A few days before we left, I called the owner of the house to arrange for our arrival that Saturday. After speaking for a minute or two, she asked politely, "I'm sorry, I don't recognize your accent. Which part of Ireland** are you from?"
The Welsh don't get many international travellers. Tom referred to it a "The Wisconsin of the UK" as all the vacationers we saw there were from Britain. Less than 4% of international travellers choose Wales as a destination, and of those, most favor the south (ie: Cardiff, home of Torchwood).
This suited us just fine.
Seven of us were slated to converge at a house located on a farm in northern Wales: my parents, Tom and Sioban, Greg, Shannon and myself. We'd all travelled together at different times, so we were looking forward to a relaxing week in good company. Greg left about 10 days early to tool about Ireland, and Tom and Sioban took the opportunity to head to Dublin for a few days beforehand to visit a relative, so that left the four of us SchuetterRiordans to head to Manchester on a nonstop flight from O'Hare. By the time they'd boarded their 25 minute flight from Dublin at 2:30PM on Saturday, the four of us were already at the house.
Our uneventful flight left at 5:40PM on June 12, and we arrived at Manchester at 7AM, UK time. None of us slept particularly well, but we weren't exhausted, either. Papa Schuetter had bought us each an inflatable travel pillow which helped me doze (I never really sleep on planes). The pillow was rectangular and soft, and was designed to be placed on the tray table in front of you so you could lean forward and snooze, just like time out in grade school. Mine wasn't quite high enough (the guy in front of me had his seat reclined to just about my lap), but I did zone out after setting my iPod to an archived "Little White Earbuds" podcast devoted to trance music. It was like being in a spa, only, not at all like, really.
We picked up our luggage (mine bright, flowery ORANGE!!!)
and headed off through customs. Momster and Papa Schuetter took several minutes longer than us (it was a bit of a maze in there what with all the THIS WAY!!! and DO NOT ENTER!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? I SAID THIS WAY!!! and NONONONO!!! TURN AROUND!! FOLLOW THE RED LINE ON THE FLOOR, WOULD YOU???!!! signs) so I ran in for some caffeine in the form of 2 Cokes (diet for me) for us drivers. Shannon and I had planned to take turns driving, but he never relinquished the wheel, which both surprised and delighted me. (o:
The clerk in the shop greeted me with a Manchester "You alright, Love?" as I walk in, which made me beam. Haven't heard a Manchester greeting in AGES (winter of 1999 to be exact!)! I grab the 2 Cokes from the fridge and put them on the counter while I fish out my change purse. "2 pounds 68 please." I popped out what I thought were three pounds - a 2-pound coin and a 1-pound coin. Barely looking at what I'd put on the counter the clerk pushes the 1-pound coin right back at me. "Euro." AH! Note: the 10 p Euro looks a lot like a pound coin. I fish out the 1-pound coin, get my change, and by the time I'm out of the shop my parents have joined us.
Picking up the car was no trouble after we'd found the rental counter (turns out it WAS the one marked "HERTZ RENTAL" on the first floor about 50 feet from where we were originally standing before we decided they were trying to screw with us by labelling it so clearly), and we were upgraded from a "Jetta-equivalent" to an Audi A4 sedan.
Which in retrospect MAY be why Shannon didn't mind driving the entire week.
We were on our way.
We drove out of the airport which was thankfully located on the Welsh (west) side of Manchester so we wouldn't have to deal with early rush hour traffic, and then drove around Chester because we were going to stay in a hotel there the last night of our vacation. We drove on pretty major roads (the M56 to the A 494), meaning the two lanes were actually wide enough to be marked by a dividing line (although, some of the roads we were to drive on that week were not wide enough to be marked by a dividing line, and there was one there anyway.). In order to pass the time we made a couple of stops - most of which involved food. First, though, we stopped at Rug Chapel which was conveniently located within 5 miles of everyone needing a stretch and a potty break.
Rug (pronounced "hhhreeeegh." Sort of.) Chapel was a beautiful little chapel. I'll post more pics of it in the next post (most of my Wales pics are at home - I'm cannibalizing my Facebook album for this post). Rug had many great features, including a baptismal font whose lettering was all in Welsh (very unusual!!). My favorite feature, though, will be of no surprise to anyone: a wall memorial featuring a skull and a skeleton.
