Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Studying Britain

British Studies — everybody’s gotta take it, but really it’s not that bad. You start with cavemen and move up through the Romans, talk about the Normans, lots of kings and queens, and that’s it. Honestly I don’t mind it much, but you can’t only study Britain from a textbook.

Last Thursday I came back from class, looked at my schedule (I was done for the week, no big assignments due, and no trips planned), and sighed. It was Wales, I knew that much. But you can’t just go somewhere by yourself and sit in a city for three days without doing anything. So I decided to see castles and other old stuff (maybe not your cup of tea), so I jumped on a train to Rhyl in North Wales, a few miles from what I knew sat Rhuddlan Castle.

I didn’t have a plan, really, just a destination in mind. I wanted to go to W my first “free” weekend, and by Thursday afternoon I was bored outta my mind. Hell with it, I thought. I packed my backpack, grabbed some cash, my rail card, and caught the 2:10 shuttle into Grantham.

But, before I tell you all I did, sometimes it’s important to learn the moral of the story first: when you don’t have a plan, it’s easy to make stupid, expensive mistakes.

So I get to Rhyl. It’s a nice town nestled against the Irish Sea to the north, with a boardwalk and everything. And there’s me, in the late afternoon, with a backpack and a map. A tourist is a target, I thought, so I found a cheap B&B to shack up for the night. In the morning it took me three busses to get to Rhuddlan Castle (which I later learned was only one). I’m not going to go into detail about the sights…it’s rather boring to discuss them. The best part (I’m a bit of a nerd) was the historical context it added to my British Studies class. All the castles I saw were part of Edward I’s boxing in of Wales. Blah blah, I know, so I’ll continue…

From Rhyl I took a train west to Conwy, where the station is literally in the shadow of one of the most impressive castles I saw. From Conwy I crossed into Anglesey and saw Beaumaris castle, a squat, swampy place, then took a series of busses towards Llangefni to explore a few Neolithic standing stones and burial chambers. I got to talking with one of the bus drivers about where I was getting to. He turned in his seat, looked me up and down, and said if I hadn’t been stabbed yet I would be in Llangefni. He was stark serious, too, so he let me stay on towards Caernarfon, home to the best (in my opinion) castle in Wales, where I stayed the night.

A note on the Welsh: half the time they speak in Welsh. When they aren’t, it’s like they are because of their accents. And if you visit Wales don’t be surprised if everyone in a pub sudde nly switches over from English when you go in. I’m not trying to give Wales a bad name, because most of the people I met were nice, helpful, and, in the case of the bus-driver, very helpful. But, in Caernarfon, I did stop in one pub, which I instantly regretted, because this older, hammered Welsh couple kept calling me Canadian (tell them you’re from the States, not America!), and spittin all over me.

Finally, once the couple finished their drinks, the woman walked right into a door and spat out four teeth. Karma, eh? So I got to see my first EMS, European action.

Anyways…after Caernarfon I took a breath-taking scenic route (as in inefficient and expensive) to Harlech Castle, and there started my adventure back to Grantham. It took my 5 transfers, a bus, 7 hours, and too many pounds to remember to get back. But all that aside, it was completely worth it, to not have much in the way of plans, to really get in the thick of a foreign culture and be lost in it.

On a broader note about travel I have two suggestions: 1) bring an umbrella, 2) always ask the bus-driver. They can give you directions, they don't mind you speaking in English, and, most important of all, bus-drivers know the dangers of travel. But, if you keep you head down and stick to lighted streets, there's no need to worry.

-Brennan Girdler

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