Wales. What comes to your mind? Sheep, cows, hills, really green, Welch people? Yeah, that’s exactly what I thought too when I heard we were taking a trip to Wales.
As an international student, we were offered to be apart of the UMIN Social Programme. It was a one time fee and it encompasses several trips around England. The program takes you all over London and shows students the most important parts that we might otherwise not see, and for a much cheaper price. Naturally, I was all for it and signed up with Elle and Justin. We were three among the other 100 students that signed up as well. About half of the students, maybe less, were from the US, while the rest were from all over the world. There were a ton of people from Germany and Denmark. A few from France, Italy, Spain, and Mexico.
This weekend was our first adventure: an overnight stay in Wales. We were to report outside of Madame Tussauds at 7:30am to pile onto two large coaches and off to Wales. When we arrived we found a few people we knew while the others were complete strangers. Naturally, we stuck together but knew we would meet other people once we got there.
Each coach had it’s own tour guide. I feel horrible, but I can’t remember the name of our tour guide. She told us when we first got there, but then never repeated it. Anyway, the coaches we took were brand new. They had never been used which was a cool thing to be on… but this meant that the driver was mean and we could bring any type of food or beverage on BUT COFFEE!! I was really upset because I had just gotten a venti triple shot, 3-pump chai tea latte! So I had to down it as fast as I could before I walked on. In my opinion, food makes more of a mess than coffee.
We had to keep ourselves entertained in some way because we were so hyped up on caffeine… So this is what we came up with. Love you Elle!
Four hours later we were arriving in Wales. As we drove in our guide told us about the history of Wales and how it came about. I feel like an idiot saying this, but I didn’t know that Wales was a territory.. I thought it was just another major city in England. It is actually a territory that wants to be a country but is still under British control. They have their own government per se, but whenever they try to do something it has to go through the House of Parliament in London. Poor Welch people.
Our first stop was at the Ancient Roman Barracks. It is where the Roman army lived and was 9 square miles. The part that we saw was only where they lived and whatnot. It is sad to see, but the actual barracks aren’t even ruins now, they are just an outline of stone from where one of them was. Apparently, over the years, the stone was taken away to be used for other building projects in Wales. One of the things that we did see though was the first sewage system that the Romans brought over. We were told that they offered the idea to England and they thought it was stupid so they took it here instead. This also showed us what their bathroom situation was like.. Let’s put it this way, I am not going to explain it much but the photo of Elle and me should explain it. I don’t think I have ever been more thankful for modern bathroom facilities!!
Across the road was the Roman Amphitheater where they entertained the Roman army. It resembled something like the Coliseum, but was on a much smaller scale of course. It would hold 6,000 people they would have events and animal fights. The fights would be with local animals like wolves, boars, and other angry fighting animals. I don’t think sheep were included in this..
We were quickly back on the bus and taken to a little town where we were to have lunch and then onto our next adventure, Caerphilly Castle. What boggled my mind was that the town was literally across the street from the castle. So after lunch we walked across the street to take our tour of the this incredible medieval fortress. I can’t remember all of the history, partly because it was super complicated. The gist of it was that King Henry III helped to build this castle for the de Clare family who was very wealthy and powerful in Wales. The de Clare family was a rival of another guy out in Northern Wales and he was always in a fight was de Clare and the King of England. So they would fight each other’s castles and the King would take de Clare’s side and help him but then he changed his mind at some point and helped the other guy fight de Clare but then eventually everyone was fine and there was no more fighting.. I assume someone just died and it was over. See, it was really confusing. But just seeing this castle was really cool. I never thought I would be in a place so old and so well preserved. It is amazing to think about the castles you see as a child in fairy-tales with the motes and large draw bridges. I was actually at one and going into the bedrooms, great rooms, etc. Amazing experience. I didn’t want to leave!!
Back on the bus, and we were headed to the Wales Museum. This museum was not of art or anything like that, but homes and buildings that were rebuilt to resemble those of famous or important monuments throughout Wales. It was very odd but kind of cool to go into these old “homes” and see how they lived. Everything was obviously very dark and cold. One thing that was very odd was that all of the doorways were extremely short. We joked that Welch people are just really short, but it was actually intended to keep the heat inside the house. Here is also where we heard our first of the Welch language. It is really odd… It sounds like a drunk German Scottish man. I was totally lost. Especially when we were reading it on signs because there are almost no vowels!! We totally sounded like tourists from America when we were trying to pronounce some of these words. They also had large fields with sheep. Typical Wales.
Finally, we were headed to our hotel were we all wanted to go straight to bed after such a long day. But no, we had to get dinner first since we hadn’t eaten much that day. We met up with my friend Isabelle from Germany who brought her two German guy friends, Mats who is a girl from South Spain, Etienne from Bordeaux France, and Berto from Mexico City. We all headed into the town a few blocks away and thought going to TGI Friday’s would be a fine idea because it’s from America so how bad could it be? (Personally I think it’s odd they have that here) We were stupid and wrong. It was the worst meal I have ever had, not due to the food (which wasn’t much like the American version) but the service! It was horrendous. We were all appalled at how terrible it was. I ordered a salad and asked for silverware but then she never brought it. Had Justin not gotten up to get me some, I would have had to eat it with my hands. I won’t go into boring details, but regardless TGI Friday’s is bad in the UK so don’t go there.
