Writing on the bus ride home from Wales. This trip has **definitely** been a Chasing Liberty type adventure (minus the romance with the semi-good looking English guy and the crazy hippie sticker guy). We got up at 6:30 Saturday morning for the Wales trip. The trip is through BUNAC so we were all supposed to meet at the hostel (ISH) at 8am. When we arrived at the tube station, we discovered that they had closed down the central line! They were providing alternative bus service down to Bethnal Green, which normally only takes about 15 minutes on the tube, but by bus it was at least 30, so it was already 7:45 when we got off at Bethnal Green. On top of that, the trains were delayed and the next train wouldnt be there for another 15 minutes. So we left the station and wandered around Bethnal Green looking for a cab company. We found one, but got another crushing blow…no cabs available for another 30 minutes!
So we walked back to the station it would be 19 mins before the next train came and we had to be there to meet BUNAC in like 5 mins (even once we caught the train itd be a 30 min ride so we were essentially still an hour away). Kristie and I are about ready to cry. Kristie called Karen (the BUNAC lady) and told her we wouldnt be able to make the trip cause there was no way wed make it in time. We left the station and got on the bus to go back home. On the bus, Karen called us back and suggested that we take a train (like a real, above ground train) to Wales and meet them at the first stop of the trip — a castle in Chepstow. We’d never used the train system before (aside from the express that brought us from the airport to London). So we went to the station and bought a ticket to Chepstow (36 pounds, wouldve been 23 if we had had time to apply for a student card but the train came in 5 mins and the next one wouldnt be coming ofr an hour). The train didnt go straight to Chepstow cause its just a tiny little village, but Karen said take the train to Cardiff (capital of Wales – known as a great place for night life) and change to a local change there. The train was packed full of South Africans on their way to Cardiff for a rugby match (american football but without any padding and the aggression of an Iceland hockey team). The train was so full, we were all smushed in standing like on the tube. The trip to cardiff was 2 hours long but it wasnt too bad cause everyone was talking and joking.
when we got to cardiff, we asked the train staff where to go to catch a train to chepstow. to our dismay, the next train didnt arrive in cardiff until 1:05 and BUNAC was leaving chepstow at 1:15!! so yet again we would miss them. we were faced with a couple of choices: skip chepstow and figure out how to make it to their next stop (haye on wye), or go to chepstow and explore the castle on our own and try to find them at the hotel that night. kristie called karen and told her the sitch, and that we wouldnt be in chepstow until 1:45. luckily, karen said they were running late and they wree sposed to meet at the bus from the castle at 1:45 instead of 1:15. she said to head to chepstow and the bus would come pick us up from the station at 2.
Feeling a little bit better, we decided to walk around Cardiff for half an hour while waiting for the train to come. Without any agenda, we stepped out of the station onto the square. Overhead seagulls were cawing and brightly colored crowds milled about. Carts of rugby paraphernalia stood on the corners selling shirts, hats, etc to the rugby fans arriving for the game. Everyone in the square was dressed to display their team’s colors — bright red and green for Wales, green and yellow for South Africa. People wore face paint and jester hats, blowing plastic horns and shouting. The whole wharf was filled with energy. We swung right, following a sign directing us to McDonalds for lunch. Overhead, banners of Christmas lights were strung across the street — I bet it would look great lit up at night. We went to MickeyDs for a quick lunch and then headed back towards the train station (we certainly didnt want to miss another train!).
The train to chepstow was the short bus train — it only had two cars. This one wasnt crowded at all and we easily got seats. The 40 min ride from Cardiff to Chepstow was great. On both sides we passed rolling green hills sectioned by small shrubbery and dotted with tiny stone churches, centuries old. At 1:45 on the dot we arrived in Chepstow.
Outside the train station at Chepstow was drastically different than that of Cardiff. We faced a small village as picturesque as the puzzles I had as a kid. We were the only ones left outside the station and the street was quiet. I felt like Anne Shirley waiting at the station when she arrived in Avonlea. While we waited for the bus, I took movies of the area and Kristie talking about our adventurous day. We were really nervous about getting on the bus cause we were sooo embarrassed about holding up the whole trip and having to be picked up special. We got on and found two seats together at the back of the bus in the second to last row — also a could spot for hiding. Karen had them give us a round of applause for finally making it, but other than that no one even mentioned it and we were on our way. Kristie started talking to the two girls behind us, Jacqueline and Charmagne.
It didnt take long to arrive at their second (And our first) stop, a ruined abbey. Nestled in a valley by a small village, the tremendous stone abbey rises out of the valley in front of the mountain on each side. The mountain behind it is thick with trees in their brilliant fall colors that peek through the roofless abbey with its glass-less windows. Looking over the abbey wall (we didnt go in it cause of time and an admission fee), you can see a small courtyard with small arched doorways and tiny staircases leading up into the upper floor of the abbey. You can easily imagine small, robed monks scurrying up the stairs or nuns strolling across the courtyard.
