It’s that time again – time for “something a little different”! Inspired by one of my favorite stories, Rashomon, I solicit the thoughts and opinions of others who have tread the same path as me, but (inevitably) they bring a different perspective. End result: you get twice the story.
This time, my mother (known here as “Mom”, of course) agreed to answer a few questions about her memories of our family vacation to English, Scotland, and Wales. I’ve also added a few of my own thoughts on the same questions. Here we go:
1. What made you choose this spot for a family vacation?
MOM: When I was a senior in high school, I was sent to England as a youth ambassador to the United Nations. It was a turning point in my life, the first time I had been on a plane, the first time anyone in my family had been to Europe since my grandparents left there when they were teenagers.
Our current family was now undergoing a lot of stresses and changes, trying to reach a new normal without the constant presence of your dad. I wanted to do something grand, something to show us that fun and adventure were still possible. So, I was drawn again to Great Britain. I found Cosmos, a budget friendly tour company, got us all passports, and off we went!
HEZAASAN: I was 11 years old when you told me we were going on this trip, that we would be going out of the country, “for real” (not just on a cruise), for the very first time. I remember telling my friends at 6th grade graduation that I’d be “going abroad for a short while” and feeling very important.
I adore the organic unity of this being the first international journey you had as well — you’ve made my inner storyteller very happy.
For the record, this was an absolutely brilliant move on your part, to honor the changes in all our lives with a trip of a lifetime. Well played!
2. What are your strongest sense memories from the trip?
MOM: Our itinerary covered not only England, but also Scotland and Wales. My memories include all the senses.
HEZAASAN: Agree a million percent. One of my favorite things about these Rashomon posts is that the other person’s memories (and the photos you found) help bring back my own recollections. They are like “triggers” into the dusty rooms of my long-term memory warehouse, and every sense is activated.
- MOM: I can still feel the ache in my feet from walking all over London, and the thrill of taking an after dinner walk on top of the city walls in York and Chester.
- HEZAASAN: I remember how cold and rainy it was in Scotland, and the scratchiness of my wool sweater (with adorable sheep) that we bought there to help fight the chill.
- MOM: I don’t think I’ll ever forget the amazing dairy products. You and Tracy claimed that the milk was different there. In fact, you could pour it over chocolate cake like whipped cream, and it made Rice Krispies taste like dessert. Any mention of Wales instantly brings to mind the eclairs we ate on a bridge while watching the river flow beneath us. Scotland meant I had to try a single malt whiskey while you and your sister enjoyed another Schweppes lemonade in a local pub.
- HEZAASAN: Mine is definitely the tea, at teatime, with an abundance of sugar cubes. Oh, who am I kidding – it’s just the sugar cubes. Once I started dropping those delectable morsels into my cup, the tea never had a chance.
- MOM: It may sound strange but the sharpest auditory memory I have is hearing whispers of U2 leaking from your earphones. That, and the sound of bagpipes of course, which followed us through Scotland.
- HEZAASAN: That’s fantastic – and it doesn’t “sound strange” (I see what you did there) to me at all. This vacation absolutely has a musical score when I remember it. We had our walkmen playing constantly. I remember that I had A-ha’s “Scoundrel Days” playing on our flight over, and “The Soft Rains of April” track had just started up as our pilot announced we were nearing the London airport — I can’t hear that song without thinking of that moment. And to your point, U2’s “The Joshua Tree” was constantly playing (thanks to my sister’s dual-jack walkman) while we were on the tour bus. The key was to have a soundtrack running at all times, to further enhance the cinematic experience we were all having (and, admittedly, to deter any strange adults from talking to me, because my past self was a bit of a grumpy, I-didn’t-come-here-to-entertain-strangers preteen).
- MOM: The most memorable smells were of the rain in the Lake District and flowers in tiny plots as well as in royal gardens.
- HEZAASAN: Yes! Doctor Who taught me the word for that dusty, rainy smell (science fiction isn’t doing its job if you don’t learn a few new words from it): petrichor. That scent will always be England, Scotland, and Wales to me.
- MOM: Since we were in fact sightseeing, there are too many fantastic pictures in my mind to choose just one or two. The ones that spoke to me on an emotional level were returning to the places I had been in London on my previous visit, scanning Loch Ness for any sign of Nessie, and walking the ruins of Glastonbury looking for evidence of Arthur and Guinevere.
- HEZAASAN: This is a bit irreverent, but I remember Westminster Abbey most clearly, walking on the floors that were actually tombstones. Trying to read as many of them as I could but not slow down my pace too much. It turned into a game of finding the right walking pace vs. speed reading.
3. What’s one thing that surprised you about the UK (either on this trip or something that has surprised you since)?
MOM: The biggest surprise was that there was so much countryside. Having grown up in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, I expected an island country with many more years of history than ours to exhibit signs of overdevelopment. Instead what I saw were fields and fields of … sheep!
HEZAASAN: I remember being most surprised by how easy it was to cross through three countries in an afternoon — or more to the point, that Wales is so ridiculously small. It’s the Rhode Island of the UK. I was confronted with my U.S. bias, thinking that all countries are large bodies of land that span thousands of miles in each direction. It was also a harsh reminder that my geography skills needed some serious work.
4. If you could go back to one location from this journey, which place would you choose?
MOM: I would love to spend more time in the Lake District, taking walks through the gorgeous scenery. In fact if all goes well, Bob and I are hoping to spend two weeks in Oxford next year, taking a course on fantasy writers.
HEZAASAN: As an avid Doctor Who fan, I am duty-bound to return to London and visit the Doctor Who museum. Since I’ll be there anyway, my master plan is to score tickets to a show or two at the West End and indulge in a few days of street photography. Full disclosure, I’m resisting the urge to pack my bags at this very moment.
5. What advice would you give someone who has never been there before, and wants to include a similar tour in their post-pandemic traveling?
MOM: Don’t even hesitate, just go! If you like cities, you’ll find London’s subway system extremely easy to navigate. It is filled with art, history, theatre, and fun! There are villages where you can feel as if you have traveled back to times past, where you can walk in the footsteps of Shakespeare or Jane Austen. If you prefer to get out in nature, Great Britain offers a multitude of choices. You can indulge your love of hiking, or architecture, or pop culture – the list is limited only by your imagination. And they speak English!
HEZAASAN: Perfectly said! I have nothing to add, that wouldn’t simply be an echo of your wise advice. Just go, indeed.
Thank you Mom! Thank you so much — for sharing your insights and remembrances, but even more for planting the seed in my brain about the wonders of seeing the world. I had forgotten so much about this first international experience. You’ve helped me take a much-needed journey down memory lane — which has stayed true to its name, unfolding like a blossom in the springtime. And I’m very much looking forward to the day when we can travel together again, and create new memories (that I’ll probably nudge you to help remind me about, but only because you’re so darned good at it).
Other posts in the Rashomon Series: