Wales trip report

WALES 2014

Day 1, October 14, Amsterdam – Cardiff

We had an easy 75 min flight to from Amsterdam to Cardiff, Wales.

Welcome to Wales, Croeso i Gymru!

We took an airport bus which took us right to the front door of our hotel, Radisson Blu in town center.

We arrived before check in so we left the bags and headed out. We had hop on/off bus tours waiting at hotel. The weather was rainy, light rain but it did not stop us for exploration. First we had breakfast in one of the local restaurants, where I tasted my first Welsh Rarebit. It had too much taste of beer or mustard I think but I enjoyed it anyway. Fortified, we walked through the light rain and 54F degrees through a pedestrian area to Cardiff Castle.

The pedestrian road was called St Mary’s and we plan on revisiting that area again tonight.

We arrived on time for our 1 hour guided tour of the castle. This castle had 17th to 19th century decorations with history spanned over 2000 years. It was given to the city by Bute family. The decorations were not gold painted but 18 carat gold leaf and a lot of it!  We saw most of the castle keep. The rooftop garden was beautiful with tiles.  After the tour, we walked the castle grounds and saw the falcon handlers with their 2 beautiful specimens. I could not hold the falcon, but the handler got it closer to my shoulder so we could take photos. We skipped the military museum.

After exiting castle, we found the hop on hop off two decker bus ride to familiarize ourselves to the city, and then on the second go round, we got off in front of the national gallery/museum. This museum is beautiful and it is free! We saw some fine pieces including the Davis Sisters collection of Rodin sculptures and impressionistic pieces – Monet, Cezanne, Sisley, and Pissarro. There were three Monet paintings that were made in Giverny.

The museum also has Natural History sections and other exhibits including fine porcelain for those who inclined to see other than art. It is very nice museum overall.

We took another hop on and off bus to rest our feet J which dropped us off at stop near our hotel. We checked in. To our surprise and delight, the nice folks at Wales tourism board, whom I’ve been working closely, with were kind enough to leave a bottle of fine Welsh single malt whiskey!

We passed by a specially constructed facility in Cardiff’s Porth Teigr – near the studios where Doctor Who is filmed – the Doctor Who Experience. I did not see this show but few times I was asked by my clients. This facility offers a journey into fifty years of adventures in space and time. http://www.doctorwho.tv/events/doctor-who-experien... .

After we checked in and refreshed ourselves we decided to take a taxi to well know pub in Cardiff, Y Mochyn Du http://www.ymochyndu.com/   for dinner.  (Located at Sophia’s Gardens so how could I miss it? :-)  )

It is also possible to walk there for about 30 mins but we did not want to walk through the park in the rain at night. Anyway, the taxi cost was under $10, so it was not bad. The pub was atmospheric, not too many people on this weekday night and this early. We learned that in pubs, we order at the bar and they bring food and drink to our table, then you go and pay at the bar cashier. We got local ale, and of course fish and chips!  We sampled two types of beer. They came with chips and Mash (chips means fries and mash means mashed peas). We also took appetizer fish cakes. For desert we had bread pudding and apple crumb. It was very hearty dinner so when we took taxi back, we were ready to collapse after this very busy day!

Day 2, October 15, Cardiff – Abergavenny – Cardiff

We decided to visit small town Abergavenny by train. We had breakfast on the way in Great Western restaurant which was across our hotel on the way to the train station. It was only 5-10 min to go to train station so I can comment location of Radission Blu was very good. The restaurant was in traditional building, with comfortable chairs and tables, newspapers. We had Welsh cakes for breakfast and porridge. I liked cakes.

Then we rushed to the train, since we only had few minutes left, otherwise we would have to wait for next 30 minutes. We were waived on by the ticket people who told us to buy ticket on the train. The journey took about 20 minutes, we got off at Abergavenny. It is medieval city circa 12C. Very friendly train station attendant chatted with us and directed us where to go. I like maps but there were no maps besides the one on the wall and he pointed to us “just go that way”. In about 15 min of walk (I took some photos on the way), we arrived to the center. The local tourist office had very recently moved their office to another location by St. Mary church, but it needed better signs. While we got lost, by serendipity, we found out bustling local flea market, so we spent some time there. After that we indeed found tourist office which is in the very nice building, refurbished barn – combined tourist office, café and some tourist shops and historical museum. In the second floor of the museum, we saw ladies from a local church  at display of their tapestry. It was beautiful tapestry and looked like it was new, with has various pictures of Wales. After talking to ladies, they said it is indeed new. 60 local volunteers were working on this project and took about 4 years to complete from 2002 to 2006. It was impressive and I took photos with ladies, two of them were a part of tapestry project.

