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The Brighter Side of Britain

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My last blog focused on the economic and social struggles I saw on my trip to England in March. I wrote it from my perspective as a journalist, not as someone who was revisiting a country I love. Those hoping for some travel guide style highlights felt like they missed out. So, now I’ll share the lighter side…

We took a chance going in March, when the weather can be wicked. But luck was on our side. I’ll never forget all the other families packing St. James Park in London to soak up some of the first sunshine season. While I was appreciating the little oases of flowers and trying to explain to my kids about how famous this country is for its gardens, my younger son was focused solely on the wildlife. He started taking pictures of the squirrels he found fascinating because they would run right up to you. They don’t even beg; they just expect to be fed food scraps by obliging tourists. There was also a black swan as well as a duck sitting on a floating nest…a menagerie of kodak moments. I had to ask for my camera back at that point because he was fast filling up the memory card!

I did get the camera back in time to snap a photo of a helicopter flying out of Buckingham Palace, which is where you end up after strolling through St. James Park. We could only speculate who might be inside. Even with increased police patrols in the area and the budget protests still top of mind from just the day before, there seemed to be a general cheerfulness about the upcoming royal wedding. It may have something to do with the entire country getting a day off, a national “Bank Holiday”, to celebrate. But there’s also still plenty of fascination with and even pride in the royal family even though the existence of a monarchy in our modern world regularly stirs controversy.

My visit to Oxford was like breathing rarefied air. I visited my college campus (Trinity) and showed my kids the room I lived in – in a residence hall that dates back to the 1800s. That makes it one of the newer buildings there! My college was founded in 1555 and the University was founded in the 1200s. I actually read more about the history of England while on vacation than I did when I lived there, however one of the reasons I loved living in England is because history is all around you. The country preserves, renovates and breathes new life into its historic buildings. While some take it for granted, it seems references to and conversations about history are always ongoing, as fresh as if they are discussing the news of the day.

As so often happens when you live near tourist attractions, I didn’t take the time to see places like Stratford-upon-Avon (where Shakespeare was born) and Stonehenge when I lived in the U.K. I made up for that this time. When I visited the birthplace of Shakespeare, I learned the bard was quite a good ‘marketer’ back in his day. He even turned the home where he born into a pub after he gained some fame.

We also visited Stonehenge, but I discovered a nearby place that pre-dates the famous stone circle. Avebury’s circle of boulders is much bigger, surrounding and even weaving through an entire village. The stones are left natural, not squared off at the corners and stacked like they are at Stonehenge.

Some of the stones in Avebury were destroyed and incorporated into the local church and architecture by religious leaders who considered the original site a pagan temple. We talked at length to a local antique dealer in Avebury who shared stories about growing up in the village as a boy. I bought a Roman coin from him after he said they used to find them as children playing on the local riverbank. It cost just a few dollars but gives me a thrill every time I look at it!

I left England feeling entirely satisfied with my vacation. But I want to go back soon. There’s still so much more I want to see. We drove through the Cotswolds but didn’t have a chance to stop and enjoy. It was breathtaking countryside. My husband is still itching to see Wales and head north to Scotland. Each trip alone could take a week each. Perhaps I shouldn’t wait another 11 years….

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