Wales: My Triumphant Return
1972 was a watershed year for me. I’m not really sure I can explain how it was back then to you young’uns reading this on the intertubes. I grew up in rural upstate New York. We had television, with six channels. Radio. Oh, and something called “books.” That was pretty much it for the contemporary information highway. Plus — how shall I put this? We weren’t the wealthiest family on the block. In fact, we didn’t even live on a block.
We had a senior exchange student program at my high school. It wasn’t exactly exclusive. Maybe thirty, thirty-five students took part, which might not seem like a lot but was pretty close to 40% of the class. That year, we were in an exchange with a school in Cardiff, Wales. Only thing was, it was big money. The airfare was like $200 (seriously; talk about the good old days). I could handle that. After all, I had my hard-working, sweat-of-the-brow gains from the rat farm stashed away in the bank (Commercial note: If you want the [mostly] true story of my labors at the rat farm, it’s in “Day of the Gerbils” in A CAREER GUIDE FOR YOU JOB IN HELL. You can purchase it as an e-book from Amazon, or better yet, a signed, real book from me, pretty cheap. Drop me a line if you’re interested.)
So, I was off to Cardiff (and several days basically unsupervised in London) with my classmates. It was stupendously amazing. It was another world, at a time when glimpses into other worlds were almost as scarce as hen’s teeth. It was jaw-droppingly amazing, and, among other things, it introduced me to decent beef for the first time in my life. Although the Welsh (who largely consider themselves independent from England) would probably consider this ironic, it made me a confirmed Anglophile for the rest of my life. I’ve been back to the UK probably almost a dozen times, but never get tired of it. The country is endlessly fascinating, and although of course it has its own problems, enormously friendly. Whenever I visit I feel like I’m going home.
But, mainly for reasons of time and money, I’d never made it back to Wales. Until now. And, I’m pleased to report, Wales is still absolutely fabulous, though we didn’t get to see nearly enough of it.
Our first stop was Chepstow, which was, as I mentioned in the last post, smaller than I though it would be, though I’d say it was more of a town than a village. It’s lovely, though it would have been better if it all wasn’t uphill. We stayed at the Castle View Hotel, a smallish (12 rooms or so) establishment right across the street from the Castle. Here’s a picture of Lily, the proprietess.
She barked a bit when we first met, but soon trained me to throw her stick properly in the backyard garden. Accommodations were nice, but I’ve got to say that the food was absolutely superb. I had one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life (and I’ve had a lot of steaks). And the view can’t be beat, as it is, quite literally, right across the street from Chepstow Castle, which is probably the biggest castle I’ve ever seen. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
The next day we caught the bus to Tintern Abbey, which is located a pleasant twenty minute or so drive away. Destroyed by good old Henry 8 during the Dissolution in, what, 1538, I’ve seen ruins to rival it but none to surpass it. Beautiful stuff. [The third photo is of a structure still in use built into the wall surrounding the Abbey, and probably from stone taken from the Abbey after the Dissolution.]
We also checked out the Benedictine Abbey, still in use, in town. It was a rainy but fanciful day.
We didn’t get to see everything that I wanted to see (Apparently, in a lot of Wales you often can’t get there from there.). It was then off to Cardiff. I can’t say I remembered any of it, but the family I stayed with had lived on the outskirts of the city, and I remember more about the countryside than the city center. In any case, Cardiff has also changed quite a bit in the interim, and we stayed on the bay in the St. David Hotel, which didn’t exist when I was there in the ‘70s. Great looking hotel. We ended up eating only one meal (besides breakfast) there, but I highly recommend their chocolate and champagne tea.
The big site in Cardiff is Cardiff Castle (which actually was not open to the public in the 1970s), which, though built on Roman foundations and with a long medieval history, is really the late 19th century brainchild of a coal magnate who was one of the UK’s richest men at the time. The interiors are really great, but unfortunately they don’t allow photos. I do have some exterior shots, though there seems to be some sort of problem with loading most of them. He’s one of the interior medieval keep.
So, that’s pretty much it. Next, I stop talking about myself, and get into the really important stuff, like answering the question: What was the best blob movie of the 1950s?