Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes…

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Liverpool

On Saturday, Elizabeth and I went to Liverpool for the day to check out some of the Beatles attractions. For various reasons, we only had about 5 1/2 hours to spend in the city itself. After a four-hour train ride, we arrived in Liverpool around 1 and followed the signs to Albert Dock. Elizabeth and I have a tendency to just show up in cities without fully researching them so we were pretty shocked when we arrived in Liverpool. I guess we haven’t been to many cities in England besides London and smaller towns like Oxford, Canterbury, and Brighton, so we were surprised to see how much Liverpool had to offer. There was a huge range of architecture and lots of shops along the strip. We finally got to Albert Dock and found the tourist information center.

Elizabeth had found something online about a Magical Mystery Tour, a Beatles-themed tour bus that would take passengers around the city for 2 hours, stopping at the childhood homes of each of the Beatles and other attractions. She remembered there being a tour at 2 p.m., so we asked the man at the desk if there were any tickets left. Unfortunately, it was all sold out. Elizabeth and I were ready to leave the store dejectedly to wander about the dock and make our own Liverpool experience when the man said, “But wait! I can call you guys a Beatles taxi! It’s the same price and goes to all the same spots.” He put in a call for us and within fifteen minutes, a guy named Ricky showed up ready to take us on a tour around Liverpool.

Magical Mystery Tour

The Magical Mystery Tour left around the same time as us so waved good-bye to them as we began our journey. Ricky turned out to be a phenomenal tour guide. He grew up on Penny Lane and his uncle went to school with John Lennon. He made it his goal to show us a different side of the Beatles’ lives as they grew up in Liverpool. Our first stop was Ringo Starr’s childhood home. Ringo and George lived in the working class area of town while Paul and John were of more middle class backgrounds. I was surprised to see that Ringo and George’s houses were not even marked, while Paul and John’s houses are part of the National Trust.

Ringo Starr’s childhood home

As we got back in the car after taking a look at Ringo Starr’s house, we saw the Magical Mystery Tour drive by, its passengers struggling to snap photos of the house as it passed. Good thing we got the taxi! Our next stop was Penny Lane, and as we drove down the street, Ricky explained to us all the lines of the song, pointing out landmarks along the road that are mentioned in the lyrics (the bank, the roundabout, the barber shop, etc.). He showed us the bus stop where Paul used to wait to catch the bus to school. We got out of the car to peek in the windows of the barbershop where there were photographs on the walls of the barber cutting peoples’ hair (just like it mentions in the song). We got back in the car to head to our next stop and as we did, the Magical Mystery Tour rolled by, its passengers eagerly snapping photos again.

Penny Lane

Barbershop mentioned in the song

There goes the Magical Mystery Tour!

After Penny Lane, we went to George Harrison’s childhood home. Again, the house was unmarked. The name of the street is Arnold Grove, a pseudonym that Harrison used as an adult.

George Harrison’s childhood home

The next place we went was Strawberry Fields, and Ricky played some Beatles songs for us on the way over. Once we got there, he stopped the car and we all got out, but he left the door open so “Strawberry Fields Forever” was playing in the background as we stood in front of the gates and he explained the history of the song to us, pointing out the trees that John Lennon used to climb near the orphanage.

Strawberry Fields

Our next stop was John Lennon’s house. Ricky pointed out the place where Lennon’s mother was run over by a car and the window to his room as a child. Finally, we went to Paul McCartney’s house, and Ricky dropped us off an hour and a half later on Albert Dock. The tour was a great introduction to Liverpool and brought us to all the places we never would have been able to find on our own.

John Lennon’s childhood home

Paul McCartney’s childhood home

While we were on the dock, we went to the Beatles Story, a museum dedicated entirely to the Beatles. It had all these rooms and exhibits recreating places of importance to the Beatles during their career and loads of memorabilia on display (Lennon’s glasses, suits they wore, Harrison’s first guitar, etc.).

Beatles museum

Lennon memorabilia

After the Beatles Museum, we walked into town to check out Mathew Street, where the Beatles used to hang out. We went to the Cavern Club, where the Beatles played their first concert (the original building was torn down in the 70s but a replica was built in the same spot) and saw the Grapes, another pub where they hung out.

Cavern club

I’ve always liked the Beatles peripherally, but after seeing where they grew up and learning more about their lives before fame, I will definitely listen to their music with a new appreciation. After our excursions in Liverpool, Elizabeth and I headed back to the train station to catch our train home. On one leg of the four-hour train ride we made a four-page long list of all the crazy things that have happened to us this semester. Some highlights:

  • running and sweating through Heathrow Airport after countless delays to catch our coach to Bath on the first day
  • experiencing the entertainment carriage on our first First Great Western train ride to Oxford
  • hiking along Offa’s Dike and then seeing Tintern Abbey in the mist
  • climbing to the top of Bath Abbey and overlooking Bath before we knew what we were looking at
  • studying till midnight in the Univ. library at Oxford
  • getting lost in Milan at 1 a.m. and trying to communicate with an Italian cop
  • climbing the Eiffel Tower just to find ourselves in the middle of a protest at the top
  • punting along the Thames

It’s been quite the semester. We teared up on our final First Great Western train ride from Bristol Temple Meads to Bath Spa and stood by the platform to watch the train go out of sight before hugging each other and leaving the train station for the last time. It’s crazy how attached to this place I have become. Just as it begins to really feel like a second (third?) home, I have to leave it all for good.

Our last train

Blog Printout

Hey guys! So I’ve been back in the States for just over 6 weeks now and I finally got around to creating a printable version of this blog. If for any reason you would like a copy of this entire blog, go to this link:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/ia2tp9c869q6g21/06-29-12%20blog%20printout%20final.docx

and download the document. I would offer to print off copies myself, but the document is 164 pages long (with the photographs scaled down). I’ve already printed out one copy at the library and it was quite a production.

