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I'm just a stressed-out-perfectionist-not-so-average-cupcake-making-graduate-student-from-Kansas trying to find my place in this world.
Current Adventure: Interning for the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

UK Road Trip

London moves quickly—so quickly that I have not even been able to make time blog but a couple times. I would like to say that I’ll be better for the rest of my time here, but I highly doubt it. Work has piled up all the way to my ears. In the next three weeks, I need to write two ten-pagers for my “Gender in History” class, finish up my research and write upwards of 50 pages on the UN Genocide Convention of 1948, lead a walk on the development of the area around Queen Anne’s Gate, and take a final exam for my History of London class. No big deal, right? This term is so back loaded with work, it is unbelievable. Mostly it’s just unbelievable that I knew that this was coming—I had the syllabi—but the term just caught up with me and now, I am swamped. Whoops.

However, even with all of the impending work, I’ve managed to have to fun. Starting November 4th, my mom, her friend Natalie, and I have been adventuring throughout the UK, Ireland, and Poland. And by adventuring, I really do mean adventuring. Mom and Natalie arrived at Heathrow airport on Friday, November 4th. We spent the weekend exploring London. On the agenda was a classic British pub dinner, an evening Jack the Ripper tour, a tour of London by an open-air double decker bus, Wicked, and dinner in Chinatown. Tuesday morning, (with Kasia!!) we made our way over to King’s Cross/St. Pancras train station to pick up a rental car—a brand-spanking-new black Vauxhall Corsa. It was pretty. But since I can barely cross the roads here without getting hit, I was a little bit concerned about my mom driving on the opposite side of the road all the way from London up to Scotland and then back down again. But needless to say, she did great. The roads here in the UK have a lot of roundabouts on them, which we utilized often to put us in the right direction once again.

Our first stop was Cambridge for lunch and a daytime tour. It was proper English weather—dark, gloomy, rainy, and windy—but we made the most of it, enjoying steaming bowls of soup and delicious bread. Unfortunately, during our delicious lunch, we also got slapped with a 50 pound parking ticket. It put a damper on the day. We made our way from Cambridge to Bridlington. In Smith-adventuring-style, we did not pay for the GPS, so instead we just mapquested everything before we left. Mapquest likes to tell you that something will take 2-3 hours…but instead, it takes 9. So, we got to Brid quite late at night. Bridlington is a small town located on the beaches of the North Sea. Supposedly, our bed and breakfast had a “seaside” view, but we determined that we’d definitely need some binoculars and a room on the other side of the building for that to be true. It was still a nice stay, and it included our first proper English breakfast (complete with black pudding . . . made out of blood!). We walked along the shoreline for a couple hours, collecting pretty rocks, before we got back in our little Vauxhall and headed for our next stop: Edinburgh.

The drive from Bridlington to Edinburgh was beautiful. Most of the time, we drove alongside the sea, at times dipping in to drive among sheep farmers’ paddocks. Of course, because our hand-dandy friend Mapquest let us down so many times, it took us until 7PM to drive what was supposed to be just a couple hours drive to Edinburgh. Kasia had a late evening flight, which gave us just enough time to eat dinner with my high school classmate Joyce Chan (reunited after three years!), before getting Kasia to the airport. Afterwards, we dropped Joyce off at her flat, which is right across the road from where my mom used to study (small world), and headed on over to Mom’s friend Juliet’s house.

Oh. My. Word. Juliet is a trip. Probably the funniest person I have ever met. From the second we walked in the door, we were laughing and talking and drinking. Natalie—Mom’s friend who was traveling with us—was in search of a good, British bloke . . . and much to our surprise, Juliet had just the person in mind: Ross McPherson! A good, ol’ Scottish sheep farmer, who also owns a bed and breakfast in the highlands. Perfect. So, Juliet pulls out the photo albums to show us his pictures, leaving them in strategic points around the house so that we can admire him over the next couple of days. Sadly enough, we never made it to see Ross, but he and Natalie are going to establish email contact and then who knows what’s next? Juliet had another suggestion for Natalie’s bloke: her husband’s friend, Luigi. Luigi is Italian, over 50 (Ross is still a little young . . . ), and well-off. But Natalie was smitten at first-sight of Mr. McPherrrson, so he must be the one.

