Wales - Cardiff and Llandudno
Trip Start Feb 04, 2011
54Trip End Nov 04, 2011
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Where I stayed
After a week in Morocco, I spent the night in London and the following day I went to Paddington Station to catch a train to Cardiff. I'd been to Wales once before but it was only to the border town of Newport back in the days when I used to live in London. This time I was determined to see Wales properly. The train took only two hours to reach Cardiff and once the train crossed the border, the signs and place names were all in Welsh. Croeso i Cymru! Welcome to Wales!
My hotel was right opposite Cardiff Castle and not far from the train station. Cardiff is actually my first stop on my European trip that doesn't involve any study. I had a quick look inside the castle before it closed and I later went out for a typical pub meal. Pubs in Britain are great and whoever said that British food is boring, obviously hasn't spent any time in a pub. These days the average pub in Britain (Wales included) offers more than just bangers and mash. However, the best thing about a British pub is not the food - it's the ambience and the decor. As is my rule about eating mostly local food on this trip, it was a comforting relief to be eating real fish and chips cooked in beer batter with a pint of local ale.
My family name (Parry) originates from Wales, apparently from somewhere in Powys near Cardiff. These days it's possible to find the name Parry all over Wales as well as in many countries where Welsh people migrated - the USA, Australia, Argentina etc. The name means "son of Harry" which in Welsh would be "ab Harry". Over time it was shortened to "Parry" in the same way that "ab Howell" was shortened to "Powell" and "ab Rhys" was shortened to "Price". The capital of Wales, Cardiff, has mostly English speakers but I heard a few people on the streets speaking Welsh. Most Welsh people live in this part of the country, in South Wales, from Newport to Swansea, but the real Wales is up north where I would be a few days later. In the meantime, I had to set off to catch a ferry to Ireland.
The train from Cardiff to the ferry port of Pembroke Dock seemed like an easy journey with a connection in Swansea. After leaving Swansea I was looking forward to seeing some of the Welsh coastline from the train window. That's when the train broke down - for almost two hours! After the first hour I realised there was no way I'd be able to make the 2pm ferry. The next ferry was at 2:30am the following morning. I was trying so hard not to have to take that ferry but now I had no choice - thanks to Arriva Trains in Wales. As I now had almost eleven hours to kill, I decided to head back to Cardiff to speak to someone about getting compensated. After all, I'd already paid for the ferry ticket and three nights' accommodation in Ireland which meant I would arrive a day later and miss out on the first night at the hotel.
The girl at the head office in Cardiff was pleasant but explained to me that the best they could do was to refund the train ticket (by cheque). That was pointless as I needed to get to the ferry terminal somehow and there was no way I'd be able to get a flight from Cardiff Airport at such short notice. So I had no choice but to make my way back through Swansea and on to Pembroke Dock. Most of this journey, by this stage, was in the dark, so I missed out on seeing the scenery and I had to wait for several hours at Pembroke Dock, eating take-away Chinese food in a park in the cold until the ferry terminal opened at midnight. I decided it'd be better to wait in a pub instead where I could sulk somewhere warm.
The pub was one of those dingy holes where everyone stares at you when you walk in. Coincidentally, the music stopped as well, making it just a bit more awkward. I didn't care as I wasn't in a great mood, having missed my ferry and hotel. Of all the places to be stranded. So I said to the publican, "is this when the piano player stops playing and you slide a glass of whiskey down the bar to John Wayne?" Everyone laughed. That's all it took to break the ice and the music from the juke box started playing again. It was quite a rowdy and small group of people in the bar, about twelve in total. The bar was tiny though and the music was selected by a rather drunken older lady who had a thing for seventies music and the juke box was not short of everything from the Bee Gees to Fleetwood Mac. That's when she screamed those two fateful words that I hate to hear. "Sweet Caroline!" She then walked over to the juke box and I had to act quickly.
