Wednesday, 9 May 2012


Hello Readers,
We are back from a short tour of scenic Wales.  We heard that North Wales was beautiful and it far exceeded our expectations.  Central Wales was like driving around the Midlands but with more trees.  Scenic but not very different than we have been seeing the last six months.  South Wales is known for its coastlines and beaches and was beautiful as well. 

Lori and I decided to drive Wales to see all of it so I selected attractions that broke up our drive in North and South Wales.  Driving from north to south would be long but unavoidable.  For the three day trip I figured we spent about 14-15 hours in the car and drove around five hundred miles on less than two full tanks of gas.  And before you think I am crazy for wanting to drive Wales over a three day period I wanted to let you know that area wise Wales is slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey so I figured it was doable for us.  Heck, it takes us 9-10 hours to drive home to see mom and dad so 2-3 hours in a car between stops will be a cake walk.  I included the towns on the map to give y'all an idea of our daily travels. Point G is our house, Point C is the first hotel, and Point E is the second hotel.      

The handy dandy tour map I printed out for y'all after our trip.

Since Steve did such a nice job summarising, I will borrow a chunk of my blogging ex-pat buddy Steve Frey's blog from his trip to North Wales (thanks Steve).  Coincidentally he went last year during the May bank holiday weekend and we went this year during the May bank holiday weekend.  Remember that fact for later.  Now from Steve's blog:

North Wales is 3 - 3.5 hours away and offers the coast, Snowdonia National Park and of course lots of history! Recall that William the Conqueror and the Normans were having their way with England in the late 1000's. However, they never quite got all the way through the mountains of Wales. At that time, Wales was not a united country but rather a bunch of mini-kingdoms that often fought with each other. However, Llywelyn the Great started the consolidation process in the early 1200's. This was eventually passed to Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (sometimes called Llywelyn II and then Llywelyn the Last!) who was in control when King Edward I became King of England.

Edward "called" Llywelyn to pay homage to him and Llywelyn refused. Eddie got mad and sacked Wales. In the process, he decided to build many castles along the Welsh coast and re-fortify some existing ones which all form a collective "Iron ring" and a World Heritage site. (map)

Interesting note: this is the same King Edward who battled extensively with Scotland (William Wallace and Braveheart). The castle progress was occasionally halted because the resources (people and funds) were needed up north.

Interesting note 2: Edward II was born in Caernarfon in North Wales and is why the heir to the throne is called the Prince of Wales. The castle was used for the investiture in 1911 and 1969 (Prince Charles).

Day 1

Onto country number 6.5 of our European vacation.  I say .5 because we had a flight layover in Germany so technically we have been in seven countries so far but I don't consider touring the airport actually visiting a country.  If all works as planned we will be able to fully count Germany in October.

Kalle started the morning off with a surprise.  After an hour on the windy and hilly drive to our first destination we stopped for a snack and drink.  While we stopped and waited for Lori to run into the convenience store Kalle decided to puke all over herself in the car.  It was surprising since she has never been car sick before so we aren't sure if it was something she ate for breakfast, the windy road, being to warm, playing her DS or a combination of the above.  Most likely a combination but that was the end of her DS playing in the car for the next two days.  After cleaning her, the car, and the various jackets/blanket/etc. in the splatter zone we were ready to resume.

The Great Orme (link).  We only drove by it since I was trying a more relaxed agenda than our Scandinavian trip.  The complainers, I mean family, all liked the relaxed pace better.

Approaching Conwy (con-wee) Castle.

Our first stop was Conwy, home of Conwy Castle and the Smallest House in Britain.  Also my favourite stop of the trip.  I didn't capture the scenery very well but every view in the town was postcard quality.  The hills surrounding the town, the harbour, the castle and hills backdrop... this town was absolutely amazing.

More of my favourite information boards.

The Sarah Anderson pic - This was pretty funny.  2012 is the Queen's Diamond Jubilee year celebrating her 60 years on the throne so every tourist shop on the Isle has a Jubilee section.  But since we are in Wales they begrudgingly display the section behind an open door and under a step stool.  For those not up to date on the confusing UK relations, Wales is part of the UK but is not a part of England.  And they don't like the English.  Really don't like the English.  One of Lori's co-workers told her that he was in Wales for a wedding recently and his group had to leave a pub because none of the staff would wait on them once they heard their English accents.   

