The National Trust

Along with our amazement of and appreciation for the public footpaths in Britain, we’ve gotten to experience a few parts of the National Trust — a program that preserves all sorts of historic, scenic or natural places all across the England, Wales and Ireland(Scotland has a separate National Trust, which we also visited and enjoyed), and opens them to the public.  It’s fascinating and wonderful, and we’ve included several parts of the National Trust as pieces of our adventures in the UK.


I first learned about the National Trust through my mom, but experiencing parts of it firsthand makes me appreciate its importance even more.  What’s interesting and different about the National Trust as opposed to regular National Parks (which also exist) is that a wide variety of kinds of places can be placed into the National Trust, not just the stunningly beautiful natural places you might expect (like the Giant’s Causeway), but even small places (gardens), functioning places (farms and pubs), things (such as historical artifacts) and whole villages (we’ve visited at least two of these — Buttermere, and tiny Watendlath which is FAR off the beaten path).  It felt like every time we went to explore somewhere new, we’d end up crossing paths with the National Trust.


Although I’m not 100% clear on how it all works, I do understand that it’s a pretty profound way to preserve and share so much of Britain’s essence.  The places that belong to the National Trust can’t be sold or developed, and they’re preserved, maintained and opened for everyone to share.  We’ve gotten to explore a tiny piece of these national treasures, and I think it’s so wonderful that they’re looked after in this way — we’ve certainly enjoyed them.

Can it possibly be like we remember?

We’ve just about arrived at the “vacation” part of our summer vacation.  We leave this weekend to spend 2+ weeks in England, Scotland and Ireland.  Yes, we were there for 2 weeks less than a year ago, and we’re going back already.  We loved it that much.

I wonder, as I do anytime I go back to a place I’ve been before, if we’ll like it as much this time.  Was it a fluke, or was it really as fantastic as we remember?  After a night outside of London and an early flight the next morning to Edinburgh, we’ll actually drive back into England and spend 5 days in the Lake District, at the same place we stayed last year (it was so great last year that we just had to go back . . . and stay longer this time).  We’ll follow that with a night in Glasgow (which will be new to us) on our way to the coastal highlands (which we tried to visit last time, but we had to reroute that part of the trip due to illness).  Then we fly to Ireland, visiting both Northern Ireland and the Republic while we’re there, before flying back to London to spend a last day there before we come home.  I am really excited to go back to my absolutely favorite travel destinations so far.

Last year, when we were in England, we fell in love.  There wasn’t a single place we visited where we didn’t find something wonderful.  And then, astonishingly, we maybe even loved Ireland more.  (We loved Scotland, too, but we saw so little of it that I want to reserve judgement.)  We were lucky to have wonderful weather most of the time (an anomaly, I know) and to meet kind and welcoming people (who all spoke English, which, alone, was a treat for us) throughout our travels.  So, with amazing, picture-postcard-perfect memories like these, is it possible that it’s going to be as great this time around?

And then I pause for a moment and remember the other stuff that was also true of our trip.  I planned parts of it very poorly, and we ended up driving for hours (and hours and hours) in some cases (I think the worst day involved 11 hours of car and air travel).  We got a flat tire while we were in the Lake District, had to limp back to the hotel on the bad tire with both kids soaking wet in the backseat, and had to wait until the next day to have it fixed.  Both boys got horrible stomach illnesses.  They were sick in 3 different countries, 4 different hotels and 1 carLiam fell when we were at Edinburgh Castle and bonked his head and we spent the rest of that day in the Emergency Room.  Our hotel in York had NO HEAT even though it was COLD.  Our trip to the Giant’s Causeway was a disaster — the weather was terrible, the kids were miserable, we had to change a diaper outside, in the rain — I don’t think that trip could have been more traumatic if there had actually BEEN a giant in residence.

But, for all of that . . . *including* all of that, in some cases, partially BECAUSE of some of those things . . . it was my favorite trip that we’ve taken since we’ve been abroad.  (Well, it was my favorite destination(s) — having 2 of my sisters with us in Italy might have made that *trip* my favorite.)  Without blowing out our tire, we would never have had a warm, boisterous, a la carte dinner with our fellow travellers in the Lake District.  Without the kids being sick we would have spent even MORE time driving, and would have missed out on one of our favorite pieces of Scotland.  The stories and pictures from our miserable day at the Giant’s Causeway make me smile and laugh EVERY time I think of them.  We had a fantastic, wonderful, amazing, memorable, family trip, and it didn’t have to be even nearly perfect to be magical.

