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TR: solo again in London and Wales - more art, history, & literature

TR: solo again in London and Wales - more art, history, & literature

Old Jul 24th, 2013, 08:41 AM
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LDT, I have to agree with other posters regarding your storytelling talent and wry sense of humor. I'm loving every detail of this well-written report. I'm planning to visit Ireland, Wales, England next year, and am most interested in getting your take on the offerings in Wales.
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Old Jul 24th, 2013, 09:12 AM
  #102  
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Hi Janisj,

Thanks for your support – I consider you an expert on the UK so it means a lot.

I also had lunch at the café at the HOLBURNE MUSUEM in Bath but didn’t have time to stroll through the “pleasure gardens.”

Hope you make it the next time. It’s in a beautiful setting…
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Old Jul 24th, 2013, 09:24 AM
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I have just found your lovely trip report and have enjoyed your detailed descriptions. Some great ideas for my next trip to London.

I am fortunate to have friends who live there so hotels are not an issue for me. However, I have other friends who stay at the Strand Palace frequently, mostly because of its central location for the West End. We are something of West End show fanatics.

My friends took me to Primrose Hill last trip - glorious views of all of London. It was a very windy day (in January), but sunny and clear. Love the parks in London!

Looking forward to the rest of Wales.
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Old Jul 24th, 2013, 03:33 PM
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Hi again Cathinjoetown,

You wrote: “The main thing about land tours that I don't like are the early morning departures.” Many folks feel that way but I am an early bird, never use or need an alarm clock.

Glad you enjoyed the Atlantic crossing. On what ship? There aren’t that many these days but I hear they are elegant. Did you go one way only? Was it rough out there?


Hi Mathieu, St. Fagan’s looks very interesting. Sorry we did not get there. Basically, we were only in Wales for three days – it was a short tour.
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Old Jul 24th, 2013, 05:26 PM
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Loving your report.
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Old Jul 24th, 2013, 07:04 PM
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TUESDAY, JULY 2: The morning was bleak and overcast. But I am not complaining because the weather so far had been most cooperative for the British Isles. This was a travel day since we were heading straight north to CAENARFON, an historical “royal town,” not far from the ISLE OF ANGLESEY where William and Kate have lived in recent years while the Prince serves in the military. Distance 175 miles – I looked it up.

According the CIE brochure that morning we would “drive through the gentle hills of BRECON BEACONS NATIONAL PARK and continue north through charming countryside, where sheep graze peacefully.”

http://www.beacons-npa.gov.uk/

They got the sheep part right, but the “gentle hills” were mostly obscured by mists and rain. It was a long ride. At noon we stopped at the market town of RHAYADER which I read later was “renowned for being the town with the highest concentration of pubs and drinking establishments, per capita, in the UK with one to each 173 people.” Who knew?

It is a tourist friendly place that caters to campers and hikers. We passed an area where a sheep auction was taking place with farmers in their wellies and wool caps bartering and shepherding the livestock from one pen to another – a sight we don’t see much of in Boston.

Several of us landed at the LAMB & FLAG, a warm and cheery pub with the fire going. The local farmers, enjoying their pints after the auction, and a very old lady sipping her tea nodded and smiled when we entered. I had what I enjoyed for the next few days for lunch – one of those creamy vegetable soups (doesn’t much matter which vegetable) along with crusty bread. It was a welcome respite. Again we bowed to the local establishment upon departure to which I added, “Lovely town, lovely town.” Afterward, I ran into Rapunzel and Mum who had continued their power shopping in the town stores. Rapunzel favored dragon motifs as souvenirs.

Back on the bus for more scenery, still concealed by rain and fogs. At last we arrived in the town of PORTHMADOG where we boarded the FFESTINIOG & WELSH HIGHLAND RAILWAYS for the last leg to CAENARFON. http://www.festrail.co.uk/

Now I had researched this excursion beforehand and really looked forward to the experience. Little did I realize that after such a damp journey for several hours that a ride on an “antique” (read creaky) narrow gauge railroad through SNOWDONIA NATIONAL PARK would be something of a letdown.

The train was quite crowded but our group had three cars (with the original wooden bench seats) to ourselves. Rapunzel and Mum were on our car and they were not happy. Mum said, “Why are we on this train after having ridden so far on a bus?” Rapunzel agreed, “Yesterday was great going to Stonehenge, Bath, and then the castle in Cardiff. Aren’t there any castles or other attractions we could see instead?” Recall this was their first tour and obviously they had not read that we were going through a national park on our way to Caernarfon.

At this point our tour director Brian appeared to hear them out. He said that CIE was trying this train option for the first time and he was sorry that they were disappointed. He kept saying, “I hear you. I hear you, but we can’t deviate from the scheduled itinerary.” He moved on shortly to see how his other charges were faring. He did not return. When the hospitality cart wheeled through, Mum and I had a wine. (Rapunzel did not drink.)

