My first trip to London was via Tel Aviv in 1986. My husband, Todd, had been tasked to deliver a paper on remotely piloted vehicles to the Israeli army. A truly blatant case of 'bringing coals to Newcastle,' as the Israelis were already using RPVs in the field. Nevertheless, it meant paying only one airfare, and since we were both passionate anglophiles, tacking on a few weeks vacation and a return flight through London was the obvious choice.
Being male, and an engineer into the bargain, Todd's approach to this dream vacation was intensive research. While I just planned to soak everything in, he got a detailed street map of London and committed it to memory. It was like having my own personal tour guide who just happened to be sharing my room. We walked miles in that lovely ancient city; he striding purposefully, me tagging along wide-eyed, absorbing all the color, glamour and history.
We stayed at a small British hotel in Queens Gate, Kensington, half a block from the Albert Hall and Kensington Gardens. To this day I have never seen anything to rival the flowers in London's parks. They employ armies of gardeners and each morning the blooms seem ready for the most prestigious of flower shows. From our hotel, a quick jaunt down the mews brought us to our morning coffee shop on Gloucester Road, half a block from the underground station where we started most days. We'd ride the tube to that day's area for exploration; the Inns of the Court and the Old Bailey (where we sat in on a trial in progress); Fleet Street and lunch at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, very little changed from the time of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his illustrious cronies. The Duke Hotel, where Stanton Delaplane made famous the martinis of a bartender named Salvatore. We met Salvatore and sampled the martinis. It was a good thing the trip home was via tube and on foot.
Both Todd and I have Scottish ancestors, so after a week in London we took 'The Flying Scot' to Edinburgh. It was only then we dared to rent a car and see some of the countryside. Edinburg is a beautiful city, and the view of Edinburg Castle rising out of the greensward as you exit the underground train station is one I will never forget. Negotiating the traffic while trying to remember to drive on the wrong side of the road is also unforgettable. Especially if you are in the passenger seat where you're supposed to have a steering wheel and brakes!
Todd wanted to drive the perimeter of Scotland, which we did. Through the incredibly lovely country to Inverness, then on to John O'Groats, the northernmost tip of the British Isles, and across a virtually uninhabited (except by sheep) stretch of one-lane road with occasional 'lay-bys' in the unlikely event you should meet another car. This led to Ullapool, a charming fishing village on the west coast of Scotland. We had no reservations; we stayed in bed-and-breakfasts, small hotels, whatever we ran across. With no exceptions, the people we met were warm, friendly, and eager to hear about 'America.' The British are fond of saying 'the Scots are a cold lot,' and perhaps they are . . . to the British. They do have a history after all. But not to us.
We returned to London a few years later and had an enjoyable time, visiting the south of England, Dartmoor, Wales, and, of course, Scotland again. But nothing will ever quite match the magic of that first encounter.