Tucking into a hot plate of fresh fish and chips doused in salt and vinegar, I savored the sights and smells of Whitby, a former English whaling town on the rugged North Sea.
On another day, I pulled the collar of my leather jacket around my ears and snuggled close to my wife as we sat high on the upper deck of a steamer that cut through the clear water on its way to our hotel that overlooked the swans and boats and serene beauty of Lake Windemere.
I ate steaming cullen and skink (a smoked haddock and potato chowder) in Edinburgh, Scotland, stood on sacred ground where Scottish hero William Wallace faced off with the mighty British and stood at the wall of Sterling Castle that overlooked the once blood-stained grounds in the surrounding countryside.
I strolled the medieval walled city of Chester and stood where gladiators once battled to the death in an ancient Roman amphitheater uncovered by accident. After that I needed the few pints of hearty traditional ale drawn from a hand-pulled cask on our next stop in jolly old London town.
I walked among proper ghosts on a misty York night and stood possessed by my own thoughts outside the front gate to Beatle John Lennon’s home on a quiet middle-class street in Liverpool.
That and so much more awaited me when I landed in Scotland for the first leg of a 10-day AAA North Penn “Olde England & Heritage Tour – in so many ways, a trip of a lifetime – that took us from north to south and ended at Heathrow Airport.
I’ve been to England before but never like this. In the past, we landed, rented a car and went about our business in our own way, battling London traffic, driving long hours in bad weather on slick roads where sheep appear out of the fog and add to the pressure.
This time we let AAA take care of it all.
And take care they did.
With a professional CIE Tours International guide licensed by national tourist authorities, we listened in awe as he described the land and the history from top to bottom. Even the endless flocks of countless sheep took on a new appearance. Instead of worrying about them darting in front of my car, I had the luxury of just watching them jump and run along the green grass of their home.
Places where I thought I had little interest suddenly took on a special appeal that without the tour guide and the AAA/CIE planning might have passed me by.
Standing in the bedroom where Charlotte Bronte died, feeling guilty that I had never read her classic work “Jane Eyre,” I vowed to read her when I returned home. The same guilt and vow came to me as I stood somberly by the Grasmere grave of William Wordsworth, one of England’s finest poets.
Then it was off to Sulgrave Manor, home of George Washington’s British ancestors, a manor house Washington never visited. Standing in the majestic home, I wondered about liberty and justice for all, pondered the oppression of the serfs and servants who toiled without freedom in textile mills or by candlelight in company houses where they lost eyesight and dexterity early in their lives.
Yet even with all the planning, we had time to spend on our own.
On our last Saturday in London we had dinner in a posh Indian restaurant with my wife’s cousin and her husband, drinking red wine and recalling old times and adventures shared.
And on Sunday we took the train together to the Midlands, to visit family where my wife’s mother was born and met her father during World War II when he was stationed there as a young captain and she said “yes” to marriage and a return to America as a British war bride.
When we got back to London that day we had a chance to meet up for a drink with English friends Rob and Ellie at an outside table at yet another polished 17th Century pub where they showed off their lovely little dog, Toasty, who they had trained to curtsey to the Queen.
And before you could say haggis or pork pie we were back in Scranton, saying goodbye to our group of new friends who had all traveled well together, safe and secure in the hands of AAA/CIE and the nice connection we had all made with each other.
Where next? I’ll let you know.
Eating and drinking in the early autumn Italian countryside sounds nice. So does a rugged coastal tour of Ireland north and south.
With AAA North Penn any trip is possible. Whether to Scotland, England, Ireland or anywhere else, every jaunt is a magical mystery tour. Even if you’ve never ventured far from home, I strongly urge you to give a European journey some serious thought.
You won’t be sorry.
You’ll be on vacation – likely the biggest, best vacation you’ve ever experienced.