September 11, 2015

Observations from the Mothership: Day 10

The Day I Fell in Love with Aberystwyth

My love affair with Aberystwyth started pretty much as soon as I got off the train and into a taxi yesterday.  The driver was chatty and friendly and we had a nice little talk as I took in everything outside my window from the rolling hills to the flowers everywhere to the store and house fronts.  I loved my quiet, plush little guest room at the top of the ridiculously narrow stairs in Maes-y-Môr and I loved being minutes from the bayside.  It didn't hurt that the weather was gorgeous while I was there, all sunny and a temperate 58°-60° the whole time.

This morning I got up at a slightly more reasonable time (well, for me anyway), dressed, and scarfed down the cinnamon pastries I purchased yesterday.  Then I packed up, stowed my luggage in the guest house's office, and walked down the road to a nearby post office to mail a scarf I'd knitted for a friend whom I'd missed seeing this trip because he had to work.  So after spending some 10 days locked in my suitcase, the scarf was finally set on its way to Thomas via Wales, because that's just how I roll.

As I walked around the town I was again struck by just how beautiful it is.   I loved the cool breeze tearing through my hair, even though it made my feeble locks stand up like a scarecrow's.  I loved listening to the random guy in a Welsh hat sitting on a door stoop playing a tin whistle that could be heard for a half-mile radius.  Both he and the assorted pipers in Edinburgh really made me miss hearing Celtic music all the time as I did when the Girlie was Irish dancing.  I love that Celtic music can go from being heartbreakingly plaintive and melancholy one minute to a wildly happy tour de force driven by the upbeat, dancing chords.

The Promenade

During my long hike uphill towards the National Library of Wales, I passed several quintessentially European streets and buildings; I particularly enjoyed seeing all the signage rendered bilingually in both English and Welsh.  I also loved listening to the lyrical lilt of Welsh accents all around me, though I was surprised by how many straight English accents were present--I even heard a couple Americans--which I'd have expected more from a bigger and busier port city such as Cardiff.  Still, Aberystwyth is a university town, so I suppose that accounts for much of the diversity and I did pass several students strolling towards town as I walked.

Wales, where vowels need not apply.

About halfway to the Library I stopped on the sidewalk to catch my breath and turned around to see an amazing view of the town from where I stood.  Next to me was a house swathed in flowerbeds and on the other side was a stone retaining wall out of which some little purple buds were straining to grow.  The weather was just cool enough to make the exertion enjoyable and as the wind continued whipping through my hair I thought again how easily I could live here for the rest of my life.

Flowers, flowers, everywhere.

Such a beautiful and vibrant color.

Eventually I crested the hill on which the National Library of Wales, home to the archives, stands.  I wandered down a walk and through some dense foliage to come upon a library-like building, but was confused by the lack of obvious entryway.  I walked around the building till I found a sign that suggested maybe it was some older part of the university, perhaps a former dormitory or something.  Whoops.  So I wound my way back out and continued up the road where I met a young man and stopped him to ask for directions.  Turns out I hadn't walked quite far enough up the street, which became patently obvious when I cleared some trees and saw the majestic library building perched atop a hill overlooking the valley below like some sort of ancient fortress.  And, interestingly enough, it was.  A tunnel under the library was used during WWII to store valuable documents and artwork--including Shakespearian manuscripts, drawings by da Vinci, and Magna Carta--to keep them safe from bombings.  Funny how my links to Magna Carta seem to follow me everywhere over here. Across the street from the library was a little vantage point from which you could look down into the valley and see the bay stretching out just beyond it.   The view was absolutely gorgeous and I never wanted to leave.

The National Library of Wales
Aberystwyth from the National Library.

The sign is made of Welsh slate.

After ogling the countryside for a few minutes I crossed the road and headed into the formidable-looking library where I was registered as a reader and given a card (complete with a red-faced picture of me from hiking up the hill) good for three years.  The best part is this not only gives me access to the archives and allows me to request materials in person, it also allows me to access the online archival records from anywhere, even home in the U.S.  Score!

I never did actually access any paper records, but I spent several happy hours glued to a monitor looking up assorted ancestors.  While once again I didn't find as much as I would have liked about specific ancestors, I was able to unearth much more about the family's history in general and about how some relatives interacted with others, inheritance records, etc., all of which was very interesting.  Plus just having the ability to continue researching from home and/or order films to be sent here is pretty spiffy, so I counted it as a good day--and not the least because I realized again how much I've missed doing this sort of research in a quiet library surrounded by computer records and books and fellow researchers.

