Saturday, May 3, 2014

Keep Calm and Head to the Highlands

This is my last essay from my last class of this semester, History of Western Civilization 1B.  We had to write a paper on a cultural experience and I chose our honeymoon in the UK.  I pulled a few lines from a previous entry I wrote when we got home.  I've unpublished that one because it's meandering and mopey, but this one makes me happy.  I hope you enjoy it.
            Last October, my husband and I went on our honeymoon to the United Kingdom.  I had never been anywhere outside of the United States (Unless you count a childhood trip to the Mexican border that I barely remember), and had always wanted to go to England and Scotland… Needless to say, I took my trip very seriously and spent several months before our departure preparing.
            Preparation consisted of reading several books on Britain – of course Rick Steve’s “Great Britain” was read and re-read.  As part of a wedding present, which also included money to spend on our honeymoon, some friends of ours gave us a book on “Eccentric London,” which was full of tasty tidbits of the darker and weirder side of the town.
All the murder by gaslight and gastropub locations you can handle.
            I could not tell you how many reviews I read on everything from centuries-old pubs to cozy bed and breakfasts.  I spent hours every day poring over everything I could find from Bath to York and from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye.  I researched Tube etiquette, how to keep from being seen as a dumb tourist (which totally didn’t work) and money conversions.  Reading all about how polite the Brits are considered to be, how quiet on the trains they allegedly are and how difficult and unnecessary it is to rent a car and drive yourself anywhere – all of my expectations were turned on their side as once we actually got there I experienced total culture shock.

Take us to our hotel, mum.
            I say “once” we got there and I literally mean that. 
            From the moment we stepped off the plane it was pushing, shoving, running with luggage while ghastly glares poured out of sullen and surly faces During the better part of the afternoon and evening the London Underground is a frightful place.  "Keep to the right!" the signs yelled, so I clung with all my might to the greasy rubbery handrail as I clutched my over-packed suitcase and struggled with my weighty backpack.
         
"Gerald is the man you murdered in the subway.
We thought it best you didn't see him as he's a fresh kill and still pretty messy."
            Things have clearly improved since Friedrich Engel was inspired to write The Condition of the Working Class in England, yet, still packed like sardines, many of the people of London seem to thrive on crushing physical oppression and the rushrushrushrush to wait like the rest of us.  And boy do they hate to wait.  Patience is not a virtue in dear historical London, where eyes will not meet yours unless in some sort of willful, expressionless staring contest - possibly a passive-aggressive action performed for the sole purpose of unnerving you.  But they wouldn’t dare tell you what they really think…
            The Londoners who crossed our paths (or vice versa) were “polite.” They would rather die than openly admit their feelings about anything.  They'll acknowledge your existence if they must, but they’ll do it with disdain, looking upon you with contempt.  Their cordiality is an affectation, it is mannered, and it is false.  Either that or I am way more uncool than I thought.
            One of the only Londoners whom we found delightful was a woman from the States.  We were invited to the British Museum by an archaeologist and curator who worked in the Canary Islands with my father-in-law, and we received the “backstage pass” version of an ancient Egyptian artifacts tour.  We saw a lot of very old and valuable items, but what stuck with me was the long hallway of Sekhmet statues.
Many Sekhmets
            Being that Sekhmet is the goddess of war and healing, her cult – suffering drought and hunger – figured if they created a statue of her (one for every day of the year) she would smile favor upon them.  I’m not exactly sure how many of them were made, but the British Museum has almost a hundred of them in their basement.  Each lioness-esque statue is anywhere between six and ten feet tall.  
            We also spent a lot of time on the trains.
I love a train station.
            Between the plane, the Tube and the trains, we spent a lot of time traveling.  While on the trains (or a van in one instance) traveling through the countryside (even though I longed to get out and hike through those golden hills) was magical.  What a way to see it all in a short amount of time!  I was looking forward to the next leg of our trip.
            Don’t get me wrong – I was enthralled with London’s architecture; the ancient history mixed with innovative modern designs was… magical, and my memory of the Thames will be forever locked away in my heart.  On our last day I was taking pictures on the Millennium Bridge across the river from the Tate; the air smelled sweetly of candy roasted cashews (for two pounds), and we swayed slightly and soundlessly, except for vapid voiced complaints about the ugliness of it all and our trite photographic desires. 
"You take for granted what is right under your nose,"
I called out to the shrill tinkle left mingling in the sweet frosty air.
            Once we got up to York the environment completely changed.  Perhaps, because it is a touristy place where people from all over Great Britain come to visit, there was enough diversity of personality types to give it a charm that London did not have.  (My husband blames the attitude of Londoners on their classic imperialist arrogance.)  That whole area - not just The Shambles - had some of the neatest streets and buildings I have ever seen (a close second to Edinburgh which is just, wow).
            We stayed two days in York at the most popular bed and breakfast I could find on Tripadvisor.com.  It was in a quiet area run by cheerful folks who had a massive Great Dane and provided a deliciously authentic English/Scottish breakfast.  We liked York and when we visit the UK again, we will be going back.
In all it's cute shambled glory.
            It was Scotland, however, where I left my heart.  I felt as if the land itself opened its arms and held me tight like old family I had not seen in years.  The wet and rainy Highlands seemed to weep endlessly and the energy of its people expressed a sort of melancholy joy that I immediately related to and by which I felt comforted.  They were witty and not as urbane as some Londoners, who came off as so properly affected.  The Scots were not only welcoming, but also they were warm, and kind and boy do they know how to cook!  (The only food that tasted good in England also came with a plateful of grease.)
But it tasted soooo good...
            The woods, thick and pretty, are painted with pink heather and wet bark so black that it makes the color of the leaves pop.  Moss covers all, which can be pretty slippery if you aren't wearing the right shoes (and I did take a pretty bad spill in Crofter's Woods), but when you're lying on your back looking up at all that majesty, it's pretty hard to quibble about a wee tumble.
            Edinburgh and Sterling are also quite high on my list of Places I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life.  Edinburgh reminded me of a much older, European Portland and Sterling is a lovely quaint town with a lively urban atmosphere.  Glasgow was neat, but all the child alcoholics tripped me out.  I cried when we left Scotland.