Shannon signed us up to become members of Etifeddiaeth Ysbrydoledig (Inspirational Heritage), and Momster and Papa Schuetter became members as well. Our membership would get us in to any Cadw site, and, as most of the historic sites we were planning on visiting during our stay were Cadw sites, coupled with the fact that there was a 10 pound discount on the membership that day, it was sure to pay for itself. Bonus: the packet came with a Cadw Heritage bumper sticker for HedgeWitch! Now I've got the English National Trust sticker on the front window and Cadw Heritage on the back window. My car looks VERY continental.
Wales is known for its chapels. Much smaller than most churches and certainly most cathedrals, chapels are EVERYWHERE in Wales, and they range from very ornate to very simple.
We drove on, refreshed, until we hit Ruthin. By now we were just over halfway to our destination. Ruthin featured a semi-permanent farmer's market. The rooms were mobile, but each was pretty well established, what with a cash register, electricity, cases for their (somewhat extensive and specialized) wares. One of the rooms was a gourmet/organic shop full of cheeses and biscuits and chocolates and sauces and fillings of all kinds. I was really feeling the jetlag by this point so I didn't buy anything, though some of the freshly made refrigerated Indian dinners looked REALLY tempting. It was warm out, and I didn't want to risk them spoiling if we couldn't get in the cottage right away. The thought of actually choosing different ingredients to incorporate to form a dish was way beyond me at this point.
We drove on.
The car was really pretty quiet by this point and we were all tired, even more so than we were hungry even though it was well past noon by now.
We pulled into Dolgellau (pronounced "Dolkheghhuhleee" "Dolkheghhuhlayyy"or "Dolghekhhhuhlayyy***" or "D-Town" as Tom and Sioban wisely dubbed it) and parked at 1:51 (I know this because that's what our parking sticker says).
CRUMBLIES! (I LOVE that road sign!)
Momster and Papa Schuetter with groceries from Dolgellau Fresh Foods.
Momster and Papa Schuetter with groceries from Dolgellau Fresh Foods.
After walking around briefly and finding more food at another small gourmet shop - this one with fresh fruit to boot! - we had lunch at a tea shop (meh - the fish and chips were okay, but: no clotted cream!!! and only fruit scones. Blargh.) then we did some actual grocery shopping at Somerfield.
Now, we'd all been to the UK several times before and things looked pretty much the way they did in England from the road with one obvious exception: Mountains. And chapels. Two. Two exceptions. Oh, and the signs were all in Welsh. Three exceptions. We were staying in southern Snowdonia and there were mountains EVERYWHERE. There was even a path leading to Snowdonia State Park that you could start from the Dolgellau parking lot, which Momster and I found out a few days later.
We found the cottage with no problem, and it. was. BEAUTIFUL. (again, the pics are at home so I'll post them later). The owners, Maia and Davvyd, were very warm and friendly and helpful. They made us feel right at home and left us "to our tea" as soon as they knew we were settled. There were 5 bedrooms for the 7 of us, each of which was charming in its own way. The kitchen was huge and cozy and had a table big enough for us all to sit around for dinner or a rousing game of Settlers of Catan. There were two mountains, literally, in the backyard. There were five beautiful, friendly dogs. There were dozens of sheep, and lambs! There were lambs! So cute!!! There was even a horse. I don't remember doing much else after we'd settled in on Saturday, but I'm sure food was involved. Tom, Sioban and Greg arrived around 6 and we were well rested by then (I treat myself to a 2-hour nap on the day of a journey to stave off the jetlag, and I'm pretty much fine the rest of the week).
I'd brought The Strain by Guillermo del Toro!!! and Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (at Naomi's suggestion!) with me. I must have read that night because Enduring Love was finished by the end of day 2, which I'll write about tomorrow...
* Tom and I did a scene in improv practice where we were Welsh, but we didn't quite know what the accent sounded like, so we decided to settle on "speech-impaired Cockney 1800s Street Urchin." Needless to say, it totally stuck.
** question based on our Irish surname.
***you know it's a difficult language when you live near a town for over a week and still can't even come CLOSE to pronouncing it correctly.