The opportunity to visit our friends from Wales came up, and we decided to go to Raglan Castle again. Of course, we would stay in London for several days before going to Wales, but that’s to be expected. First, because London is an interesting city, and second, because of the Raglan Faire starts a couple of days after we would get to England. As most of the folks who follow the Dinosaur know, Patsy and I belong to the Society for Creative Anachronism (a recreation club, in a manner of speaking because we sometimes lean too heavily on the ‘Creative’ aspect of the game and indulge in things such as ice coolers, propane stoves, and such). Anyway, Raglan Faire is an SCA events and it is held at Raglan Castle. What a nice way to see friends and to fight with them.
A quick note on Raglan, it was the next to last castle Cromwell destroyed during the English Civil War, and was a fortified house as well as a castle, not that this makes much difference when you are holed up somewhere waiting to get overwhelmed. However, it makes it nice for us who just want to bung around with history and not actually do the messy parts (plague, famine, poverty, etc.).
The castle does not have much of the original wall intact, but the main keep is still there. It also has a moat filled with waterlilies and a drawbridge which is cool to look at. There is a fireplace large enough to roast an ox, and life-sized statues of what I suppose were the owners. Unless the figures are allegorical, there’s no reason to have someone else’s image above your fireplace on a cold winter evening.
I will get back to Raglan soon, but first we must get to London.
We flew Virgin Atlantic, in steerage of course. This is not as bad as it sounds, and certainly better than some airlines economy class. I mean, they gave us hot towels and free wine and beer. Also, because it was an international flight, they fed us a dinner and breakfast, plus water and pretzels for a snack. Because the weather was rather unsettled, we had some turbulence all through the flight, but nothing to rise to panic level.
On arriving at Gatwick, we ran the usual gamut of passport, customs, non-EU versus EU passport holders, and so on. When we were through all that, we caught a train to Victoria Station and looked forward to settling down for a spell.
We got to the station and climbed into the closest car which turned out to be first class. It really didn’t look that much different from… do I call it second class? Anyway, after we moved and the train got started, I noticed that the doors between first class and our car kept opening as we went around curves; which sort of negated the distinction between the two classes.
Once at Victoria, we picked up taxis rather than try to navigate the underground like we did last time. Not only did we have our suitcases, but we also had the Beast, a rigid golf bag weighing 42 pounds and full of swords. Last time we came here, we had the Beast and people on the underground kept helping us manage the thing because there were no lifts (elevators) just stairs. Even with the kindness of strangers though, we had a hard time, and so even though it would cost us more, we took the cabs.
The place where we were staying was in the Whitechapel neighborhood, which was the center of the Jewish community during the early 20th century, but is now mostly Muslim, so we stood out to a certain extent. Several blocks along Whitechapel Road have a sort of outdoor bazaar going on. Across the sidewalk from the regular stores, merchants set up canvas stalls, usually as an extension of the regular stores across from them. I suppose this is a hold-over from the Middle East countries the residents came from, but I don’t know, it just seemed strange.
Bill Bryson, in his book Notes From a Small Island, complained about the disappearance of the iconographic red phone booths. We saw several of them around, but almost none of them had telephones in them. In fact, one of the outdoor merchants along the street was using one booth to store his mops and brooms. How convenient, but I wondered why the booths were still on the streets if they aren’t used anymore.
Special note: Whitechapel is also the area where Jack the Ripper did his crimes, for those of us who are mystery fans. If you are not a mystery fan, this is still where he did his deeds.
The first time we came to London, someone was cleaning the coal soot and grime off many buildings. On this visit, we found that most of the older structures were somewhat cleaned but still had traces of soot in corners and crevasses.
Guy, our guide, tried to find a cheap place to stay so that it was easier for us to afford the trip. This meant that we stayed in a place that might be three or four-star accommodations, but certainly not ten-star, by which I mean there wasn’t a cockroach Congo line, nor a rodent infestation, but I would not eat something off the floor, ten second rule notwithstanding.
There was a playground right outside of our window, but that did not bother us; playing children make a joyful noise and besides they went inside when it got dark. Of coursed none of this mattered that much since we were out of the place most of the time. At least we were not dragging the Beast up three flights of narrow stairs this time (that’s a lie, but the stairs were better than before).