After a great nights rest, we were off on our second day of Wales. Our first stop was at a coal mine that is now a museum. It was shut down in 1996, I think. When I heard we were going to a mine I thought “Oh cool, this should be interesting”. No, we are going INTO a mine. On our way to the museum, our tour guide started to tell us the history of the mine and the mining occupation in Wales. She told us about all of the tragedies that had happened with the mine collapsing and deaths that had taken place over time. This was not a comforting thing to hear right before I was going to be descending under ground. We got out of the bus and were told not to bring anything with us and were taken to a room to be separated into groups of 15. We were then given hard helmets with lights on the front and safety belts. Then we were led into a caged lift (elevator) that took us 300 feet below the surface. We were not allowed to bring anything down with us. Meaning no cameras, cell phones, or watches. I am still confused as to why watches weren’t allowed. But by the time we got down to the mine, I didn’t care what I had with me. Our tour guide was an ex-miner and was probably in his middle 60’s or 70’s. He was a short little Welch man with quite a personality and an accent to match. There were many times when we had a hard time understanding him. With a huge smile on his face, a little soot on his nose, and in his orange jumpsuit, he was ready to show us around a place he loved. He told us that mining was the occupation in Wales and people grew up working in them and that is were they ended as well. Children would start as young as five years old working as the door boys. This meant that they would open and close the large doors between the sealed areas of the mine to keep the air from being contaminated. Some children would only have a candle for light, but that was only if their family could afford it for them. We turned off all of our lights at one point to see how dark it was for these kids and I don’t think I have ever been in a place so dark. Elle and I were very scared and grabbed each other’s hands immediately. As we moved to the other areas of the mine, our guide told us stories of when he was a miner and how he has followed in his father’s footsteps as well has his grandfather’s and so on. He started working in the mine when he was 15, but his father was seven. It’s just interesting to hear the stories they have to tell. When we asked how people got out of the business, without hesitation he said “you die”. It was such an odd answer that I surely wasn’t expecting. I asked what the best job was in the mine and he responded with “Being the mine boss. You own everything and everyone. First week you work, I give you 20 pence, you give that back to me for your equipment. Second week you work, I give you 20 pence, you give it back to me for your helmet. And so on.” He explained to us that these people work for the mine bosses on constant credit. The food they ate, the clothing they wore, and the roof they slept under was all owed to the mine boss. This is why it was so difficult, almost impossible to leave the mines. He also told us about the horses that lived in the mines before modern technology was introduced to move the crates of coal back and forth within the mines. He said that they came into the mine at age 4 and would die there. But the most interesting part was that the horses were more valuable than the people themselves. He said if a man died in the mine it was just like any other day and they would have a replacement within a few hours. But if a horse died, it was a very large deal. I was astonished by all of this and to think that it wasn’t all that long ago… about 50+ years. We were all talking afterwards about how most of our parents were kids when people were still working under these conditions. It was almost like slave labor.
When the 50 minute tour was over we were put back into the lift and take back to solid ground with sunlight (or lack there of). I was so glad that we had made it back up safely but felt really lucky have have had this experience. It was wonderful to meet these men and see their stories. Our last question to our guide before we left was, if you could would you do it all again? His response was the best of the day. “Of course I would. I would live every second exactly as I had up to this moment. My life has been good.” I was taken back by this response but I just thought it was so cool that someone could love their job as much as they did while being in those conditions. I guess it isn’t bad when you don’t know anything different. I feel so much luckier now to live in modern times not having to work in such conditions.
Finally we were back on the bus and headed for lunch in the town close by. We only had 45 minutes to eat so we ran into a pub for a quick snack and were then headed to Tintern Abbey. This was the one site that I was most excited to see. For those of you who don’t know about an Abbey, it is run by monks rather than priests. It was built in 1131 is now a ruin of Wales. For a ruin, it is probably one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. As soon as we got off the bus I was determined to start taking photographs. Like usual when we start out at a new site, our guide takes us as a group and tells us the history before letting us go on our own for photos. I was more concerned with photographs so I left the group and started on my own. I could have spend hours there just looking around and the remains of this amazing abbey. It was so incredible to think that something built so long ago was still standing. It no longer has the roof but I am not sure why. There is a reason why all of the abbey’s are this way and I think it is because it was not affiliated with a school and that is the only reason why Westminster Abbey is still in working order.
Regardless, I was just amazed to be in such an incredible place. The abbey itself is in the shape of a cross which was so cool to see on such a large scale. There really weren’t words to describe the feelings that came over me when I walked in the ruin. One of my favorite things is that since there is no roof or flooring because it is so old, the inside of the abbey is all grass. I will honestly say it is probably the greenest grass I have ever walked on. This just made the experience that much more exciting for me. I didn’t want to ever put my camera down. Unfortunately, we only had an hour at the abbey and my camera died as we were about to leave. Talk about good timing.
Over this weekend I took around 400 photos. Obviously I am not going to post all of them but will put as much up as I can for you all to see!!
Ps. Happy birthday mommy! I hope you had a wonderful day yesterday. Love you!