Alternatively, if you would like to print out any individual posts, there should be a button at the end of each post that says “Print & PDF.” If you click on this button, it will generate a PDF version of the post that you can print.

Thanks again for reading!

Liz

And so it ends

View from the back of my home-away-from-home

I have less than five days left in Bath, during which time I will be taking exams, packing, saying good-bye to British friends, and spending some final moments with the American friends I have made during the last semester. These last four months have given me some of the most incredible experiences of my life and I will return to the States on Saturday with a different outlook than I had in January. Spending a semester abroad was the best decision I made in college and I highly recommend it to any students who are on the fence about it! In the last four months, I saw:

  • Bath Abbey
  • The Royal Crescent
  • Stonehenge
  • Salisbury Cathedral
  • Lacock
  • Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
  • Hereford Cathedral
  • Tintern Abbey
  • Chepstow Castle
  • Offa’s Dyke
  • Canterbury Cathedral
  • St. Augustine’s Abbey
  • Cardiff Castle
  • Cardiff Bay
  • Millennium Centre, Cardiff
  • Clifton Suspension Bridge
  • Dyrham Park
  • Cotswold Way
  • Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
  • University College, Oxford
  • The Eagle & Child, Oxford
  • Oxford Castle
  • Bodleian Library, Oxford
  • Christ Church Meadow
  • Oxford Botanic Gardens
  • Natural History Museum, Oxford
  • Pitt Rivers Museum
  • Jane Austen Centre
  • Roman Baths
  • Los Campesinos! concert
  • Big Ben & Parliament buildings
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Globe Theatre
  • Trafalgar Square
  • Tower of London
  • London Eye
  • Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Pantheon Paris
  • Luxembourg Gardens
  • Pere Lachaise Cemetery
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Sacre Coeur
  • The Louvre
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Catacombs of Paris
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • George Orwell Square, Barcelona
  • Castell de Montjuic
  • Pablo Picasso Museum
  • La Sagrada Familia
  • Il Duomo, Milan
  • Blackwell’s, Oxford
  • Museum of the History of Science, Oxford
  • BBC Studios, London
  • British Film Institute
  • Brighton Pier
  • King George IV’s Pavilion
  • Chwilog, Gwynedd
  • Caernarfon Castle
  • Grepach
  • Pwlelli
  • St. Hywyn’s Church, Aberdaron
  • Dylan Thomas Centre
  • Swansea Museum
  • National Waterfront Museum
  • Swansea Bay
  • 5 Cwymdonkin Dr.
  • Cwymdonkin Park
  • Johnston train station
  • Haverfordwest Castle
  • St. David’s Cathedral
  • 25 cafes in Bath
  • The Holburne Museum
  • William Herschel Museum
  • British Museum
  • Covent Garden
  • The Pump Room
  • River Avon
  • Bath Canal
  • William Shakespeare’s Birthplace
  • Hall’s Croft
  • Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
  • Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Royal Shakespeare Theatre
  • Swan Theatre
  • Kenilworth Castle
  • Bath Botanical Gardens
  • Victoria Park
  • Prior Park landscape gardens
  • Ringo Starr’s childhood home
  • Penny Lane
  • George Harrison’s childhood home
  • Strawberry Fields
  • John Lennon’s childhood home
  • Paul McCartney’s childhood home
  • The Beatles Story
  • The Cavern Club
  • Perfume Genius/Cate Le Bon concert
  • Clarendon Villas

I have decided to end my study abroad blog now so that I can enjoy my last few days in Bath and focus on transitioning back to life in the States. Thank you to everyone who followed along on my journey and I hope I could offer at least a glimpse of my experiences to everyone at home. I look forward to seeing you all again soon!

- Liz

Bath Walk

It’s hard to believe after such an incredible four months in England, I will be returning back to the States in less than five days. This last week has been bittersweet. I am soaking in as much Bath as I can before I have to leave because I don’t know when I’ll be able to see this city again.

On Friday, a friend and I walked all over Bath, checking out the Botanical Gardens, Victoria Park, the Prior Park landscape gardens, and more of the canal path. It was an absolutely gorgeous day out in Bath and the streets were filled with shoppers, street performers and tourists…just the kind of day I’m going to miss the most. I think these photos deserve their own post.

All Shakespeared Out

my B&B in Stratford

Last week, I went on my last ASE field trip. We spent three full days in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, and saw a production by the Royal Shakespeare Company each night we were there. Brian and Ruth Hazel, the two Shakespeare professors at ASE, came along with us on the trip and gave us in-depth introductions and historical contexts for each of the three plays we saw. When we first arrived in Stratford on Tuesday, we checked into our bed and breakfasts and gathered in the Town Hall for an introduction to “Comedy of Errors.” Two hours later we walked around town, got dinner, put nice clothes on, and headed to the theater.

Town Hall

I had never read any of the plays we were seeing, so I don’t have much to base my opinions on, but I enjoyed each of them! “Comedy of Errors” and “Twelfth Night” were part of a three-play set with sea themes. They used the same cast of actors and the same basic set (although the props on stage were different). My favorite actor was Bruce Mackinnon, one of the Dromios from “Comedy of Errors” and Andrew Aguecheek from “Twelfth Night.” We saw him walking around Stratford several times, including one afternoon when I was at a Starbucks with Cassie, Laura and Merri. He walked by the window carrying a Sainsbury’s bag and we all sighed, “Dromio!”

My favorite Dromio is the one on the right

On Wednesday, after a wonderful breakfast we explored the Shakespeare properties throughout Stratford-upon-Avon. We went to his birthplace, his daughter’s house, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, and the church where Shakespeare is buried. In the garden outside the birthplace, there were two actors who would perform any scene from any Shakespeare play upon request. Hilary asked them to perform the “Get thee to a nunnery!” scene from Hamlet since we had just studied it the week before.

breakfast at the B&B!

