Friday, June 24, 2011

In Which we Leave London, Arrive in Wales, and find Paradise

Today was a long travel day that began with packing up and leaving our beloved London apartment, taking the tube to Paddington station and catching a train to Newport in Wales. It all went very smoothly except for a minor annoyance which was the handle on my suitcase breaking off. Makes it hard to carry your suitcase up and down the 862 steps that are involved in every trip on the tube. Ah well. Can’t all be sweetness and light I guess.

But speaking of light, Paddington station is quite beautiful. I love these big airy European train stations full of rafters and light and pigeons and lots of people all going in different directions. It makes for an air of anticipation which is much better than an air of, say, drudgery, or resignation that one might find at the greyhound bus depot in Surrey, for example.


We had a moment trying to find the right platform which resulted in a rather difficult conversation between myself and a conductor:

Me: Excuse me which platform is it for the 11:45 to Newport?

Conductor: It’s at 11:45

Me: Yes I know I wondered which platform. It’s not up on the board yet.

Conductor: It will come in at 11:30

Me Ok thanks but to which platform

Conductor: Which platform?

Me (getting a bit ticked by now): Yes. Which platform will the 11:45 to Newport be leaving from?

Conductor: Well you have to check the departures board

Me (in my head) Well here’s a bright one.

Me: It’s not there. There is a blank space next to the word ‘platform’.

Conductor: Oh. Well just go and wait on the main platform and watch the board. Then you’ll be alrigh ya?

Me (in my head) I’ll be more ‘alrigh’ than I am talking to you who clearly knows nothing.

Me: Thanks that was super helpful.

Why do English people always ask you if you’ll be ‘alrigh ya?’ when you are asking them for help?? I don’t know! Will I be alright? That’s kinda what I am asking you.

Anyhoo. We made it onto the train just fine despite having a few extra bags owing to a bit of shopping that was done in the days previous. We also had a bag of food brought from the apartment that my mother had itemised for me several times during the course of her blow-by-blow account of what she had managed to fit where while packing. Don’t get me wrong – she’s very good and very efficient. But it was a bit funny:

My mum: I’ve done all my packing and closed my case and I don’t have room for anything else so could you pack this one Kleenex in your case?

Me: Umm sure if you think you really need…”

My mum: And I’ve managed to fit the Weetabix in this part of this bag and my biscuits are over here and

Me That’s great I’m actually just….

My mum: And I didn’t bring the salad because it’s a bit awkward and

Me: Yes…very awkward I should think

My Mum: but the carrot sticks are here with the fruit. Shall we go now?

Me: Sure yes I’ll just get my things…

The ride was uneventful except for a rewarding trip to the Snack Car for some English treats that we only ever eat on the train, in England.


We arrived in Wales, and had to wait in the station while it rained the entire Atlantic Ocean outside in about 3 minutes. But it was Ok as Jacob was there to entertain us:


We picked up our rental car from the most helpful customer service agent ever at the Europcar location in Newport. This guy was a gem and dealt with an administrative error with amazing efficiency. I actually heard him say, on the phone to head office, “And what exactly are we going to do to solve this problem for our customer?” Brilliant.

So off we went in our Vauxhall Insiginia, which is my new favourite car. After a slight diversion down the M4 in the wrong direction, we soon found our way.

Wales is fiercely independent and insists on being completely bilingual in both English and Welsh so you can’t find a sign, anywhere, no matter how small, that is not in both Welsh and English. It’s all very interesting and would probably mean a lot more if I could pronounce it. But I’m pretty sure that I could spend the rest of my life in Wales and still not be able to pronounce a single word correctly. The closest I can get is to repeat the phrase ‘Szechuan is a dog, Ellen?’ over and over with different cadence and intonation each time. That’ll fool them for sure.

Basically, Welsh consists of what seems to be a random string of consonants, and vowels (mostly a and e) but which upon closer inspection, I have determined must contain at least one ‘c’, one ‘y’, two ‘f’s and must start with two ‘L’s and end with ‘gog’ or ‘lyn’. So without having a pinhead of Welsh in me, I feel confident in saying that “Llaencryffgog” is most certainly a word in Welsh. It’s quite fun making up Welsh words. Go ahead. Try it. See?

Our drive was about an hour and a half and it was late afternoon before we arrived at our home for the next week: Nethouse near Hay-on-Wye, just on the Welsh side of the border. As we approached the house, which is on the Wye river, we all of us were speechless. It must be one of the most beautiful spots in this part of the world. I’ll not try very hard with words but will rely instead on the pictures.


My room…sigh.


Requisite patch of wild strawberries



Jacob’s room


Zoe’s little patch of Heaven


Not a TV, but rather the view of the River Wye out the window…


Zoe has taken up calligraphy in her little window seat.


Living room

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Boots as needed…


The scullery

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Fabulous kitchen. Love the sink.

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The view across the river



The garden and the wheat field out back. I may try and make a crop circle one night…

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I’m pretty sure I have landed in Wind and the Willows-land and will not be surprised if I see a toad walk by in a waistcoat. The house comes with fishing rods, and dip nets, and a little box full of flies for fly-fishing, a fireplace and stacks of wood, chintz curtains, whitewashed walls, flagstone floors, rambling roses, and clawfoot tubs. Moles are in evidence everywhere, herbs in abundance, and you can walk everywhere. I may move here.

Not internet though so I have to walk along the river into the lovely little town of Hay-on-Wye where I am forced to sit at a tea shop where they have free wifi. Well, someone has to do it. It may as well be me.

Thanks for reading – more tomorrow :)

Caerlladogalwn! (I’m pretty sure that’s Welsh for “Cheers” and if it isn’t, well, it is now!)


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