We stopped at a pub called The Blind Beggar for a quick bite. This is a small pub, notorious in its day, in fact, there is a bullet hole in one wall. The place seemed dark inside, but they had a patio with tables and chairs and some old church pews to sit in and enjoy a beer or a meal. For some reason, there was a large statue of Siddhartha in the corner. A bar cat could often be seen curled up in the statue’s lap when not out caging things from the patrons.
At the Blind Beggar, I had a sandwich made of grilled Spanish chorizo and greens, with a non-alcoholic beer. My current medications do not allow for alcohol, but there are things that just need a beer for company, like pizza, burgers, wings – in other words the basic food groups. My beer had a nice hoppy flavor and if I tried hard, I could convince myself it was the real thing. The problem is that I was drinking non-alcoholic beer in a land full of robust, interesting brews. Oh well.
Today started off with a visit to the Tower of London. I chose to stay in a courtyard and write while everyone else took the tour. We have been here twice before, and for me the “awe” factor has worn off. Besides, last time we were here, Daniel proposed to Lucia (friends along on the last trip) in the Crown Jewels room to the approval of everyone in the place. They applauded when Lucia said yes.
Since they won’t let us touch any of the crowns, and since we had to ride on a conveyor belt that took us past the jewels, and with no proposals in the offing this time, I decided to go for coffee instead.
The English have interesting taste combinations. At the restaurant, Patsy found a sparkling soft drink with cucumber, mint and apple flavors. Later, one of our party bought some roast chicken and thyme flavored potato chips. Try finding those things in the United States.
Patsy and I decided to have something to eat along with our coffee and soda. We had goat cheese and courgette (by which I mean a zucchini by a different name) tarts. If you had asked me what a courgette was before I looked it up, I would have said it was a small dog, the kind the Queen likes. Anyway, the tart was a piece of puff pastry topped with a layer of caramelized onions and zucchini, covered in baked goat cheese. I’m going to try to make this at home.
Alas, we did not totally escape going through the Tower. The rest of the group arrived for lunch and then decided that we had to go over the Medieval wall on the way out.
Stairs, and more stairs, and not just the regular step but those stairs that are wedge-shaped so you can climb up inside a tower. My poor old knees did not like stairs, even though they took me to interesting places.
We have seen all this before. The wall walk is next to a building that has a series of funny faces jutting out overhead. If a face or figure is used to direct water away from the roof, it is called a gargoyle, but if it is just a decorative element, it is called a chimera. All these chimeras (chimerae?) had goofy looks and bulging eyes, only God and the long dead artists know why. I got some fair pictures of many, although I did not have a telephoto lens with me so they are not that impressive. I think it’s one of those things that happen in life: when I don’t need a telephoto, it is just heavy weight and it’s not something I can use spontaneously, also the one I have does not work well for near-by subjects. On the other hand, when I run across something that requires a closer look, I generally find that my telephoto lens is back at home because I didn’t want to carry the extra weight. Oh well.
Once we were down and gone from the Tower, we headed for the British Museum, taking the underground to get there. More stairs. By the time we got to the museum, I was mostly interested in benches or chairs than looking at ancient Greek statues, but no matter. Naturally, there is a grand staircase leading up to the entry, just what I needed now.
Once inside, the museum has this incredible massive glass roofed rotunda, from where you can go to the different exhibits wings or gift shops (they have more than one). There are also small coffee and lunch areas as well… I think you can see where this will be headed at some point.
Back to the rotunda; it is dedicated to Elizabeth II, but I had to wonder. Since the museum is older than the Queen, was the rotunda once dedicated to someone else, say like George, her father, or even Victoria, (for whom everything else seems to have been named)? Well, it’s a British thing and they have their ways, so if there is a brass plaque with the current dedicatees name on it, and if the plaque has some easily removed screws, that’s how it goes.
By the way, a car came into the forecourt of the museum while we were outside and it was interesting to watch how the police handled it. They had a mirror gizmo so they could look under the car, possibly for bombs but it could have also been for people sneaking in without paying. There were no dogs, so I guess they weren’t looking for drugs or something like that.
We walked through several of the exhibits and saw something that bothered Patsy. Many of the statues had signs that said things like, “The hoof of the Centaur is on display at the foot exhibit.” Patsy wanted to know why, if they had the missing piece, they didn’t just stick it back on the sculpture. Good question, again one to which only God and the museum people know the answer.