It's a long story but I'm allergic to Neil Diamond. Come to think of it, I shouldn't call it an allergy as I don't exactly break out into a rash. No - it's more like a nauseous reaction. Whenever I hear a Neil Diamond song I have an urge to vomit. It stems from childhood when I used to get car sickness which is no surprise. After all, it was the seventies when I was a child so the car windows were probably closed with the smell of cigarette smoke and stale warm air. That's enough to make anyone queezy and it so happened that Neil Diamond cassetttes were always playing in the car. In the hot sun, the cassettes would almost melt on the dashboard and his voice would sound sickly and wonky at the same time. Thus the urge to vomit.
I quickly jumped in front of the juke box before the drunken lady could show her bad taste in music yet again. I pulled her aside and said, "Look. I'll make you a deal. If you select anything other than Neil Diamond, I'll buy you a drink and I'll make it a double." Done. She chose The Carpenters instead and although most people have had the misfortune of tolerating this sort of music in a bad karaoke session, I didn't mind at all. And her family name? She was a Parry. Time to catch my ferry.
Small town pubs usually close when the last customer collapses, which suited me fine as I had nowhere to go until my ferry was ready. The ferry was enormous and almost empty and as it was a four-hour trip, I was able to spread out with a blanket and get a bit of sleep. I woke up and saw Ireland in the horizon.
The ferry from Dublin arrived at Holyhead, where millions of Irish migrants would have arrived over the centuries. It was time to board another Arriva train, the same company that caused me to forfeit a night's accommodation in Wexford. It was a short trip to Llandudno and along the way the coast turned to mountains and rock cliffs until it pulled up at the walled city of Canwy. I'd never heard of this place before but it had the most amazing castle in the middle of the town. Llandudno was equally impressive with its huge promenade, Victorian style architecture and mountains in the background. I was so glad to have chosen this place as a stopover.
The hotel was reminiscent of Fawlty Towers and in slight decay but it was decent enough and right on the beach / promenade. The town seems to attract a lot of old people and that next morning I went downstairs to have breakfast but was confronted by a room full of elderly tourists. Too crowded. Even though the breakfast was included with the room, I crossed the street and went to an empty cafe' instead where I could stretch out and not have to wait half an hour to be served. Most old people mean well, but when you're travelling with heavy luggage, it's usually (and sadly) best to avoid them. For some reason, the older they are, the less likely they consider the fact that their actions inconvenience others and this was no different when it was time to check out but I had to wait for three old ladies to discuss their day's travel plans with the receptionist. Would a younger person have noticed me waiting? I sometimes wonder if it's intentional. A way of saying, "we've been around longer so we're going to make sure everyone gives us the attention we deserve". The crazy old man in Italy was the same. Always talking about himself and his opinions but not interested in listening to others.
I had a bit of time to take a train into the Snowdonian region of Wales where most people speak Welsh, not English. The scenery was beautiful and the train passed through many villages. The last stop was Blenau Ffestiniog, and that's not a spelling error. It was a nice surprise to see many of the shops had my name on them. Parry Bakery, Parry Real Estate and even Parry's Cafe'. Wales is the only place where I don't have to spell my name when I check into a hotel. In other parts of the world it's misspelt as Barry or Perry. I've even seen other combinations such as Paris or Peri. The town was quite small though so I took the next train back to Llandudno.
The next morning I took yet another train to the border town of Chester which is a popular English tourist attraction because of its Tudor architecture. I found a great little pub where I had the most amazing mushroom pie and chips in front of a fireplace. Then it was time to catch another train to Liverpool to get the connecting train back to London. I was curious to see what Liverpool looked like so I walked through the city centre for a while. There's an interesting area called the Cavern which looks like it would come alive every evening. Liverpool is much larger than I imagined and it even has an underground railway. Finally I arrived back in London that evening and went out with Declan and a few of his friends before boarding the Eurostar train back to Paris the following morning.