When it was getting near closing time for the library, I returned to the lockers to collect my things, stopping in the gift shop on my way out to purchase a couple of books on Welsh history and genealogy.  I'd hoped to visit the castle in town before reclaiming my luggage, but all the cabs I called were booked for the afternoon and my feet were getting too tired to walk the entire way to the castle so instead I trekked over to the nearby university's student union and bought a hoodie with the school logo.  Not quite as good as a permanent home here, but what can you do?

On my way back down towards town I managed to catch a bus going heading out from the library.  I spent most of the ride down to the bay holding onto a rail next to my seat to keep it from banging and rattling loudly and incessantly.  When I got off the bus I went down to the bay one last time and walked out onto the pier, thinking I would sit at the end and dunk my beleaguered feet in the waters of the Irish Sea before leaving town.  Some boys had ditched their school clothes and rucksacks along the upper levels of the pier and were swimming in the bay.  They scurried back up the pier when they saw me as though I were some otherworldly creature from whom they needed to hide; maybe to them I was.  At the end of the pier a couple of men were fishing, though I can't imagine they were having much luck with the boys churning up the water nearby.  I decided not to sit down because the pier was a metal gridwork covered in rust and algae and looked more than a little skanky, so instead I knelt down and reached my hand into the water so I could still get some Irish Sea on me.  I have no idea when or where I acquired this sudden need to touch every body of water I encounter; perhaps it's some ancient ancestor calling down to me through the ages and insisting I touch the waters of my homeland and thus become a part of it again, closing the ancestral circle as it were.  Who knows?   I'm still glad I did it.

Aberystwyth's Promenade and Cardigan Bay from the pier.

After fondling Cardigan Bay I walked from the Promenade to the guest house to acquire my luggage, walked to the train station, and grabbed a snack before traveling to my next stop.  As I walked I found it difficult to believe that I had been in Edinburgh only a week ago; it seems more like a month because time has been flying by so quickly.  My time left in Great Britain is rapidly dwindling and that breaks my heart because I so love it here.  I want to stay forever.

The train to Cardiff via Shrewsbury was delayed, so at the suggestion of a ticketing agent I instead hopped on a train to Birmingham International (the stop I should have taken the other day) because it also stopped at Shrewsbur where I needed to change trains.  I have to say I love this rail pass...I thought it was overly expensive when I purchased it, but it's been the best money I've spent the whole trip because it allows me to jump on any train at any time without getting a ticket or reservation in advance as long as I'm traveling within the dates listed on the pass.  This had made traveling much easier the couple of times trains have been delayed or missed or when I'm running later than anticipated and thus have the luxury of simply catching a later train.  Plus trains are a great way to meet people and to see the countryside and without having to stress over cars or driving on a different side of the road.  As far as I'm concerned, America needs a rail system like this--especially a high speed rail system--because Amtrak doesn't even come close.  It has fewer stops and is poorly maintained in my opinion.  Besides, how cool is it that several of the train carriages have a place specially made to store bicycles for those traveling between cities?

On the train to Shrewsbury the ubiquitous trolley went down the aisles to offer passengers snacks and drinks.  As always, I giggled a little to myself when it passed because I couldn't stop thinking of the trolley on the Hogwarts Express.  Not unlike that trolley lady, this one made me smile when she called me "Lovey" and thanked me as she handed me my change after I purchased some popcorn and water from her.  An hour or so later I arrived in Shrewsbury and changed trains, but not before nodding silently to the spirit of Brother Cadfael as I waited on the platform.

When I arrived in Cardiff I tried to take a taxi to my hotel but was basically kicked out of the vehicle when I gave the driver the hotel address; he pointed and told me it was a five minutes' walk "that way."  Well, all righty, then.  So I grabbed my stuff back out of the taxi and hoofed it in the direction he'd pointed.  I got turned around a bit in the dark, drizzly, and unfamiliar city but made it to the hotel in maybe 10 minutes' time.  The room was nice and comfortable and had a really cool luggage rack built into the wall over which the television was mounted.  I was reminded of my choir tour through Prague and Austria nearly 20 years ago, for which the tour company had booked our lodgings so that we started out in cheap, crappy hotels which got progressively better as we moved through our itinerary till we ended in a relatively swanky room in Munich the night before flying home, presumably so we'd leave on a happy note and review the company accordingly, having long-since forgotten the spartan rooms and brick-like beds of our Prague hotel.  I didn't intentionally book my hotels to follow that pattern, but that's certainly how it's been working out thus far...and I'm okay with that.

Now that's a creative use of space.
Tired after the long day, I ordered room service instead of going out for dinner and then messed about on the internet instead of writing like a good little blogger.  I went to bed in the wee hours of the morning after passing out face-first on my laptop while sitting at the desk.  I probably woke up with a waffle pattern on my face from the little squares of the keyboard, but fortunately I was too tired to notice if I had.  Time here is evaporating far too quickly!!

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