Shakespeare’s birthplace from the back

ASE kids in front of Anne Hathaway’s cottage

gardens outside Anne Hathaway’s cottage

sculpture garden outside Anne Hathaway’s cottage

Shakespeare’s daughter’s house

actors at the birthplace

church where Shakespeare is buried

inside church where Shakespeare is buried

Shakespeare’s grave

We met at town hall each afternoon to discuss the play we had seen the night before and learn background information on the play we were going to see that night. On Thursday, the Shakespeare in Performance class acted out a few scenes from Richard III. The class was made up of all girls except for Greg, so he played Richard, withered arm and all. After performances, we headed to the pub across the street from the theatre called the “Black Swan” or, more affectionately, the “Dirty Duck.” Occasionally actors or the whole cast of a production will go there after a show, so we bonded with the group while waiting to spot some actors. Apparently the cast of Richard III came in on one of the nights but I had left before they arrived.

Set for “Comedy of Errors”

Set for “Twelfth Night”

Set for “Richard III”

During the day on Thursday, we checked out of our bed and breakfasts and headed to Kenilworth Castle. Brian Hazel knew all there was to know about the castle, so he led us around the grounds and pointed out items of interest. We explored the castle, gardens, gate house and stables for a few hours and then had tea in the tea room there. We returned to Stratford on Thursday night to see Richard III, a dark but memorable way to end our visit.

Kenilworth Castle

Stables at Kenilworth Castle

Kenilworth Castle

Brian Hazel leading the way

Gardens at Kenilworth

To London and back

Bath Abbey from the River Avon

Is it weird that going to London doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore? I’ve only been four times, but it seems like such an easy trip now. An hour and a half on the train, navigating the tubes, finding my way around the streets—these are all things I can handle. Although I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the city, there are so many things that I still haven’t seen. I would love to go back for one more round to see the Tower of London, the Tate Museum, the Victoria & Albert, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

On Saturday, I went into London early in the morning and met up with Tara, the daughter of Lona and Parbhu, distant relatives I stayed with earlier in the semester. She showed me around the area where she works and we went through the markets at Covent Garden. I kind of wish I had saved some of my souvenir shopping for Covent Garden because I saw so many unique items for relatively cheap prices. We had lunch at a pub nearby and she walked me over to the British Museum, where my professor was giving a lecture at 3 p.m.

The British Museum

I had about an hour to explore the British Museum. Anyone who has ever been to the museum knows that this is not nearly enough time to do the place justice. Luckily I remembered much of the museum from when I visited nine years ago so I whizzed through some of the exhibits and checked out the big items like the Rosetta Stone and Parthenon Sculptures. At about 2:30, I headed downstairs to the Sutton Hoo exhibit, where Chris Fee (English professor at Gettysburg College and currently lecturing in Denmark) was going to give some Gettysburg students and alumni a talk about the exhibit.

Rosetta Stone

I found Professor Fee in the exhibit room and we had a short conversation before more Gettysburg students from the Bath program arrived. Josh, Greg, Sev, Elizabeth, and I represented the current students and about 6 alumni living in the UK came as well. Prof. Fee took us around the exhibit and pointed out artifacts of interest, giving us back story on the specific objects and on the Sutton Hoo ship burial as a whole.

Chris Fee

The Swan

Later, we all headed to a pub about five minutes away called “The Swan” for more socializing. I met Professor Fee’s wife, who happens to be the Director of Parent Relations at Gettysburg College, and spoke with the other alumni in attendance. We got round after round of free starters provided by the one and only Gettysburg College (our tuition $$$ at work!) and discussed our adventures abroad over the past three and a half months.

Sunday was a day of much-needed relaxation. It was sunny outside so I decided to go for a stroll around Bath. I walked by part of the canal and then along the River Avon taking pictures of the sights. In the afternoon, I did some reading and worked on some poetry. The more time I spend outside in Bath, the more I think about how much I’m going to miss it all. I’ve really gotten used to living in this city and it’s going to be hard to leave.

Canal in Bath

Pultney Bridge over the River Avon

On Sunday evening, some friends and I went to a cider festival at the Bell Inn. There were 17 different kinds of cider to try and an old-fashioned press where we could make our own apple juice. After the cider festival, I went home for dinner, where some of my roommates put together a wonderful breakfast-for-dinner meal. We’re trying to use up all of our perishables before tomorrow, when we leave for Stratford-upon-Avon for three days.

Hannah on the apple press

This morning, I went to Nelson House at 9:30 a.m. for the final CCE meeting. CCE stands for Certificate of Cultural Enrichment, and was an optional program I participated in this semester where I kept track of cultural events I attended and wrote about my experiences integrating into the culture here in Bath. At the beginning of the semester, I was worried that I might not make the requirement of ten cultural events, but it turns out I went to way more events than were required (church, singing group at Bath Uni, LitFest, BU Christian Union, storytelling circle, Leslie Mitchell lecture, open mic nights, etc.).

Later this afternoon, I went back to Nelson House for my last session with my fiction tutor. Today was make-up day for any classes that had been cancelled earlier in the semester. I had already handed in my fiction portfolio so I was a little confused as to why we were having this session at all. So I was pleasantly surprised when my tutor announced she was taking me to tea at the pump rooms for our last meeting! I had a Bath Bun and a pot of Earl Grey Tea as a string trio played in the background. It was a wonderful way to end the semester! Tomorrow morning we leave for Stratford-upon-Avon, where we will be seeing “Comedy of Errors,” “Twelfth Night,” and “Richard III,” all performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Pump Room!

3 months later…still a tourist in Bath

I’ve only been posting about travel lately, but believe it or not I’m still studying in Bath! I had my last day of classes on Wednesday, we have a week off during which we go to Statford-upon-Avon, and then we have finals the week of May 14-18. Yesterday and today I had no classes so I did some touristy things in Bath while café-hopping in between.

Yesterday, I started the day off at the Courtyard Café for some mint hot chocolate and then went to the Holburne Museum, an art museum based largely on the collection of William Holburne.