Then we went to the castle, or castle’s ruins to be exact. It had small museum where we tried medieval clothes and heavy chainmail shirt! Then we strolled castle grounds and took some photos. After that we got hungry, what else is new? Someone in town recommended The Angel Hotel. They had from what they told us a famous seafood platter, so we took it. It was delicious but too big for us. After that we walked back to the train station and returned to Cardiff. It was another day well spent!

After some rest at hotel, we walked pedestrian district again. We visited Cardiff market and sampled some local cheeses and bread. We bought them for next day breakfast at hotel. These Welsh cakes tasted better than in Great Western…. Also, my Swiss watch needed a replacement of battery and we found in the market a jeweler who had a replacement battery for my watch. We chatted with him, as with all the people in Wales, he was very friendly. He mentioned that his daughter is looking for au pair in USA so I told him I know some people who need au pair and left him my card.  Then we stopped in few stores on the way back to hotel. They have TJ Maxx but it was called TX Maxx. We needed another power adapter. The sales people there did not know why it is different name from TJ Maxx.

We were not hungry for dinner after that seafood platter, but it was time to eat and explore more pubs J. We walked to the Duke of Wellington http://www.dukeofwellingtoncardiff.com/ , it has really nice masculine interior, very cozy and service was friendly. We started with ales but then gave up and ordered fish and chips again.  L  I also tried their dragon burger and it has some sort of chili, spicy..

Day 3, October 16, Cardiff – Brecon Beacons National Park – Cardiff

Since we travel as tourist professionals, we needed to explore all ways of touring – city tours, trains, hop on/off. My next exploration was before we will leave Cardiff on our own to try local tour operator with minivan tours. We booked a small minivan tour offered by Where When Wales company. It was A Valleys Tour.

Here is description from company’s brochure:

“Travel as far north as Mid Wales for a sightseeing tour of Brecon Beacons National Park. Visit the central region of the Brecon Beacons and in the late afternoon, the Black Mountains to the east.  Stop for lunch in Brecon, followed by a tour of the cathedral in the town.  Have a photo stop and get the history of Castell Coch — a medieval castle and the former hunting lodge of the Marquis of Bute — followed by a journey through ancient woodland to the Mountain Road to enter the town of Caerphilly. At the town enjoy a guided tour at Wales’ largest castle with a tower that leans more than Pisa.  “.

There were only two of us and 2 more ladies from Australia.

The husband and wife team Jan (guide) and John (the driver, but he is also guide by profession), did a great job. Jan was wealth of information. We learned about history, culture, saw sheep, stopped and chatted with people who were sailing canals on their charters canal boat. We visited 2 castles. One small castle was a hunting castle. Jan gave great historical info on castles, sheep  and Brecon cathedrals. Such details on masons and how they left their marks in stone were really fascinating…

Caerphilly Castle

There was indeed one castle with leaning tower! Each castle was unique in its own way.  One was being used to film the current Dr Who episodes on BBC series. By the way, Dr. Who series are very popular there, so for its fans, they can also visit the brand new Dr. Who exhibit in Cardiff – big centre plus castle on countryside.

The last castle was in the middle of filming a U.S. Movie DaVinci Devils so access was limited , but Jan got us there anyway to mingle with movie crew. :-)

We had about 1 hour free time in Brecon for lunch, in local cafe we had tea, soup and pie.

I highly recommend this tour for people who come to Cardiff for few days, so they can visit countryside….

After we came back to Cardiff, we decided to take break from fish and chips and we ate in Brazilian meat restaurant Viva Brazil. I had meat menu and Michael vegetarian. It has usual Brazilian meat restaurant fare. We did not have place for desert since meat was all you can eat plus buffet….

Day 4, October 17, Cardiff – St. David, Pembrokeshire.

We had breakfast again at Great Western. I found out I was not a fan of the full English breakfast with sausages, bacon etc so we stuck with porridge and Welsh cakes, and we enjoyed them. Porridge was like our Irish oatmeal, but not processed Quaker type, more like Irish whole oats type, served with milk or cream and some sugar.