At some point, my knees asked (begged in fact) for me to sit down. Patsy and I went over to a snack area that offered a bowl of ice cream and a cookie for X pounds (I still have not worked out the exchange rate in my mind. That will happen when I get my credit card bill at home).
Sitting is a competitive sport at the museum, one that requires a good eye and quick reflexes, none of which I have anymore. However, I did spot an opening at a bench where we could eat our goodies in comfort and rushed over to find the space was occupied by a teenager, bent over tying her shoe. Fortunately, another couple got up just then, so I claimed I got us there on purpose.
After our group finished with the museum visit, we climbed down to the underground, took the train back to Whitechapel, climbed an inordinate number of stairs back up to street level and made our way to the White Stag – another pub – for dinner.
The White Stag is much more open and bright than the Blind Beggar, but there was a hole in the window that looked suggestively like a bullet hole. Maybe that’s a thing around here.
I had a watermelon and asparagus salad with quinoa and grilled Halloumi cheese. I never knew there was a cheese with such a high melting point that you could put it on a grill, but there it was. Halloumi is a Turkish cheese with an almost meaty texture and quite delicious.
After dinner and a little conversation, we turned in and slept like the proverbial logs.
Today we took the Hop On-Hop Off bus that also included a boat ride on the Thames. Our boat was one of those that had seating for a lot of people, including some seats that faced the door to the operator’s cockpit. It would be a drag to pay money just to sit and look at a door for a half hour while everyone else talked about the views.
Patsy and I sat on the outside and we lucked out with our choice because we saw the replica of The Globe, Shakespeare’s theater. Also after the boat turned around for docking, we got a great view of Parliament and the Tower of Big Ben, both wrapped with white fabric like something Christo (the guy who wraps things in colored fabric, for art) would do during a Black and White period. They are obviously doing some sort of cleaning or repair, but we had no idea what was going on, just that things were wrapped up.
The Hop On-Hop Off bus, or HO-HO if you like, took us around London so we could see a lot in a short time. I
We sat on the top level which is unfortunately open to the elements because we had a short but dense rain. Luckily, the HO-HO provides a rain poncho of sorts for the upstairs passengers (think trash bag with a hood). If I had moved a little faster, gotten the plastic unstuck and over my head sooner, I would have been a lot drier.
That pretty much took up our day. We did stop at a toy store named Hamley’s. This is six floors of play things, including one floor dedicated almost exclusively to Legos. There were even life-sized statues of Princess Kate and Prince Harry made of Lego blocks. As a project, they must have been complicated to design, time consuming to build, rather creepy when finished, but Legos nevertheless.
I guess I don’t have to mention that the six floors included five floors of stairs to climb. On the way down, we used the lift which, according to the sign, was only available to strollers, prams and wheelchairs. I lied and pretended that I was a wheelchair.
Dinner that night was again at the White Stag. Patsy and I shared a couple of appetizers, a hummus plate and a cheese plate, so not much was worth talking about, but the cheeses were great.
Here are some general observations about England: we rode the underground throughout the days we were in London and not riding the HO-HO bus. There are priority seats for handicapped people, pregnant women, and seniors. I did not notice that at first and was amazed at how many younger people got up to give me their seat. I thought I was looking more decrepit than usual and they were having pity on me.
I wanted to mention that I’ve always understood the British to be very reserved, but now I find that they are quite friendly, just that they do not originate conversations. Once you start them talking, they can become quite voluble.
One more thing: when you cross the road against the light (as so many people do), the motorists act as if you are fair game. If you plan to be a scofflaw you best be nimble on your feet.
This morning we went to the O2 (properly, that is a capital O with a small 2 below it, like in chemistry, but I don’t know how to do that on my computer) to visit the Star Wars exhibit. First let me tell you about the O place itself. Imagine a super big, exceedingly large, giant tent made of heavy plasticized fabric. This tent is so large, it has two stories inside it, and a regular mall of places to eat, to spend money, and to drink beer, which is an essential pastime. Huge cables and beams support the big O, making it seem more like a bridge than a tent.
Inside, we went to the Star Wars Identities activity. This was something like a role-playing game in which you build a character and develop its personality. Visitors were given tour guide phone-like things to hang around the neck, with an earpiece to hear what was being said. At various places, there were short talks about professions, interpersonal relations, families, etc. that you needed to build a character. The result was that one knew what George Lucas thought and planned, but also had short explanations of human behavior explained to us. Once one listened to all the talks and made choices about what the character being built did, thought, who it hung around with and so forth, each of us was given a choice to either go to the dark side or to stay with the force and bingo! you had put together a character. The description and final analysis would be emailed to you, suitable for framing and sharing with friends.