The Holburne Museum

After the Holburne, I walked into town to poke into some shops. I eventually made it up to the north side of Bath to check out another café: Same Same But Different. In my time in Bath, I have made an effort to get to as many cafés as possible, internally rating them as I go in terms of atmosphere, selection, and facilities (wifi, outlets, etc.). Don’t worry, I’ve found clever ways to pursue this economically. If anyone wants a good cup of coffee or tea in Bath, I have recommendations at the ready. So far, these are the cafés I’ve been to (favorites are in bold!):

Caffè Nero
Wild Café
Costa Coffee
Metropolitan
Jacob’s Coffee House
Coral Quay Café
Tea Monkey
Patisserie Valerie
Boston Tea Party
Riverside Café
Tea Time
Jika Jika
Bridge Café
Café Au Lait
Bertinet Bakery & Café
Society Café
Sam’s Kitchen
Same Same But Different
Courtyard Café
Jazz Café
Kindling Coffee Company

Anyway, after some Same Same But Different, I headed over to the William Herschel house and museum. This is where Herschel lived when he discovered the planet Uranus. I got to see the window he looked through and some of his telescopes. He was also a famous composer and had a room in the house dedicated to his music.

William Herschel’s House

Music room

window from which Herschel discovered the planet Uranus

After taking an audio guide tour through the house, I met up with some friends for tea. We went to the Jane Austen Centre and had tea in the Regency Rooms there. I had cream tea–scones with clotted cream and jam with a pot of Jane Austen tea. Cream tea is going to be one of the biggest things I miss from England. I was not a fan of tea before coming to the UK but now I drink it nearly every day! And clotted cream, well, our house has developed a bit of addiction to the stuff. It’s just so delicious!

tea at the Regency Rooms

Hilary and I

After tea, I walked around Bath with Hilary and went into more shops, including Mr. B’s Bookstore, which is fabulous. Hilary came back to Clarendon with me and we hung out with the roomies until Write Night, an ASE Event held at a pub down the street from my house. It was essentially an open mic night where students were invited to read their work, sing, dance or do whatever in front of the group. I signed up to read a while ago, figuring I’d pull out some poems or read one of the short stories I wrote for this semester.

The event was optional so I wasn’t expecting too many people to be there. Of course every single person in the program was there. I’ve read my work in front of crowds before but never in front of 50 of my friends, tutors, and classmates. When we got to the pub, there were programs on all of the tables so I looked at one to see when I was reading (I hadn’t actually decided what to read yet…I just brought my fiction portfolio and a few poems with me). Of course I was FIRST on the list of 20 or so acts. I decided to go with the poems, and they turned out to be a hit! It was great seeing my friends perform–our group has a lot of talent in it, from poetry to tap dancing, short stories, singing and even a play. I guess that happens when you get a bunch of creative writers and English majors together.

Tonight, my friends and I are putting on a murder mystery dinner party and then tomorrow morning I’m going to London to see one of my Gettysburg professors give a lecture at the British Museum! Every day now is bittersweet. Only 15 days left!

Not-so-sunny Sunday in St. David’s

St. David’s Cathedral

As my time in England rapidly comes to a close, I’ve been trying to fit in a few last day trips to parts of the UK that I have yet to explore. Since I had last Saturday and Sunday free, I planned an impromptu trip to St. David’s, the smallest city in Britain. The city has a large cathedral and is the final resting place of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales. I thought it would be cool to go to a service or two at the cathedral itself. The site was a place of pilgrimage in the middle ages and it was widely believed that two pilgrimages to St. David’s were equivalent to one pilgrimage to Rome. In order to get to St. David’s in time for a service on Sunday morning, I had to take a train out west on Saturday night. The closest train station to St. David’s is in Haverfordwest, a town about half an hour away.

On Saturday morning, I got on a train at Bath and four hours later arrived in Johnston, a village located just outside of Haverfordwest. I knew that my motel was a five minute walk from the Johnston train station, although I wasn’t sure in which direction. So I tried right first and headed down a road with no sign of a motel. I found a nice church though, so I took a picture of it (to make it look like I had meant to come that way) and then retraced my steps back to the train station. Sure enough, the motel was located five minutes down the road in the opposite direction.

church in Johnston

I arrived at the Silverdale Inn & Lodge around 2:45 and went to the front door. It was closed, but there was a sign outside saying to ring all four doorbells for assistance. I rang the four doorbells and waited patiently for someone to answer the door. Finally I heard some shuffling and a man answered the door. He gave me the skeleton key to my room and walked me over to show me how a few things worked (the shower had some weird lever you had to pull and the TV had to be set to a specific channel for the cable to come on). The man went back to reception, I unpacked some of my stuff, and then headed back to the train station.

The Silverdale Inn & Lodge

My awesome room!

The ‘Johnston train station’ is a loose title. It’s actually just a platform with a bench to sit on. Luckily I had looked up any possible train time I could ever need that morning so I knew that there were exactly two trains to Haverfordwest, one at 3:15 and another at 5:15. I was just in time for the train at 3:15 so I waited at the deserted platform and eventually heard the train coming around the bend.

Johnston Train Station

Once my train arrived in Haverfordwest, I used a map that I had printed out to direct myself to the center of town. The downtown had lots of little shops that I could poke into and for some reason was swarming with high school kids on skateboards. I went into a few shops and walked by the river. I could see a castle on a hill overlooking the town and eventually figured out how to get to it. Inside one section of the castle was the Haverfordwest town museum. I paid 50p for admission (reduced rate for students!) and wandered through the house looking at the exhibits that displayed some of the town’s history. Then I walked around the castle itself and checked out the view from the top overlooking the city.

Haverfordwest Castle

view of Haverfordwest from the castle

bridge in Haverfordwest

According to my trusty list of train times, there were two trains back to Johnston that night, one at 4:30 and one at 6:30. It was just past four, so I thought I’d wander around the town a bit, have an early dinner and then head back to the train station around six to make sure I was at the platform in plenty of time. So I circled the town about three times, hunted down a few churches, and decided to find a place to eat at about quarter to five. Luckily I passed a few nice-looking pubs on the way in so I had a nice variety to choose from.

