Bittersweet Goodbyes

Well its official. I have left Wales. It was an incredibly heartbreaking moment. I am currently in my hotel room in Birmingham across the road from the airport, and its very bittersweet knowing that I am heading home in the morning.

My last few days in Wales were very laid back. On Thursday we visited an old mansion that has been renovated into a five star hotel. The inside was absolutely magnificent. The best part of it was that there was an odd mixture of the original architecture and some of the nicest and most modern features you can have in a hotel. (We were shown a suite, and it was so beautiful. The bathroom was the nicest bathroom I think I have ever seen). The mansion itself has been declared a grade one historical sight, so all renovations have to remain in line with how the house looked when it was built. It was a neat sight. After the mansion we went for a nice hike where we got rained on for the first time in Wales. While we were there we watched the Red Kite feeding. Red Kites are birds of prey that went extinct in Wales half a century ago and they have been reintroduced into the country. It was really cool to see these birds swarm down and eat right in front of us.They were very majestic birds and it almost seemed like they were playing with each other in the air while we watched. We also were able to see an albino Red Kite. This may have been the coolest part. The wildlife conservationist that talked to us about the Red Kites said it took her six months to see one of the albino Red Kites, and we saw him our first time at the feeding.

On Friday we had our closing ceremony. This was a really great event. Our program coordinators from Cardiff and Bangor came to Aber to say goodbye to us and watch our presentations about what we learned here in Wales. It was definitely bittersweet for both us and our new friends. One of our teachers actually started to cry, which then sent the rest of us to the verge of tears. After the presentations we then had our farewell dinner with the Aber coordinators and our peer mentor/driver which was at a Spanish Tapas restaurant. We actually ended up spending the entire night with Gillian( our Aber teacher) and Gareth (our friend/driver/peer mentor) just talking and reminiscing about the past two weeks in Aber and our entire six weeks in Wales.

This morning we were up bright and early to catch our train from Aber to Birmingham. Saying goodbye at the platform was really hard. Since this program has been so intensive, we have really gotten to know the people we are interacting with. And based off of our goodbyes to Gareth and Gillian and the social program coordinator Marian, I am dreading the goodbyes with the rest of the group. Most of us are already planning trips to visit each other’s universities. We have even map quested directions so we know how long of a drive all of these trips will be. I just can not believe how great of an experience this has been. I have made such great and lasting friendships, and I have learned so much about myself and Wales. I could not have asked for a better summer.

(P.S. I still owe you all pictures from the other day. This will most likely be my task while I sit in Newark.)   

Time Flying By

Wow, the past week as flown by so fast. Since I last wrote, I have done so many incredible things. On Friday July 25, we visited the IBERS BEACON Bio-Refining Center. This was pretty interesting. We talked about sustainable energy and the more eco-friendly products that they are creating in their research. It was a cool presentation. They currently have a project in which they produce meat, using all eco-friendly processes (including driving it to the super market). For this project, they use genetically engineered grass to feed the cows. Some of the grass is cut and harvested and then turned into the the cardboard-like carton that they meat is stored in and oils from the grass are used to create a bio-degradable plastic wrap. They also have a method of creating ethanol from the grass which they use to fuel the car that drives the meat to the supermarket. The entire process is done using green energy and products, and it was really neat to see. Friday night we went to a BBQ on the beach with some Brazilian exchange students here at Aber. This was really fun to do. The Brazilians here are all part of a language immersion program. Some of the students have been at Aber for over a year and are getting ready to head home, while others had arrived in Aber roughly the same time as us. There was a very interesting mix of English and Portuguese on the beach, but it was a neat cultural experience. 