After a quick lunch, we headed over to Kensington Palace, where I think Kate and William are staying. There is a front part of the palace being used as a museum, and a back part being used as living quarters. We weren’t invited to the back part. The palace was quite nice and well featured, but I have seen so many grand places by this time that I was slightly bored.
During the walk around, we encountered two women that we dubbed the Hyacinth Sisters. For those of you who don’t know who Hyacinth was, she was a character in a sit-com named Keeping Up Appearances. She had a sister named Rose, who found herself in serial relationships with married men (with almost any man actually), another sister named Daisy, the kind that finds things in the couch and who was married to someone whose main function in life was to watch the telly and drink beer while staying on the dole.
Hyacinth had a middle-class life with a middle-class husband named Richard Bucket, but she pretended to be upper-class and told people the name was French and pronounced Bu-kay.
The comedy came in as Hyacinth tried to bridge the gap by ignoring anything that got in the way, and generally bossing everyone around her. These two women were like that. They shoved their way through queues of people, made comments along the way, and were generally unpleasant, hence the designation of the Hyacinth Sisters.
When we were done with Kensington, we made our way back to the White Stag for supper. I don’t recall what I had, but Patsy ordered the baked camembert cheese platter. There was a round of cheese, about four inches across, plus bread and an apple chutney. It was very impressive.
This would be the day we went to watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Because of all the people that came to see the show, we were crowded behind barriers while mounted police rode back and forth in front to keep us orderly.
After an hour and a half, we saw the band and the red-coated bear-skin-hat wearing guards behind them, marching up the road. Suddenly, the air was filled with cameras and cell phones taking pictures. One person even put his elbow on Patsy’s head to get his picture.
Once the guards were inside the fence, we couldn’t see anything but we did hear the band playing some surprisingly jazzy pieces of music. After about half an hour of listening to sergeants barking orders (but not seeing them), the relieved guards marched off down a side street. Shortly after that, the Horse Guards came riding past with their shiny breastplates and red-plumed helmets. That took almost five minutes.
By the time we dispersed, we had spent almost two hours standing around and waiting for about fifteen minutes of action. I think next time I would be just as happy to watch the video.
From Buckingham, we went to Green Park and walked around enjoying the trees and flowers. Green Park is part of the Hyde Park/St. James Park complex. We spent our time there and then headed back to home. This was pretty much a down day.
Today was the most ambitious day so far. We had to get up early to meet a tour bus that would take us to Bath and to Stonehenge, stopping at the small village of Lacock for dinner.
Our first stop was at Bath, or as the Romans called is Aquae Sulis. This is a natural hot-spring that the Romans liked to use, along with so many others throughout the ages. Bath was The Place to be during Jane Austin’s time, in fact she lived there.
A grand enclosure has been built around the springs, although not as grand as the Romans built when they ran the place. As well as the healing water, they also built up a temple complex dedicated to Minerva, whom they identified with the goddess of the water.
It was fashionable to “take the waters” during the 1700s and 1800s, and some people still drink it. Apparently, the main spring feeds into a lead lined basin, so I don’t think drinking it would be all that good for you. But who knows, if I had gout or rheumatism I might drink it.
The main bath is a large square pool of greenish water, surrounded by pillars topped with statues of famous Romans. The water is not clear but has more of a pea soup look. Above the pool is a Georgian addition where one can drink the water without descending to the pool.
We had some lunch there and listened to the buskers play in the square before the church. The ones we heard were very good, in fact they could have played in lounges and small venues if not with a band.
We rode on for a while longer, when we came across a pub named The Three Kings. The sign showed King Kong, Elvis Presley, and Henry VIII. Interesting combination, and something you should Google because it’s fun to look at.
I must say the sense of distance changes in Britain, especially if you ae from the Southwestern part of the US. As I understand it, Stonehenge is about three hundred miles from London, about the same distance as from Las Vegas to Victorville. Today’s tour would take us much longer to get to the henge than going from Vegas to Victorville.
