynthia took an overseas assignment in the UK and said, "If you ever want to visit..." and suddenly my husband and I cancelled our plans to bask in the sun on a Mexican beach for a week in June. New plans: twelve days in England - five in and around bustling London, seven more in the Lake District up north. Weather: alternately sunny, cloudy, drizzly, stormy - often in the same afternoon. Temperatures - warm in the south, cooler in the north. Sweater weather - definitely not Mexico!

Highlights of the trip:
  • Top of the list - visiting my friend in her new environment. Her leased home is lovely and very cosy - the kind of home I would look for myself. She and her bullmastiff, Max, have settled in nicely and seem to fit in well.
  • Visiting another old friend, Andrew, for lunch near his London office. Catching up on friends, accomplishments, frustrations, family - it was wonderful.
  • Two day-trips to Edinburgh, Scotland - we liked the city immediately, did a lot of sightseeing, visited a local Rotary club, took a whisky tasting tour!
  • A really nice resort, Thurnham Hall in Lancaster, Lancashire, built from what was originally a 12th-century manor house.
  • Three castles, a palace, three museums, and a prison - lots of history, older than I can fathom.
  • More pubs than I can count, but very few with the silly names that we Americans attribute to English taverns (did see one called the Slug and Lettuce). Learned that I like a half-pint of hard cider, chilled, and a good ploughman's lunch.
  • All the delightful Brits we met - Ann and Leo from Brighton (Leo is a square dance caller!), a couple from Nottingham, and so many more - plus the other Americans on the road.
  • Marks and Spencer's (M&S) stores, especially the fresh ready-to-cook meals!

If you've read many of my blog entries, you're probably waiting for the philosophic turn or the personal revelation about now. Much as I hate to disappoint, sometimes I just feel the need to chronicle events - or non-events - and this trip qualifies. But if forced, I offer these insights:

  • Immersing oneself in another culture (and language - don't let them fool you that we speak the same language as Brits!) is or should be healthy, eye-opening, and cause for self-reflection.
  • Driving on the opposite side of the road and navigating too-narrow lanes and rotaries (roundabouts) is (a) not for the squeamish, (b) best done as a team, and (c) a good time to keep your mouth shut.
  • Don't assume you understand how the trains and/or the underground works - ask questions repeatedly until you get a complete and thorough explanation, or you will end up spending more money and/or being threatened with fines for trying to cheat the system.
  • Pack more underwear and socks and less of everything else, plus a rain coat and small umbrella. And real walking shoes, not just decent athletic shoes.
  • Pay the extra money to fly first-class or business-class if flying overseas - 7-8 hours of hunching between two large people, especially if you have personal space issues, is not fun!

That's it. Sorry for not offering anything deeper or more profound, but I'm still dealing with the jet-lag thing. If unhappy, I'm happy to refund your deposit!