After breakfast we were ready to leave Cardiff to start our driving adventure! Cardiff Europcar office was kind enough to come and pick us up.

GPS advice.

Since built in GPS is usually expensive, we opted instead to use phone navigation application Waze, which we use it at home. But it required internet connection for that. So we got Wi-fi device from Tep Wireless. I highly recommend it. It cost about $70 for a week including extra battery. It does drain power from the device so extra battery helped. It worked fine for directions. They only deliver locally, so once we bought it, the device was sent to our hotel and we prepaid for return shipment. All you need to do is to drop it off in any mailbox (more on that later!!) .http://www.tepwireless.com/ . It had good internet connection in most places (except some remote coastal areas, but Waze used downloaded directions).

Europcar people showed us directions to get out of town – it was very close to highway and we went off.

Our final destination for a day was St. David on the coast of Pembrokeshire National Park. It is the smallest town in UK. St. David’s was designated as a conservation area by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in 1972, it is named after St. David, the patron Saint of Wales.

On the way, we stopped in small town Tenby, steeped in ancient history surrounded by an imposing medieval stone wall. Through the passages of time Tenby has seen many changes but it has been on the leisure map for nearly 200 years. Fox News selected Tenby as one of the “coolest small towns in Europe.”

We had lunch on the coast outside Tenby “Coast restaurant” with gourmet food. Chef was excellent there, with seafood dishes. After that, arrived Tenby, walked few hours, and then went off to St. David’s. Sometimes the road hugged coast with really spectacular scenery. More or less, so far weather cooperated. We passed another beautiful town Solva with pastel like houses. We arrived St. David just about sundown. On our first driving day, we did not want to arrive in the dark.

Our hotel for this night was Warpool Court, http://www.warpoolcourthotel.com/ , a member of Welsh Rarebits collection of distinct hotels. Their choices for properties were excellent. They represent the essence of country hotels, each unique in each own way…

Like they boast Location, Location, and Location! Warpool court is located on 15 seafront acres of prime coastal views and walking trails of Pembrokeshire National Park. I wished to stay 1 day longer so we enjoyed walking trails more. Especially with beautiful fall colors, the views were picture perfect.

We planned to go in town (about 10 min walk) for dinner, but it was strong wind and rain outside, so we decided to eat at the hotel. Unlike our previous pub dinners we had, this one was gourmet. I liked goat cheese cheesecake.  We ate by the fireplace with beautiful tiles. We had some scotch, beer and local ales before dinner. The staff was Eastern European so I was able to speak my language.

It is very nice hotel, however few con points: it does not have elevator, so it is not accessible for clients with some mobility issues. Check out was at 10:30am! Later we found out other hotels have check out at 11as well. The room was cozy, but small with Victorian interior. Not enough plugs to charge our devices.  I did not have opportunity to inspect more rooms, maybe larger room or better category will be nicer.  The tea service had nice teas though and staff was very nice. And view from the room to die for!

Day 5, October 18. St. David  – Aberaeron

In the morning the weather improved. We had breakfast at hotel (included in rooms stay). I tried smoked haddock. They cooked eggs to the order and we enjoyed a nice buffet.

We still had about 1 hour before check out, so walked out to use trails in the dunes, lovely. It must be outstanding in summer. The winds were blowing and we took into consideration how far we can go so then we will need to come back.

Then we checked out and left to explore St. David’s. We visited St. David’s cathedral and remains of bishop’s palace. The setup was beautiful and we saw a group of artists drawing from the scenery.

Then we had a walk in the St. David’s village and had a tea with scones in local tea room.

We drove to White Sands Beach and admired scenery.

Then we left for next destination – Aberaeron going north.

Fishguard was a small coastal town with picturesque harbor and quayside known as Lower Fishguard.  This was where Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood was filmed in the 1970s as well as Moby Dick.

The coast between Strumble Head and Fishguard was the site of the last invasion of Britain in 1797 by Franco-Irish soldiers but. The landed on the beach, the troops got drunk and never made it any further!

Guess they like the local wine, beer and ale!  I was always amazed at the local history.