What's up nephew Owen?  We saw this and thought of you.  No Lena or Helena raptor tho, sorry Lena.

On Conwy Castle wall overlooking the town.

Overlooking the Outer Ward and river in the background.

Overlooking the town and harbour.

Overlooking the Outer Ward from the opposite end of the castle.

Where's Kalle? 

The cheesy tourist pic.  Sorry kids.

As we bird dogged our way to the Smallest House we passed The Knight Shop (link), a medieval replica weapon shop.  Obviously we had to stop there.  Karl drooled over the swords, daggers and armour for a while while I drooled over the suits of armour.  Outside the store were live falcons and owls sitting on the handrail, I am guessing they had some sort of demonstration later in the day. 

Wouldn't the full size version of this look good in our house Lor?

We couldn't walk out without buying anything could we?  Karl and I picked up discounted heavy rubber/plastic swords used for practise sword fighting; one hand sword for KJ, two handed sword for me.  I am sure we won't get into trouble with these, will we Lori?

We, meaning I, found the house on the wharf.  It is called the Quay House so I figured we would walk along the wharf until we found it.  It is a two story house, about 7 feet wide by 10-14 feet tall (slanted roof) by 7 feet deep.  Local link here or Wiki link here.  The tour guide said the last inhabitant was bigger than me but it has been deemed unsafe for habitation so it is now a tourist attraction. 

I took pictures inside the house but since it was so small they didn't accurately show the rooms.  Sorry.

The first Dana Johnson pic - on our way out of town we had lunch at a cafe.  Coffee and hot meat/cheese sandwiches.  My "Dan Stine extreme self restraint in the face of surmounting adversity moment of the week" is the sandwiches across the pond.  They are 90 percent bread and 10 percent filling while I prefer just enough bread to hold together the filling. 

We passed the Aberconwy House (link) but didn't stop.  The house is a 14th century merchant's house.

Onto Angelsey!

One of the many, many picturesque hill/mountain/coastline/etc. pics as we drove through North Wales.

Next up was a couple of scenic bridges, the Menai Bridge and the Britannia Bridge, you can read about them here.

Menai Bridge

Brittania Bridge.

As you can tell we are "country driving" our way through Wales.  Next up was a place specifically for my Auntie "B".  Growing up (me growing up not her) we traded long or difficult spelled words trying to stump each other, and in the spirit of full disclosure I have to admit she stumped me more than I stumped her.  But I think I have her this time.  Whilst in Angelsey we stopped at the longest named town in Europe.  A town in New Zealand is number one but there is an unconfirmed town in India (I think) that claims to be number one which makes this place number two or three at worst.  So unless she goes to New Zealand I've been to a longer named place than her.  The short name of the town is Llanfair PG (check out this link to hear it pronounced), you can see the full name below.

Check out this town Auntie "B"!

This is also a good Segway to mention her husband Uncle Fran.  He has the best jokes which he usually shares with us during sauna night in Alston.  I'm not sure how he remembers them but he has a countless supply of them, and they are all funny.  So when we heard this joke I thought "this has to go on the blog for Uncle Fran".  It's not as good as his but here it is anyway:  "Did you hear about the magic tractor?  It drove down the road and turned into a field."  Booo!  Hisss!

Our last attraction of the day was Caernarfon Castle (link) in Caernarfon.  This was a huge castle which didn't look impressive going into it but lived up to its reputation as being THE castle of Wales once we toured it. 

The troop entering the castle.

Overlooking the courtyard with a Snowdonia Park backdrop.

Looking down the centre of the castle.

Inside the castle was The Royal Welch Fusiliers Regimental Museum (link) which was interesting for the boys and boring for the girls.

Current sized four foot colours (flag).

Old sized six foot colours (flag).  I love looking at the different military colours.

The walls of medals was a hit with everyone.