Although I would think everyone has heard of Stonehenge, let me mention what it is for those one or two folks that haven’t heard of it. It is a 5,000-year-old circle of standing stones (three circles, although it looks like just one). The stones in the outer ring are maybe sixteen to eighteen feet high, and some of them capped by other large stones across two of the uprights. These things weight in the several tons category, and come from either a quarry about fifteen miles away or further. Now just imagine transporting a multi-ton rock across fifteen miles of uneven terrain without a truck or tractors. Our tour guide said that several years ago, a group of high school kids decided to see if they could move a stone as large as the ones at Stonehenge, and how long it would take. They moved the stone from the quarry to nearby the Henge, but it took them six weeks to do it. By the way, henge is a word that describes a circular Neolithic structure with a ditch and bank, enclosing a flat area. Some of them have things like standing stones, while others do not.
Stonehenge is not the only structure like that on the Salisbury Plane, but it is the largest and best known. A gentleman travelling with us confided in me that there was another henge nearby, originally built out of wood and now called Woodhenge, which is true. I confided in him that there was one composed entirely of old doors, called Doorhenge. He didn’t speak to me again.
By the way, nobody knows what the purpose of Stonehenge was or why it was built, but it must have been terribly important. Although the Druids like to claim some connection to it, the Henge pre-dates Druidism by at least a thousand years. The structure was apparently made by the Beaker People, semi-nomadic tribes so named for the distinctive coffee cups found in their graves.
When we got to Stonehenge, it was getting on toward sunset and it was raining. Although this sounds like a bad thing, it was perfect and added to the mystery of the place.
Most people can no longer get near the stones, it has been roped off for some time, with security guards standing by. However, our tour had special permission and we went inside the monument to look around. Big warning: touching the stones can get you escorted off the site immediately.
We got back to London just before midnight which was good because our driver would have had to stop driving (there is a time limit on how long a bus driver can be on the road), and we would have had to sit there until another driver could come and take over.
Up early again, this time to catch the train to Wales. Last time we were in the train station in Wales, the Welsh language was not that evident, but this time announcements were being made in that language as well as English.
It is hard to describe the spoken Welsh language other than it sounds vaguely like some German dialect, but the written language is easier to talk about. As a start, if an ‘f,’ an ‘l,’ or a ‘d’ is needed, the Welsh will use two of each, and in most cases the words will be much longer than their English translation. As an example, there is a town of some 3,000 souls with a name that everybody likes to talk about: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. (The name means: Parish [church] of [St.] Mary (Llanfair) [in] Hollow (pall) of the White Hazel [township] (gwyn gall) near (go gear) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrn drobwll) [and] the parish [church] of [St.] Tysilio (Llantysilio) with a red cave ([a]g ogo[f] goch). The name used to be painted on a station wall the last time we were here, but no longer.
We headed over to Penallt, which is a neighborhood or small town, depending on how you look at things. We were staying in two houses converted from a school and a chapel for the school. Lovely places, although I can’t imagine how much it cost to renovate them. The stone buildings were constructed during the early 19th century.
We met the owner/wife when we came in and then the husband the next day. She manages the rentals while he teaches architecture, which explains some of the details. Part of the high ceiling of the chapel were blocked off to make two bedrooms upstairs, both ‘en suite,’ but the painted glass windows where the altar would have been, were still in place. The back yards of both places were delightful places to sit and take coffee of a morning.
A lovely pub called the Boat Inn is near Penallt and is a favorite of the locals. It is within walking distance of where we were staying. The river Wye flows past it and there is a small dock so people can tie up their canoes and go have a beer. Not only do they serve some great beers but they also serve things like Cowslip Wine, Elderberry Wine, Scrumpy, and various meads.
The pub is also animal friendly although dogs must always be kept on a leash. We met a couple with two Yorkshire Terriers sitting beside them, the dogs behaved themselves quite nicely. As we were leaving a man came in with two brindle Boxers, who were ready to become life-long friends when they saw me. The owner had to pull them back from licking my face.
We had to take a miss today. Patsy was feeling ill and we did not want to repeat our Norway experience of being sick the whole time, so I don’t have anything to report here. I will however, take some time to describe the Welsh countryside. First, it is as green as you can imagine, maybe greener. There are trees everywhere, even some in an otherwise plowed field, and the narrow roads ramble between hedgerows. The countryside where we stayed had patch-work patterns of fields hemmed in by hedgerows or low bushes, with an occasional stone walls as well. We saw one stone wall so old, it had holes in it and you could see how weathered the stones were. Farmhouses and outbuildings were scattered around the countryside, looking picturesque from the distance.
