Promises, promises

If you remember the last paragraph of yesterday’s ramble, you’ll know that I’m about to tell you about my Easter trip to Wales. South Wales. De Cymru. Though before I do, here’s a sunny good morning to Modesto, California, home of a certain Oscar nominee. A gnat from Modesto buzzed through the blog last night (sorry for calling you gnats, by the way, though the way I figure, if you truly are, you won’t care and if you come back, you’re no longer a gnat, having lived longer than one day).

Ok, on to Wales…

Preamble: the first Wales trip of my life was last year in February. I think I’ve talked about somewhere already, so I won’t bore you with details. I very much enjoyed it and went back with Claudia in September. Finally, I actually did make it to the launch party at the Senedd, but got so spooked by people rapidly speaking vocab at me that was way over my head, that I actually dropped the  Welsh for a few months to recover. Meanwhile, though, fate had already set me on a path back to God’s Country (their words, and mine, even if there is no god), because during the summer fest in Ludwigsburg, I had found a flyer advertising said Easter trip, and I was signed up and paid up! The concept appealed to me enormously: one week in South Wales, exploring and being driven around in a comfy coach. As a big traffic chicken, of course I will not rent a car in a country where people purposely drive on the wrong side of the road 😉 And then time sped up: one day, it was October and I was filling out the sign up paperwork, then it was January, and I met my roommate Ulli, next thing I know it’s the end of March, and  last minute flyer arrives, and then I’m off to the airport, dragging my teal blue suitcase to the taxi stand in the wee hours of the morning!

A road trip wouldn’t be any fun without unexpected obstacles. Seventeen of us are going, and Beate had phoned KLM to find out if there was a group check-in option. She’d been told there was. Now there we were, realizing that meant that several of us would need to self check-in together at the machines. Yes, kiddies, the Dutch-French alliance no longer offers real people to check you in, although you still have to traipse to the counter to let the nice ladies take your luggage. Luckily, self check-in is pretty easy and self-explanatory, though oddly, the machines seemed unwilling to properly read German ID cards, which then had to be typed in manually. We had the same problem leaving Bristol at the end of the week, so I suspect it’s just a glitch in the setup.

Our timing was impeccable; we floated through security and to the gate, where we only waited for a few minutes before boarding the city hopper to Amsterdam. We had a relatively long layover at Shiphol, which allowed for a good coffee break and a short visit to the Rijksmuseum, which has a tiny branch, yes, at the airport! Frequent flyer tip: if you’re like me, and you need a decent breakfast, skip the crap they serve on board and get food in Amsterdam. Flying to the UK in the morning will ALWAYS give you these options: 1st leg: a roll and a tiny Danish. 2nd leg: travel-size Tuc saltines and a chocolate cookie.

On the way to Bristol, the impossible happened: a young guy sat next to me, and we actually had an enjoyable conversation for about half the flight. My darling readers know this about me, I prefer to stick to myself, and nothing irritates me more than strangers bugging me with babble, so I’m not one of those people who get on a plane and leave with twenty new Facebook acquaintances. But this was neat. The weather was gorgeous above the clouds. The flight was uneventful. I was in the groove!

In Bristol, we were picked up by Roger, our driver, and our first coach, which was HUGE! Despite the fact that Calon Lan was blaring from the bus, Roger somewhat sheepishly admitted that he actually didn’t really speak Welsh (which never kept me from trying and led to some interesting linguistic enlightenment). We settled in, excitedly buzzing about our first stop, the bordertown Chepstow.

Chepstow is located directly on the river Wye, and if you stand on the blue-railed bridge that offers a wonderful view of the extensive castle ruins, you can see Wales behind you and England in front. Just as in Germany, the weather was cool and gray, but dry, which allowed for a walk around the town. Lunch was at the Boat Inn, a pub like one imagines a pub, with excellent food and one of the rare moments we actually got to eat real Welsh food. For the first, though not the only time during the trip, my fellow travelers marvelled at how high the alcohol content of British cider is, continually trying to liken it to French cidre. So they’re both made from apples, contain carbonation and are alcoholic, but that’s about it. In a way, it was an eye opener for me to be with a group who’d never really travelled in Britain much at all, because there are so many things you just get used to so quickly. It was kind of neat to be part of someone else’s experience in discovering all these familiar things anew. 🙂

From Chepstow, Roger took us to Caerphilly, where we visited the tourist info and the castle, while above us dark clouds loomed and an icy wind blew right through our jackets. Still, we were lucky: as Easter Monday is a bank holiday, we got to enjoy a medieval camp, complete with young knights swordfighting and a very impressive display of several kinds of siege engines. I think the swans in the moat on the other side of the wall were probably wondering what idiot kept shooting rocks into their pond, though… 😀

Next, we checked into our hotel, which lay at the outskirts of town, but had a pub more or less attached to it (actually, placed in front of it. It was rather unattached, really). Although we slept well there, and the personnel was very friendly, I probably would not stay there again for two reasons that concern the hotel directly: firstly, it’s too far from anything, and there are no amenities near by that one could, let’s say, walk to. Secondly, there was mildew not only in the bathroom, but in corners of the room on the wall with the window. One shower demonstrated why. The ventilation system in the bathroom made a lot of noise, but basically did nothing else. The entire room was wet, from ceiling to wall to floor, and only dried out if we left the door wide open and cracked the window (which was as open as that got).

Our first dinner in Wales we took as a group at the pub by the hotel. The food was quite good, especially the curries and the carvery, though fitting a huge group together must have presented a bit of a challenge. Subsequently, though, we always sat rather close together during our group meals, so at least we got used to each other quickly 😉

Read on tomorrow to learn how unbeknownst to us, we got our first glimpse at politics in Wales, and why it is important to make spitting sounds.

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