Remember when I said Steve was here last year?  The UK is in a drought but driving around the Midlands it is hard to see because everything is still green.  When the US is in a drought everything turns brown so I was a little skeptical until seeing the boats up on blocks.  The drought was confirmed for me when I borrowed Steve's blog facts this morning and noticed he took a similar picture of the same stretch of river.  Check out Steve's blog for Caernarfon Castle (link) for his pic of the river. Click on the link and scroll down to the third picture for a comparison now versus one year ago.

Blurry pic explaining the Royal Goat.

When I saw this I thought the Royal Goat was a joke until I read the previous pic explanation.

Eight Victoria Cross (link) recipients from WWI.  The VC is equivalent to the US Medal of Honor.

Supper was at The Black Boy Inn.  I tried a Snowdonia Ale which is the area's best selling beer.  It tasted slightly better than English ales which ain't really a ringing endorsement.

A Dana Johnson pic - I had lamb, veg, and bread stew.  Okay but the food was very similar to English food.  Pass the salt and pepper please.

Another Dana Johnson pic - Kalle's crab, pepper, veg and cheese dip entree which she really liked.

Our last minute hotel was the Celtic Royal Hotel.  Not a cheap deal on short notice but I felt lucky getting on the bank holiday weekend.  Worst part was they had a pool but we didn't bring our suits.  Sorry again kids.

Room pic.  Note the football match on the telly - I was able to catch most of the FA (Football Association) Cup title match between Chelsea and Liverpool.  Chelsea won 1-0 to win the cup.  For those keeping track at home Manchester City wins the Premier League title if they win their last game or if they and Manchester United both lose.  Man City has an eight goal differential lead over Man U so they hold the tie breaker. 

Sidebar from Wales - I find football standings/rankings very confusing.  It is like combining baseball's A, AA, AAA, and Major Leagues farm system structure with college basketball's end of season tournaments.  Chelsea wins the big tournament and Man City will probably win the league title.  (In case you are curious Chelsea is #6 in league standings.)  To add more confusion the top four or six (I think) teams in the Premier League also play in the European Champions League full time.  The Champions League cup is tournament based and Chelsea will play Bayern Munich in the final of that league.  So Chelsea could win the English and European tournaments and finish #6 in their league - much like NCAA basketball.  The farm system part is that every year the bottom teams in each league get demoted to the next level league while the top teams in each league get promoted to the next level league in next years play.  All tournaments (FA Cup, Carling Cup, etc.) are played during the season so once league play ends the season ends.  The football offseason is mid May to August.

English football leagues snapshot.  Arrows up = promotion = good, arrows down = relegation = bad.  The local Derby team is #12 in the Championship League.

Fancy chandelier pic - nice place but nothing like our Scandinavian hotels.

A Welsh breakfast.  Looks/tastes same as English breakfast except no black pudding (fried blood sausage). 

Day 2

The second day was a travel day through the majestic Snowdonia National Park.  The pictures don't do the two hour ride justice but they'll give you an idea.

A Steve Frey pic.  It's hard not to see sheep here.

Close up of stream from picture above.

Beautiful sunny day for a drive.

North Wales was everything we expected and more.  Lori and I agreed that this would be the place to live if we didn't have any family ties.

After leaving North Wales we drove the Ceredigion Coastal Park.  I was hoping for some good coastal pics but I had to settle for some okay coastal sights.  Nothing like driving through Snowdonia but scenic in areas.

Rolling farmland with The Irish Sea as backdrop.


Not sure if that is drought or low tide.

Dana's doing good on this blog.  Since we were going to be in the car most of the day we opted to eat snack meals instead of proper pub food meals.  The cakes were lightly sprinkled with sugar and each cake was a moist wafer sandwich with jam filling inbetween the wafers.  I probably could have eaten about twenty of these.

Another Irish Sea coast pic.

Ah, the joys of rural UK driving.  Luckily we didn't meet anyone here.  We have met people on these goat trails before, not fun.

Not sure what a Morgan 4/4 car is - maybe my buddy Mark Manion can fill me in.  Sure looks nice though.

After five hours of driving we are finally to St. David's, Britain's smallest city and the site of St. David's Cathedral.  I had planned on the drive being shorter but we decided to drive through Snowdonia and am glad we did.  Made for a long ride but easily worth the impressive visual display.

St. David's Cathedral (link) is a 12th century cathedral but the site originally housed a 6th century monastery. 