The drive continued through the rural area with sheep and cows.  We were driving through one especially secluded sunken roadway with high hedgerows on each side with barely room for one car let alone the occasional oncoming cars.

We went by an ancient 2800 BC ceremonial Druid grave site of stones named Pentre Ifan, very impressive.

We arrived Aberaeron where we were booked at a hotel Harbormaster, also a Welsh Rarebit property. http://www.harbour-master.com/

Aberaeron from its description: “is picture-postcard pretty with its colorful Georgian style houses and graceful architecture. Built in the early 1800’s, Aberaeron is one of Wales’ first ‘planned’ towns, and the brainchild of the Rev. Alban Jones-Gwynne. http://www.aberaeron.info/ “.

Aberaeron turned out to be a delightful small harbor town where a river runs into a manmade harbor circa 19C. The hotel/ bar were built in 1810 in this site and right on the harbor. It was a bit difficult to find a parking space, but eventually we made it. This small hotel is also a well known pub and restaurant for locals. Reception desk is in the pub! Michael particularly liked to go to our room through pub :-) .

While we were parking, we were welcomed by local ladies sitting on the bench and enjoying the sun. They “supervised” our parking and were so welcoming and lovely, so we took photos with them. This is the Aberaeron’s welcoming committee!

Our room had a balcony overlooking the breakwater on the entrance into the harbor. The weather was nice and we had the doors open all night.  The Stars were out in force that night and they seemed so close.

The people are so friendly and honestly interested in what we think of their country. Such a lovely change of pace. It was Sunday and we joined locals on their walks, took some pictures of local streets, people, dogs, etc. I loved this town even more than previous St. David’s.

In the afternoon, we had a snack – local oysters and sample beers at the bar from hotel/pub manager. It ended up being a taste testing event.  It was also marked by some exceptionally large and sweet oysters.

For dinner we chose to eat in the restaurant, since they had lobster on the menu. Alas, lobster was not caught that day and we ended up eating other fish. Otherwise we would prefer bar, it was more lively setting.

Hotel was excellent as well. It has lift access for those inclined not to walk. Our room was very comfortable, modern, with huge bath. We had balcony overlooking harbor. If we would choose not to go outside, we would watch all harbor action from the balcony! I liked this hotel the best so far.

Day 6, October 19, Aberaeron – Devils Bridge – Portmerion.

After breakfast we met with Sioned from Welsh Rarebits, who arranged our stays and she was interested to hear our feedback. We babbled enthusiastically about people, food, villages we experienced. She gave us few sightseeing tips and we sadly said goodbye to Aberaeron.

We drove further up north along the coast and had another full day of leisurely stops.  Farm stands and cheese stands were along the way. There are 12 million sheep in Wales, 3 million people.

Our plan for today was to drive through Aberystwyth.

 Description  “Home to the University of Wales Aberystwyth and the National Library, the town is nestled between three hills and two beaches, and hosts castle ruins, a pier and a harbor.  The surrounding hills hold the visible remains of an iron-age fort and also a monument to Wellington. Climb the hills to find stunning views of Cardigan Bay.”

We though to take Vale of Rheidol Railway to Devil’s Bridge and return

But somehow we got lost (lost Wi-Fi connection) and missed it and never made to Abersyswyth, so we continued to the Devils Bridge by car.  The weather was good and the sun highlighted beautiful fall colors. The bridge was very interesting, it had 3 levels and attracted tourists since the 18th century. You can pay to see it from the falls side or from the gorge side. We parked and walked through the turnstile gates to admire nature, three bridges and the gorge.

We drove on and into Snowdonia National Trust Park later on, the road was winding with beautiful vistas… We wanted to stop to eat lunch, but the places to eat where somewhat apart and by the time we would see it, we passed it. As result, and being hungry, we decided to go straight to Portmerion. Even after we lost connection once more time, Portmerion was clearly marked. It is well known place in Wales, like Disneyworld in Florida.

PortMeirion main Hotel

We arrived in Portmerion village. What can I say? It is a different property, again suggested by Welsh Rarebits. It is not my style (we do not like Disneyworld either!). But I was glad to see it, otherwise I would always wonder. Mr. Meurig Jones, attraction manager, gave us a tour of the village in the golf cart. I definitely understand its appeal for some travelers. Snuggled onto a peninsula on the Snowdonia Coast, Portmeirion was the dream of architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who designed the resort to engage the visitor with interesting views wherever they should stop.  It also provided the perfect backdrop for the TV series The Prisoner in the late 1960’s.  www.portmeirion-village.com/ . He built it for 50 years and was lucky enough to live to see it to completion through delays due to the war, and financial difficulties.  The TV in the rooms continuously shows The Prisoner.