On Saturday, July 26, we traveled to a town called Hay-on-Wye. In this town there are over thirty bookstores. Most of these are second hand books stores. It was so cool. We spent all day perusing all of these old books and seeing incredibly ancient and historic pieces. The worst part was knowing that we couldn’t buy many books because we have to fit them in our suitcases. I could have easily spent over five hundred dollars in this town had I had the money or the space in my luggage. Regardless, it was really fun to just peruse the books and be surrounded by that amazing old book smell. It was definitely a nerd’s paradise. The best find I came across was a copy of a Welsh newspaper, “The Daily Mirror” from two days after the Titanic’s sinking. Even though it’s not an original, it’s still really cool to see snapshot of this tragedy in history. On Saturday night, we decided to hike up Constitution Hill in Aber to watch the sunset. Only it was very overcast of Saturday, so instead of seeing a sunset we actually got rained on. It was a really fun adventure though. Before it started to rain, we were able to actually see the rain let less loose over the ocean and move towards us. It was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. 

On Monday, July 28, we had a guided tour through the Ynylas Sand Dunes. This was a really neat tour. Our guide was incredibly knowledgable. She pointed out several really interesting plants and animals. We learned that rabbits are actually an essential part of sand dunes. They create burrows in the dunes and destabilize the sand, preventing grass from completely taking over the dunes. We also learned that during the World Wars, the British army tested bombs by firing them at the dunes. To this day they sometimes still find bombs buried in the dunes and they have to call bomb squad to detonate them. Its just such an interesting thought that they once tested bombs in an environment that is now protected by the government. After the tour through the dunes, we walked through Borth Bog and learned about the bog habitat and learned local legends that had to do with the bog. The bog habitat itself was really interesting. There is so much water trapped under the surface that it was a lot like walking on a water mattress. If one person were to jump up and land on the bog, it would make the rest of the ground wobble. It was really cool and amusing. On Monday evening, we had a traditional Welsh woman come to our flat to teach us how to make Welsh cakes. For all who don’t know, Welsh cakes may be one of the best desserts in the world– at least in Wales. The entire group as become obsessed with Welsh cakes, and I am so glad that I have two recipes to make them from when I get home. Look out Batesville, I am going to be showering you all with Welsh cakes!

On Tuesday, July 29, we went to Devil’s Bridge. This is an very interesting piece of folklore. The story goes that there was a woman in the 1100s who’s cow had crossed over the river and she couldn’t get across to retrieve it. The Devil appeared to her and offered to build her a bridge, with one condition. He would steal the soul of the first living thing to cross the bridge. She tells him build the bridge so she could get her cow back. The next day, she returns to the river and finds the bridge to have been built and sees her cow across the way. The Devil then reappears reminding her that the the soul of the first living thing to cross would belong to him. Standing at the edge of the bridge, the woman threw a loaf of bread across the river and her dog went scampering across the bridge. The Devil was furious and embarrassed because he had been outsmarted by a Welsh woman. Supposedly, the Devil never returned to Wales after the incident. After Devil’s bridge we went to the Hafod estate. This was an estate owned by an incredibly wealthy Welsh man in the 1700s. The grounds of the estate is roughly 500 acres. The house of the estate no longer stands. It was destroyed in the 1950s by a wildlife conservation team, but the Hafod trust has been slowly restoring the walk ways of the grounds themselves. Currently, over seven miles of the trails have been restored. On our tour we walked roughly a mile, and didn’t even touch the surface of the beauty on the grounds. It was a spectacular walk. After going the Hafod Estate we got our first “real’ fish and chips of the trip from a genuine “chipey”. It was really good, but there was so much food. The piece of cod was easily bigger than my face and the amount of fries was comparable to a large fry at Five Guys’. After dinner, we went to the theater to see Sister Act. I just really love that show. I found it really interesting that all of the actors were doing American accents in the show. Even more interesting was that none of us realized this until intermission. It just seemed so normal for us to hear the American accents, that we thought nothing of it. 

Today we went to the Center for Alternative Technology. This was an interesting morning. We sat through a lecture about how to create a better and more sustainable earth. It was very interesting to see how much our opinions changed from one place of America to another. Not one of us could agree on the proper solution for reducing carbon emissions in the world. In the afternoon we visited the Museum of Modern Art were we met one of the artists who’s work was on display. That was a really cool experience. She shared her process for creating her paintings and really gave us a glimpse of her life. For dinner we ate pizza at one of the best pizza places in the UK (supposedly). The pizza was nothing like American pizza. All of us spent dinner talking about how excited we are for returning to college towns that deliver pizza at almost all hours of the night. Plus, the pizza here is quite different. There is a different type of tomato sauce and the crust is way too thin. After my pizza today, I am definitely looking forward to Greeks Pizza in Muncie. 