Or so I thought. I forgot that a lot of British pubs close between three and six and therefore would not be open for another hour or so. I went to every single restaurant I could find hoping that one would be open for a poor hungry traveler, but no, they were all closed. I was just about to get a sandwich from Subway when I saw the words “Wetherspoons” painted onto a building a few streets down. Wetherspoons in Britain is kind of like the equivalent to Applebee’s in the States. I decided to give it a try and see if they were open.

Sure enough, Wetherspoons was open! And had free wi-fi! I went inside, grabbed myself a table and was excited to find a whole section of Welsh-themed foods on the menu. I settled for the “Welsh dragon sausage and mash,” 100% pure dragon meat, I’m sure. It tasted like regular old bangers and mash to me, but I wasn’t complaining. I killed some time there and used the free wi-fi to reconnect with the rest of civilization (Facebook) on my Kindle Fire.

Eventually I took a train back to Johnston and flopped down on my bed for a good hour. Walking around all afternoon was tiring! After sharing a house with eight girls in Bath, my own personal motel room felt like an absolute luxury. I was a little too excited about having my very own shower, desk, 20-inch TV, and TWO beds to choose from. Oh, and complimentary tea with a water boiler and all!

A sign on my door said that free wi-fi was available in the restaurant attached to the motel, so I decided to venture over and check out the scene. Spending the whole day by myself got a bit lonely for me, and I was hoping at least someone there would be able to give me tips on what to do in St. David’s. The restaurant was divided into two sections: one with fancy tables all set up with cloth napkins and wine glasses, and another that looked kind of pub-ish. All of the tables were filled so I had to sit on one of two stools at the bar (sorry mom!).

There was an old man sitting on the other stool and he stopped everyone who came into the restaurant for a chat. I soon realized that this was the place to be on Saturday nights and this guy knew all the locals. It seemed as if I was the only traveler in the whole restaurant. Eventually I got to talking with the guy and it turns out he owned the house next door so he was there all the time. Soon an older couple came in and sat at the table next to us. They were the parents of the waitress who was working and apparently came in every Saturday evening for dinner. We had some good conversations about cowboys and Indians and the straightness of my teeth. They asked me lots of questions about America like where I go on holiday and how much of the country I’ve actually seen.

I left the restaurant around 9:30 and went back to my room where I made myself a cup of tea and sat in bed watching the British version of ‘Cops’ and a Welsh comedy about a girl who lost her caravan (caravans seem to be all the rage in Wales…I’m not sure why). My biggest dilemma of the evening, which I had tried to avoid until the latest possible moment, was how to get to St. David’s in the morning. I researched this extensively online before coming, but all I could find were a few buses that ran in the afternoons, but never on Sundays. After talking to the people in the restaurant, I concluded that my only option was to take a taxi. So just before going to sleep, I called up Rocky’s Taxi in Haverfordwest and told the man on the line that I needed to be at St. David’s Cathedral by 9:15 the following morning (the first service was at 9:30). He said he would send a taxi to pick me up at 8:15 just in case traffic was bad. I went to bed with the lovely image in my head of an hour-long taxi ride in which the meter on the dashboard ticked up and up and up.

The next morning, I packed up my stuff, locked the door to my room and headed back over to reception to check out of the hotel. Of course the door was closed again so I had to ring all four doorbells and wait for assistance. After a few minutes of silence, I heard a window above me open and the guy who checked me in the day before hung out the window (still in his pajamas) and yelled down to me, “Ya need something?” I yelled back up to the man, “Just wanted to check out!” He told me to stuff the skeleton key through the letter box, so I did and then waited around outside for the taxi to arrive. Unfortunately it was pouring and ridiculously windy so I looked like a mess by the time the taxi actually pulled into the parking lot around 8:10.

My taxi driver was really cool but the ride still cost me £50. It was supposed to cost even more, but he gave me about £10 off because I told him I was going to need a ride back that afternoon. The ride was not nearly as long as the man on the phone had anticipated and I was at St. David’s Cathedral by 8:30. The service didn’t start until 9:30 so I had a good hour to walk around in the freezing, windy rain attempting to take pictures of the ruins located behind the cathedral. About a half hour later, I could not take the miserable weather anymore so I went inside the church. There were three people in the sanctuary, an older couple and a man stuffing hymnals with bulletins for the 9:30 service. I wandered around a bit with my head turned up to admire the windows near the roof and clearly establish myself as a tourist. The couple eventually left so it was just me and the guy stuffing hymnals. “Are you here for the service?” he asked. I nodded and he said that people would not start arriving for another quarter of an hour but I was welcome to have a seat. So I did.

ruins outside St. David’s Cathedral

There were about 35 people in attendance for the 9:30 service, which was a little disappointing for such a huge cathedral. The minister had a booming voice and gave a nice sermon followed by communion and hymns. After the service was over, there was tea and coffee and I talked to a couple visiting from Shrewsbury. One of the regulars took me through the side doors to where St. David’s shrine was. I wandered around the church for a while and then took my seat again for the 11:15 service. This was a choral mattins service and there was a slightly larger crowd plus a large choir (probably about 60 people total).

inside St. David’s cathedral

big alter in the back of St. David’s

After the two services, I went to the refectory, a small soup and sandwich shop attached to the cathedral. Originally I had intended to walk into town for lunch and explore a bit, but the howling wind and ceaseless rain had other plans for me. I called the taxi company before settling down for a light lunch. I had cauliflower and cheddar soup with a pot of tea to warm me up. After lunch, I walked through the rest of St. David’s Cathedral, took some pictures, and headed back out to the gates where the taxi driver was set to pick me up. After standing in the pouring rain for about five minutes, the taxi finally arrived and I took my seat in the nice warm car. Half an hour later, I arrived in Haverfordwest again and handed the driver another £50. I guess my £100 cab ride makes up for getting such a good deal on tickets to Bangor the week before (£17 each way for a five-hour trip…I booked months in advance!).

