Thursday, July 12, 2007

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Nothern Ireland

Before coming to US 1,5 years ago I lived in UK for 5 years. It was like second home that’s why nostalgia made it quite difficult to write about it for quite some time… But now that passed and here is my story. I planned to write it in summer because it’s the best time to visit the country since July – August give you the best chance of avoiding rain.

There are 3 concepts in my mind that describe UK best of all: tradition, mystery and aristocracy.

TRADITION and HISTORY: everything in this country is about tradition and most of its customs go centuries back, so far that you start doubting if the world existed then… The guys still have the Queen, the Crown and other stuff like that! It feels like there are more palaces and ancient castles per square mile than anywhere else. And it’s not enough to visit one or 2 of them to get the full picture. Each castle is unique, it has different architecture, interior design, surrounding garden and it dates back to a specific era and has its own history and (often) love story behind it. Security cameras at royal palaces (mostly Hampton Court) even capture old ghosts in black cloaks on camera from time to time. Nowhere else you’ll be able to see the abundance of ancient armor and crown jewels on display.

Speaking about customs I couldn’t avoid mentioning one specific, tradition which is well known but not so well understood around the world: English tea. It’s not the tea that’s important but the ritual. It is a 2 hours’ long occasion when the tea is served with special finger sandwiches, small cakes, scones, clotted cream and jam. Take away 1 ingredient and it is not English tea anymore.

MYSTERY: besides the ghosts that haunt the royal Hampton Court Britain is home to 2 other most famous mystical sites: the Stonehenge and the Loch Ness. I visited both of them and each one made a deep impression on me though I have not seen the Loch Ness monster with my own eyes (note: the less the amount of tourists found at the spot the better the impression). There is something inexplicable about these places, something beyond words. I even didn’t try to explain anything to myself; I was just left with an inner feeling that I touched the untouchable, the unimaginable… One must see and feel it with ones own eyes….

ARISTOCRATIC: or “high-class”, or “upscale” or “posh” whatever word you use Britain has a lot of places and events you can attend which will make you feel like “royalty” for a day. For starters it will cost you a fortune but this is exactly the point: if you could afford it every day it wouldn’t be such a special treat! Try special seats at Wimbledon with Champaign and strawberries; a visit to Ascot (horse races favored by the royal family) where you HAVE TO be dressed elegantly (for ladies a beautiful dress, heels and a stunning hat is a must); or see a performance at Royal Albert Hall or Royal Opera.

Finally, don’t be disappointed if you don’t get a chance to meet the Queen - go see the change of the royal guards that the Buckingham palace. The site of dozens of well-trained, handsome, tall and young “warriors” will definitely substitute for that of one old lady.

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