Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A Weekend in Wales

Hello Readers!

It's Erika again, and this time I'm talking about North Wales!

Everyone said Wales was a beautiful and relaxing weekend, and believe me when I say that is the best summary of Wales ever. Every view of Wales was beautiful, from the quaint coastal towns to the mines we visited.  The entire visit was filled with wonderful side trips that kept everyone engaged and entertained.

Our first stop Friday morning was Chester, a really cool, little town that had way more than I was expecting. It's technically still in England, right on the border of Wales. The city looks so perfectly old fashioned yet modern and the blend makes you stop to stare at buildings. Plenty of the shops were located in buildings that had iron gargoyles surrounding the door frames or little touches that proved its true age. It was so cool to see Chester take advantage of their history and incorporate it into the modern world. Chester has the second most photographed clock in England, the Eastgate Clock. You can even walk right up to the top and get a great view of the city.

The clock was impressive, but there was just too much to see in a short period of time to pick one particular thing. Chester is one of those touristy towns that inspire street performers to entertain passersby. My group of friends was particularly entertained by a bird tamer who had massive owls that people could pet. I'm not afraid of owls or anything but the wing span of these birds had me keeping a wide perimeter. It was a totally random experience that just added to the charm of the trip. After the quick visit in Chester, we continued on to Llandudno (pronounced Lan-Did-No) and really got to see what Wales truly looks like.

That image above is the view from our hotel. Beachfront view 24/7, and it was even more beautiful in person. It was a really nice hotel, even if the carpet was ridiculously outdated. It had a grandparent's spare bedroom feeling and that was pretty cute to be honest. Llandudno was such a relaxed town. You could walk up and down the main city center pretty quickly and everyone was very easygoing and friendly. Something we weren't expecting was how quickly everything shut down. Most shops closed at 5:30 PM, which for Americans was crazy early for a Friday and Saturday night. It was pretty humorous to see everyone scramble to find dinner that first Friday night because everything closed as we realized we needed to eat. My roommate and I had an early night and watched bad reality TV shows before going to bed. This was a good choice since the next day was all about exploring a castle and the extra rest was well needed.

Saturday morning had us travelling to Caernarfon Castle. The castle was a cool visit because so much of it was up to individual exploration. We got to walk up the interior walls, and you could reach the top of the castle to see the town. The interior walls were not clearly marked so it was easy to walk right into one without realizing it. There was also an amazing little museum on the history of the Welsh military. I hadn't really thought about how the United Kingdom's military is separated, and it was a nice lesson in the sacrifices and accomplishments the Welsh military have made throughout history.

The castle is an important part of modern history because it is the castle that Prince Charles' investiture was held at. I suppose it was only fitting for the Prince of Wales to have the ceremony in Wales - I actually assumed it was held at Buckingham Palace. The town was also very lovely, and there were plenty of small little stores with engaging shop owners. I ended up wandering through a tiny basement bookstore that only sold books on hiking but the top level of the store sold antique jewelry. This combination made no sense to me but it was fun to explore it!

After our castle visit we continued on to Llanberis.  This town was most known for being a slate mine before it closed in the 1930s. Now the area is a big tourist destination. The mountains look perfect for hiking, just filled with so much potential for adventure in them. I spent a great deal of time in the National Slate Museum. At first, it sounded like one of the worst museums I'd ever have to suffer through, but it turned out to be really interesting. The museum starts with a short film on the history of mining so you understand why it was so important, and from there you can look through various exhibitions and demonstrations.  One of the most entertaining aspects of the visit was a live demonstration on splitting slate. Apparently no machine ever perfectly split slabs of slate as well as a human could, so humans were never outsourced in this aspect of mining. The professional that demonstrated how to split the slate was such an entertainer - he had everyone laughing while also being really impressed with his skill.

After we left Llanberis we returned to Llandudno. The ocean was just as beautiful the second night, and this night everyone was prepared to hunt down food before closing hours. I managed to get a little bit of shopping in (books of course, I can’t help myself!) before having dinner on the beach with friends. It was such a great time, even if those sea gulls were more intense than I was expecting. Plenty of people were very nearly attacked by those massive birds, but we didn't let them kill the fun. And lucky for us, people brought some dogs to the beach later and the birds suddenly had better places to be.

The next day we went to Swallow Falls, which is a massive waterfall that took my breath away. It's amazing how truly gorgeous nature can be sometimes. Everyone took a million pictures and tried to get every view possible. I spent an unreasonable amount of time taking the same pictures over and over again but changing the settings on my camera so it would be in black and white or sepia. I needed this magic in different styles apparently, but I don't even regret it. We then went into the town that is right next to Swallow Falls, Betws-y-Coed. That was a fun little venture mainly because all my group did was find food, and then ice cream (even though it was chilly outside!) and then went to the park. There was a guy with this contraption blowing huge amounts of bubbles all over the park. Mainly for some little kids but he gladly let us college students run around and pop them too. It was just a silly but cute way to end the trip. We all boarded the bus happy and relaxed but glad to get back to Harlaxton. North Wales was just amazing. It was nothing but beautiful sights and wonderful people. I can't wait to go back!

Until next time,

Erika Johnson

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