Juliet took us around Edinburgh the next day, showing us all the old haunts where she and my mom hung out during midwifery school, telling me (according to my mom) one-too-many stories about the mischief they would get up to—including one time, where my mom volunteered Juliet to go on a vacation to Greece with the bartender at their favorite pub. Juliet went and had the pictures to prove it! The bartender now lives right down the street from her.

We met up with another one of my mom’s old friends—Deidre—at a lovely restaurant, which was all decked out for Christmas, covered in lights and trees, for some tea and mince pies. Afterwards, I headed to Bobby’s Pub (where my mom and Juliet used to hang out) for some drinks with Joyce and a fried Mars Bar (like a Milky Way). It was quite interesting and might have been worth the horrible stomach aches we had afterwards.

I’ve fallen in love with Edinburgh, too. It’s got everything that I love about London: the shops, the convenience, the fun things to do, the diversity of people without the craziness of London. Seems like it might be a nice place to live one day. . . then I could get myself a Scottish bloke.

We spent the next day driving up around the Loch Tay and Loch Lomond, seeing a couple of whisky distilleries before ending up at Deidre’s house. Now, Deidre is from Northern Ireland, and her husband, John, is from Scotland. So their children are almost impossible to understand! The youngest, Killian, was an absolute riot. We enjoyed a beautiful salmon dinner with them and some whisky afterwards.

The next morning, we left them in Hamilton, Scotland, and headed back down to England, where we stayed with the family my mom used to nanny for back in the 80s in Gloucestershire. They live in an old manor called Ashcroft, and the walls are, I kid you not, more than a foot thick. It was Mom’s birthday, so we had a surprise little party for her, including absolutely delicious chocolate cake and candles (my part of the surprise). We were treated to yet another sumptuous dinner of fish pie (so good, despite how the name instantly makes you skeptical) and some sloe gin (gin made with sloe berries and kept for years—thick like syrup and just as yummy). Georgina keeps a diary whenever she is at this house, and so, she was able to turn to the exact spot that my mom was there, and read to us about her. They raise alpacas on their property, so the next morning, we got to walk around and see the alpacas and all of their gorgeous property (most of which is let out on long-term leases to sheep farmers or for small crops).

And of course, later that afternoon, we were on our way to yet another old friend of Mom’s. This time, we went to Bath, but we were only there for dinner, because then we were off to Windsor. We stayed that night at the cutest bed and breakfast with the sweetest hosts (Dee and Steve), who made us a beautiful breakfast, let us pay in change (I had more than 50 pounds on the bottom of my purse!), and showed us the way to the castle. We spent the morning at the castle and I got the guard to smile (again!). We thought we had left ourselves plenty of time to get our rental car back to the garage in London, but we pulled in with, literally, only one minute to spare.

The next morning, Natalie and Mom were off to Dublin, where they stayed for three days, taking—from what I’m told—a hilarious tour from Dublin to Galway Bay and the Cliffs of Moher. They got back about 7PM, and because of their genius tour guide (AKA me), we were on the bus back to the exact same airport at 2 the next morning for a flight to Krakow, Poland.

Poland was different from anywhere else we had visited. It was cold. It was dark and gloomy. But there is something really special about Poland that I love. Maybe it’s just because I’ve become such good friends with Kasia and Ewa, so learning about where they are from is fascinating. We stayed in a very nice hotel in the city center of Krakow and had a wonderful Polish dinner of kielbasa (of course), pierogi, cabbage, etc. Mom and Natalie went to Auschwitz/Birkenau, but since I had already visited the concentration camp two winters ago with Ewa, I chose to spend the day with Ewa. We ate good food, walked around the city, found a guy selling bracelets made out of forks, and caught up. Ewa took us to a really lovely dinner in the city center, and then helped us get back to the airport early the next morning.

Packing was quite the chore for Mom and Natalie, but they did it. And then they left me the next morning.

Traveling reveals certain things about people, and can make best friends or enemies out of people, and so it was really special to travel abroad with my mom—just the two of us—for the first time. I loved getting to know her old friends and learn about what her life was like in the UK. So it was, all in all, the best vacation ever.

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