Thursday, August 29, 2013
Britain Revisited: Day 5
In a subsequent news segment, the BBC reported that the cost of raising a child in the UK to the age of 18 had risen by 4%, and it would now cost an average of 150,000 pounds for one child (that’s roughly $232,000). (Actually, I saw this segment several times on the news over the following few days). So curious did I find this news cast that I wondered with amusement if the UK had an anti-child campaign going on. (Interestingly enough, I researched this when I got home and found that a 2012 article from the UK newspaper The Guardian reported on a politician in Britain who suggested that health benefits only be paid out for the first two children). He (and a couple of other politicians cited in the article) claimed that Britain’s joblessness and poverty were due to all of the benefits being paid out on kids). Very interesting, indeed.
Anyway, not that this has anything to do with our trip to Wales—I just found it interesting, as it sort of coincided with a segment in Bill Bryson’s book Notes from a Small Island, where he pointed out that there was a Royal Society for the Protection of Cats long before there was any sort of protective agency for children.
Back to the trip … Stephen and I traveled to the Welsh Gower Peninsula with a small, family-run tour company called Where, When, Wales. Run by a husband-wife team named John and Jan, this was a wonderful way to travel to the beautiful Welsh coast line and see some sights we would not otherwise have been seen. In the southern tip of Wales, the Swansea Bay area and the Peninsula in general, offer breath-taking coastal sites (along with plenty of opportunities to see sheep and wild ponies wandering loosely on hillsides).
Our tour guides, Jan and John, were hilarious. Jan conducts the majority of the narration to the tour and John drives the bus, and all along the way they poke fun at each other and rib one another mercilessly. At first glance, you might think that John was quiet, but once he got from behind the steering wheel of the bus and spoke about one historical location or another, you quickly found that he was a vast fountain of knowledge on just about every subject under the sun.
As we passed Port Talbot, Jan asked the crowd if we knew about a star that had his start in that little village. I immediately called out, “Anthony Hopkins!”
“Yes,” Jan confirmed. “That’s right. Sir Anthony Hopkins was born just up there,” she pointed to a little village nestled in the hills. And just a little further down, we’ll pass the birth place of another Welsh actor who was the highest paid actor in Hollywood in 1960. Anyone know who that was?”
Again, I couldn’t help myself. “Richard Burton!”
“Yes, that’s right. Wow, Megan you are my star today!”
I wasn’t sure whether to be proud of all of my trivial Welsh-star expertise, or horrified that this was the sort of knowledge I have retained over my forty-one years.
Our first stop was Swansea Marina and the Maritime Museum. I had been to Swansea in 1994 with Michelle, and I loved it then. It is a beautiful town and fishing village that overlooks the Swansea Bay. When there in 1994, I remember attending an open market where fish and produce and other sorts of crafty and artsy goods were sold. Michelle and I played mini-golf in the center of town with her friend, Phil, and rode in a Lifeboat across the bay. On this day, we simply cruised through the town on our way to The Mumbles. The Mumbles is another lovely little village in Swansea Bay that sits right on the shore. As we made our way up a winding, residential road, Jan pointed out, “We’re about to see the home of someone else you all might know. This is her hometown, and a few years back, she married a much older man by the name of—“
“Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas,” I blurted out, thereby confirming that I really do watch and read too much entertainment news. I really don’t care about any of these people…seriously, I don’t!
Sure enough, John drove us past the home of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas—a gated monstrosity nestled in the hills just above the village. I was actually amazed at how close to the road the house was situated. If we’d wanted to, we could have hoisted one another up and looked over the stone gate into their front yard. As we passed by it, Jan remarked, “None of us ever thought that marriage would last, but apparently they are still going strong after all of these years.” (Funnily enough, as soon as we got home, the news broke on CNN that the two had split).