Then I passed through the next car on the way to the “facilities.” The coupling between the cars was grating and a bit scary between the mists from the mountains and the steam from the train. I was reminded of that great Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Britt when he and Watson would often sleuth between train cars in their adventures.

As I passed through that next car, everyone (a group of senior citizens, I’m one too) were all asleep or at least dozing. Of course, there was nothing to see. I then asked one of the young staff, “When we will be at Caernarfon?” He replied, “Six o’clock, mam.” It was then 4:25.

Returning to our car, I could not stop laughing. Finally I blurted out, “The good news is that although the folks in the next car appear to be dead, they are only sleeping. The bad news is that we have another hour and a half on the train.” With that, the levity level only rose and we had many laughs before we reached our destination. The trip was 40 miles. I do think that Brian should have apprised us of the length of the bus trip and the train ride earlier in the day.

Finally in CAERNARFON, we checked into the CELTIC ROYAL, a comfy vintage hotel near the center of town, not unlike what one would find in the Highlands of Scotland. Chilly all of a sudden too, but we were all able to enjoy another three-course meal. Tomorrow Rapunzel would be feeling better because there were more castles to explore…
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Old Jul 25th, 2013, 05:03 AM
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Hi LCBoniti,

You wrote: “My friends took me to Primrose Hill last trip - glorious views of all of London. It was a very windy day (in January), but sunny and clear. Love the parks in London!”

Sounds great. Sorry that I didn’t make it that far. Can’t do everything.

Thanks for following along…
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Old Jul 25th, 2013, 12:00 PM
  #108  
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Hi Europeannovice, thanks for hanging in. Still in Wales...
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Old Jul 25th, 2013, 12:47 PM
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Lateday,

We were on Cunard's Queen Victoria, New York to Southamton, 8 nights, late March 2012. Great ship which took a southern route, sailing almost due east from New York. Sunny but coldish, one day of rough seas but not terrible.

We liked it so much we've booked a crossing on the Celebrity Eclipse from Ft. Lauderdale to Southampton next April, 13 nights with stops in Bahamas, Bermuda and the Azores.
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 07:27 AM
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Hi Cathinjoetown,

Your spring crossing sounds great. So where will you go from Southhampton? I love Celebrity - happy cruising...
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 09:21 AM
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lateday,

We live in France so will spend a few days with our kids in London and Bournemouth then drive home. We will have been gone over a month by then so will be ready for home.

We just had a great experience with Celebrity Reflection on an eastern Med cruise so are looking forward to the next one.

I'm enjoying your Wales report.
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 01:59 PM
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WEDNESDAY, JULY 3: The rain had stopped, but the skies over CAENARFON were leaden and chilly when we started out on our “scenic tour of North Wales” through SNOWDONIA NATIONAL PARK. I even broke out my one pair of socks for the occasion. Rapunzel and Mum appeared at breakfast looking great in their new outfits they had bought along the way. Rapunzel smiled and said she that she had done some self-reflection during the night and was all over her snit of the previous day.

Our first stop was the NATIONAL SLATE MUSEUM in nearby LLANBERIS, a wonderful free museum on the grounds of the DINORWIG SLATE QUARRY which contains the largest working water wheel in the UK. The original main building was artistically constructed of slate and stone. We started with an informative short film “To Steal a Mountain” which described the everyday workers in the slate mines of the 19th and early 20th centuries, contrasted with the lives of their privileged quarry owners. Workers would be given a section of the mountain to detonate with dynamite. Then they would cut their slate into appropriate pieces – a dangerous enterprise.

Displays were extensive including a canteen where workers ate their simple lunches and a replication of a laborer’s cottage. We also watched a skilled worker demonstrate how slate is cut into appropriate sheets. While doing so, he switched on a fan which sucked up the slate dust as he worked. He was quite witty too and really held his audience.

Like other heavy industries of the 19th century, many workers suffered from environmental hazards, particularly respiratory problems. Slate remains, to a much lesser degree, an important industry in North Wales. It is used widely in their homes and in charming low slate walls we see for miles along their highways.

http://www.llanberis.com/slate.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slate_industry_in_Wales

Next stop was the picturesque town of BETWS-Y-COED with an inviting village green and rather high end shops. I bought a CD, “Voices of the Valley,” songs in Welsh from a traditional men’s choir. We often heard Welsh spoken in this northern part of the country, including on the local evening newscasts.

Celtic in origin, it is a difficult language to pronounce. I recalled when I had a private tour of Parliament in the summer of 2011, I met the 14 year old daughter of the MP Chris Ruane from the Vale of Clwyd in North Wales. He was the uncle of one of my students in a private school near Boston. (I wrote about that special experience up in a TR on Fodors.) Anyway, when I asked the girl where she went to school in London, she said that she attended an all-Welsh speaking school in Pimlico near Westminster. Imagine learning algebra and chemistry in Welsh! I know that in Ireland, students must reach a certain level of proficiency in IRISH (Gaelic), but it is not spoken as widely as the native tongue is in Wales from my observation.

