I’m going to make a very un-hip travel confession: I was super excited to go visit Wales for the simple reason that it was a new country to add to my list — and before anyone gets worked up, I am aware that Wales is a part of the United Kingdom — however for silly fun “country counting” purposes, I find the Traveler’s Century Club list far more useful than a politically-based UN one. (But for the record, heck no I don’t count airport layovers!)
The truth is I travel more repetitively and these days, far less than so many of my vagabonding and travel blogging peers. In 2017, I actually did not visit a single new country! While I love returning to the same places over and over and exploring them more and more deeply, there is something fun about standing in a new country for the first time, hearing a language that’s new to your ears, and getting to scratch off a tiny new corner of your global scratch map.
In the case of Wales, the currency remains the same as it did in neighboring England and entering the country was an simple as watching a “Welcome to Wales” sign fly by on the side of the motorway, but I still felt great excitement at adding number #34 to my favorite list in my journal.
We’d come to Wales with Brian and Amy, two of our closest friends from Thailand. (You probably recognize Amy from our recent jewelry collaboration!) You could in fact say our entire trip to the UK was built around this weekend together at Amy’s family cabin in Anglesey — Amy and I had swapped many stories about our beloved childhood vacation destinations: me, Martha’s Vineyard; her, Wales. When we’d realized Ian and I would be in Canada visiting his family around the same Amy and Brian were in England visiting her family, we just had to make the trip.
We spent one short night in Amy’s family home in Liverpool before making the two-hour drive over to the Welsh island of Anglesey. As soon as we crossed the border the view from the window turned a bit greener, and I marveled at the unpronounceable names on the street signs we were passing. About 19% of the population speak Cymraeg, one that may stand out as one of the most fascinating languages I’ve encountered in all my travels — Maltese being a fairly close second.
Soon we touched down in Amy’s charming family cabin, and within seconds of stepping out of the car into the salty seaside air, I could easily understand her love affair.
We didn’t linger too long, as we hopped back in the car to stock up on provisions for the trip. Amy and Ian are both fantastic chefs and love to cook, which means Brian and I score pretty big time when the four of us end up on a vacation together. While we did have one traditional pub roast on our final night in Wales, we spent most of the time cooking together (or, ya know, in some of our cases, watching the cooking) in the cabin’s cozy kitchen.
After a lazy morning at Amy’s, the next day we set off for the Beaumaris Food Festival, a charming community event in one of the many coastal small towns along the edges of the Isle of Anglesey. There was live music, artisanal local foods, and cute dogs wearing British newsboy caps, so essentially it was one of the greatest days of all our collective lives.
And, because why not, the parking lot was a field next to Beaumaris Castle. Classic Wales.
Now, castles, charming countryside, lots of sheep — this is definitely the faint impression I had of Wales in my head before arriving. But the side I wasn’t expecting was the number of kitschy theme parks, activity centers, and family amusements that were also a major player on the scene in Wales.
Of course, we couldn’t quite resist joining in on the fun. After our stomachs settled from the food festival, we continued on to Bounce Below, an underground trampoline world built into a former slate mine in Blaenau Ffestiniog. While I was mildly insulted by being forced to wear a hair net under a helmet, I can’t deny the amount of silly fun we had bouncing around with a bunch of tweens for a few hours — tweens that did in fact make a valiant attempt to bully us from afar.
But as much silly fun as we all had, one of my favorite parts of the day was simply looking out the window as we drove through Snowdonia National Park on the drive back to the cabin. What a stunning stretch of countryside.
The next morning, we got back on the group fun grind as Amy’s parents and sister drove in for the day to hang out with us. Amy’s dad is an adrenaline junkie and challenged us to a round of go-karting at Redline Indoor Karting in Caernarfon, which I was secretly dying inside at. I think I literally set a record for being the slowest person to ever lap the track at the race car track in Las Vegas, and after a scary ATV incident in Brazil and many minor motorbike crashes in Thailand over the years you could say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of high speed motorized vehicle events.
But, the “yes girl” in me can never say no to trying new things — so I gave it my best shot and by the last round I’d lost for speed in a crushing defeat, but I had won the consolation prize of most improved!
After, we wandered around the town of Caernarfon, just over the bridge from Anglesey. Another regal castle, another charming waterfront, more adorable pubs — I’ve got your number, Wales! Speaking of adorable pubs, we obviously couldn’t resist stopping for a cider at the alleged smallest pub in the country, Bar Bach. Between the seven of us, we took up most of the seating.
As much as I loved exploring the quaint towns and kitschy attractions of Wales, I think my favorite part of our four days there was simply kicking around doing sweet nothing at Amy’s family cabin — and doing it with this lot.
On our final morning, I made a request on our way out — a stop at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, a town holding the record for the longest place name in Europe. Locals may call it Llanfair PG or LPG for short, but the local train station proudly displays the full name for anyone who wants to make a valient attempt to pronounce it. With a long-held love of all things quirky, it may just have been my favorite thing we’d seen all weekend.
Endless thanks to Amy and her family for their hospitality. This lovely, relaxing weekend brought us back to the United Kingdom for the best trip I’ve ever had there. I’ve said it many times before but the older I get and the busier life becomes, the more I cherish time away with my nearest and dearest. Scratching a new country off my list at the same time? Well, that’s just a beautiful bonus.
Thanks for the memories, Wales! One last stop — a quick glance at Liverpool before returning stateside.
Confused on where we are? I’m catching up on the black hole of content from August of 2016 to April of 2017 — when I jumped forward to blog the summer of 2017 as it was happening. Right now, we’re in September of 2016 in the UK, and I can’t wait to turn my detailed notes and journals into blog posts from Hawaii, Jamaica, Thailand and Bali next! My apologies for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me.