That’s all for now. Its so sad to think that I have tomorrow and Friday left in Wales. This trip has in general flown by. It feels like I just arrived in Cardiff, and now I’m almost done with the Aber portion of the trip. The scarier part is knowing that the next two days will go by even faster. I will post pictures from this past week/weekend tomorrow. For now I will be catching some shut eye. 

Sheep, Cricket, and the Ocean

Just like every time I write, the past few days have been pretty action packed. On Tuesday, we had a couple lectures in the National Library on Welsh Identity through art and music. These were fairly interesting presentations that discussed “Welshness” in a very different way than we have discussed before. Tuesday evening we attended a barbecue at the university’s Vice Chancellor’s home. Time and time again I am astounded by the opportunities that have been presented to us. Our teacher here in this leg of the trip has spent the past four years here at Aber doing her PhD and properly met the Vice Chancellor for the first time with us at the BBQ. Each and every day I find something new to thank Fulbright for in this incredible journey. 

On Wednesday we went to the Royal Welsh Show. This is a national agricultural fair that happens every year. I thought it was particularly fitting that we went to the Royal Welsh Show this week, seeing that its 4-H Fair week back home. There was so much to see at the Royal Welsh Show. We mingled with members of the Welsh Assembly as they introduced a new agriculture bill to the public. We also ate a lot of food (particularly Welsh cakes) and looked around at the various shops at the fair. I was particularly interested to see that John Deere is an international company. The setup of the fair reminded me a lot of 4-H fairs at home. There were all kinds of commercial booths set up–ranging from cottage industries to agriculture equipment companies. There were also various animal shows taking place. Unfortunately we missed the shows were the animals were actually being judged. Instead we were able to see some exhibition shows. These included the King’s Troop of horses. They put on a show set to music that honors the military. We also watched the White Helmets. They are a team of military members who do motorcycle stunt exhibitions during the summer. The funniest exhibition was the quack pack. This was a man who had a herd of ducks that his sheep dog herded around the area. He was a really funny guy and the ducks and the dog were a ton of fun to watch. I was actually amazed at how well the dog and the ducks were trained. We also watched a round of horse racing. There were some really intense races because we showed up for the semi-finalists and the finalists. 

After the exhibitions we walked around the animal barns. There were literally three massive sheep barns. I think there were over two hundred or three hundred sheep at the show. It was insane. There were also breeds of sheep that I have never seen before in my life. There was a breed that had rabbit like ears and a breed that had the face of a pitbull. There were also a couple of cattle barns, a hog barn, and a goat barn. I was very disappointed in the goat barn because there were no Boer goats. I really wanted to compare American Boers to English/Welsh Boers, but there weren’t any at the show. It was still nice to be in the goat barn, even if it did make me really miss having and showing goats. I also encountered a new breed of goats that I have never seen before–Angora goats. They look like poodles and they were absolutely adorable! I also enjoyed the hog barn. There were some of the largest hogs I have ever seen in my life. I was amazed at how big some of them were. They were easily the height of a large calf, but two or three times the width. We also saw a mama pig and her piglets. They were incredibly precious.  

Today we began our day at the International Politics (InterPol) department where we had a roundtable discussion with PhD students about Welsh politics. As usual, the politics stuff was really fun and interesting. I learned a lot about Welsh politics–both domestic and foreign. Afterwards we attended the annual InterPol staff v PhD students Cricket match and BBQ. This was a lot of fun. One of the faculty members was actually from Wisconsin and he joked that every time he played his baseball instincts took over and made it difficult to play. We were able to give it a shot, and my baseball instincts also wanted to take over. Pitching (or bowling) is a lot different in Cricket and batting is completely different. The scoring is also incredibly weird, and I have no idea how any of it works. After the match, there was a BBQ where we were able to mingle with and talk to the InterPol faculty and students. We then headed down to the beach where we spent the entire evening and watched the sunset. The water was really cold at first, but by the time we left it was a perfect temperature. All in all, today was fantastic. I honestly could not have planned it much better. 

