A few days ago we returned from a two-week vacation to England and Scotland with our two youngest children, Eve and William (who are 20 and 18 respectively). We had many adventures, and as circumstances would have it, had brushes with Very Famous People while we were in London.
On our first full day in London, we woke up early and got to the Tower of London by 9am. We knew we’d have fewer crowds if we arrived early, and it would be easier to catch a tour with one of the witty Beefeaters who dress in brilliant red costumes and wear silly plumed hats. We were having a fantastic time exploring this tower, and then that tower, and since it was our first day of vacation, we happily paused to read each and every didactic, soaking up all the great British history. I’d put it in the top ten of all the places we visited, and I would highly recommend it.
Anyway. We were having a grand time, but I began to feel annoyed with a family who had a very loud, obnoxious “private” tour guide. It seemed they invaded our space each time we entered a new room. The guide’s voice was shrill and self important, and finally, I glared at her, hoping she’d understand she was being too loud. It was then I heard a very distinctive voice—the voice of Katie Couric, once known as America’s sweetheart of the morning shows. It was Katie on vacation with her family!
Allow me to pause my story for a moment and state for the record that I am NOT a superficial person, however, I take great interest in current culture, including famous people. I’m intrigued at their stories, since they, too, were once lowly folks such as myself yet now have international fame and boatloads of money. So when I meet a “star,” I get pretty excited.
And Katie Couric it certainly was. She is tiny. She wore no make up and was still cute as a button. She was dressed very casually and had a cap on with a ponytail under it. Her daughters (in their early twenties) are taller and thin, and her husband just looks like a plain Joe. I could have followed them (and their rude guide) but instead I watched her using my peripheral vision while sneakily pretending to look at my phone. I figure the woman deserves to have a hassle-free vacation with her family without a sort of/kind of fan following and staring at her.
So. THAT VERY SAME DAY we missed my favorite band who just happened to be playing a concert in a park ONE MILE from where we walked that afternoon. I leaked out a few tiny tears when I found out, and kept thinking that if we’d known, we could have lingered about and heard them outside the venue since it was just in a big park. In the end I calmed myself by remembering we were not in London to see Bastille perform, and we had a perfect day seeing the sights we’d seen.
The very next day we spent the morning at the National Gallery, walked an hour to see one of my favorite artist’s (Yayoi Kusama) thrilling new exhibit at a small gallery on the edge of town, and after many tube stops, finally arrived at Westminster Abbey. It was at the top of our list since the ridiculous coach tour we’d taken three summers ago had not included entry, yet we spent a teasing hour lolling about the lobby and gift shop. We arrived at the huge cathedral to find many people milling about outside the gates, but nobody going in. My family walked the entire periphery but I (per usual) cut to the chase by asking the uniformed man at the gate. “Closed today for a special memorial service, mum.” I looked around and sure enough, there were signs announcing the vigil marking the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. The vigil remembers those lost in the battle, which claimed over one million lives and affected the lives of millions more at home during WWI. Those who took part on all sides of the Battle were represented, and the internet said all were welcome . . . but that was clearly complete HOGWASH because the uniformed men at the gate were keeping everyone out, excepting the Very Fancy People who were arriving in limos. We had fun watching the swank guests arrive, and the next day found out the Queen (yes, THAT Queen) had arrived just minutes after we’d moved on to find a snack. A SNACK. I missed seeing the Queen of England enter Westminster Abbey because we wanted a SNACK. (Kicks self in the arse.)
And yes, there’s more. You remember I’m a fan of the band Florence + the Machine. You guessed it—she was playing Saturday afternoon at Hyde Park—which was only a half hour from where we were at the British Museum when I first heard the news. After just missing Bastille, I was determined not to miss another opportunity and besides, Florence Welch is the coolest chick ever who happens to have the voice of an angel. I searched and found tickets were available but a) we had a full day planned, b) the tickets were expensive, c) the concert was starting soon, and d) the sky looked threatening. Hip hip hooray for me that I did not insist upon seeing Florence because that afternoon, the rain came tumbling down sideways, drenching us from head to toe, the nasty wind inverting our umbrellas, ultimately causing us to board a bus to who-knows-where just to save ourselves from what seemed like an Emergency Situation. Not the best day to be attending an expensive outdoor concert!
The final brush with greatness occurred days later in Edinburgh, at the East end of the Royal Mile. It was our second day in this beautiful city, and William (Eagle Scout, Lover of Hiking) had requested we do a hike. Lucky for us, there was a strange, yet accessible mountain called Arthur’s Seat which looked like what we in Arizona would call a butte. Anyhoo, the bus system let us down and when we finally arrived to the little flat mountain, the weather was threatening, and because we had tickets to an underground ghost tour at 2pm, the hike was not doable. William was disappointed, and because we didn’t have a Plan B, we plunked down dejectedly at the edge of a fountain in front of the Scottish Parliament Building. It was our first low point of the trip, and we weren’t sure what to do. The gates to Holyrood Palace were right there, but we’d heard it was closed that week for some reason or other.
We began to notice crowds of well-dressed people walking toward the palace. In fact, they looked so dressed up that we wondered if there was a wedding or a formal party. After asking in a shop, we found at the Queen was visiting for one week and today was her big Garden Party! As we shopped and lunched along the Royal Mile, I had fun watching all of the Fancy People in their finery, on their way to have tea with the Queen. SO COOL. Most women had a hat of some sort, even if it was only a “fascinator” which is a head band with some decorative stuff happening on the top of your head. The following day, I met two people who had attended this party and they said it was to honor volunteers and also service men and women. I closed my eyes and imagined what it would be like to curtsy for the Queen, then sip champagne and nibble sandwiches at a palace, but alas, that is not what we do here in America.
Tune in tomorrow for “The Many Sausages of the UK” when I’ll explain the mysterious Scottish dish of “neeps and tatties” and many other strange menu items seen on our trip to the UK.