The weather was brightening slowly, although we were disappointed that we could not see Mount Snowdon itself. We continued to see sheep in the National Park which are said to outnumber people in Wales by 4-1. Next stop – CONWY, a walled market town by the sea, dominated by CONWY CASTLE built during the reign of EDWARD I in the 1280s as part of his conquest of Wales – huge, impressive, and still standing. Our guide Brian said that unless we were “really” into castles, he would suggest we pass on this one because our next stop was Caenarfon Castle in the afternoon. Rapunzel, Mum, and a few other hardy souls scooted up to the castle while the rest of us settled for another pub lunch and a bit of shopping in the town by the sea.

http://www.castlewales.com/conwy.html

In the early afternoon we returned back to visit CAENARFON CASTLE, another magnificent royal fortification considered one of the best preserved in Europe. Does it ring a bell? Perhaps, because the Castle was the site of PRINCE CHARLES’ INVESTITURE as PRINCE OF WALES on July 1, 1969 when he was twenty years old. In an attempt during the “swinging sixties” to make the monarchy more modern, the photographer Lord Snowdon (married at the time to the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret) designed a two-tiered circular slate dais under a Perspex canopy which was placed on the lawn in the center of the castle courtyard for the ceremony. A made- for- television event, some 500 million people, including 19 million in Britain, watched the investiture.

After viewing a multi-media presentation of the 1969 event in the castle, I strolled outside to enjoy the view. Needless to say, I did not climb the battlements, but walked across the lawn to examine the dais more closely. It had been made at the Dinorwig Slate Quarry which we had visited that morning. Although there had been some threat of separatist violence before the 1969 investiture, the majority of Welsh people welcomed the event which showcased their rich heritage on the world stage.

http://www.castlewales.com/caernarf.html

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vc2IGf2b5fU

We were at liberty to explore the fortification on our own before returning to our hotel, a short walk down the hill. I lingered a while in Castle Square, a wide pedestrian-friendly expanse nearby. The sun was out and a light breeze was blowing off the eastern shore of the MENAI STRAITS before emptying into the IRISH SEA. I crossed the square to examine a statue of DAVID LLOYD GEORGE (1863-1945), who served as British Prime minister during the tumultuous years of World War I and later as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was the only person to serve in those lofty positions whose primary language was Welsh, a circumstance of which his fellow countrymen are justifiably proud.

I wandered around the hotel grounds before dinner. It was a lovely Welsh summer evening. Along came Rapunzel and Mum. They had scoured every nook ‘n cranny of both castles that day and were fully satisfied. Their retail therapy also continued. Mum had on a spiffy silk scarf with a Welsh motif. She looked terrific.

http://www.celtic-royal.co.uk/

I must say this was a really decent hotel given the price of the tour. Tomorrow back to the English countryside….
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 04:47 PM
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I've been to Caenarfon I think 4 times - and it was either drizzly or raining buckets every time. And of the 5 or 6 times I've been in N Wales, could only 'see' Snowden twice . . . Even when up on the mountain

So you had about typical . . .
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 10:08 PM
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Hi LatedayT

Great report. I was eagerly waiting for the Wales bits -- one of our favorite places.

We were naive on our first trip as it was fairly early in our UK stay. We had great weather in Caenarfon and wondered why we had the castle to ourselves. Oh, there was a wedding of some interest that day -- William and Kate! After the wedding, the place filled up.

Looking forward to more.
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Old Jul 26th, 2013, 11:17 PM
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I bought the same CD, probably at the same shop!
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Old Jul 27th, 2013, 03:34 AM
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Hi Janisj,

I hear what you are saying about the weather. We drove for miles near Conwy (not sure exactly where) and saw this beautiful, pristine beach but nary a soul in sight.

On the whole we had very good weather, except for that long ride from Cardiff to Caenarfon when the visibility was poor. So when are you returning to the UK?
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Old Jul 27th, 2013, 07:55 AM
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Oct for (believe it or not ) an San Francisco 49er game at Wembley . . .

No Wales or rural bits this trip . . .
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Old Jul 27th, 2013, 08:34 AM
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Oops - started w/ SF, then changed to San Francisco but forgot to change the 'an' to 'a'.
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Old Jul 27th, 2013, 05:32 PM
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Hi Indy_dad,

Thanks so much. I always enjoy your reports with your family. Really liked the TR you did a while back when you climbed the mountain with your daughter then met your wife and son. Was that in Wales – can’t recall.

My grandchildren are of similar ages, a boy 13 and a girl just turned 9. In my London section I made several references to different venues which I thought they would enjoy – the Tower (don’t kids love to climb?), Bank of England Museum (particularly the solid gold bar), Horseguards etc.

The family really considering my suggestions…
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Old Jul 27th, 2013, 08:09 PM
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Don't forget to add the White tower at the Tower of London with the arms and armour and a climb to the top of St Paul on the grandkids list of things to do.
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