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A Belated Post about Wales

I realize that this post is extremely late, but I wanted to finish out my year of blogging properly.  In my defense, I really have been non-stop busy ever since returning to America.

Just before I went home I spent two weeks in Wales.  I participated in HelpX, an organization similar to WWOOFing in that you help out a host in exchange for free room and board.  The difference is that with HelpX you’re not necessarily on a farm – you could be helping a sickly older person or someone with a disability, or an ordinary family who just needs things done around the house.  Some of the HelpX hosts even live on boats.  I was helping a family in Snowdonia who liked DIY.  They posted a listing on HelpX because they want help with their home and gardening projects.  They had a cozy house right on the edge of a beautiful valley called Nant Francon (Google it – it’s amazing).  The views from the house and past their large garden were stunning.  The father, Alaric, is going to retire from an occupational therapy job in October, and the mother, Rosy, works a few days a week at a local hotel information desk.  They have three grown children, 25-year-old Aaron, 23-year-old Osian, and 20-year-old Clara.  Once again I got extremely lucky with a host family.  Both of my host parents made me feel very welcome, and they were so laid back with work that the experience almost felt like a regular homestay rather than a HelpX one.  I didn’t have to get up at any particular time, which was great since I was exhausted from the month of travelling I’d done before arriving there.  Technically I had to work 4-5 hours a day, but Rosy and Alaric were very understanding about my desire to see the area so I often only worked for a few hours a day.  They even drove me to local sites.  When I was working, my tasks were really nice in that they were varied.  One day I’d be gardening, the next I’d be painting, and the next I’d be cleaning and polishing.  I never got bored doing the same thing over and over, like I often did WWOOFing.

I also liked the other members of the family.  Clara was, funnily enough, in Sweden for an environmental conference during the first week of my Welsh experience, and she was great to talk to during the second week when she was around.  I also met Osian, who came with his longtime girlfriend and all of her Iranian family on my last day.  He was very busy entertaining his guests – it was insane cramming fourteen people into that small house (Alaric’s brother and his wife came over on the same night), but Osian seemed very nice too.  Oh, and I can’t forget my host family’s dog, Tara!  I LOVED her.  She reminded me a lot of Roxy, actually – she was a black lab mix too, and she was loving and mild-tempered.  I took her for a few beautiful walks in the valley.

As I try to think of other things to write about, I’m realizing that what I really should admit is that I spent a lot of time sleeping in Wales.  I was profoundly tired and I didn’t really need to set my alarm, so I think I might have missed out on some day trips around the area.  But it was the end of a very fun but exhausting year, and I needed to sleep.  It’s not like I stayed in the house all the time.  I went to Caernarfon, a cute town which is home to the castle where the Princes of Wales receive their title.  The castle was beautiful and interesting, but I experienced more than a typical tourist trip on my visit.  I was wandering around the castle when one of the guys who worked there stopped me and initiated a chat.  He was pudgy and probably in his late thirties or early forties.  He started talking about how I liked the castle and Wales in general, and then he progressed to slightly more personal topics.  When he learned that I went to Oxford, he said that he’d studied Medieval history at Trinity College, Cambridge.  Only a minute or two later he suggested that we stay in touch.  Naturally, my answer to this was awkward and vague.  I think I said “oh yeah, I’ll just…be in my host family’s garden” or something.  Anyway, he finally let me go with the thrilling promise of seeing me on my way out.  That he did – bearing gifts.  He was carrying a gift bag for me, in which there was a little book about historical Anglo-Welsh relations and a card with my name on it.  I had to wait a little while for Rosy to pick me up across the street from the castle, and the guy actually came out onto the street to go on some errand, chatting with me again on the way.  He informed me that his e-mail address was in the card if I wanted to “exchange history tidbits”.  I hid as he was coming back from his errand because I couldn’t bear to talk to him again.  So, that’s my story from Caernarfon Castle.

My other tourist trips were less eventful.  Rosy and Alaric have a thirty-five-year-old friend who lives in the nearby town of Conwy, which is another historical place with a castle.  I met her when she came over for dinner one night, and she invited me to spend the day with her in her town.  I had a great time in Conwy because we saw four historical houses (including the castle, which was actually used more for war purposes), and of course seeing historical houses is one of my favorite things to do in Britain.  Two of the houses were especially interesting because they were once owned by middle class people.  Most of the houses that are open to be toured belonged to the nobility, so it was cool to see how a more ordinary person would have lived.  One of the houses was Elizabethan, and the second was probably the oldest house I’ve ever visited – it was built in the 1400s.  The fourth house was (literally) the smallest house in Britain.  It was right across from Conwy’s waterfront, and contained only two rooms.  One was on top of the other and each were roughly the size of a king-size bed.  It was actually quite a pretty house.  Apparently a fisherman used to live there in early 20th century.

One of my other outings was to Penrhyn Castle.  Lord Penrhyn made his fortune in Snowdonia slate mining in the middle of the 19th century, and apparently he was a massive jerk.  He was active in the slave trade and only paid his workers in his own goods, ensuring that they’d stay reliant on him and that he’d stay very rich.  Still, his castle is impressive.  If I remember correctly he built it to look like Norman architecture, though of course the inside was Victorian.  I think I prefer Georgian houses, but I still enjoyed my visit very much.

I think the only other major trip I took in Wales was up Mount Snowdon in a steam train.  The views were beautiful, of course, and I happened to go up the mountain on the same day as the annual footrace to the top.  I think the race started at the exact same time as the train ride began, so I got to see a lot of the runners.

I had one last adventure after I left Wales.  I took the train to London to stay with Priya for the night before my plane ride home the next afternoon.  It was great to see Priya again, and to explore her area of London.  It’s called Hounslow (it’s where Bend it like Beckham takes place), and she’d told me a lot about it over the year so it was nice to finally be able to see it for myself.  It was also the perfect bookend to a year which had begun with my night in Ciara’s room back in Boston, ten-and-a-half months ago.  It’s mind-boggling to think of how much has happened between then and now.

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