Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Mythical Land of North Wales

The professors decided to give us a free long weekend so that we would be able to travel outside of London. So we split into smaller groups and headed out to explore the British Isles. The group I was travelling with decided that we needed a break from the cities and museums so we decided to explore Northern Wales. On 23 October we began our journey, catching a train from Euston station, we had to switch trains a few times but everything worked out great. I knew it was going to be a magical trip as soon as we got off the train in Llandundo (the double "L" creates a "cla" sound . . . Welsh is awesome).

All that just to say "Please keep to left"? Wow, Welsh really is a long language . . . many people still speak Welsh as their first language in Northern Wales so it was fun to experience it all.

I know I have an over-active imagination but Northern Wales really felt like this wild, mythical land. Maybe because they actually have a DRAGON on their flag, maybe because this is what greeted us that first night. The light was this crazy red color and it was cold and the wind was blowing. We walked up the hill a little bit and found a pub called the King's Head for dinner. We walked in from the windy, dark night and found a wood fire burning. It felt like a cabin, all warm and snuggly. I had this delicious chilly, it had a little different flavor in it that I couldn't place until Emilee identified it as ginger . . . surprisingly, it was a good addition! That night we ended up going to a male voice choir concert at a local church . . . the Welsh are very into singing. Actually, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was started by a Welsh immigrant.
The next day we headed west to Snowdonia National Park. Our goal was to ride this train to the top of Mt. Snowdon. We paid 5 pounds and got an unlimited day pass for the area and began our journey. Taking a train would have been faster but we decided that if we took a bus we would be able to see a lot more, and we did. We drove to many remote little towns and up into the mountains. It was beautiful. When we got to the little village that has the train to the top of Mt. Snowdon we discovered that the train was closed for the next few days. We were disappointed but the bus driver directed us to a few sights instead. The picture above is of a lake high in the Welsh mountains. It was gorgeous, wide open spaces were just what I needed.

We visited a Slate Museum while we were waiting for a bus to another part of the National Park. Hillary is posing in the foreground and you can see Katie walking behind her. Slate is a huge industry for Wales, a lot of the homes still have slate roofs!

We caught another bus up to one of the mountain passes. This picture really doesn't give the scenery justice but we were in a bus so there wasn't much time to get a good picture. You might be able to see a stream on the left side of the picture. These streams were everywhere and I haven't seen anything really like it, you would just look out and see water running down the steep hills everywhere!

Me and Mt. Snowdon, the second tallest mountain in the UK at 3560 feet. It sounds wimpy, but once you see it you realize that it's a real mountain. Sir Edmund Hillary actually used it in his training for Mt. Everest, hey, you use what you've got.

We just rode the buses all day, getting off at little villages and explored. Here is a view of one of the villages with a backdrop of mountains.

Mountain village with a raging river.

Our mascot for the trip was Rick . . . Rick Steves that is. Hillary and Rick are giving us some interesting facts at this point while Katie and Emilee listen excitedly.

Caernarfon castle and the Welsh flag.

Emilee, Hillary, and Katie storming the castle. We saw North Wales in one day . . . and on only 5 pounds. That was the best 5 pounds I have ever spent!

That night we warmed up with some hot chocolate made in our hostel room. Our hostel was really, really nice. Actually, it was more like a bed and breakfast, with pictures of the owners' family and feather pillows and leather couches and satellite TV (used only at night of course, everything closes down at 6 pm still) . . . only for the price of a hostel, it was great. The hot chocolate, not so great, it was bitter dark chocolate and most of it got dumped down the sink.

The next day, Saturday, we decided to take "The Great Orme Tramway" in Llandundo up the hill.

A view up the hill, you can see the King's Head, where we ate dinner the first night, on the left side. It was windy and cold before we started our journey and it was REALLY windy and cold when we got to the top.

Me trying to stay warm in the tram.

A view from the top of the hill. We had mountains on this side and the ocean on the other. And the wind was crazy! I don't have any pictures on my camera but it was actually blowing us over. I have never been in wind that strong before! We were able to lean at a 45 degree angle and have the wind hold us up . . . as soon as I get pictures from the rest of the crew I'll post them.
We spent the rest of the day in Conwy. We explored the great castle there and then wandered the food festival they were having. The trip was a good break from school and North Wales will always hold an enchanting place in my heart. It sounds cheesy I know but I just can't explain how much I loved it!

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