You would too...
            It took me the better part of a month to get over the jet lag and get used to being back in the States.  For a long time I was bitter towards London and the realization that no matter how much I researched the culture I could never have been prepared for how… different it was than what I expected.  And therein lies the problem, doesn’t it?  Expectations.  You know what they say about assuming… 

            All in all I must say I had an amazing time – I learned SO much (our trip to the British Museum deserves an essay all on its own) and I now understand with significance all that I had no idea I was so ignorant of before.  

4 comments:

  1. Despite our assertions that we had made our last trip to Scotland, Darrell and I are dreaming of the right time (and dog sitter) that will allow us to make ANOTHER final trip - this time spending all of our time in the west, giving the islands the time they deserve, finding acceptable alternatives to trains (for old persons nervous about driving on the right). I know that this does not sound like a response to your essay - but it is, in the sense that you've inspired me to re-live some amazing moments...

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    1. I am in full support of that. We have been tossing around the idea of possibly planning a super frugal week-long (or so) trip back to Scotland where we will base camp at The Georgian in Sterling and train it up to the isles. (Hopefully those people we met in Fort William will remember the deal we made and let us stay with them a night.) We are thinking next Summer after I graduate and before we start the MFA program together the following fall. Just gotta crank out more articles and find a part time job so I can save up some $$$.

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  2. Hi Jennifer, I had to smile when I read this post - I am British -American, so have experience in both countries, and what you say is SO familiar. Generally speaking, and of course there are many, many exceptions, Brits are a nation of complainers. I spoke with other people from Canada, who were living in the UK for 5 years, and they said they had to leave because of the generally negative views. Not sure if it's the weather or what, but I find Americans so much more friendly in general - well Californians anyway, and it was such a relief to get back home to America. That said there are many parts and aspects and people in the UK that I love. But I could very much relate to your post. Glad you have some fond memories to look back on.

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    1. Hi A.K.!

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog and commenting. I have heard that the weather plays a factor in people's moods - personally I think I would prefer living where it is overcast and rains a lot. I would like to visit more of England - particularly Haworth (Bronte Country).

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I will not censor anyone, but please, in the spirit of open communication and respect for others - don't be a douche bag, or else I will rip you a new one.