Closing of One Door and the Opening of Another

So the past few days have been quite eventful. On Friday, we traveled to Chester (which is actually in England). However, on our way we stopped at a few Welsh spots. The first was St. Winifred’s Well. Winifred’s story is a very interesting one. A male suitor of hers attempted to behead her, and succeeded. However, her uncle prayed that she come back to life and he bathed her well water. She was soon brought back to life, and her head was restored to her body. Soon after, Winifred became a nun and she helped other people become healed with the well water. Now the site is pilgrimage site for both Catholics and Anglicans. I really enjoyed being at the well. Since coming to Wales I have seen so many Anglican sites and very few Catholic ones. This one was mainly Catholic based, and I really enjoyed seeing such an old piece of my faith. After the well, we went to Saint Margaret’s Church (“The Marble Church”). This church was beautiful! I don’t think that I could ever get over beautiful churches and cathedrals. The simply amaze me. Behind the church, there was a memorial for Canadian WWI soldiers who died of the Spanish Flu as they tried to get home. It was a great sight, but a sad one. So many of the men died in the prime of their lives–19, 20, 25, etc. It’s so sad that they survived the war and then were taken by illness before they could get home. From there we proceeded to Chester. While in Chester we had a tour of the Ancient Roman part of Chester and the Medieval parts. This was pretty cool. You simply don’t see anything that old in the USA. We also went to Chester Cathedral, which again was gorgeous. After that we had free time to wander around Chester. We ended up finding a small coffee shop named the Central Perk, and the entire shop was styled after the coffee shop in F.R.I.E.N.D.S! It was easily the best part of Chester because of its amazing atmosphere. They play episodes of the show all day long. They serve coffee in mugs that match the show, and they have a large orange velvet couch like there is in the show! It was so cool, and I have decided that college towns across America need these coffee shops.

Saturday we left Bangor and we traveled here to Aberystwyth. This is a lovely town. Its right on the ocean and has a super laid back feeling to it. After getting settled down in Aber on Saturday, we went out to dinner and watched the sunset on the beach. On Sunday we went Stand-Up Paddle Boarding. This was so much fun. It really required good balance, but it was really cool to do. We were also able to spend a half hour just swimming at the beach was so much fun. We have been by the beach so many times in the last four weeks, but we have rarely been able to swim. Thankfully here in Aber we are going to get to swim often!

Today we spent the morning at the National Library for Wales where we received a behind-the-scenes tour of the library. We also became card holders for the library and I can’t wait to go back and just sit in the reading rooms. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures, but I will say it is the most beautiful library I have ever seen. From there we went on a historic walking tour of Aber. This was neat to learn a bit of the town’s history and it helped to orient us to the city. Tonight we then trekked down to the beach to watch the sunset, and it was picture perfect. Just like old beautiful churches, I will never grow old of watching the sun set on the beach. It”s the prettiest sight in the whole world.

 

More Action Packed Adventures

As always, the past few days have been very full adventures. On Tuesday we went to yet another castle–Harlech Castle. This was another one of King Edward I’s castles and it was one of the last ones he built in Wales. This was very different than the other castles we have seen. This one was more complete than the other castles we have seen and it had a different structure than the other castles. It was very interesting castle, and I think it was my favorite one so far. After the castle, we went to Port Mierion. This is a small village created by a British architect in the 1940s in response to criticism of British Architecture. It was a very neat touristy village, and there was great gelato. (Side note: Ice cream in Wales is fantastic. It is so much better than any ice cream that I have ever had before.) After the village, we went to Beddgelert where the grave of Gelert the dog is. This is an interesting folk tale. According to the story, a king went hunting and left his newborn son with the dog to watch over him. While hunting, a wolf came and tried to eat the baby. Gelert fought valiantly and defeated the wolf and saved the baby. When the king returned home, he found Gelert with a blood on his face and rushed to the conclusion that the dog had killed the baby. In a fit of rage and drew his sword and killed the dog. When he got upstairs to the nursery, he found the dead wolf and the un-harmed baby and realized that he had jumped to conclusions. Now Gelert’s grave is a tourist sight that has become a memorial for Welsh people’s pet dogs. Often times, people come and leave pictures and memorials to their own pets. I think the story is interesting. It truly emphasizes why you shouldn’t just rush to conclusions.

