Travel: Shopping in Scotland and England

I didn’t buy too much when I was in the UK. All the stuff in the London shops, I could get in New York City, a mall, or online for the same price. Also, I didn’t feel like lugging around too much. I couldn’t resist some small knit items in Scotland and small items from stores that we don’t have here.

In Edinburgh, I bought some cutie-pie change purses and earrings at Simon Bonas for my nieces.

Earrings with some bling and jingle. The white ones are for me. The others are gifts for the nieces.
Nice change purse to throw into a beach bag. Big enough for dollars and a license.

In Scotland, there are a ton of tourist shops with the full kilt silliness. That traditional man-purse is called a sporran, or as Ian called it, “a dick hider.” The nicest stuff in those shop was Harris Tweed and Aran sweaters, but a little bit goes a long way. The Aran sweaters scream Sister Mary’s Convent Gift Shop; beautiful stuff, but too chunky for me. I did get a pair of lovely driving mittens. The Harris Tweed is fabulous on a wallet.

Very silly.

But a little of bit plaid and tweed is lovely. I picked up some lovely scarves and wallets for Christmas gifts.

On the drive to Inverness, we stopped at the House of Bruar, a high-end store for Scottish Country Clothing. It was kind of awesome. Steve got my birthday present there.

We’re huge suckers for outdoorsy clothes and camping gear. We’re heading out to the woods next weekend, so we’ll give the tents and propane stove a workout.

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Flying With Autism

Midway through American Airlines Flight 101 from Heathrow to JFK, shortly after our microwaved meatball dinners were tossed out like frisbees, the flight attendant asked my son Ian if he wanted another beverage. He intently played his Tetris game on the backseat video console without replying or glancing her way.

Missing most of that exchange, I looked over in time to hear the flight attendant loudly exclaim, “Well, how RUDE is that?” She glared at me.

I recited the textbook response I give whenever Ian does something that inadvertently annoys strangers: “My son has autism, so we try to be understanding.”

More here.

National Identity, Origin Myths, and Culloden

Road from Edinburgh to Inverness
Road from Edinburgh to Inverness

About midway through our trip to Scotland, Steve picked up a rental car and we headed north to Inverness. Inverness is in the heart of Highlands, where the kilt and the bagpipe and the clans ruled for hundreds of years.

Yes, Steve bravely drove on the wrong side of the road for several nail-biting days on our trip. He may or may not have dinged up the back bumper on a narrow road one day. He said the first day was stressful, but after Day One, he felt fine. We could have done just fine using the train and bus system for that part of the country, but a car was nice, because we able to really explore the quiet lanes of the country. It would have been cool to have more time to drive up the coast and see even more remote areas and islands. Next time.

One of our day trips was to the ancient battle site, Culloden. Here, in 1745, thousands of Scots — massively outnumbered, exhausted, and out-gunned — stepped onto the battle field knowing that they wouldn’t make it out alive. The dead bodies were later just dumped in mass graves with big rocks laid through the field with clan names.

The fields of Culloden

There’s a big museum commemorating the battle there and you can walk through the field to think about the despair and the bravery of the troops.

Urquhart Castle, Scotland

This battle and the ramifications of the massive Jacobite revolution is everywhere in the area. Later, we visited Urquhart Castle or the remains of it. It had been blown up at some point during the whole Jacobite mess. And every site we visited on our trip had been impacted in some way by the lost battle, the bravery of the men, the brutal oppression of the British afterwards, and the decimation of the clan system.

Memorial at Culloden

This battle was the core of their national identity. A battle that they lost and arguably was a stupid, stupid fight; there’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity. But I thought it was fascinating that a country could identity itself as losers, especially after looking up at all the monuments to winning in London; the English are not shy about their colonial past.

Southerners also embraced the loser identity for years, focusing on the bravery of the soldiers, rather than the fact that they were fighting for the slavery. I wonder how many Southerners were of Scottish descent and took their cues from that country.

Every country has its own origin myths. For us, it’s the George Washington and the cherry tree, Betsy Ross and the flag, and Thomas Jefferson in Monticello. We won our war, so that makes things easier. People like their myths clean and simple. For Scotland, it’s bravery and honor, regardless of the cost. For us, it is founding fathers and the birth of democracy. Even if things weren’t perfect in the beginning, the myth goes, our country had seen a gradual march towards greater freedom.

Trump and his supporters are struggling to maintain old notions of the American Origin Myth at a time when the contradictions are too clear. We’re in a period where we’re redefining ourselves as a nation and trying to make peace with the past. It’s fine to have an origin myth based on being losers, as the Scotland example shows, but you can’t have an origin myth based on evil. Maybe a country doesn’t need an origin myth at all. It’s fascinating to see how all this turns out.

Travel: Packing for Scotland, the Highland (Part 2) An Essential Purse

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True story. I am addicted to crossbody purses. I think I own ten. Probably more. I like them because I only need something that can fit my wallet, my cell phone, and a tube of lipstick. Anything bigger just cramps my style.

Crossbody purses are essential when traveling and you only need a change purse of pounds, the cell phone, and the key to the Air BnB. When you’re not using them, they fit nicely into a suitcase.

Pad & Quill‘s Heritage Bag is especially cute, because it has a nice shape and smells like new leather. It even has room for an iPad, so you can read Outlander in the corner of a cafe in Edinburgh for an hour or two. Hell, you can even imagine Claire using something like this.

When Pad & Quill asked to partner with me on this product, I immediately said yes, because of its vintage-modern vibe. My nieces offered to model it and now want one, too.