Many of the fields were square, while others were oddly shaped and I wondered if this had anything to do with how fields and farms were divided up in the Middle Ages.
Some of the fields were dedicated to crops, while others had flocks of sheep and herds of cows in them, or a horse or two. The sheep outnumbered the cows, who in turn outnumbered the occasional horses. I don’t know the ratio of sheep to humans.
I have always liked the word bucolic because it summons up a quiet pastoral feeling, but it also means having sheep or cows, so I guess this part of Wales is bucolic.
Today was our first day at the castle. It was what the Irish call a ‘soft’ day, meaning that it wasn’t actively raining as such, but it was raining. If there had been more water in the air, it might have been misty, or if there was enough, it could have been a real rain, however it was someplace in between those two states. It was like being cold, but not cold enough for a jacket although you would have liked the sweater, you know, the one you left at home.
The castle itself is quite a mass and I haven’t made sense of it yet. I have heard two opinions about it: that it was a grand manor house that got fortified or that it was a castle that got turned into a manor house. I can agree with the second of these conditions because you can see old roof lines but with arrow slits in the walls above them, which would cancel out the effectiveness of the archers. Either way, it is a grand pile and fun to be in.
There was not much in the way of fighting because the morning was given over to testing and authorizing, however, there was some longsword fighting going on. A longsword is like a rapier on steroids, more ‘Knightes of Olde’ than ‘Three Musketeers.’ It is a two-handed weapon and one wears extra protection such as metal gauntlets rather than soft leather gloves and metal body protection in place of thick cloth coats. For those of you who do not play this kind of game, I know it sounds strange, but really it is no different than a rousing game of tennis or racquetball… well maybe a little different.
I had a chance to fight with three Masters of Defense, the rapier version of a knight. In fact, during my last bouts with one of the masters, my sword broke and I was left holding just the handle in my hand. Imagine having three feet of metal sticking out in front of you at one moment and nothing the next. Flabbergasting.
After that, we sat around watching the guys in armor beat up on each other until it was time to go home.
Now, a further word about where we were staying. As I said before, it is an old school and a chapel built for the school. That the owner teaches architecture accounts for some of the nice touches such as plank doors with wrought iron door latches. The latches were flat pieces of metal that were raised by a handle on either side of the door. The door could be locked by merely poking a metal spike into the door so the latch couldn’t move.
There were some things that could not be explained, however. For instance, after an hour in the dryer, my jeans were still damp so I hung them over the towel warmer in the bathroom. A towel warmer, for those who have not encountered one, looks like a chunk of stainless steel ladder hanging on the bathroom wall. That would have been the perfect place to finish drying my jeans. I draped the pants over the rungs and went looking for the on-switch, which should have been at the base of the warmer or someplace nearby, right? As it turned out, the switch was behind one of the end tables beside the bed. Go figure.
Regardless of the oddness, this was a lovely place. It was interesting sitting of a morning, coffee cup in hand and looking at three tall, narrow windows depicting Christ with a lamb in his bosom and another of Him carrying a lantern to symbolize the Light of Salvation. I can’t say I’ve ever had an experience like this before. It’s as if my coffee and bagel were blessed, as though they were a sort of communion.
My first impression of the backyard was that it was an OCD park. Beautiful to sit and look at, but I felt as though whoever took care of it used a ruler to measure the height of the grass, how the ivy hedge was trimmed, and how the flowers in the pots scattered around the yard spread just a little beyond the edge and no further. There was even a life-sized deer statue supposedly munching on a pot of Hosta, which of course, grew just so far from the center of the pot.
What made this seem OCD was the playground next door. It had rough-cut grass, high weeds that waived in the air, and an ivy hedge that looked like it was preaching anarchy. Oh, and there was a play structure in the middle of the lot.
There were pots of flowers everywhere around our buildings. Bumblebees, almost as big as a little finger nail, bounced around the plants in an absent-minded fashion. Of course, being bees, they \were anything but absent-minded, they just seemed that way when they landed on a flower, took whatever nectar they could find and then came back to the same blossom a few moments after they had flown off.
One pot by the front door had a type of lavender in it that I had never seen before, surrounded by pink petunias. Now I haven’t seen every kind of lavender there is, but I have seen about eight varieties, so I was interested. Like any lavender, they smelled great.