I had planned on leaving St. David’s much later in the day and therefore had no clue what times trains were running. Luckily I got to the station just in time to catch a 1:45 train to Cardiff. Hours later I arrived back in Bath, where it was surprisingly dry for once. The rain put a bit of a damper on my Sunday but the cathedral itself was absolutely gorgeous and I had a good time in Haverfordwest the day before. Overall, another wonderful weekend in Wales!

Stalking Dylan Thomas, no big deal.

Statue of Dylan Thomas

Last weekend, I explored a different part of Wales: the Southwest. On Friday, I went to Swansea, the birthplace of Dylan Thomas, one of my favorite poets. My first stop was to check out the Dylan Thomas Centre, a small museum with exhibits about the poet. After researching his life for papers in the past and watching the 1987 film adaptation of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” every Christmas Eve since I was born (and memorizing the entire ‘poem’ with my brother), it was great to see where he grew up.

Dylan Thomas Centre

I looked around the museum for about an hour and then met up with a professor who runs the ‘Centre for Research in the English Literature and Language of Wales’ at Swansea University. I thought he might have some insight to give me on where to start researching for my senior thesis (a 50-100 page paper I hope to write on some aspect of Welsh-American relations/the preservation of Welsh culture within the States). We ate lunch at a restaurant near the museum and he gave me several ideas of where to look.

After lunch, he drove me around Swansea for a personal tour of the city, pointing out all the major places of interest and giving me a brief history of the city. He said he has lived in Swansea for sixty years — I think that’s long enough to ensure quality tour-guiding skills! He dropped me off at 5 Cwmdonkin Dr., the house where Dylan Thomas grew up.

I had read on the website for the house the night before that they were hosting an event that day in celebration of Dylan Thomas’s mother’s birthday. The house, which is privately owned, is not usually open to the public except for paid tours. Luckily, this event was free and open to the public, and people were invited to come down and share stories of their “Welsh mams” to be read as part of a live broadcast. It seemed to be geared toward older people with strong Welsh mothers who carried their families through the forties or fifties when keeping up appearances in a severely class-divided Swansea was a difficult task.

Well, I was born in New York in 1991 and my mother is Italian. But I really wanted free entry into the house and a taste of the tea and Welsh cakes so enticingly promised to contributors. So on my two-hour train ride into Swansea that morning, I wrote something up about how my mother put up with and even participated in the somewhat extreme observance of Welsh culture within our family when I was a kid (and even still today). View document here.

When I got to the house, it was about ten till two, (the event ran from 10-2) and I was brought into a room with three women drinking tea. One of them looked to be in her thirties and appeared to be part of the staff. The other two women looked in their seventies or eighties. It turns out the mother of one of the older women was a maid in Dylan Thomas’s house when he was growing up. She was 17 when he was 15, or something like that, so she grew up right alongside him. When the curators of the house were looking to restore it to how it would have looked when Dylan was a child, they used this woman as a resource–she could tell them exactly what colors the walls were and what the furniture looked like. She lived until she was 95 years old and only just passed away recently.

The three women were surprised when I burst into the room at ten till two, American accent and all, to celebrate Welsh Mams Day. The younger woman cocked her head to the side and said “But…you don’t sound Welsh!” to which I hastily assured her I was aware of that fact and had written something about my “different kind” of Welsh mam. They were all thrilled with my story and showered me with tea and Welsh cakes.

Someone came in from the other room to give me a personalized free tour of the house and I was later taken to meet the curator of the house, Annie Haden, who had been meeting with journalists from The Guardian in the other room. I was later introduced to the journalists and I tested their knowledge of upstate New York. Unfortunately they had only heard of Buffalo, but that was close enough for me! The event was essentially over by this point, so we all just hung out together in Dylan Thomas’s living room, sipping tea and chatting.

They all read my piece and Annie took my loose leaf copy to put in a book that would commemorate the event. At about 3 p.m., after I had been there for more than an hour and the event was long over, the curator told me to wait in the living room for a minute while everyone else went into the next room. I pretended to look through an illustrated book of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” while I heard whispering voices coming from behind the closed door to the next room. Minutes later, they emerged and Annie put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Liz, we’d like you to stay for tonight.” There was a swanky event going on at the house later that evening where Welsh poets would be reading their work throughout the house and visitors could attend for £10. I had seen this advertised earlier but did not want to spend the £10 and would have to cut out early anyway to catch a train back to Bath. I explained this to them and Annie said, “No, we’ve already considered the train situation. We want you to stay here tonight. You can pick any room, even Dylan’s.” The curator of Dylan Thomas’s house was offering me to SLEEP in Dylan Thomas’s CHILDHOOD BEDROOM for FREE (it usually costs £130 and needs to be booked far in advance).

I was overwhelmed by her offer, especially since Dylan Thomas is idolized in my mind and I could barely fathom the thought of sleeping in that room. I wanted so badly to say yes, but I knew I couldn’t do it. I had to catch a train back to Bath that night so that I could get on another train the following morning for part two of my weekend adventure in Wales. I had already bought the train tickets and needed to go home to get a change of clothes, print maps, etc. I explained to her my predicament and she understood.

But my time spent stalking Dylan Thomas’s life did not end there. No, the woman who was working there offered to take me to Cwmdonkin Park, the park down the road where Dylan Thomas played as a child and based much of his poetry on. We walked down there together and she gave me a personalized tour of the place, even taking care to point out the stone where some of the words from “Fern Hill” have been engraved. After taking me around the park, we hugged good-bye (we had become fast friends!) and she pointed me in the direction of town.