From The Mumbles, we carried on to Langland Bay, where we got to enjoy a gorgeous coastal walk from Langland Bay to Caswell Bay. Jan and John picked us all up there, and we drove another twenty or thirty minutes to Rhossili Bay, where we had lunch at a little café (also the café where Stephen and I were sure we had misplaced 20 pounds—a long-convoluted story that only has relevance later), and then were given time to walk the long stretch of coastal cliffs upon which sheep roamed freely. They were everywhere! There were sheep reclining all over the ground (and you had to watch where you walked for other reasons, too), and some of them perched dangerously close to the edge of some of these cliffs. Everyone was walking dogs (all required to be leashed), and I watched as several Border Collies tugged at the ends of their leads, desperate to herd a sheep or two. We also met a couple with a Whippet and Italian Greyhound and stopped to talk to them about our own sight hound.
We left Rhossili and headed back towards Cardiff stopping off at King Arthur’s Stone. Yes, straight from the legend, this is the supposed stone from which King Arthur supposedly pulled his sword. The stone even has the cleft from which the sword was allegedly pulled. And yes, the scenery was beautiful here, and the stone was interesting, and John gave us a running stream of information about the area, the stone, etc. But to be honest, I wasn’t really listening because I was so interested in the wild ponies that were scattered all over the place! A little foal made a high-pitched whinny sound, and with his ears starkly forward and his little tail flipping in the air, he made a mad dash across the plains as fast as his knobbly little knees would carry him. He was absolutely precious, and all of us were madly trying to snap pictures to capture the moment. Apparently the government takes care of these wild horses, and Jan told us that the tour guides also keep a look-out for them—they note which horses are in foal and if any new foals have been born. They make sure that in the dead-cold of winter, the horses are directed toward neighboring barns, and yet they are allowed their freedom all the rest of the year. It’s all very heart-warming, actually.
We arrived back in Cardiff to a town that was completely shut down. It was Sunday, and it was past five o’clock, but I mean—the place was a ghost town. On a whim, we wandered past The Royal Arcade, and stared woefully through its darkened windows at the little antique bus. It seemed unlikely we would be able to purchase it since we would need to leave for Liverpool early in the morning—probably before the store even opened.
For now, our main concern was where to eat dinner, as really—everything seemed closed. We had seen a Brazilian restaurant in the bottom of the hotel, so we thought it might be open for business travelers who came through the city. I checked the times as we returned to our hotel, and yes, it would be open. We decided to wander down there around 6:30 or so.
We arrived at Viva Brazil! at 6:45 that evening, and it was then we realized where everyone in Cardiff had gone. The place was packed! Loud, festive, Brazilian music blared from inside, and we were told that our names would need to wait for a table. We were shocked! But there was nowhere else to go, and the smells inside were wonderful, so we elbowed our way up to the bar to order some drinks.
Since I had really not enjoyed but a couple of good red wines since arriving in the UK, I decided to go with a white wine instead and see if I had better luck with that. So I was completely horrified when I saw the bar tender put four ice cubes into my wine glass.
“No!” I called out, directing Stephen to get the bar tender’s attention. “I don’t want ice in my wine! No, no, no!”
Stephen swiftly grabbed the glass before the bartender turned back around with the open bottle and dumped the ice cubes onto the other side of the bar. The startled bartender looked at us.
“I didn’t want ice in my wine,” I announced.
“No, that was to the chill the glass,” he told us.
We smacked ourselves in the forehead, laughing with embarrassment.
“Are you from the states?” he asked.
We nodded, wondering if he’d had other Americans dump ice cubes onto the floor of the bar, fearful that their wine would be tainted.
Once we got seated, the eating festivities began. In case you’ve never been in one, Brazilian restaurants are gorge-fests. They carry unlimited amounts of meat around on a stake, shaving off pieces onto your plate. You eat a piece of chicken, and within two minutes they’re back at your table with ham; you finish the ham, and they’re back with steak; you finish the steak, and they’re back with more ham. It just goes on and on—it is never ending eating. This is a hero’s quest to eat as much as you can, and leave feeling utterly sick. I tried four different kinds of meat, and I was done (stick a fork in me) and ready to become a vegetarian. Actually, the meat was terrific—tasty, well-seasoned, tender—but there was just so much of it!
Finally, we rolled back upstairs to our room and collapsed on the bed in a food coma. The next day, we would be off to Liverpool for Operation Beatles.