So, I don’t think we’re painting an overly rosy picture of our trip from last year — I think we just had a great time.  This trip won’t have to be perfect to be excellent, either.  I’ll be there with my most favorite people in the world, in some of my most favorite places in the world.  We’ve got less driving, less “stuff” to do, and more downtime planned.  We’re going back to some of our favorite places and trying out some of the ones we wish we’d seen last time.  (And, it’s also true that everyone still speaks English, so that’s still going to be a major plus again.)  I’m so excited to go back.

Bagpipes and Sousa — St. Patrick’s Day in Vienna

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  As an American of Irish descent, I feel a bit of extra pride in my Irish heritage on March 17.  I don’t really celebrate the holiday so much, though, other than doing my best to make sure that my one green shirt is clean so I can wear it.

Like so many things, the American perception of St. Patrick’s Day is something I probably never would have taken particular note of if I’d never lived abroad.  As much as the truly Irish may mock the green beer and general confusion about the distinction between a shamrock and 4-leaf clover, Americans do a pretty fine job of honoring the Irish each March.  (Which makes sense, because whether or not we recognize it the rest of the year, there is a lot of Irish influence in the US.)

Things here in Vienna are a bit different.  There’s very little distinction made between Irish and Scottish things, so you see a lot of crossover.  And then, there’s just kind of general feeling of revelry, with not so much thought put into the relevance of it.  For example, the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Vienna yesterday did go by the Irish abbey (although the name of the abbey itself translates to “Scottish abbey” thanks to an old naming convention), but it featured bagpipes, kilts (both mostly Scottish) and lots of John Philip Sousa marches (he was from the US, and I can’t find any connection to Ireland or Austria).  It’s fun, festive and celebratory, so I certainly don’t hold the strange hodge-podge of cultural references against anyone, but it gives me a little appreciation for how (surprisingly) culturally aware the American celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day are.

1316However the festivities happen, it’s a day to enjoy Irish heritage, which, for me, means lots of thoughts about my family, my heritage, and my favorite place in the world to visit.  This is my first St. Patrick’s Day since having actually been to Ireland, so the images it brings to mind, this time, are truly my own, and that much more special than ever before.



Dreaming of England and Ireland

Of all the places I’ve been, there’s nowhere I’ve loved more than England and Ireland.  Everywhere we’ve travelled has had its own appeal, and I have yet to go anywhere I didn’t enjoy a great deal.  But England and Ireland have a special hold on me.  I started thinking about when we’d return before our plane had even landed in Vienna.

842Most specifically, it is the Lake District (most particularly, the Newlands Valley) and County Antrim in Northern Ireland that I feel so drawn to.  It’s possible that my infatuation with these places could be attributed to simply spending a wonderful few days there last year, but I don’t think so.  I feel a real connection with both of these places.  I want to go back, to explore and experience them again.  I want to see what they’re like in different weather and different seasons.  I want to know what they’re like at their best and at their worst.  I want to discover the hidden, off-the-track places you don’t find during one brief visit.  I feel attracted to these places.  I want to know them better.  I’m invested.

I know we’ll go back.  We will most likely go back this year.  I’m itching to start planning our trip, because I know exactly what I have in mind.  For financial and logistical reasons (I can only manage to have so many trips in various states of planning before my brain and my bank account start to explode) I haven’t actually started the planning yet, but I can’t wait.

1319Last year, we saw a little bit of many things in England, only a tiny bit of Scotland (which, I suspect, may be nearly as captivating once I spend some time there) and a little of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  We’d never been before, and there was so much that was “not to be missed”, so we drove ourselves all over the British Isles (and we drove ourselves a little crazy) trying to see it all.  Now that I”m hooked, though, the pressure is off.  I know I’ll go back, so I don’t feel the need to “see it all” on this next visit.  We’ll certainly spend a few days in the Newlands Valley and in County Antrim, but we’ll add in a few new things, too (including some more of Scotland, for certain).

The details remain to be worked out, but I’m dreaming of this trip already.  I can’t wait to go back and visit with the sheep that wander the roads in the Newlands Valley, to drive on the steep, narrow roads and set the kids loose to run around another valley lake.  I miss the coastline of Northern Ireland — the green steadfastness of the land and the immense, wild sea.  I cannot wait to go back.  Just the thought of going back brings me joy.  I think I’m in love.