The troop approaching the cathedral.

Ruins of the bishop's palace.  Aptly named, the palace footprint was about the size of Lucas Oil Stadium.  We couldn't tour it though.

The nave.  Note Jesus on the cross in the wooden ceiling. 

More decorative ceilings.

Karl reading the placard in the above picture.

One of the many altars.  Four to six altars is a common theme in the older cathedrals.

Interesting fact - St. David is usually pictured with a dove on his shoulder.

Old marble floor.

Small altar in rear of cathedral.

A knight entombed in the cathedral.

Chapel of St. Thomas Becket.  You can read about him here.

After St. David's we discovered my navigational error of the trip.  We planned on staying in Cardiff so I selected a cathedral near there before settling in for the night.  Not sure what I did but I underestimated the drive by almost an hour and a half.  The next cathedral was open late so we were okay on time, the bad part is it meant more convenience store snacks/sandwiches.  This was definitely not the best day for trying local food but we buckled down, grabbed some food, and motored on.

The Atlantic Ocean - very cool.

Jutting rock formations.

We stopped here for some pictures and I almost expected Doc Marten to walk up.  (Mark M. - I've caught the show a few times and it is pretty good.  I have to admit that I am liking more Brit shows, especially the drama and mystery shows.)

Another beach shot looking in the opposite direction.

On our way to Cardiff we noticed that southern Wales was more modern and industrial than northern Wales.  They had highway guardrails instead of stone walls, houses had stucco and other modern exterior walls instead of brick, and Swansea has smoke stacks and industrial buildings galore.  Interesting shift in scenery.

With an hour to spare we made it to Llandaff Cathedral (or Eglwys Gadeiriol LlNDf in Welsh) which is another 12th century church.  The site dates back to 6th century and is one of Britain's oldest Christian sites.  You can read about the cathedral here.  I couldn't get a good outside pic since the surrounding trees were so close.   

Steeple and nave.

Side view.

Chapter House on right.

Poor pic of front of cathedral.

Neat entrance door.

The nave.

Baptismal fount.

Marble floor, altar, stained glass window, painted arched ceiling... all very common but I still love touring the older cathedrals here.

The Bishops Chair.

Monument to a WWII German bomb that destroyed some of the cathedral.  It seems to be a common theme here, castles and cathedrals wrecked during a war (or multiples times during multiple wars) then partially restored.  The semi-circle around the monument is the blast radius.  So many war reminders over here, makes me feel a little sheltered living in the US.

Interesting detail.

Millenium Centre near Cardiff Bay.  Impressive building.  Not sure what it says since my Welsh is pretty rusty.

Huge collar inscribed with pictures and degree markings, still not sure what it is.  Cardiff Bay (Bae Caerdydd) is in the background. 

The bay area was neat to see although it is more built up to be a commercial area than historic area.  Being a major sea port, the town is a melting pot which was reflected in the wide variety of restaurants on the wharf.  After checking out the bay area we settled on a place called Cafe Rogue (link) which turned out to be a French restaurant with really good food.  The place was full and the servers were very busy so the service wasn't very good but the food made up for it.  We found it interesting that a French restaurant was so full but I guess the French and Welsh have a common enemy (the English) so they are friends.  Karl had a steak and he said it was as good as a steak at home.  The french fries were excellent and Kalle liked her salmon crab cakes.  Lori and I both liked our meals, it was nice to eat flavourful food again.  

My Dana Johnson pic - Salmon and Guyere cheese sandwich with french fries and salad.

Lori's Dana Johnson pic - chicken with rice and rocket.

Plaque commemorating the plaza.  I did not know Roald Dahl was born in Cardiff.

Millenium Centre with The Water Tower, a tall waterfall structure on right, overlooking the plaza (to the right out of the picture).

Our hotel was a Holiday Inn Express so I skipped the room and breakfast pics.  Nothing special but suited our purpose. 

Day 3

The weather finally gave out on us.  Two days of sunny weather were followed with a day of on and off rain.  Since it was raining and our hotel wasn't in the city centre we parked close to the castle.  I mention it because we paid twelve pound fifty for three hours and two minutes.  Ouch!