I suppose I should also mention driving in Wales. There are freeways and they drive pretty much like any other freeway, just not with as many cars.
The side roads, especially the lanes, are a different story. They are generally hemmed in on both sides by hedgerows and often with trees arching over them, making it seem like driving in a tunnel. Since the cars are a bit smaller here, there is usually room for two cars to pass each other although it often doesn’t seem that way. Sometimes when two cars using the same road meet, one backs up in the first driveway available so the other can pass, some lanes were that small.
The road signage was both in English and Welsh (surprise, surprise) which was interesting. As I mentioned earlier, when one letter would suffice, the Welsh seem to use two. Some of the words don’t have vowels, and how does one pronounce ‘Cw?’
A family walked past us at the castle, speaking Welsh, even the little kids. It’s amazing how quickly the young ones pick up the language.
Today was supposed to have several rapier scenarios, but instead was given over to testing again. The fencing schools in the area had various levels of achievement, each of which had their own requirement for advancement. Today, the fighters had to show proficiency in a certain number of fighting forms, then hold the field against all comers for an hour. That put pretty much paid to any battle plans. By the time the testing was over, everybody just went off to take naps.
We went to the nearby cafe and had a lovely parsnip soup which I will try to find a recipe for and make at home.
Check this site: https://goodfood.uktv.co.uk/recipe/parsnip-and-carrot-soup-trecawl/
The heavy weapons guys (the ones who wear steel armor and beat on each other with clubs) were going to fight in the afternoon so the rest of us just mooched along, talking to people and reading books.
We found a great oak tree next to the car park (the term for a parking lot). Half of the tree was dead and hollow while the rest was live and popping out acorns. This was the kind of tree any kid would love to have. There were hiding places in the roots, and the hollow trunk would have made a great castle to be defended or maybe the crows-nest of a pirate ship, off to the Caribbean Islands.
Finally, all good things must come to an end. It was late in the afternoon and we needed to head back to the chapel. That night we went to the Boat Inn and had dinner. I had something called Pan Haggarty, which was basically scalloped potatoes and bits of bread, all baked in white cheddar cheese. I do not plan to make this at home.
Years ago, I read a book of poetry by Ronald Johnson, called the Book of the Green Man. The book was about a hiking trip he took up the Wye river. Ever since then I have wanted to see the River Wye. Imagine my delight when I realized the river below the pub was indeed the Wye and that I had seen it, here and when we went to Tintern Abbey on our last visit. Now I can check that box.
We were on our way back to the USA and normally I would end the tour descriptions here, but something funny happened at the airport. When we were checking in our luggage, the attendant at the ticket counter checked in the Beast and asked me what was in it. I replied, ‘sports equipment.’ She then asked me if that meant golf clubs, fishing gear, or a couple more choices. I told her that the bag held swords with bated ends. And therein began the funny thing.
I was told to take the Beast to a special place and that I would have to come back early the next day to pay for it, since it was an extra bag.
At 6:00 the next morning, I got a call from someone named Neil, who told me that I had to come to the baggage area as quickly as possible or else the swords would be stuck in England.
I made my way down to the baggage area and asked for Neil, but nobody seemed to know who he was, so I just paid for the extra bag and got my boarding passes (one for me, one for the Beast).
Now, a half hour before we were supposed to start loading on the plane, I got a call from Neil again, demanding why I hadn’t shown up as directed. I explained that I had gone to the special desk, asked for him and that a ticket agent had already given me my boarding pass.
As it turns out, that was not sufficient. Neil told me that an agent would be with me shortly and that I had to stand by with the Beast. So, with boarding time approaching, I stood, nibbling my nails and wondering how long it would take me to develop an English accent if they did not allow me to leave.
After about ten minutes, the agent showed up and had me fill out some paperwork. I was informed that the swords represented assault weapons and were being treated as such.
Now most of you know I have a weird sense of humor, and honestly, these people were feeding me straight lines right and left. However, I learned a long time ago that you do not make jokes in an airport, so I kept my mouth shut, even when they had me declare how much ammunition was in the bag. I almost said, ‘an infinite amount because I can keep on stabbing,’ but I didn’t.
We made it home in good time and although we left London at 10:30 in the morning, we landed at McCarren at 1:30 the same day. Marvelous.
Well, that wraps up another adventure. As ever, thanks for coming along on the trip. I hope you enjoyed the log and will tune in next time. Cheers.