UK Visit: Sweeter the Second Time Around

Part I: England

Two of England’s cultural icons: the telephone booth—now repurposed into a mini urban garden—and the Royal Mail postal box.

I visited England three months after my April 2019 visit. This time, I was more prepared. I applied for a leave from work longer than the four-day leave (including weekend) that I filed before. Also, I did not need to ride a cab from London to Fleet, Hampshire because my Ate and her husband came to Heathrow airport to pick me up. To be more easily seen than the black-and-gray-wearing people in the airport, I wore white slacks and a maroon top. 😉

As usual, I bought lots of pasalubong from France, especially because I have three pamangkins to visit. Not only that. I also brought with me goodies from Manila that my sister and my daughter brought to Paris when they visited me in the summer. So I had some packs of Ding-Dong and Chocnut together with the macarons, cheese, and other goodies from France.

The July weather was not as gray as April’s, so several times, we walked around the neighborhood. We walked the short distance to the kids’ school and from the Morrisons supermarket to the house. My Ate and I went with the kids to the playground, where we watched the kids play and made sure that they were safe. I also accompanied my Ate when she brought the kids to their swimming classes. I also had the chance to attend my niece’s graduation day! 🙂

At home, there was no dull moment. We played board games, watched movies, and had interesting discussions over meals. At times, I witnessed my pamangkins’ “kulit” moments such as when one got the other’s cup, or wanted to play with the same toys. Ate and I had our bonding sessions during the meals preparation in the kitchen or during early morning coffee or late evening movies. Over cups of café latte before the others were up, we’d talk about anything under the sun. We also watched movies some evenings such as “Maudie” (Such an inspiring biographical movie.), “Oblivion” (An interesting take on a post-apocalyptic universe, starring one of my onscreen crushes, Tom Cruise.), and “Ali’s Wedding” (Oh, how I loved this movie!).

I got the chance to visit London on a Saturday. Since I was not familiar yet with the directions, I met my FSO batchmate Bea (assigned at the Philippine Embassy in London) at the train station. She was so nice to tour me around. We took some photos at the Green Park, walked towards the Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial, made a quick visit to the Philippine Embassy in London, and finally went to a café.

The grand gate of the Buckingham Palace.
The Victoria Memorial.
Strolling in Green Park with my FSO batchmate Bea.

I returned to London the next day to meet my former schoolmate and a fellow Ibalon (a sociocultural organization) alumna from the University of the Philippines-Diliman, Flaj. We walked almost the entire day and went to several places—along the Thames River, The London Eye, Big Ben, London Bridge, and many more. Our last stop was St. Paul’s Cathedral. We had much fun and wanted to make the most of the day, so it was nearing 11PM  when we finally parted.

The River Thames.
The London Eye.
The Tower Bridge.
The Palace of Westminster, more commonly referred to as the Houses of Parliament.
Capping the day with a visit to the St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Part II: Scotland

After England, I spent another week with my family in Scotland. We rented a caravan in a developed wooded area in Blairgowrie.

The thistle, Scotland’s national flower.

The place was a short drive away to the town center. We bought food items and other supplies from the nearest Tesco. We planned the itinerary and then went to several places in Scotland such as the Balmoral Castle in the Royal Deeside, the Queen’s View in Pitlochry—a vantage point of a sweeping Scottish panorama said to be previously enjoyed by Queen Victoria, and a day trip to Edinburgh, where we walked the cobbled streets of the Royal Mile and enjoyed the view of Edinburgh Castle from the Princes Street Gardens. We also went to Blackwell’s Bookstore and Edinburgh Arts and Picture Framers, among others, where I got three books, a fridge magnet, and two pastel paintings of Ben Nevis and Edinburgh Castle as souvenirs.

The royal family’s summer home, the Balmoral Castle.
The Queen’s View, Pitlochry.
Royalty Only. 😉
At the Princes Street Gardens, with the Edinburgh Castle on the hill above.

Part of our activities was a hike in the woodlands of the Linn of Tummel in Perthshire. Thankfully, despite the usually gray weather, the sun showed itself a few times during the week. I was with my youngest nephew during the hike, while my Ate and her husband were buddies with the two other kids. We admired the trees and wild flowers and looked at the expanse of the riverside to get a few stones that glimmer more brightly than the others. My nephew and I also composed a lively song on our way to the waterfall. Haha!

Just enjoying nature. ❤

After a week, we hit the road again for an eight-hour commute back to Fleet. Then just one more night in Fleet, and I was back to Paris and to my work. Vacation time was over once again but I was happy about my second visit.

Musings

One memorable event that I attended in Fleet was the school graduation of my niece. I observed that the celebration was simple yet meaningful. The pupils wore their school uniform, and the the girls didn’t have make up on and didn’t wear too-high-for-their-age-heels, unlike the usual recognition rites or graduation rites in the Philippines, at that school level. Also, there were no rankings, but students were given honors for doing their work well in different areas–leadership, sports, etc. The teachers gave short speeches, but not so much the formulaic ones like Today-is-a-very-special-ocassion-for-all-of-us-school-parents-and-students. Instead, the messages were personalized for each student and each group of students for the wonderful work they did during the school year. I think, that’s an amazing way of conducting graduation rites.

With regard to London, I had a deeper appreciation of this city from my one and a half day tour on foot. It’s a lively city proud of its heritage and full of history, where the modern mixes with the old, where a diversity of people converge, and where every corner tells a story. I recalled the horde of tourists in front of the Buckingham Palace, most of whom are immortalizing their memories through photographs. I remembered the squirrels in Green Park going up and down the tree trunks, the man stationed near Big Ben asking for alms with his gigantic pet dog, the street musicians filling the air with lively but some melancholic melodies, the old man selling souvenir items near the bridge, the blue light of the bridge, the sculptures at the park, the ubiquitous red phone booth, and the quietness of the church at night.

England’s telephone booths as a public art installation.

As for Scotland, I had dreamed of going to this country since I was in high school. I had imagined the castles, the moors, the meadows with colorful blooms and the Scots wearing their highland dress and playing their bagpipes. I didn’t give it much thought for many years but I was thrilled to finally be able to visit. To understand the place more, I got the book “Who Built Scotland: 25 Journeys in Search of a Nation” (2017) but I am just in the first essay. Also, I bought “Sunset Song” (first published in 1932) because it was touted as the “best Scottish book of all time.” But oh my gosh! It’s the first time that I got stumped by a book written in English (which was personally frustrating because I was a former English teacher) because of the writing style and the many places and people alluded to. This shows how little I know of the country and of the Scottish English variety.

I ❤ Scotland.

I think that I have strayed from my topic and that the book deserves a different post. I just would like to say again that my second UK visit was lovely. Also, I noticed that I wasn’t asked many questions anymore by the Immigration officer during my second visit. Plus, the guy at the Air France check-in counter in the Heathrow Airport was really amiable; that somehow helped soothe my sadness from being parted from my family members again. As with every trip, saying goodbye is the hardest, but what makes it sweet is that there’s almost always a hello after. ❤

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