In many ways, summer is possibly my least favorite season. Sure, there is no snow to shovel and late sunsets mean more time to be out and about. But, especially in terms of travel, summer is when I’m most likely to stay stateside, putter in the garden (such as it is) and look forward to autumn. Summers can be beastly hot – which for me means anything above 75F or about 23C, everywhere worth going to is likely to be super crowded with families taking advantage of school vacations to get out of town and regular folks escaping the office for some R&R with some sun added, not to mention the fact that prices for accommodation and transportation are higher- the old supply and demand nonsense. A veritable zoo at every turn. I just can’t stand it.
This year was different, though. I blame Thomas Cromwell. Or Hilary Mantel. The latter has written two books of a trilogy regarding the former. Fascinating stories of real historical figures spun together with imagined but totally believable conversations and encounters, many based on historical record. Each book in excess of 400 pages yet reading at the pace of one of those (much shorter) junky romance novels.
See, these books have been distilled into two plays and are being staged in London. They were originally supposed to run only through the first week of September of this year. After a longish argument with myself over whether to get tickets – after all, they were (and are) sure to be a sellout. Maybe they would come to NYC or even get slated for satellite broadcast in theatres as many National Theatre productions have been. I could save myself a ton of money not to mention hassle and uprooting of my cats’ routine, by crossing my fingers and waiting for developments. In the end, the decision was made to produce the stories again for film, probably to be broadcast on PBS in the US but by then I had booked a ticket for each show for the first week of September and began to think about what sort of trip I could build around this slightly silly decision.
Once I had the ticket vouchers, there were other events that came on to my radar. For all the times I’ve been to Edinburgh, I’d never been to the Tattoo. This is a bagpipe and dance extravaganza held each year in August on the forecourt of the Castle and it’s always one of the hottest tickets going. August. Another internal discussion ensued. If I was gonna be in the UK anyway, maybe this year would be my best shot at seeing the Tattoo. Besides – Scotland in summer is cooler than London; how hot could it really get?
As I said, this event books up fast and by the time I’d decided to go, there were only a couple of dates available and only two of those had any reasonably priced seats left. Then something really odd happened. I booked a top ticket for a different date than I had been planning. That’s what I get for playing around on a website that helpfully logs all your viewed possibilities and not paying more attention to the log. Then I almost booked a flight for the same date, which would have meant missing the thing!
Anybody here see a brain missing its owner?
So, long story a bit shorter for now, if you love spectacle and particularly if you love bagpipes, YOU MUST GO!
In between the Tattoo and that final stint in London, I added several days in Orkney – a stunning group of islands just a few miles off the north coast of Scotland and reachable by ferry in less than 90 minutes. Phenomenal group of Neolithic sites, the most famous probably being Skara Brae but for my money, the most fascinating turned out to be the Broch of Gurness. Even more exciting for archaeology nuts like me, new sites are being found all the time… I just missed an opportunity to visit the Ness of Brodgar, a huge new dig that had just been closed up for the year.
There was the successful quest to visit the Kelpies – the full size metal sculptures whose miniature selves came to Bryant Park a few months ago. Another stunning attraction which, singly, has created a tourism business in quiet little Falkirk, Scotland.
Back to Edinburgh for an overnight before flying over to Berlin. Why Berlin? Twin answer – it’s been on my list recently, to see both East and West and it had the cheapest plane ticket of any destination north of the Alps (summer, remember).
Berlin is amazing and, like everywhere else I’ve ever been, with the possible exception of King’s Lynn, a place which I could not give nearly enough time. I loved Berlin even though the guy at Tourist Info at the airport sent me to the wrong flippin’ UBahn station. Ha! I sorted that out and the extra hour on the UBahn system came in mighty handy over the subsequent days.
A five hour walking tour took me everywhere I could think of, including a big stretch of properly pathetic-looking Wall, Checkpoint Charlie (now a rather disneyfied photo-op location overshadowed by, natch, a McDonald’s. Having left the overcrowded #100 public bus at the Reichstag, I saw a poster for an outdoor sound and light show telling the story of Germany’s Parliamentary evolution, from 1871 thru the present day. It was nice to be out in the evening, hanging out with a bunch other people. English subtitles (the international language of tourism) and rousing, almost Wagnerian music and lighting effects.
So now I find myself in London; still my favorite city on the planet. I’m sitting in a dorm room at the London School of Economics, with the best WiFi I’ve had this whole trip, well, except for yesterday AM at the Gatwick Yotel. It feels like I’m on retreat – no TV, a room by IKEA on the ninth floor, overlooking a grubby courtyard with a symphony of city-improving jackhammers gliding through the window with the breeze.
But enough of this reverie. It’s past 11AM, I’ve been rattling on since before 9 and it’s time for a break. Tickets to collect, postal envelopes to get for mailing crap home. And did I mention? there’s never been a day that was warmer than about 75F.
This’ll be it until I get back to the States, but I’ll clean this up then and hope to post more… fewer words and lots of photos.
Auf wiedersehn. I think.