Monday, 24 November 2014

Is Wales a country?

I rolled over and checked my alarm. 9am. Perfect - a Friday morning sleep in. I pottered around, got myself some breakfast and a nice cup of green tea and started off the morning with a lovely Skype call with my beautiful family in remote Western Australia. It was Erin's birthday and it was great to see everyone's faces (even if they were mostly made up of 12 pixels).

After the call, I finished packing. I went to put my ticket in the front pocket of my bag. Wait, where's my ticket? I searched high and low. I messaged Cory.

Panic first, logic later.
It was time to set off for the station and begin the adventure to Wales.

Wales had been in the pipeline for a short while but was mildly cursed. Difficultly pinning people down. Finding the right date. Taking a day off. Finding accommodation. Where to go. What we should do.

It finally all came together, entirely with thanks to Cory and Nicole and thus 6 of us traipsed off to Wales for a weekend adventure.

4 of us boarded the coach, and we took our seats. 2 were missing. "Have they read your WhatsApp message yet?" Suddenly, on breezed Cory and Charlotte, flopping down into their seats. Naturally, I already had my phone out ready for the group-bus-we-are-going-on-an-adventure selfie.

The next 4ish hours…passed…slowly. Traffic was frustratingly packed. We passed Earl's Court station and Hammersmith station. "Seriously? Couldn't they have just picked me up from here an hour later?", I exclaimed. Frustrations aside, we spent the next few hours alternating between chatting, dozing and discussing bridges. Oh, and receiving death stares for talking too loudly and abrasively. I'm looking at you, lady.

I had a moment on the bridge crossing England to Cardiff when I realised it had been months, all the way back in Spain, that I last saw the ocean (that was not from the view of a plane). And just like that, we were in Wales.
  1. The governments of the United Kingdom and of Wales almost invariably define Wales as a country. The Welsh Assembly Government says: "Wales is not a Principality. Although we are joined with England by land, and we are part of Great Britain, Wales is a country in its own right."
Wandering to the hostel, Nicole the Key-Bearer  collected the keys and we wandered through the main stretch of Cardiff to our apartment. Let me just say we were incredibly impressed with our lodgings. Top work, Nicole! Spacious rooms, comfy, enormous couch, fully decked kitchen with coffee, tea and hot chocolate - and dishwasher.

We spruced up and made our way out into the night. Cardiff reminded me a lot of Adelaide (interestingly, Becki said the countryside of Wales reminded her a lot of New Zealand. It seems to be a "remindy" kind of place). There was a large, no-cars-allowed strip mall (a la Rundle Mall), decked out with gorgeous fairy lights, big stars and Christmas trees. The night air was chilly but fresh, and we found a cool looking pub with illegible Welsh words and ordered our first drink.

I tucked straight into the local Welsh cider (potentially an error in judgement as it was very strong) over a hearty roasty dinner. After food we made our way outside to discover it was raining - and quite heavily. We rounded the corner and stopped, staring at an Aussie and a Kiwi flag - pinned up backwards. We asked the lady at the door why the flags were up and, more importantly, why were they backwards?

'If I had put them up, they wouldn't be backwards' she replied and invited us down the stairs into what turned out to be a very cool cocktail bar. We all ordered some fancy cocktails and sat and chatted for quite a while. Some selfies, cocktails and one concussion later (stupid lampshade getting in the way of my head) we decided to move one and find another pub.

Here's where it gets a little embarrassing. It was raining, hard. The night was dark and stormy. Not all were dressed appropriately for the weather - when suddenly, we saw a comforting sight.

Walkabout Cardiff.

Yes, my friends, we concluded the evening at the Walkabout in Cardiff. There was an…interesting mix of people within. But the drinks were cheap and the music pumping, so we got our wiggle on until we decided it was time to sleep and get ready for the hiking on the morrow. 

Saturday morning. I, for one, awoke with a headache. We donned our hiking gear and the girls wandered to the shops to get some breakfast. We left for the Brecon Beacons later than we had intended, but organising 6 people to mobilise can be a difficult task. The journey to the national park was relatively straightforward - a train and then a bus. Easy peasy (even if we did miss the bus by about 35 seconds the first time around).

