Between Christmas and New Year’s we spent three full days in North Wales, renting a cottage in a little town not far from Snowdonia National Park – and 4 hours from London. The drive through North Wales is sheer beauty. Rolling green hill after field after hill and field with far more sheep per capita then people. In this part of the world, the farmland is enhanced by its age (from my New World vantage point). Property boundaries are marked by hundreds year old hand-laid stone walls with moss growing between the stones and farm and street names etched on corners. These are not large-scale commercial enterprises. No agribusiness there that I could see. The area is stunning.
Snowdonia National Park is actually what we have come to expect from a national park: awesome (in the proper sense of the word). You can feel awe just driving through it. We had no idea that there is a strong mountain biking, hiking and kayaking community there but we knew we would see the largest mountain peak in England and Wales. I spend so much time in London, and view Great Britain as so small (!) that I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised being in the mountains there. I kept exclaiming: This is the Colorado of the UK! Who knew! An incredibly inapt comparison but whatever.
Our first true holiday with both kids and no additional help in the form of a relative or friend meant that we had to keep our daily goals modest. There were overtired tantrums and tears and both culminated in at least one gastropub experience which has most likely left indelible emotional scars on both Bryan and myself. But in all, I count the trip a total success. That’s the only way I can travel. Make it good. There’s always a way.
Bryan’s colleague and friend Sara grew up on a dairy farm in Treuddyn. While Sara was home for the holidays, her lovely family had us over for a delicious roast lunch (lamb from their farm!). Her brother Edward, who now runs the dairy farm operations with their father, gave Jonah a fantastic personal tour. We saw cows being milked, where the milk is stored, learned about the general operations and business considerations and Jonah got to sit on an actual tractor. He was elated. Sara and her husband Nick just got married on the property this past summer and it’s obvious why. The views are so breathtaking and I always love experiences that make me say Wow! People actually live like this. It’s not just movies! Just a little sheltered I am.
A gorgeous village just inside Snowdonia is Betws-y-Coed and it’s considered a gateway to the park and destination for holidaymakers. It has ancient bridges, waterfalls and more shops specialising in outdoor wear and equipment than I have seen in a very long time (the Colorado of the UK!). It also has a model train museum and shop and a mini train for children to ride next to the actual train station.
We spent an afternoon in Llangollen (you have to hear Bryan say this word in its proper Welsh pronunciation. He spits at least twice), a beautiful town in North Wales on the River Dee. Its beauty is striking, its shops are charming and we managed to do more train-related activities. Jonah’s mind almost exploded. TRAINS! I started to get the feeling that Thomas the Train must have been invented there by its ubiquity. I don’t think it was but everything on Wikipedia is written in British and you know I don’t understand British.
Although we had a full monty children meltdown here, it’s been a long time since I have been so taken by a restaurant as The Corn Mill. It is a 700 year-old former mill, now well-known pub restaurant, understandably very popular on a ridiculous location and should I ever move to Llangollen, I will certainly be trying to hold an event there. Also, the wait staff didn’t spit on me when I asked for our food be wrapped up to go. See, you shouldn’t do that in Great Britain. But I use my accent as an apology/excuse and it seems to work out just fine.
The Red Dragon of Wales is the best flag symbol in the whole world, I have decided. Isn’t it something that some countries choose something heinously boring like two lines of a color as the whole entire flag concept (I’m looking at you, Poland) but then others pick a DRAGON? It made me wonder why more nations aren’t like bears and lions and cannons and stuff.
Another reason Wales has my heart.
On a short holiday which took on such a train-focused theme (model train sets, a ride on a steam engine train, a ride on a mini train, a train museum), I thought often about my dad. My whole life my dad has been passionate about certain things and I find his pure unadulterated love for them so magical. Whether it’s Civil War history or trains or battleships or 1950s era western/samurai movies or variety shows, to me a whole half of my father is a throwback. In the best sense of the word. I find him to be a man straddling two eras. His intellectual prowess and professional success (this or this is what happens on a normal day) and base humor lie squarely in the here and now. His wanderlust and daydreams and the things that tickle him (oh yes, he might even use that verb) are from another time. I know my brothers admire it as I do. They have even gleaned much more of it than I have. But I appreciate being a spectator to it. It makes sense that my dad only reluctantly bought a flat screen tv after searching high and low for a new tube version only to be told, I’m sorry, those aren’t even sold anymore. All the kids and kids-in-law recently bought my dad an iPad for his birthday and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t the least bit worried that more often than not my dad will be stomping around the house shouting things like “Michele, have you seen my glasses?? NUTS, I CAN’T FIND MY GLASSES!!!” and then once said glasses appear, he will still squint and yell NUTS every time the touch screen does something he is not expecting. You should see the man’s cell phone. I always expect it to start talking in a 1980s synthesized computerized voice and make weird robotic hand gestures. Yes, I just anthropomorphized my dad’s bo bo old cell phone which may or may not have electrical tape holding the back on.
So trains. My dad loves them. In one respect, he writes about them for a living. I know one day he will build a masterpiece of a model set with his grandchildren and we all look forward to that. For now, Happy belated 65th birthday, Dad. In your retirement, you should consider Lasik. NUTS!