Our day started out with a splash as we braved the elements at the Cardiff Castle (Castell Caerdydd), you can read about it here.  Caernarfon Castle is regarded as the most important Wales castle by many but Cardiff Castle has a longer history and more of an international impact. 

A brief history: In 55 AD the Romans built the first wooden fort here.  In the 11th and 12th centuries the Normans (French) built their stone castle here during their reign.  The castle was remodelled on and off as it changed hands, with the glamorous Victorian Age modifications still in place.  In the World Wars the castle walls were used to shelter people.  Speaking of history they showed a seven minute long silent film that explained the 2000 year history of the castle which was absolutely terrible.  I could follow it since I knew the area history but the rest of the group was left confused and full of questions.     

The wet troop entering the castle through the South Gate.

The Norman Keep on left, North Gate on right.

Karl modelling the fashion of the day.

This was very gross.  Interesting but gross.

The Roman Empire in 100 AD.

More War reminders.

Entrance to the Wartime Tunnells.

I had a little case of the chills walking through here.  There were speakers blaring the sounds of the day - planes droning overhead, people chattering ubiquitously, bombs landing in the distance.  Obviously nothing like the real circumstances but really make me think about what it must have been like living in those times.

WWII shelter canteen.

The impressive Victoria House.

Suits of armour for me and the kids!

Stained glass in the house.

Marble floors.

Marble walls in same room.

Not sure if that is a painted or gilded arched ceiling.

Might as well have a marble fireplace in the room.

Great Hall.

Check out the walls and fireplace.

Typical Victorian fireplace of the rich.

I love the ceilings in these places.

Low key drawing room.


Monkey admiring the Prince of Wales shield.

Millenium Stadium behind the Victoria House.  South Gate to the left.

Braving the elements to get a better shot of the house and stadium.

After rinsing off our rain gear for a while we checked out the Firing Line (link), a museum dedicated to the Welsh soldier.  It had an interesting time line of the Welsh soldier evolution and other exhibits detailing battles

I wonder how many people see Waterloo and think of Napoleon instead of ABBA.  I am in the Napoleon group.  I suppose there is also a third group that says, what's Waterloo?

Victoria Cross recipients.  The VC (and MoH) holders have always been impressive to me. 

Read the card below.

I guess this makes up for the British colours still at West Point I mentioned in the Tower of London post.  I'm not sure how many military history readers are in my audience but quite often a close battle can turn at the raising or falling of the colours.

Close up of Millenium Stadium.

City Parish of St. John the Baptist (link).  Dating back to the 12th century, this is the second oldest building in Cardiff after the Castle.  We didn't tour it on our lazy river paced Wales tour.  Maybe next time.

Stymied by restaurants since it was only 11:30, we decided to grab a sandwich and coffee at Costa Coffee.  Note the drying rain gear.  To bad about the timing, I really wanted to try The Potted Pig.

After lunch was our final stop, Chepstow Castle (link), the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain.  It was started in 1067 AD (remember William the Conqueror?) and is a picturesque setting.  I can imagine that it was very impressive in its day.  The good news about here was Lori found about 400 pounds worth of decorative pottery pieces she liked so she finally bought some trip mementos.  Kalle had been loading up on her spoons, Karl found a ship and some bookmarks, and I found a couple of shot glasses.  I also found a couple of treasures but you'll have to wait until the end of the blog to see those.

The castle view from the car park (parking lot for you Yanks).

Inside the courtyard.

Looking at the upper part of the castle from the lower part.  I loved the cliff.  Note the river on the right.

Looks like a child's room.  The room decoration itself looked like it was recently painted which was disappointing.  I am all for restoring rooms/places to near original conditions but this room just felt like someone slopped colourful paint around and called it good.

Interesting and disgusting.  This is the bedroom toilet.  See the light below?  The toilets in the castle all were open bottom and on the same side of the castle.  Where does the waste go you ask?  To the river below of course.  I'd hate to be be swimming downstream of this castle back in the day.

Looking at the entrance to the painted bedroom.

View of the lower castle from the upper castle.

Here's another word for you Auntie "B".

Panoramic shot of the river bend.