Travel: Packing for Scotland, Highlands (Part 1)

As I explained earlier, packing for a trip to Scotland is tricky for many reasons. The temperature can range, as it did on this trip, from the 90s to the 40s. Because we wanted to be mobile, everything had to fit into one carry on suitcase. And our trip started in London, so we needed some cute evening outfits, as well as rugged outfits for climbing abandoned castles in the Highlands. Everything had to match and work together when layered up on a chilly evening.

Since we were staying in AirBnBs with access to laundry, we took about five to seven days worth of clothes.

After a lot of thought, I came up with a formula for myself and the dudes in my family. Here are some of the essentials:

For the guys: every day t-shirts, a sweat shirt, a long sleeve shirt, two shorts, one pair of denim pants, one pair of khaki pants, a polo shirt, a button-down shirt, walking shoes/sneakers, sperry’s, a good rain coat

For me: 5 cute shirts, 2 plain t-shirts, 1 pair of shorts, one summer dress that could work on its own and with tights underneath, stretch black pants, one pair of jeans, denim jacket, scarf, two light cardigans, lots of tank tops, lightweight flats with a rubber sole, sneakers, comfortable sandals, an excellent raincoat

For days with lots of hiking and camera use, I carried a light backpack. Other days, I carried a small cross body bag, like this one from Pad and Quill.

We all packed running clothes, but we didn’t really need them. Our schedule was very tight, and we were already walking a ton.


Travel in Scotland: Edinburgh and Inverness

The Road to Inverness

As I’m typing up this blog post and sorting through the pictures of the vacation, I’m mourning the loss of that nice vacation feeling. It lasted until about four days, when various work and family obligations obliterated my calm.

I wasn’t expecting to come back from this vacation so zen. We were on the move all ten days. We were lugging around two teenagers, who aren’t the easiest travel companions. But the boys were great. Having AirBnBs meant that we weren’t tripping over size 11 shoes and overflowing suitcases; there was plenty of room for everyone. And Scotland itself was so calming.

Edinburgh

The air from the North was clean and fresh. Locals were chilling out in pubs, and so were we. There were sites and museums to check out, but also lots of nature and walking trails. It was the perfect combination of history and art with healthy outdoorsy stuff.

I think the best thing about Scotland wasn’t one particular spot, but it was the vibe. It was peaceful. I kept spotting little cottages in the hills that would make the perfect place to write a manuscript after the six-figure advance. Shut up. It’s a vacation and I can dream.

Tomorrow, I’m going to do a shopping and girlie blot post about things that one should pack for a trip to the Highlands and what one should buy when you’re there. I’m going to do one sponsored post. And then I’m going to regroup and talk about something else.

Travel to London, A 1% City

Our trip started in London. We only had three days with the first day a blur; nobody slept on the red eye going over.

Staggering around the Tower of London with serious jet lag.

We knew that we were going to make mistakes on this trip, and would chalk up those errors as a learning experience for subsequent trips. The first mistake was make making a firm schedule or reservations for the first day. We needed a nap, but instead we put in ten miles criss/crossing the city, because I had already purchased nonrefundable tickets for the Tower of London and had booked a table at some Gordon Ramsey gastropub. Both were lovely, but I was too exhausted to remember much.

Lesson 1. Don’t expect that anyone in my family will sleep on a plane. Lesson 2. Don’t make reservations for Day 1. Lesson 3. Don’t make reservations for anywhere. They’re totally unnecessary and cramp your style.

The last time I was in London was the early 90s. It has changed quite a bit. Back then, my boyfriend at the time used to talk about the rough crowds in the pubs where he tended bar. Cockney guys who would drink too many beers while watching soccer matches and then regular beat each other in the face with their signet rings. Left a mark, apparently. It had the corny Queen tourist stuff, just as now, but it was mixed with granny traditions and a working class vibe. Punks in big hair and big boots were common place.

Cranes and St. Paul’s

Now, it’s no different from New York City. Just as New York has changed and lost it’s gritty artist, music scene, so has London. Even with Brexit, the city was still booming. Construction cranes were everywhere building luxury apartments and work spaces.

Rather getting a “plowman’s special” at a family pub with a warm beer like I did on previous trips, we ate in hip restaurants with chilled Italian beers and modern interpretations of English classic fare. We ate really well.

One night, we sat at one of those open air pubs drinking with Jonah, who was very, very pleased to be of legal drinking age. At the next table, was a group of girls about his age. They clearly weren’t backpackers staying at an $8 a night hostel like I did at their age. Dressed in heels and nice outfits, they were probably doing a summer abroad through their private colleges or had an internship.

Drinks at an underground pub with no signs. Only locals know about it. Got loaded there.

I met up with a friend of mine who works in the financial industry there. Her son, who went to a fancy private school in Westminster Cathedral, is now at an exclusive, but surprisingly cheap by American standards, college where he consorts with the children of Russian oligarchs who have homes in several cities, including New York, and vacation homes in Sardinia. Over flaming cocktails, she told me about the lifestyles of the ridiculously rich.

The ridiculously rich aren’t tied to one country, but many. Places like London and New York City are just one their homes. Their money has changed the landscapes of those cities for both the good and the bad. Don’t waste my time with nostalgia for the old 42nd street; it was a dangerous dump. But places like this have squeezed out ordinary folks, as well as the artists and creative types. Local culture has been lost to Gucci handbag stores and faux culture.

Clowning around at the Tate.

Since we live so close to Manhattan and my husband works there everyday, London didn’t feel like a huge adventure. The museums were lovely and would go back to see the ones that we missed on this trip, but it wasn’t a trip into a different culture. After three days, I packed up the few evening outfits that I brought for the trip, and we got on a train in King’s Cross for Scotland.