The second attraction of the town was an old church up on the mountain side. To get to it, you walk up a steep brick road covered in wet leaves The slip factor was high and it was a little scary when we went back down it cause I could totally see myself falling on my ass. The church was burned down in 1977 by a group of teenagers trying to practice Wiccan rituals of some sort inside the old church. Rumor is that they were burned alive inside the church and now it is haunted. Call me a loser all you want, but exploring the church was kinda like exploring ruined structures in horizons :P. There was a small room off to the right that I think may have had an underground burial crypt because the ground had caved in, and below ground was what had been a small room since the sides had stone walls, and in all the vampire books churches have stone crypts below them.
The next stop was a small village called Haye-on-Wye. The bus ride there was really great. The Welsh countryside is beautiful! The sun started setting, creating colorful blue streaks in the sky to mirror the greens, browns, yellows, and reds on the ground.
The village’s claim to fame is its narrow, winding streets of 39 book shops. Used and new, cheap or regular, it has practically everything. The book shops didnt interest me too much though because they were all typical books you could find at Barnes and Noble, so while browsing was kinda neat, a book from there held no novelty. There was a New Age shop selling jewelry made of all kinds of stones and a fudge shop that Kristie and I just couldnt pass up.
An hour later we were on the way to the hotel. The hotel was like a large manor house and pretty nice. The rooms in the brochure were really pretty, but we didnt get the fancy ones of course. We were in a wing that was like a hostel with dorm rooms. Our room was one long room of bunk beds and held 16 of us girls! We werent in it long enough for it to matter though. After dropping off our bags, we went downstairs to the pub for dinner. We were starving, but the pub staff wasnt equipped to handle 29 orders, so we had to wait an hour to get food. The food was surprisingly good for pub food. I had chicken shish kebab (tasted like tender teriyaki chicken) with Chinese style noodles. We sat with Jacqueline and Charmagne, along with Emily (different Emily than the one we usually hang out with) and Diane. We had met Emily on a couple of occasions but never really talked to her, and it was our first time meeting Diane. We ended up spending the whole rest of the trip with the two of them. After dinner we sat around the table and talked for hours. Then we decided to go check out the club that the hotel had outback that the locals from the other villages got bussed in on the weekends to go to. Kristie and I only stayed like 20 mins though because we were sooo exhausted!
The next morning we had breakfast of sunny-side up eggs, toast, and sausage — my lucky day! Then it was off to the stables for horse back riding.
We were split up into 3 groups of ten. I had kristie, Emily, and Diane in my group. They very briefly reviewd how to ride the horses and then we went in to get our horses. It took me forever to get up on the stupid thing. The horses were some kinda Welsh horses or something. They were kinda squat and had longish hair. Unlike most public horseback trail rides, we were riding English style instead of western (which makes sense I guess since we were in England (well sorta England) and not in texas).
The horses were lemming horses (meaning all they do is follow the horse in front of them, regardless of what you tell it to do). We rode up through Breckon Beacon park, a famous national park in Wales. Once again, the landscape was gorgeous. It was a trail ride up a mountain through a forest. Fall is definitely a great time of year for a forest trail ride since everything was so colorful. Parts were a little scary cause it was rocky and the horses would lose their footing, but most the walking was fun. The not so fun part was the trotting and esp the cantering. Whos bright idea was it to take a bunch of kids that have never ridden before and take them galloping through a forest??? We had slight instruction on how to trot, and no instruction on how to canter (a canter is kinda a loping run but not a full out gallop). I used to love cantering when I was a kis, but this was simply terrifying. The horses being lemming horses do not react to a single command you give them no matter how hard you pull on the reins (and vice versa they dont speed up no matter how hard you kick them). They simply do not change pace until the instructor does. I thought it was so scary racing through the slippery leaves with zero control over my horse. I finally just dropped the reins and clung to the saddle. I was also mostly worried cause my right foot had come out of the stirrup and I couldnt slow my horse down to fix it. I think if I hadnt ridden *real* horses before in my like and knew how much fun it could be when youre on a stallion and not a donkey, this experience would make me never get on a horse again.
Funny thing is, Kristie didnt mind the cantering much at all, although I know Emily seemed pretty scared, too. So we spent 2 hours of riding, then we all went to a nearby pub for lunch. Then it was back to the stable for 45 more mins of riding. After that, we piled on the bus to go home!
Three of the BUNACers lived in Oxford so we stopped in Oxford for 45 mins to drop them off and get dinner. Naturally, K and I hit up McDonalds :). We pretty much just walked down the main street and back, but it seems like a pretty neat place.
Weary, muddy, and reeking of horses, we made our way home and *collapsed.
Everyone asked me if I had fun in Wales. I dont know how to answer other than it was a true adventure. Parts were great, parts were upsetting, and a few parts were even a little scary, but I think the whole experience overall was a good and exciting and interesting event.