Saturday was a glorious day in more ways than one. Wonderful people. Perfect weather (and by perfect I mean..perfect. Uncharacteristically perfect, especially for Cardiff). Beautiful scenery. Plenty of lols. Mud and sun and squelchy ground and waterfalls. We didn't quite follow the path as planned which resulted in climbing over a fence..and then over it again. The first to go arse-up was Nicole straight into a mud puddle. Good thing I didn't put an actual bet on because I was positive it was going to be me.

Up and over the fence..
Crossing plains and over mountains, we looked like the Fellowship. We were the Fellowship.
We took hundreds of photos. We posed, and posed some more. We sang Hakuna Matata at the tops of our lungs. We slipped and slid and washed off in the water. We admired the rushing rapids and the waterfalls and the beautiful scenery Wales had to offer.

We are the Fellowship.

At one point, Cory, Sam and myself went ahead up a very treacherous path and found a breathtakingly beautiful scene. The serenity was amazing, and we sat and took in the splendour as the sun was setting above. It started to get a little chilly and the sun was getting a little scarily low - we did not want to be out in the Welsh countryside in the dark, alone and freezing to death. We rejoined the group and together made our way back down to the bottom of the mountain, tired, cold but happy.

Stahp. You too pretty.
We had decided to have a night in Saturday night as our apartment was so amazing that we wanted to spend some more time in it. Back in Cardiff, we went on a group shopping expedition; and collected all manner of snacks (including a wheel of camembert that Sam baked - words cannot describe the deliciousness) and copious amounts of liquor and then went and found some dinner.

For the remainder of Saturday night we …. [Insert Saturday night here]

Funnily enough, I woke up with a raging headache and a belly full of woe. That'll teach me for mixing sangria, champagne and vodka. Sam and Charlotte were shining stars who made an enormous breakfast fry up for us in the morning - eggs and bacon and baked beans and french toast - marvellous! 

Bellies full, we checked out and said goodbye to the awesome apartment that had been our home for the last 2 nights. Checking out already! We were all very sad that the weekend had gone by so incredibly quickly. 

Today we were going to see Cardiff Castle, the castle in..Cardiff. It's kinda hard to miss, and at night they had it all decked out with enormous glowing stars and Christmas trees. It was a grey day, but dry and not too cold - we really did get the perfect weather. The clouds only added to the atmosphere. After purchasing our entry tickets into Cardiff Castle, a lyrically voiced young Welsh man asked if we would like to "watch the video". Charlotte piped up with an enthusiastic Yes! and the man, slightly surprised and pleased, led us into the adjacent room.

"When you leave, leave through the door on the other side," he said, before flicking a switch, which darkened the room and began the slow descent of a wide wide screen from the ceiling. What happened next was approximately 15 of the weirdest minutes of my life. It was an educational video about the history of Cardiff Castle…I think. What I do know is that I am none-the-wiser about the history of Cardiff Castle, except that in the year 1100 some modern girl went back in time (or did she hallucinate?) with a book…

We spent quite a bit of time exploring the castle, the battlements and reading the history of how the castle was used in the various World Wars. We look a lot of dramatic pictures, watched squirrels mating and climbed very tight, very high, very precarious steps to the top of the battlements.

Autumn colours

After we had finished exploring the castle, we were supremely hungry and we found a place for lunch. Lunch took hours, with our poor waitress receiving no end of troubles on her first day - wrong orders, dropping trays and then a whole party partaking in a dine-and-dash promotion.

The bus ride home afforded us some much needed sleep. It was now the end of our journey as the Cardiff Clan. We had drunk together, hiked together, laughed together and danced together. It was an amazing amount of fun and I look forward to another adventure with those smiley happy people.

Wales, you took me a little by surprise. Everyone had told me your weather would be dreadful, but our sunny dispositions brought the sunshine with us from London.

Footnote: After returning from Wales, we found some of our pictures from the Walkie had been uploaded onto the Facebook site. Noticeably missing was our one group shot. Immediately I thought we must have been so disastrously unattractive that we were unable to be posted publicly. Then I had a change of heart - we were, in fact, so incredibly good looking that we would have shamed and embarrassed the other patrons in that classy establishment, and thus the Walkie did not choose to post our picture for fear of making the clientele sad.


Rushing rapids

The wishing tree

All the autumn colours.