Thursday, July 18, 2013

Last Day in Wales

My parents claim their favorite parts of this cruise were the shore excursions I arranged.  I am not entirely certain they aren't just being nice when they say they liked the archeologist-guided walk on the Scilly Islands.  (I think my father had his fill of prehistoric stuff.  And neither one of them really enjoyed that walk up to one last bronze age standing stone -- as they each independently referred to it as a Death March.)  But when they say they enjoyed the tour today -- a BusyBus tour through North Wales (called "North Wales Adventure"), I genuinely believe them.  Heck, about five minutes into this tour, I wanted my Windstar comment card back, as I'd said some of our tour guides were "excellent."  This is wrong; I'd simply forgotten what an excellent tour guide is like.

Peter from BusyBus picked us up at the Holyhead terminal as promised.  The van was packed totally full, as not promised.  Hell, the BusyBus website makes a big deal of saying they don't overpack their tour busses like other companies, but our bus was packed pretty full.  (Indeed, a bit somewhat fuller than full.)  But Peter was really cool about it -- there had been a booking problem (well, an overbooking problem), and he made sure everyone on the bus was down with the plan to get everyone on the bus.  And he made the whole thing fun -- we didn't feel all grumpy because we were crammed in there; we felt like we were all taking part in making sure everyone had a good tour experience.  

And we were off.  On the road, we were told some very important statistics (the population of Wales; the population of Welsh sheep; the rarity of black sheep) and then put on a black sheep hunt -- anyone who spotted a black sheep out the window was eligible for a special prize at the end of the tour.  And it worked -- rather than being bored while the bus was tearing down the road from place to place, we all had our eyes peeled, checking out every field for a black sheep.  (Two were spotted!)

Nor were we on the road for particularly long.  We covered a lot of ground, but only in 20 or 30 minute shifts.  First stop was Caernarfon Castle, the traditional place where the Prince of Wales in invested.  We all took pictures standing outside the door to the Eagle tower, where the next Prince of Wales (William, one assumes), will appear when he finally gets the title. 

Back on the bus to Snowdonia National Park, the second largest national park in Great Britain.  Beautiful scenery ... and holy crap!  beautiful weather! ... I think our tour guide was genuinely surprised at how gorgeous it was, as he's usually visiting the place in rain.

Those who wanted to were permitted to get out of the bus about a kilometer from the actual rest stop and walk the distance.  A group of us got out and went for the walk.  As per my own standard operating procedure, I ended up at one end of the pack (as per non-standard procedure, I was at the front, as opposed to the rear, of said pack).  I got far enough in front that I couldn't hear any of the footsteps (or talking) behind me.  I could only hear the soft rush of a distant waterfall, and nearby sheep doing their sheep thing.  (I kept being reminded of that line from Arcadia about the sheep being picturesquely placed around the landscape.  I'll look it up for when I post the photos.  Ed. Note:  "The slopes are green and gentle.  The trees are companionably grouped at intervals that show them to advantage.  The rill is a serpentine ribbon unwound from the lake peaceably contained by meadows on which the right amount of sheep are tastefully arranged."

Lovely, lovely walk, and I really liked the opportunity to get out of the bus and enjoy the landscape, rather than just stop for a photo.  (I'm also pleased that the bus followed a bit later, and picked up the walkers who had some issues with the fact that it was a bit steeper than it initially looked.)

There was some construction going on at the rest stop, so, after the walk, we drove off to our next rest stop.  This one really was just for a quick picture and/or stop at the restroom.  (High quality bano.  Clean -- and it had some of them newfangled stations where you hold your hands out and a machine dribbles soap on them, then showers them in water, then blows warm air.  Substantially better than the john the other day where the toilet paper was chained to the wall.)

Oh, and we drove by the ugliest house in Britain.  (Which was a nice companion to our later brief visit to the smallest house in Britain.  

And I don't think it was as ugly as the smallest house was small.  But I quite enjoyed the street sign that genuinely pointed the way to "Ugly House.")

THEN, we went to Conwy, were we had, like, an hour and a half for lunch (at Peter's recommendation, we got fish, chips, and mushy peas, and ate them down by the seaside -- against his recommendation, however, we wussed out and used them little forks) and an optional visit to Conwy castle.  

This was the most castley castle we've seen all trip.  It's got something like eight turrets, and some of the turrets had turrets.  And none of that stately home crap -- this was a castle, where you parked the King and occasionally parked the army, and there was a portcullis and murder holes, and lots of ways to kill you if you decided to invade.  There wasn't much in the way of interior -- a lot of the inside was just walls, or even ruins -- but the turrets were in good shape, and you could climb up a winding staircase in any of them, and then walk all along the top of the wall.  Or walk even higher up to the top of the turrets.  Once I made it to the top of the wall, I was so impressed with the view and Wales in general, I saluted the Welsh flag flying at the top of one of the turrets.

 I then figured I'd walk up to the top of a turret, and decided to pick the one with the flagpole.  Continued up to the top of the turret, and it was great up there (and an easier walk than the bit in Snowdonia).  Nobody had bothered to rope off the "windows" up there, so I was able to step up and sort of lean in one.  Wedged in there, I got myself a decent signal on my cell phone, and looked up the answer to a question Peter had posed while we were on the road.

On the way back the ship, we stopped off for a bit of shopping at a massive souvenir shop right next to the town with the longest railway station name in the world.  (Photo of same to come.)

The whole thing was great fun (and way cheaper than what Windstar would have charged us for a lesser shore excursion) and the only thing that was missing was that William and Kate's baby wasn't born today, as it would've been really cool to be in Wales when (perhaps) the future Prince of Wales was born.

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