Bridge in Cwmdonkin Park

Stone with lines from “Fern Hill”

I walked back into town and decided to hit up some of the places the professor had pointed out to me earlier that morning. I went to the Swansea Museum, the National Waterfront Museum, and had my own little picnic dinner on the beach at Swansea Bay. I had packed a lunch earlier (not expecting the professor to buy me lunch!) and so I ate that for dinner.

Around 5 p.m., I wandered back to the train station, hopped on a train to Cardiff and began my journey back to Bath. I went to bed early that night and woke up for part two of my Welsh adventure. Stay tuned for Saturday and Sunday in Haverfordwest and St. David’s!

A weekend in Wales: Getting back to my roots

Last weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to spend 4 days with distant relatives on a cattle farm in North Wales. The woman I stayed with, Eirlys, is second cousins with my grandfather, meaning we share a common relative in my great-great-great-grandfather. To get to Chwilog, where she and her husband Griff live, I first boarded a train at Bath Spa, changed in Newport, and 5 hours later, arrived in Bangor. From Bangor, we drove about an hour south, through Carnarvon and almost to Pwllheli, and maneuvered down a range of country roads until we arrived at their farm. We had a light dinner and cups of tea, and I was told to get some rest in preparation for a jam-packed day on Friday.

Eirlys and Griff's house

On Friday, I woke up around 8 and we were on the road to Aberdaron by 9:30. Our first stop was a random stone wall on the side of the road. Eirlys had me get out of the car and she asked me if I could see the outline of a door and windows. The wall happened to be the remains of a cottage where my great-great-great-grandfather grew up. I could vaguely make out a line in the wall so of course I nodded and smiled for a picture in front.

In front of the remains of my great-great-great-grandfather's house

Next, we stopped by Iris’s house, another relative, and had a quick chat. We arrived in Aberdaron around 11 and Griff dropped Eirlys and I off at a small primary school there. Eirlys had asked the schoolmaster if we could stop by for a bit to give me an idea of what a Welsh school was like. This school was about as Welsh as it could get. There was not a word of English anywhere! The school was full of children reading, working on computers, drawing, building sand castles, and playing with toys. They put me at a miniature table and a girl who looked to be about 10 read me a story in Welsh. I had no idea what she was saying, but she seemed to enjoy the story!

Welsh school bus

Welsh primary school

Being entirely surrounded by Welsh speakers was a little intimidating, but a great experience. It’s good to see that little schools like the one I visited are still in existence and keeping the Welsh language alive. After the girl finished the story, I was taken into another room where the pre-schoolers were playing. There was a big cardboard castle set up in one corner and three little girls were having a pretend tea party inside! The teacher explained to me (in English, thankfully) that they were in the middle of their castle unit.

We left the school and walked up the road to the caravan (motorhome/RV) site where Griff was waiting. Eirlys showed me where they camp their caravan in the summers when they visit Aberdaron for a few weeks on holiday. I went inside the house there and met the owner of the campsite, and then Eirlys, Griff and I went into “town” to make a dinner reservation. I say “town” because Aberdaron is a tiny village with little more in its downtown than a hotel, cafe, and gift shop. The scale of the town definitely contributes to its novelty, though, and the area is swarmed by tourists during the summer months.

After reserving a table for 6 at Gwesty Ty Newydd, we hopped in the car and drove to our next destination: the house where Jane Williams, my great-great-great-grandmother grew up. To get there, we had to navigate down more 6-foot-wide country lanes and got lost once or twice along the way. We finally came to the end of a driveway and Griff parked the truck as Eirlys and I followed the tracks up to the house. A farmer was waiting by some machinery at the top of the driveway and watched us approaching. I waited as Eirlys explained to the man that we were descendants of Daniel Williams (my great-great-great-grandfather) at Grepach. He immediately recognized the name and welcomed us to have a look around. After a nice long chat about relatives and land, we walked back down the driveway to where Griff was parked.

Road leading up to the house where my great-great-great-grandmother grew up.

Our next stop was Grepach, the revered homestead of the Williams family that sits in a framed picture in my family room at home. I vaguely remembered the site from when we visited in 2003 (I was eleven years old then). This was the cottage where Daniel and Jane Williams raised their ten children, one of whom was John Solomon, who emigrated to the United States when he was 20 years old. I hope I’m getting my facts right — this whole weekend was a bit of a history lesson to me. At Grepach, we had a picnic with chicken sandwiches and (of course) tea.

Grepach!

Next, we took a drive up a nearby hill/mountain to the spot with the best view of Bardsey Island, or as it’s known in Welsh, Ynys Enlli. We could only spend a few minutes there because we had an appointment to make at 2:00. Eirlys had arranged for two members of the County Council to give us a tour of two cottages that were being restored. One was being restored to what it would have been like in the 1800s, and the other was being modernized so that someone could live in it today. Eirlys was unsure of exactly how to get to these cottages (her only directions were to turn right at a church and continue down the road… unfortunately, we weren’t sure which church the directions were referring to). After driving around for a while, we finally stopped by a house on the side of the road and asked the man who lived there if he knew where to go. Eirlys and Griff talked to the man for about fifteen minutes as I sat in the passenger seat awkwardly, not having a clue what any of them were saying (it was all in Welsh). I watched as they pointed one way and then the other and took out their phones and dialed numbers and shook their heads and squinted their eyes into the distance. Eventually they must have come to some conclusion because everyone piled back in the car and we started down the road in the opposite direction. We came to a church, turned right, and soon saw two cars parked on the side of the road. We were only about ten minutes late.

Me in front of Bardsey Island

On our way to the cottages

One of the cottages

The two council members took us down a steep path and we walked down a dirt road for about half a mile. Sure enough, there were two cottages, and men in hard hats were working away. We got to ignore the “No Unauthorised Access” signs and  had a look around inside the buildings. I got my picture taken standing in a primitive pigsty set up outside one of the cottages. After spending a good amount of time at the cottages and having lengthy chats with everyone working there, we finally headed back up the steep path to the main road where our car was parked.

