Sunday, August 30, 2015

UK Trip: 7/16 - Caernarfon, Wales (July 16, 2015)

On Thursday morning, we left Conwy and headed west toward Caernarfon with a stop at the Snowdon Mountain Railway to check out the train to the top of Snowdon.  The only time they had available for the day was at 3:30, so we decided to buy tickets for the next morning.  This meant we would spend today touring Caernarfon Castle and the surrounding town.

Before heading into Caernarfon, we took a chance and stopped at the B&B we had booked for the next two nights.  Tal Menai Guest House is just a mile outside of town.  It was around noon, but the owner, Sylvette, was glad to see us early because it freed her up to see her grandchildren in a performance that night.  We put our bags in our room then sat on the front lawn for a lunch of bread and cheese that we had picked up on the way.  Sylvette gave us a map of the town and told us of a free place to park within a short walk to the castle.

View of Menai Strait from our bedroom.
When we got to the castle, there was a tent set up inside and they were doing a sound check using James Taylor music.  Was he going to be playing?  Wouldn't that have been funny after traveling all this way.  It turns out that, in the evening, there was going to be a concert by a local choir.  Choirs are very big in Wales, but this was possibly the biggest, Cor Glanaethwy.  B knew who the choir was.  This 162 person choir, ranging in age from 8 to 68 had come in third in the 2015 Britain's Got Talent competition.  (Only in Britain...a dog won the talent competition).  Although the concert was invitation only, the rehearsal would be taking place while we were touring the castle!

10-sided Eagle Tower.

While we kept an ear out for the choir, we enjoyed roaming all the passages of the castle.  One of the things we didn't do while we were there was visit the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum.  I'm not sure why other than I just wasn't in a museum-y kind of mood.

Castle Square from Queen Eleanor's Gate.
I had not realized until we were there that Caernarfon Castle is where, in 1969, the investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales, occurred.  He was presented to the public, who were waiting in Castle Square, from Queen Eleanor's Gate.

Length of the castle with Menai Strait beyond.

Looking across to the mountains of Snowdonia.

Eventually, Cor Glanaethwy took the stage.  First the youngest sang, then a group of teens and young adults, then adults, and eventually all 162.  We did take a few brief recordings, but if you want to hear them, here they are on Britain's Got Talent singing Benedictus, The Prayer, and Hallelujah.   And, if you can't understand the words, it is because they are singing in Welsh.

Part of Cor Glanaethwy rehearsing.

We left the castle and crossed the bridge over the River Seiont to take a look back.  The tide was out and all the boats were high and dry.  It was interesting to see the twin-keeled sailboats resting on the mud.

Low tide on the River Seiont.

We had dinner at the recommended Black Boy Inn and then headed back to Tal Menai.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

UK Trip: Llandudno and Conwy, Wales (July 15, 2015)

Our long-awaited trip to the United Kingdom was here!  Although the majority of the trip was to be spent sightseeing, the real reason for the trip was to visit long-lost cousins.  We had been corresponding for several years now and we were finally going to meet!

We left Boston at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday night and got to Manchester, England a little after 8:00 a.m on Wednesday.  Our plan for the day was to drive to North Wales, do some activities in Llandudno, then head to our B&B in Conwy.  We wanted to keep busy and get ourselves back on a normal sleep schedule.  It took about two hours to get to Llandudno.  The highway driving wasn't too bad, but driving in the more congested areas was very stressful!

Apparently, Llandudno is one of those traditional British beach towns.  Maybe not exactly like the towns you would see along the southern coast with their beach huts, but Llandudno has streets full of shops, a promenade with a pier (the longest in Wales), and a beach that seemed only to attract those young enough to enjoy playing in the sand.  The whole place was absolutely thronged with people, and to my eyes the vast majority of them were pensioners. 

Llandudno Pier

After a so-so lunch at a small place on Mostyn Street, we walked along the promenade to the cable car which took us to the top of Great Orme.  If you imagine Llandudno as a neck, the Great Orme is the head.  Water almost completely surrounds it.  The ride gave us spectacular views of the town, cliffs, and coastal scenery.

Llandudno from a cable car to the top of Great Orme.

Great Orme Tramway and the Halfway House.

We walked around at the top for a bit just enjoying being outside on this spectacular, sunny, breezy day.  We could see the Isle of Man and the coast at Blackpool.

Cable cars to the top of Great Orme.

Wind farm in the Irish Sea (to the right).

The Grand Hotel and the promenade.

After Llandudno, we headed to our B&B, Bryn Guest House, in nearby Conwy.  Bryn is an old home with absolutely beautiful gardens.  The town wall is at the back of the garden with a tower overlooking the home.  Our hostess, Alison, greeted us, and after putting our bags in our rooms, we set off on foot to explore the town.

Bryn Guest House and Gardens viewed from the city wall.

We were too late to visit the castle, but we enjoyed a walk along the city walls.  We had dinner at an Indian restaurant and went to an ice cream shop for dessert.  I decided to have ice cream flavors that I wouldn't find at home.  I had Jaffa Cake (biscuit with orange and chocolate) and Eton Mess (fruit, meringue, and cream) ice creams.  While we were in the shop we had a nice chat with a man who was in the area getting work done on his boat.  I don't remember all we talked about, but I do remember him mentioning that Welsh is considered the Language of Heaven.

A word on the Welsh language:  I was actually very surprised at how prevalent the Welsh language is in Wales.  I would expect to hear native German speakers in Germany, but I assumed most people in Wales would speak English.  They do speak English, of course, but Welsh seemed to be spoken as the primary language. 

I looked into learning some Welsh before we came.  I found a free online source called Say Something in Welsh.  I didn't really get anywhere, but it is something I will consider working on in the future. 

Conwy Castle and the town view from the wall.

After getting back to the guest house, everyone was pretty tired.  The boys went up to their room to fall asleep watching Top Gear.  D was falling asleep wherever he happened to sit down for a moment.  It was still light out at 9:00, so I went to check for hedgehogs in the garden and then I was off to bed as well.