On Wednesday we spent all day with the Conway Center again. This time we went surfing, and it was so much fun. I wish there was a place to go surfing in Indiana, because I think it is my new favorite water activity. I caught quite a few waves and even managed to get up on my knees a few times. Although, we did spend the whole day surrounded by jelly fish. That part was a bit frightening. We didn’t notice them until after lunch, and when we mentioned them to our guide we were told that they had been there all day long.

Today we went to the largest hydro electric power plant in the UK. It was pretty cool. The entire plant is built on the inside of a mountain, which was really neat. Another cool fact was that it was opened up on May 9, 1984. I think its always cool to find things that occurred on your birthday, even if it was eleven years beforehand.

Tourism and Cultural Identity

The past few days have been fairly exciting. On Friday, we spent all day at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod (a music festival). This was a really cool experience. When we arrived in Llangollen, we wondered around the town, which was really cool, and we found a grassy knoll to eat lunch on. While we were eating, a street dancing contest took place in front of us. We were able to watch Traditional Kurdish Dancers and Traditional Welsh Dancers. In both dance numbers, members of our group were asked down to the street to join the dancers. It was a really neat atmosphere and it was fun to watch. The Kurdish dancing was so much different than the Welsh dancing. The Welsh dancing was almost like square dancing, but the Kurdish people were very upbeat and had a dancing style that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. While we were eating, we also spoke with two elderly Welsh couples that were more than willing to answer any question we had about Wales and Welsh culture. They were so nice, and I think they were just as interested in learning about America as we were in learning about Wales. After lunch, we walked around the actual Eisteddfod. There were various little shops selling food, souvenirs, and other random things. It kind of reminded me of the booths at the 4-H fair every summer, and it was cool to see the way Welsh culture was represented through these booths. In the evening, we went to an aqueduct in the neighboring town. This aqueduct was built in the 1800s, and it had a great view of the surrounding valley. There were also boats that you could rent to go up and down the canal on the aqueduct. We all decided that they made it look like a log flume ride, but they were cool to see none-the-less. Friday night we went to the Spirit of Unity concert at the Eisteddfod. This was really cool. It wasn’t my usual type of music, but it still blew me away. The music ranged from the British symphony, to opera singers, to an all mens choir, and to an all children choir. The all children choir is the same all children choir that sang the opening songs to the London Olympics (and they were so amazing!). 

On Saturday, we attended a dinner at the Bangor University Vice Chancellor’s home. This was a neat affair. We met several members of the Bangor faculty, and had some really good food. The best part of the night though was meeting a man who grew up in Cincinnati and then moved to Wales after college. This was really cool because not only is he from the US, but he also knew the area where I was from. For the first time since I got here, I was able to talk about where I’m from and it actually have meaning to someone. We also were able to talk about the Cincinnati Reds, which is always nice. That is the one thing Wales needs – a baseball team. 

