Sunday, August 06, 2006

Wah! Wah! Wales!

So last weekend, I decided to explore a bit of the western part of the UK countryside, and the obvious stop was Wales. Now, apart from a few cities (Cardiff, the capital and Swansea, the next biggest and more beautiful city; and by city I mean a small little town), most of Wales is one big country …big beautiful mountains running along the western coastline of UK. Lots of places where one could do ten or fifteen day walks, treks or just cycle. A quick peruse of the UK lonely planet guide revealed that most places are inaccessible by public transport and the best way to explore was to drive down and then walk/ trek/ cycle. Gaah! Made mental note to buy car and more importantly to learn to drive properly and get a UK license (and most definitely not in the super fraud manner in which Indian driving license was obtained!). Until then, choices were restricted to the following:
· Pembrokeshire Coast along South West Wales
· Snowdonia in North West Wales
· Breacon Becons in South West Wales
· Swansea and Gower Peninsula, also in South Wales

All of the above have the lovely combination of long stretches of huge green beautiful mountains rushing out into the endless coastline. Lonely planet recommended a minimum stay of a week for the first 3 places, especially Pembrokeshire and Snowdonia; where the most satisfying journeys are apparently the ten to fifteen day walks along the coasts through the mountains. Given the limited time at disposal of a weekend, I decided to head to Swansea, Neath and the Gower Peninsula and do the other parts later.

There is a wonderful excitement in traveling alone: a sense of true adventure combined with niggling safety related fears. Many times, one has very interesting conversations with the most unexpected people. Most people are extremely warm and friendly and go out of their way to help . I have had complete strangers walk with me for good distances to help figure out very obvious places. (Don’t even get into my brilliant sense of direction! Between absent-mindedness and complete inability to distinguish north from south, it’s a mighty lost cause. It is only through His mercy and my parents’ fervent prayers that I haven’t walked into a volcano or some such. An ex from my early growing up years, once completely exasperated in trying to figure out our way to my house tried to explain it all: it’s very simple, you just have to fix one direction, and then use your hands to figure out the rest. Hullo, how does one go about figuring the first one?!) Hence, there is a great sense of accomplishment, when one has sorted out (at least parts of) the transport links, street maps etc :)

Googling in the midst of office related panic threw up Neath as a good place to stay, so decided to spend the night at Neath and then do day trips to Swansea and Gower Peninsula. Definitely wasn’t the best choice of a place, reached Swansea to see beautiful hotels right there in front of the sea.

Swansea is a pretty little city, the whole town revolves around a high street shopping arena. The rest of it is really one long coastline, along a road very aptly named “the Mumbles”. The Mumbles has the coast on one side and little green hills on the other. A walk from the Mumbles along the coast for another fifteen miles leads to the Three Cliffs Bay in Gower Peninsula, a stretch of dramatic rock combinations rushing into the sea. Truly beautiful!

A very strange and unsettling experience was a surprise brush with a mallu family! Here I was, right in the middle of nowhere, walking through one of the quaint villages, blissfully enjoying my anonymity and suddenly I hear this very familiar accent....A whole mallu clan right from the heartland of Kerala who were visiting their daughter working as a nurse in one of the Swansea hospitals and her husband. Unsettling because of a sense of discomfort in the midst of the peace and tranquility. Questions on identity refused to leave my mind for a good sometime afterwards (and form the topic of the next post).

The houses in Swansea and Neath are done in cool pastel shades…rows and rows of pretty little homes done in pastel light greens, blues, creams, pinks…just like the ones R and I used to draw with chalk colors in our A4 TK paper filled drawing books back in school. The other interesting observation was the mind-boggling variety of plants, flowers and trees at every little nook and corner of the city. Trees with exotically shaped leaves, bright flowers adding color to the overall paleness of the town…. summer is truly the best time to visit here.

Traditional Welsh food, like the rest of European food is largely meat based including a whole variety of steaks and also the fish and chips routine. Experimented with Cawl, a country soup made of meat and veggies cooked together in a large couldron and the laver bread (a South Wales Swansea speciality). But attempts to turn vegetarian restricted remaining food choices to the conventional.

Day 2 was a complete wash out (literally) as I learnt a not so cool bit about Wales: the very unpredictable nature of the weather. Apparently the rains are most unpredictable and even during summer, it showers incessantly. Next time, will make sure to check forecasts before attempting another journey. Anyways, was dying to finish a Marquez, so happily hopped into the next train back home.

Overall, it was the beginning of a new adventure into the beautiful UK countryside. Have planned to go next weekend to either Breacon Beacons or Snowdonia, even if it means its a quick snapshot.

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