Estuary Portmeirion Wales

It was a site with neglected garden, and a mansion. He acquired it for about 5,000 pounds. It is located on the estuary and faces the mountains, the scenery changes during the day depending on tides, just like Mont St. Michel. The idea was to build a tightly grouped coastal village. I am an architecture lover, and this village is somewhat eclectic and sometimes even weird. You really need to know what you are looking at, for example, some of the windows are just painted, the façade is just a façade and in the back, there is nothing. Some shapes of few houses were curved, like Gaudi’s. He also collected discarded statues from everywhere, so for example, Asian statue of Buddha. The structures on the way to the sea are on of Mediterranean castles type. Overall it somehow fits together. There is Victorian hotel (where we stayed) plus various cottages pastel color around the village. Rich and famous stayed there. They also built a castle (circa 20c). The castle reminded me Dracula castle hotel I stayed in Romania.

Portmerion gardens Wales nice photo.

We also drove through the garden in the golf cart and it was very beautiful. Mr. Jones said most people never get to the garden, only stay in the village. It was Japanese gazebo and fall colors were beautiful.

People usually stay there and do not leave the village. Dinner was included in our stay. We also had afternoon tea there. Service was very good. Our room faced the estuary and it had beautiful views of the sea, and we witnessed the quick and impressive tidal change. There was a stoned ship moored by the hotel, a tribute to the previous one that was dragged out by the current to sink close to shore.  This one was a dummy. What was strange is that during our 2 days there we did not see any birds or traces of fish in the sea. We were told the estuary was dead. No fish, shellfish and therefore no seabirds.

And, I almost forgot to mention – there is Victorian dog cemetery! Not by Clough but from the previous long time owner.

DAY 7 – Monday, 20 October Portmerion – Anglesey Isle.

After breakfast, we left Portmerion for our next destination – Chateau Rhianfa on Anglesey Isle.

On our schedule we had Caernarfon Castle, one of the impressive castles constructed by King Edward Ist of England in 13C, but we “castled out” and went through to Chateaux Rhianfa, where Welsh Rarebits booked us for next night. It is a real castle hotel!   Wow! http://www.amazingvenues.co.uk/

Anglesey is an island, or Ynys Mon as it is known in Welsh, covers an area of 276-square miles, and has a coastline some 125 miles in length. Two thirds of the coastal path is in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty.  Anglesey was also known as Mon, Mam Cymru, the Mother of Wales, because its fertile lands were considered capable of providing sufficient food for the whole of Wales.  

 I took a tour of facilities with sales manager. It is only in business as hotel for 2 years and before was private castle. This Chateau was inspired by a Chateau in the Loire Valley and sitting in a commanding setting overlooking the Menai Straits, and is very romantic, 18C, built for Sir John Hay Williams, and it was in the family until 1957. Later on it was sold and few years now it is a hotel for lucky guests.

Our room at the chateau is facing the water we have also an extra round turret room with lovely windows and built in bench. It seems we have the tower room I always wondered what was in those round towers so common in the corners of the castles and chateaus. Now I know.  Here is a photo of me reclining in the room reading a book in the afternoon.

We  met with my Italian friend Antonella and her local Welsh friend Steve. We left our car (what a relief!) and Steve showed us “his Wales”.  We saw yes you guessed it another castle, Beaumaris, this one built by King Edward 1st, who ran out of money before it was completed.

We saw the village and train station with the longest name and took obligatory picture. It has 54 letters. .

Llanfair­pwllgwyn­gyllgo­gery­chwyrn­drobwll­llanty­silio­gogo­goch.

Steve taught us how to pronounce it. There is a song written to teach kids how to say it, here is the link from youtube  if you wish to practice :-)

   (credit video to donwoodswirral).

Then we went to Beaumaris and saw the lighthouse on the point and a small Puffin Island off the coast with puffins and seals. The seals are cubing, but neither animal came out to say hello.