Today, we had a very full day. We began our day in the town holding the Guinness World Record for the longest town name in the world–Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Translated to English this means – Mary’s Church by the white hazel pool, near the fierce whirpool, with the Church of Tysilio by the Red Cave. This town name was mainly created as a tourist phenomenon, but its still funny to see. After that, we went to the remains of the Penmon Priory. This dates back to the 13th century. It was really cool because there were two churches alongside each other. They had the original medieval church from the 1200s alongside a Victorian era church. The differences were striking, and it was like literally walking from one era to the next. After the priory, we went to Beaumaris Castle. This was a pretty neat castle. Unlike the other castles I’ve been too, this one was built more to be lived in and less as a fortress. It had a much different feel to it than the other castles because of this. After the castle, we went to a burial site that dated back to before the Iron Age. It was really neat to see a monument that was so old. It was a lot of the same concept of Stone Henge. After that we went to Newborough Beach. This was really fun, even thought the temperature was only like 60 degrees and windy. The beach was a sandy beach, so it felt really nice to just walk barefoot along the water. At the end of the beach, we walked to an island that had the remains of a medieval church and a memorial to the medieval patron saint of love. There was also a really neat light house and an incredible view of the ocean. (Side note: From our viewpoint, we saw a large rock in the water that had waves splashing up against it. One of the other girls and I decided that this is where the story of the Little Mermaid originated. There was the stone for Ariel to do here singing from and to watch Prince Eric, who we decided is actually the Prince of Wales. We decided its very coincidental…) There were also wild horses on the island. Apparently they have been there for hundreds of years, but they never leave the island, even when the tide is out and they could easily leave. I think the beach today was easily my favorite day in Bangor. I looked like a child on the beach, but it was a ton of fun. 

 

Some Medieval Fun

Our day started at Conwy Castle today. This is easily the coolest castle I have seen yet. This castle was for the most part still complete, and we had an amazing tour guide who was able to paint a great picture of what it would have looked like. He pointed out holes in the wall where floor beams had been and where door hinges had been. It was a really interesting tour, and I learned more about castles than I ever had before. The other really cool part of Conwy was that the medieval town wall is still intact around the town. We were able to walk along the top of the wall all the way around the town. From the top of the wall, we could see that the town still has the original grid pattern of the medieval town. The grid pattern streets were actually a refreshing sight. All of the streets here in Wales and the UK are not in a grid pattern. (I have never seen so many roundabouts. I honestly think every intersection is a roundabout.) The town of Conwy is also incredibly cute. There were so many cute shops lining the streets, and I could have honestly spent all afternoon and all of my money there. It was such a quaint little town. In Conwy, we also had a slightly terrifying experience. While we were sitting in the town square eating lunch, a seagull swooped in on us, landed on my friend’s head, and stole half of my other friend’s sandwich. After eating her sandwich, the seagull then proceeded to watch us while we ate, hoping to steal more food. That experience has forever changed my opinion of seagulls. Before today, I thought of Nemo and the seagulls who flew around yelling “MINE!”. Now I see them and I’m convinced that they are evil. I guess it still kind of had the Nemo aspect because today’s seagull definitely thought the sandwich was his, but he’s not harmless like the Nemo seagulls. 

After going to Conwy, we went to a small town called Llandudno. This was seaside resort town where we were able to walk along the promenade, the pier, and the beach. This was another really cute town. The best part was this was a sandy beach. All of the other beaches I’ve been to have been stone beaches. It was really nice to walk barefoot in the sand and water. I love doing things like that, and again I could have spent all day there if I’d been given the chance. While in Llandudno, we drove up to the summit of the Great Orme. The views from here were incredible. The more amazing views I see, the more I get excited to hike up the highest mountain in the UK on Saturday night/Sunday morning. I just can’t even begin to imagine how incredible the view will be from the top of Snowden…especially at sunrise. While on the Great Orme, we visited a church with a building that dated back to 1260 and the parish itself dated back to roughly 500 AD. It was so cool. Unfortunately, the inside looks more like an early 1900s church because of its renovation during the Victorian Era. However, it was still cool to be standing in such an old building that is still used to this day! 