Kalle and Karl exploring.  (He's in the red shirt Tammy.)
Opposite side of courtyard.

A blend of the old and the new.  1000+ year old castle, San Fran style houses (hi Cheer and Trevor), apartments, old church, and new bridge in the distance.  It's still funny seeing the old and new blended together.

After touring Chepstow Castle, we ate at Chepstow Castle.

The solitary Kevin Coleman pic.  The Otley ale was better than I expected.  I did miss out on a SA Brains Beer beer on the trip though.  It's the largest brewery in Wales so I will have to look for it in the local stores or on our next trip to Wales.

The last Dana Johnson pic - with the food being "different" over here, we (Lori and I) usually have the ham, eggs, and chips when nothing else looks good on the menu.

After eating we headed home.  These one lane stone bridges are quite common over here, the rare part is having a traffic light controlling passage.  Usually it is proceed at your own risk.

STRETCH GOAL TIME!  It was still early afternoon so when I saw the Tintern Abbey brown tourist sign and before Lori could object I veered off course and gave her the SatNav to reprogram our destination.  In my defence I saw the sign on our way to Chepstow Castle and when I mentioned it Lori didn't say no.  Not saying no is like saying yes, right?  Or is that correct Jim Lang?

So off we go to our mystery destination which turned out to be awesome.  Per the links, Tintern Abbey (Wiki link or other link) is a Cistercian Abbey founded in 1131 and abandoned in 1536.  It is a huge structure situated in a beautiful valley.  Great setting, there was a wedding taking place here later in the day.  Plus Lori was able to get the remaining thirteen pottery pieces here that Chepstow didn't carry.  No pottery pictures, y'all will have to visit us in Brownsburg in a year and a half to see them in person.

Ruins now but great setting.

The girls standing at the base of the massive wall to show how big this place was.

This place must have been spectacular in its heyday.

Interior arches.

Infirmary in the background.

You can see the chairs for the wedding in the distance.

By now the weather decided to turn on us again so we packed up and headed home.  A bonus feature of stopping here is the SatNav brought us to the closest motorway through the scenic Wye Valley.  Unfortunately the pounding rain prevented us from taking any pictures.

We passed this clown car on our way home.  The side view with the yellow painted daisies really capped off the visual but we couldn't get a good pic.  Lori was laughing to hard to take a picture because I pulled over twice to let it pass so we could get back and side pics but after almost causing a traffic accident I figured it wasn't worth it.  Plus the clown car kept slowing down when I did to maintain their distance which made it difficult to get close enough to take a picture. 

Now that we are in May it is new facial hair time!  Growing up I had three favourite TV shows - Magnum P.I., The A-Team, and The Dukes of Hazzard.  The Dukes had a gluttony of car chases and jumps, the comedic duo of Roscoe P. Coltrane and Flash, a "couple of good ole' boys never meanin' no harm", and Daisy in her Daisy Dukes.  What's not to love about that show?  The A-Team has a group of ex-military men fighting for justice against The Man, guns, explosions, and a black van full of more guns.  More fun for preteen boys.  Magnum was another ex-military man  living the good life in Hawaii, bunking at a seaside mansion, driving a Ferrari, carrying a gun, wearing the home team Detroit Tiger apparel, and surrounded by bikini babes.  Another great show!  So for May I chose the Magnum moustache.  All I need is the Hawaiian shirt and Olde English D ball cap to complete the look.  Okay, I may not quite look like Magnum but I'll keep working on the 'stache. 

Studly Magnum admiring his new walking stick and map of Wales.  KJ spied the stick for me.  We picked up the old time style map partly because we liked the map and partly because we enjoyed Wales so much.

Thanks for listening,


  1. Great post, Jay. You did a nice job pulling that trip together on relatively short notice. Wales is great.

    We found out that Alex was prone to car sickness on our trip to Wales as well! Fortunately, he didn't go all the way. Drugged him on this trip -- brilliant!

    There may be some tidal effects with that river but I don't doubt it's drier.

    As I think you know, this year's Champions tourney is based on last year's results (playoffs and the new season are concurrent).

    Make sure you send on those royalty checks for nicking my blog all the time. :-)

    1. Not a problem on the checks, I will give you a percentage of my profits. ;)