Eirlys and I

Me in a pigsty

By this time, it was about four o’clock and we did not have any big plans until dinner. So, we went to the Gwesty Ty Newydd for a cup of coffee overlooking the coast. After coffee, we went a few houses down to visit an 87-year-old woman named Olwen, who was apparently an even closer relative to me than Eirlys. It seems like everyone I met in Aberdaron was in some way related to me, and they all knew exactly who I was and how I fit into the history of the town. Olwen has lived in Aberdaron her entire life and has witnessed a pretty large span of generations. We had a nice conversation and invited her to dinner with us at 6.

After visiting Olwen, Griff went to buy a newspaper and Eirlys and I went to St. Hywyn’s, the church in Aberdaron where my great-great-great-grandparents are buried. I remembered visiting the church in 2003 and tried to look for my name in the guestbook, but they only went back to 2006. I was able to locate where my parents and sister had signed after their visit in 2011. The church had a table set up with historical documents relating to the church and the town. I found a book that listed all the emigrants from Aberdaron during some year in the late 1800s. Next to each name was listed the place that they emigrated to. Out of about thirty names, I was surprised to see that almost all of them emigrated to Steuben, a town not too far from where I live at home! Reading through the list of names, the connection between myself and my Welsh ancestry really hit home for me then.

St. Hywyn's

Inside St. Hywyn's

Mom, Dad & Rebecca's entry from 2011

The church also had an exhibit on R. S. Thomas, a famous Welsh poet who served as the vicar of the church for several years. Eirlys bought me a book of his poetry at the gift shop in town to read on the train ride home. After seeing our fill of the church, we headed outside to the cemetery to locate the graves of my ancestors. We found the headstones for Daniel and Jane Williams, and one of their sons, David.

Graveyard behind St. Hywyn's

It was about quarter to six, so Eirlys and I headed down to the restaurant to meet up with Griff and Olwen. We had a wonderful dinner overlooking the ocean and I was thoroughly impressed with my salmon! After some quality food and conversation, we said good-bye to Olwen and headed back to the primary school for the highlight of our evening, a Noson Lawen.

Dinner

“Noson Lawen” translates to “Happy Evening,” and was just that. Two Welsh folk singers opened up the show with a few songs. Some young girls came up to sing a few more songs, a woman played the accordion, and a man who looked to be in his late twenties wowed the audience with his powerful baritone voice. The event was entirely in Welsh so I was pretty lost for most of it, but the music sounded nice as far as I could tell.

Before the Noson Lawen

About halfway through, at which point I had tuned out whatever the people on stage were talking about, everyone in the room suddenly turned around in their chairs so they were looking in my direction. Eirlys nudged me and said “stand up!” and it was then that I noticed the man on stage saying the words “Liz” and “New York” and “Croeso” (Welcome). Obviously embarrassed, I stood up, awkwardly waved, and sat back down. Upon doing so, the man on stage switched into English, saying “Liz, this song’s dedicated to you!” They went on to play Me & Bobby McGee, and despite not knowing the song terribly well I smiled throughout the entire thing. I was just happy to finally hear something I could understand!

After the Noson Lawen ended, Eirlys and Griff said good-bye to their friends and we began our journey home to Chwilog. It was an exhausting twelve hours spent in Aberdaron but definitely worth it! We came home that night, had a cup of tea, and went straight to bed.

The next morning, I woke up and had a full cooked breakfast thanks to Eirlys. After breakfast, Eirlys’s granddaughter Katrin (whose family lives next door) showed me around the farm. At around 11, we drove to Criccieth to pick up Lydia, another one of Eirlys’s granddaughters. We came home and had a big lunch together, then went into town for an Eisteddfod, where Katrin was competing.

Lydia and Katrin before the Eisteddfod

The Eisteddfod was held in a church and at the event, children competed in several different areas, including singing, painting, writing, and reciting. There were three judges and a host would announce each competition and age group, at which point those who were competing came to the front of the room and waited their turn. In singing, for example, each child would have the chance to impress the judges with their rendition of a particular song. After everyone had performed, the judge would go up to a podium and run through the list of contestants, making comments and criticism on each one of their performances. Katrin was one of eight children to recite a poem, and she came in second place! Her prize was four pounds. The quality of singing and recitation that I saw was unbelievable. Some of the little girls I heard singing sounded like they were twice their age! The degree of seriousness with which each child approached their competition shows just how large a role the arts play in Welsh culture. After about two hours at the Eisteddfod, we had tea and cake in the adjacent room and headed back to Criccieth to drop Lydia off. Her mother owns a golf course with an incredible view of the Welsh hills surrounding Criccieth. Luckily, she got home just in time to see a group of Junior Doctors playing the course.

After a long day, we went home and had burgers and fries in front of the TV, where Griff was watching some Saturday night football. After the games ended, Griff was flipping through the channels and saw that Crocodile Dundee was playing. After learning that I had never seen the film, Eirlys and Griff insisted we all watch it together as it is one of their favorite movies. We got a good laugh out of the movie and were able to switch to a program on BBC Wales during commercials that Eirlys’s daughter, Non Griffith, directs.

The next morning, Eirlys, Katrin and I walked to a medieval house located about a mile and a half down the road. We worked up an appetite walking and all gathered around the table a few hours later for a Sunday roast. Pretty soon it was time to start heading back to Bangor so I could catch my train back to Bath. We stopped by an agricultural college on the way to Bangor and walked around the gardens there. We arrived at the train station in Bangor around 4:30, had a cup of tea, and said good-bye as my train pulled into the station. Eirlys was nice enough to pack me a dinner for the train ride, and I also had my new R. S. Thomas book to keep me occupied. It’s a good thing I waited until after the trip to get into his poetry, because I don’t think I would have fully understood where he was coming from in his writing before getting the full Aberdaron experience and really interacting with the Welsh. I had a wonderful time exploring my heritage in Wales and I hope I can return to Aberdaron sometime soon!

Inside the medieval house

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