Scrambling up the Waterfall

Today we spent the day with the Conwy Outdoor Pursuits Center. When we arrived at the center we had absolutely no idea what we would be doing all day. We had been told to be prepared for anything from kayaking to mountain climbing. However, none of us were well prepared to go climb a waterfall, which is what we ended up doing. We all showed up in jeans and tennis shoes, which are definitely not suitable for getting drenched by a waterfall. So instead, we suited up in giant rain coats and rain pants and put on ‘wellies’ (rain boots), and can I say that we all looked a bit ridiculous. From there we traveled into Snowdonia, where we went climbing up a water fall. The technical term for our adventure is Gorge Scrambling, and I have to admit that I was incredibly nervous about it when we began. However, it was easily one of the most fun days we have had since we arrived in the UK. I am still amazed at how we were able to climb over some of the cliffs. At the start of each one, the entire group was convinced that there was no way we could ever make it over/around, but time and time again we did it. And we all stayed relatively dry until after lunch. After lunch we went swimming in the mountain water while we kept scrambling. Since it was mountain water, it was COLD! The worst part was that it took us all by surprise when we went through it. The first time we went into the water was climbing through the ‘Elephant’s Butt Hole”. This was a pile of rocks that were together that really did look like a butt hole. There was a somewhat small hole that we had to climb through while the water rushed over us. It was really fun to climb through it, regardless of how cold the water was. This was before lunch. After lunch, we came across a small pond/pool of water that was pretty deep, so our guide had us do trust falls backwards into the water. This was terrifying and the water was even colder because we had gotten higher up in the mountain. However, it was priceless watching everyone’s reaction when they came up out of the cold water. Later, we created a small water slide out of one of the smaller waterfalls, where the water was also cold. We also jumped off of a small cliff into a pool of water and we climbed up an actual waterfall.]After today’s experience, I think I’m going to be looking for Gorge Scrambling opportunities in Indiana. I would honestly do this again–over and over again. It was that much fun. 

Castles, on Castles, on Castles

The past two days have been full of activity. Yesterday we began our day at Penrhyn Castle. This castle was a 19th century castle that had been build by Lord Penrhyn after striking it rich in the Slate Industry. This castle was built on the site of a mediaeval castle, but it had all of the bells and whistles of a late 19th century and early 20th century home. Lord Penrhyn owned what used to be the largest slate quarry in Wales. To show off his wealth, he built the massive castle in very gothic revival architecture. As I walked through the building, I was amazed at the opulence. Every aspect of the castle was meant to amaze, and it did just that. I also thought it was interesting that the Penrhyn family lived in the castle up to the early 1970s. After Penrhyn Castle, we went to the National Slate Museum. This was pretty neat. We were able to see all of the tools that the quarrymen used, and we learned about the day to day lives of quarrymen. We also got to see a slate splitting demonstration (slate splitting is still to this day done by hand).

Today, we visited two castles and we went underground in a slate quarry. The first castle we visited was Caernarfon Castle. This castle was built by Edward the First after he conquered Wales. This castle was pretty interesting. One of the strangest parts about it was that it was never finished. The outside of the building looks completed, but there are several places where the wall is left jagged for a new attachment that was never added. Caernarfon Castle is also the castle were the Investiture of the Prince of Wales occurs. According to our tour guide today, this is not a tradition that stretches far back. Apparently only two investitures have ever taken place in the castle. However, it is the castle were Prince Charles was made the Prince of Wales and it is where Prince William will be crowned the Prince of Wales when Charles becomes King. It was actually really cool to see pictures of how the castle looked for William’s investiture in comparison to how the castle looks on a regular basis. After Caernarfon we visited Cricieth Castle. This castle was originally a Welsh castle but was taken over by the English after the Great Conquest. This castle was essentially just ruins, however the views from the castle were fantastic. It sat right on the ocean and there was an almost panoramic view of the Welsh coastline. From there we went to Llechwedd Slate Cavern. I must say that I was a bit disappointed with this visit. The slate quarry has been transformed into a complete tourist attraction, and it very much glosses over the ‘real’ history of the quarries and is very romanticized. I think that if I had been a real tourist and not a student I would have enjoyed the experience. However, from an academic standpoint, I wish that there had been more candidness about the past. Also, it was really hard to not compare the experience to when we went underground in Big Pit Coal Mine in Cardiff. This tour was led by an ex-miner and it very much told the true story of the lives of the miners. It was also based more on history than tourism. The two experiences were completely different. However, the worst part of both Big Pit and the Slate quarry was being constantly reminded of how far underground you are. At one point today I was over 500 feet underground, and some of the spaces were a bit tight. My mom would never have enjoyed the Slate quarry, because even I was feeling a bit claustrophobic (especially when the tour guide began talking about collapses in the quarries). Regardless of the tourist-ness of the day, it was still a really cool day. With each passing day I am convinced that I will see all of Wales before I leave for home!

