I'm neither English nor Scottish. So why did my trip to the UK feel so much like visiting part of my own history? I suppose it's a combination of factors. Until world history in high school, the majority of history we learned in school was Anglocentric. It's just so much a part of our culture here, or at least mine growing up. Part of our stories, our historical sites, our media. When the American Revolution was fought, none of my ancestors had anything to do with it ... unless it was that stray Native American line. But mostly, my ancestors were off in Greece and Italy and Austria-Hungary and Belgium and Denmark, not caring at all. In my head, though, that's not how it goes. So I was excited to spend some time in a place that already felt, in an odd way, like my territory.
What did I do on my trip besides see concerts? Plenty. Though I had a few free hours in London last summer, I was pleased to spend a bit more time there this year. Not nearly enough, of course. But I had afternoon tea with Paul at The Wolseley, explored a proper British department store, walked across the Thames, and paid a visit to the original Reckless Records on Berwick Street. We left for Newcastle-upon-Tyne from King's Cross Station, and if it weren't for construction issues, I would definitely have visited Platform 9-3/4 too. I'd like to take in London by the gulp rather than small sips, but this will do for now.
In Newcastle, we visited Grainger Market, which opened in 1835 and boasts the world's smallest Marks & Spencer store. It also has some yummy food. We ate both a lunch and a traditional English breakfast there, all made with market ingredients. Side note: breakfast sausage in England and Scotland beats the hell out of our weak, wrinkly American version. But I'm not a huge fan of black pudding. Grainger Market wasn't the only place we sampled the food and drink of Newcastle: a cafe called The Scrumpy Willow and the Singing Kettle makes a mean banana lassi. And I thought lassis were only made of mango!
From Newcastle we went to Glasgow, arriving on the same day as the Pope. We steered clear of Papal activities, though, keeping occupied well away from Bellahouston Park. We wandered around the city centre, Buchanan Street, Argyle Street, and the Barras neighborhood. Glasgow's architecture is pretty great, owing much to Charles Rennie Mackintosh. My first thought upon seeing some of his designs was of local hero Frank Lloyd Wright. They were contemporaries in the Arts & Crafts world at the turn of the century, it turns out, but Mackintosh's work seems more fanciful somehow. I also admired a huge metal art deco peacock on the Princes Street Shopping Centre. Mackintosh didn't have all the fun in Glasgow.
I took a solo day trip to Edinburgh on Friday, armed with maps and advice from locals Iain and Ann. Clouds rolled away in the morning, leaving me with a bright, sunny day to enjoy the city. I walked to the top of Calton Hill, exploring the Old Calton Burial Ground on the way. I strolled the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle and spent hours exploring its nooks and crannies, admiring the spectacular views. I ate wild boar sausage at the castle cafe, and visited St. Margaret's Chapel: the oldest building in Edinburgh, dating back to the 1100's. I got some excellent shopping in on High Street and the surrounding area. I wandered down wynds and closes, and visited the small Writer's Museum. I found the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. I browsed at the Central Lending Library, reading a chapter from a book debating whether Jane Eyre could have been happy in the years following the book's conclusion. And I got back to Glasgow in time to pick up a late dinner from Wagamama.
The next day was my last in Scotland, and I finally took the Clockwork Orange (Glasgow's subway) west. Signs for the Papal Mass still pointed the way from Ibrox to Bellahouston Park, though the Pope himself had Popemobiled away days earlier. My destination was House for an Art Lover, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I loved it. It blows my mind that house and furnishings were dreamed up by Mackintosh when the Victorian style was still in vogue. The smooth, clean lines and abundance of light seemed decades ahead of their time. Aside from the house, I walked around in the park and enjoyed more art and gardens. On my way back, I nearly got swept up in the tide of red-and-blue-clad Glaswegians headed to Ibrox for the afternoon football game. I bought myself a scarf from one of the many street vendors set up near the stadium. A couple more hours puttering around Buchanan Street, and then it was time to take a bus to the airport. I flew to London that night, and back home in the morning.
So that was my trip. I'd love to get back to Scotland, and see more of the countryside next time. I'm not sure when I'll be able to make that happen, but I've learned that you never can tell.