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Saturday, 01 July 2017

Exploring Wales and England through the Eyes of Friends

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Welcome to Wales

“Croeso i Gymru” Richard said as he met us at the train station in Newport – “that’s Welsh for welcome to Wales!” We had just dragged our luggage off the train from London and we must have looked weary. But he and his wife Linda greeted us, put our luggage in the boot of their car, and drove us to their cute little stone house in the town of Monmouth. We settled in, met their part-time cat, Gizzy, (who belongs to a neighbor, but hangs out at their house) and toasted each other with a drink. How was London, they asked? Our answer was effusive: London is a marvelous place to spend a few days, and we had made good use of our time. Seeing a play, touring Royal Albert Hall and the Victoria and Albert Museum, riding the “tube,” eating fish and chips and Indian food, and strolling through Hyde Park had given us a taste of what the city offers. And now we wanted to explore Wales, the “Land of Song.”

Seeing a new land through the eyes of friends provides a unique level of experience. Richard and Linda are friends (we met on a trip), and they are natives of Wales. Locals know the backroads, and they can show visitors places and things typical tourists could never find. They were perfect hosts – singing Welsh songs, showing us around their country, explaining the history, and telling us about the various groups that have inhabited this verdant land. They took us for hikes on lush, green hills, showed us castles and churches hundreds of years old, and led us down narrow, cobblestone streets. Neighbors stopped to chat with us, partly because we were with locals, but also because they are wired that way.

Wales Countryside

Richard used to play rugby, and he wanted to take us to a game, so we drove to the city of Llanelli in west Wales, over the Shropshire Hills – stopping at castles, photographing valleys, and enjoying lunch in an ancient abbey. When we arrived at the stadium the excitement was building and fans from both teams (the Scarlets and the Ospreys) were milling around, dressed in team gear and sipping large glasses of beer. Our hosts tried to explain the rules to us, and we could see some resemblance to American football. The ball is leather, for example, and it is passed between players and occasionally kicked. But that’s where the similarities end. The players wear no padding or helmets, yet they tackled each other and engaged in mass huddles called scrums that made us a little nervous. There was excitement when a team scored and the fans stood, cheered, and sang in Welsh. When the game ended, players from both teams congratulated and hugged each other, and Richard said they would likely go out together for drinks. On the drive home, Richard and Linda pointed out several sites where coal mines and steel factories used to operate; most are now closed, and Welsh people are adjusting to other occupations.

The next day was sunny, and we took a scenic hike up the hills behind their house. The fields were ablaze in color: yellow rape seed, blooming bluebells, and fragrant wild garlic. Sheep grazed on the hills, and tidy farm houses were surrounded by stone fences and wooden outbuildings. The hilltops offered sweeping views of valleys and towns, a natural beauty that the Welsh love and most tourists don’t get to see.


We hated to leave our Welsh refuge, but our hosts were going to a family gathering in Spain, so we had a farewell breakfast and headed to a car rental agency, where we nervously sat behind the wheel of a right-hand drive car. Off we went to England.


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Last modified on Friday, 30 June 2017

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