 

A New Chapter

Sorry its been a while since I posted anything. Here’s a recap of the past few days.

Friday (7/4/14): On Friday we began the day by presenting the academic projects we had been doing for the past two weeks. I really enjoyed all of the presentations from my group. It was really interesting to see how differently we each viewed the same material. After our presentations we learned how to sing the Welsh National Anthem and watched clips of the Welsh Rugby team defeating the English team a few years ago. (Which by the way Rugby is a very intense sport. Its a lot like football except they don’t really wear pads. I really wish it was Rugby season so I could actually watch a game.) In the evening we went to a fancy dinner along Cardiff Bay. This was kind of sad because it was the last time we got to spend time with our teacher, Bill, until the closing ceremony in a month. After dinner, the eight of us hung out and celebrated July 4th. It was really weird not having fireworks to commemorate Independence Day.

Saturday (7/5/14): On Saturday morning, we packed up our flatt in Cardiff and went hopped on a train to Bangor in North Wales. The train ride was roughly four hours, but we saw some amazing sights on our way. The worst part of the trip was pulling all of our luggage out of the bottom of a huge luggage stack when we got off the train. When we arrived, we were met by our Bangor teacher, Tecwyn. We then drove to our new flatt here in Bangor. These flatts are really nice. The rooms are pretty big and we each have our own bathroom again. We also have a nice common area with a lounge section. This room has already been nice to just sit and hang out. We have all found it very interesting how much we have all gotten to know each other over the past two weeks. We all commented that the bus ride from the airport to Cardiff was incredibly awkward, but our bus ride from train station to our flat in Bangor was fun and lively, and we very quickly had Tecwyn filled in on our inside jokes (or at least we had him baffled by them). For dinner Saturday, we ate at a restaurant named the Ferrel Cat, which is the nicest place in Bangor. The food was absolutely amazing. It was the best food I have had since I arrived in the UK. I had a bacon cheeseburger that was roughly the size of my face. I think the main reason it was so good was because it was just very familiar, but either way it was really nice. Matt, from my group, had a chili burger that was bigger than my burger and it was really comical watching him attempt to fit it in his mouth.

Sunday (7/6/14)–Today: Today was our first full day in Bangor, and it was jam packed of activities. We started out in our classroom where we talked about the next two weeks and expectations for this part of the course. We then went on a tour of Bangor University (lots of cool old buildings). After our tour, we walked through downtown Bangor. Here we saw an old Anglican church. Parts of this building date back over 800 years ago. It was a really pretty church. While in downtown Bangor, we were also informed that there is an old Catholic church that has been converted into a pub. We all immediately decided that we need to find this place because the very idea of a Catholic church becoming a pub baffles us. After our downtown walk, we walked to the pier where we went to a nice scones store and had tea and scones (which were delicious!). From there we hopped into the van and took a ride through Snowdonia to look at the mountains, which are so incredibly beautiful. We did a small hike up one of the mountains to this small lake. I have never seen anything like the views I saw today. They were fantastic and so much different than the corn fields of Indiana. After our little hike, we came back to the flatt for dinner. Then this evening a group of us went on an adventure in Bangor. We ended up finding this little stone beach where we watched the sunset and skipped rocks. We also saw a few jelly fish that had been washed up with the tide.

So far one of the best parts of Bangor is being back in a small town environment. Cardiff was really nice, but it was definitely a city. I didn’t realize how much I missed the small town feel, but the lack of traffic outside our window at night it is really nice. During the day, the hustle and bustle of Cardiff was great. It was really easy to get to all of the things we needed, and our classroom was a five minute walk. However, its nice to have a change of pace and hopefully since our time here in Bangor won’t fly by as fast as it did in Cardiff.