Saturday, March 1, 2008

Wonderful but wet Wales, with a little bit of Mozart thrown in.

London had mid-term holidays last week and I was very much looking forward to having a lie in each morning and getting through some planning work for school and generally just catching up with myself. Obviously my body thought catching up would be a good idea too and struck me down with a rather nasty case of the flu. The flu is so much worse when you can't whinge to your mum and she looks after you by making you tea and bringing you chicken soup! So, the first 4 days of my week were spent in bed surrounded by tissues, magazines that Karen had given me and cups of lemon and honey tea. Don't get me wrong, I am actually grateful that it happened in the holidays because, as I am a supply teacher, I don't get paid if I don't teach.

On Tuesday night I managed to pull myself together to go to the Mozart symphony with Karen, who had scored some free tickets through work. It was an adventure, I tell you. Here I was thinking I was in for a night of classical music, and how wrong I was. First of all Karen and I were the last to arrive and we couldn't find our seats so we ended up walking the full length of the auditorium trying to find seats 34 and 35. As per normal we were both wearing the same colour and of course, it had to be bright red, so inconspicuous we were not! Then after an usher rushed over to get us to sit down, a guy 2 rows from us had a fit and threw up all over the place before promptly passing out, and then an old gentlemen needed to make an emergency stop at the bathroom and it took him 25 minutes to climb the stairs and then he just disappeared and never came back! Add to that the hoopla involved in getting the ambulance officers into the auditorium and set it all against the backdrop against the fine tunes from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart! What a night!

By Thursday afternoon I managed to function on 7 out of 8 cylinders, which is an improvement on me normally anyway, so on a whim I booked a trip to Wales. Wales was the only UK country I hadn't explored and thought that it was high time to get my butt into action and head west. It was very last minute as the tour I booked left London at 7am on Friday morning! There were 21 people on the bus and our tour manager, Gary, was very good at coming up with ways to keep us entertained during the drive out of the city to the Welsh countryside. Usually it involved a story where he completely embarrassed himself!

If I had to describe Wales I would say that it is a poor man's Scotland. I know that sounds unfair but it is exactly how I felt about the countryside and cities. I am extremely partial to Scotland as you could probably tell by my blog entry from when I went exploring the Highlands with Vic back in October 2007. So anything compared to Scotland was always going to come off second best unfortunately for Wales. Wales just lacks the vibrancy and the colours I see in Scotland. We originally drove into Newport and stopped for morning tea. It was a pretty place, but nothing jumped up and grabbed me.
I was very much looking forward to visiting Cardiff. I am a Rugby Union nut and love watching the game, so why not visit the home of rugby? Millennium Stadium is massive! And stuck in the middle of all these other buildings. I am so used to Sydney, where they build the stadiums in the middle of nowhere and it takes you ages to get there and they are surrounded by huge car parks. Millennium Stadium is smack bang in the middle of the city, with other buildings almost touching it's edges. Not sure where people park their cars though??????

Wales was playing Italy that afternoon (Wales thrashed them) so they had cancelled all the stadium tours meaning I missed out on going inside, but I am sure I will be back there at some point. I will have to catch a game there before I head home. Instead of touring the stadium I tried to find the waterfront. I tried for an hour and a half but had no joy so headed to the castle and took a tour there.

We stayed at a rather dodgy pub which doubled as a backpackers, called "The Black Sheep". Most of the girls stayed in a 20 bed dorm room which had the unmistakable odour of cat pee. Luckily my bed had slats missing and in order to prevent getting to know the girl sleeping below me better in the middle of the night, I moved to the 7 bed dorm where the couples and 2 other girls were sleeping. Turns out it was an excellent move. Not only because my bed actually had slats but also because I met Chris and Michelle, a married couple from Adelaide. It was good having some friendly people to chat with on the bus, or walking with them when we went to certain sites etc. Plus they like UNO (as do I, with a passion) so we played a championship game after dinner one night.

The Black Sheep served food a'la chips, peas and pies or chips, peas and lasagne or chips, peas and faggots (giggle, giggle). Oh Yes! The Welsh delicacy of FAGGOTS! (giggle, giggle). Faggots (giggle, giggle) are basically sausage type meat balls. On our second night there some of us couldn't handle chips, peas and something, so we went out for a very expensive but nonetheless yummy meal in town. I had the Moroccan Lamb and it was delicious.

We toured some of the dams in the south of Wales but none had tipped over the edge, so rather than cascading, they were casually dribbling not unlike your old age grandma. We also saw one of the Welsh beaches. The best description I can come up for this is grey. Grey sand, grey water smothered by a grey sky. To counteract this "greyness" the people have painted the buildings that line the concourse a variety of pastel colours which actually compliment the grey rather than compete with it.

I think that the highlights of the trip were The Big Pit and Tintern Abbey which we saw on Sunday. The Big Pit is one of the last coal mines in Wales. It was closed in the 1990s and now serves as a working museum. We got kitted out with emergency packs, air canisters and hardhats with headlamps just before descending down into the mine shaft. It was a good thing I am not a) claustrophobic or b) afraid of the dark because the mine corridors are pretty scary. Added to the tight spaces and darkness was the very chilly air and all up you get a rather freaky experience that makes you glad that you never had to work in those conditions. I think I will take my 29 smelly, snotty, snivelling children any day!

Tintern Abbey is a magnificent set of ruins that used to be a grand abbey that served the Southern Wales people for ages. It was destroyed under the ruling of Henry 8th when he developed the Church of England (bastard!). What a waste! It would have been an awesome sight to behold in it's heyday. Most of the external structure had held, but all of the interior has been reduced to sprouts of weeds and grass spurting between upturned rubble and rocks. It's not hard to imagine the monks wandering around the draughty halls and lofty rooms that would have made up the buildings within the compound.
Whilst Wales was not spectacular or soul moving, like Scotland is for me, I am still impressed by it. I hear that the northern parts of Wales e.g. Snowdonia are amazing and I am hoping to travel there in May. There is lots to see in Wales but the best part is listening to the accent. It's like the Welsh people are singing to you as they speak. The lilt is more like a tune. Absolutely beautiful!

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