We have had the good fortune to spend two summers in a row based in London. My husband has been posted in the London office of his California-based company while I have run an exclusive five-star camp for two lucky attendees, my offspring. I allow visiting relatives and friends to attend “Camp Stern” free of charge, as long as they promise not to whine, mope or sulk. We began our 7-week 2010 travel adventure by spending two sweaty days in Philadelphia. The weather was hot and heavy and my weak, fair weather loving Los Angeles-bred children found reason to complain unremittingly. You’d have thought I’d brought them to Libya and left them hatless, right in the middle of the Sahara. But this was no desert, just the paved and crowded urban jungle. In my heart of hearts I believe my children will someday love Philadelphia. I just need to take them there in April in that brief window between frigid winter and humid summer. Dragging a pathetic, whining, highly verbal 8 year-old behind me like a noisy sack of potatoes I managed to take in the Liberty Bell (so fantastic), Independence Hall and the National Constitution Center. It’s easy to get misty-eyed gazing at that cracked bell, sitting in Independence Hall and taking in the wondrous exhibits and presentations at the National Constitution Center. What most Americans need these days is to spend a few hours being reminded of the blessings of liberty – and a trip to central Philadelphia will accomplish that, and how.
From Philly we hopped a plane across the pond to my home away from home, Edinburgh, Scotland. In the summer of 2009 we attended the Royal Highland Show, held in June in Edinburgh every year. Much like a big county fair, the Royal Highland Show attracts people from around Scotland and feels like a national coming together, or a reunion, or a big party where the center of attention is a tent full of goats. There are competitions for chickens, cows, sheep, ponies, horses, donkeys, goats and eggs. Don’t press me on how one judges an intact egg – I tried with all my might, but I could not distinguish between eggs of different backgrounds, nor could I see ANY discernable difference between the prize winning egg and the loser eggs nearby. I did notice that it was the Queen’s egg that took first prize. I think it is possible that the whole thing was rigged, but I can’t be sure.
The food offerings at the Highland Show included tatties, baps, and an endless array of other items, most of which included some form of pork, and all with names completely incomprehensible to us Yanks, though I’m told we share a common tongue. We ordered eggs “Over Easy,” to blank stares and complete incomprehension. I never thought ordering breakfast in my mother tongue would be such a challenge. Despite our complete failure to engage in egg judging and our inability to properly name any of the foods served, my children and I love the Royal Highland Show and arranged our summer schedule so that we could go this summer for a second time. The animals are gorgeous, the humans are solid and direct, and the general feeling of the place has no equivalent in our bustling LA lives. We watched a six-week old donkey win first prize with her proud donkey mum standing by (not very quietly). It was a beautiful thing.
On our second day in Scotland we hired a car and driver and headed out to “The Borders.” The Borders refers to the area in Scotland that sits just above England. It is known, among other things, for having had the pleasure of being sacked on numerous occasions by one English mob or another. One British King, whose name escapes me at the moment, sent his particular rabble to tear down the Abbeys that were situated right in harm’s way, just north of England. We visited three of them one fine Scottish summer day. Pardon me for a moment whilst I make a quick diversion to provide the definition of a “fine Scottish summer day.” It means, drum roll please, that it is NOT pissing rain. That’s it. You still need a parka and strong legs to keep upright in a stiff wind – but at least there is nary a rain cloud in sight. Our tour of previously sacked Abbeys included Melrose, Dryburgh, and Jedburgh. They are all beautiful in a slightly eerie, ghosts must still be lurking here, sort of way. The only thing left intact by the English sackers (as opposed to the Scottish sackees) were the cemeteries ‘cause even if the English higher-ups were fine with desecrating houses of worship, no one really wanted to wake the dead.Print This Post