We had a nice lunch and another local pint of beer from Snowdonia brewery was very smooth. The seafood mussels and haddock were very good.

On the road we saw more sheep then people. I made a mental note to have lamb for dinner.:-)

We visited another very old monastery with a story, about a local person who became a saint in 1200 or something like that.

We have breakfast in our chateau tomorrow before we trek out over a bridge through Bangor which is spelled the same but pronounced very differently by the Welsh than our city in Maine. The Welsh language is very alive and spoken by all very melodically and impossible to understand.  Everyone speaks English as well and I am always so pleasantly surprised by their friendliness. We head out to Bodnant Gardens in Snowdonia mountains national trust.

Back to Chateau, we took a nap. We missed our scheduled visit to the welsh custom of boys choir practice, but we needed to rest.

We did not feel like eating at the chateau since we had already so many dinners and meals… so we skipped the dinner. Another five course meal with wine, aperitif and such is not sounding good to either of us at this time.  I would not mind having afternoon tea however the reception at chateau said it has to be booked a day in advance.  This and the dinner is the only one negative thing about Chateau. I would think they should have an option of lighter meal or room service or some kind of sandwiches available. Especially since everything else I believe is in driving distance.

DAY 8 – Tuesday, 21 October. Anglesey – Bodnant Food Centre – Llandudno.

Today we had a breakfast in the Chateau and it was an experience. You sit at a large table in an ornate formal dining room with other people and multi course formal breakfast is served. You select from the menu. The serving lady was in maid outfit and said in pronounced British accent: “What else can I get for you before I go downstairs to kitchen? “

Once I got over the shock, we were able to talk to other people (British) and we had a lovely conversation though.  We learned that it was a hurricane went through Northern Wales from USA and it brought strong gusty winds and bands of rain. The chateau was built so sturdy we hardly knew that it happened.

We checked out and went to Llandudno, our last 2 nights stay in Wales.

Our commute was not far and the road was four lanes most of the way.  Before Llandudno, we had an appointment at Bodnant Welsh food center. It is a destination by itself for foodies. You would think British food is boring? Think again.

It is located in Conwy, North Wales, in beautiful Snowdonia Mountains, with panoramic views. Prince Charles was present at the opening. As we’ve were told, he is very much into “slow food” movement, organic locally grown food.

A month ago I attended yearly trade seminar on Britain in Las Vegas and Wales was showcased there. They brought cheeses and other delicacies from Wales and a renowned chef Dai from Bodnant center gave us cooking class. Therefore we came to his territory to sample food see the center by ourselves. We’ve met there with Judith from Wales tourist board and Rebecca from Bodnant center. All the produce food and supplies are strictly local. They make their own cheeses from the milk of the cows we saw across the Conwy River. We met the master cheese maker who showed us the process and the let us into the giant cheese fridge where the cheeses are aged.  They have their own bee farm and learning center. Vegetarian and kosher meals can be provided there as well.

We met with the master chef Dai who was kind enough to prepare a sea bass lunch for us, with steamed vegetables and salad, all beautifully presented, and outstanding taste. Judith and Rebecca showed us around.  The master butcher talked to us on the local products and cuts.  The adjacent store was like a playground for foodies.  Some noticeable items I found amusing.  The fresh vegetables were not washed; potatoes, carrots etc had fresh dirt on them so the patrons can see it’s fresh and without any pesticides. The same thing with the meats, they had the cuts still red and bloody showing they were freshly prepared.

Fresh breads, cheeses, jellies, jams and everything you could possibly want fresh every day.  The deli made fresh meat pies in their varied forms daily.  Move over, Wholefoods! We took many photos. But they would just make you salivate and prevent you from finishing this blog.  If your interested just ask us and we will set you up with a link to the images.

After that, we went to the coastal city Llandudno, a Victorian resort about 30 minutes away.

We checked into St. Tudno hotel, http://www.st-tudno.co.uk/ on waterfront. Besides being a part of Welsh Rarebits collection, it is a historic hotel, but it is also famous that Alice Liddell, the inspiration for the ‘Alice’ in Wonderland character in the books, stayed in Llandudno in 1861. She was eight years old, and on holiday with her family when Charles Lutwidge Dodson (Lewis Carroll) visited the family. Alice Little sat on Lewis Carroll’s lap and told him of her dream the night before.  That dream was written down and we now know it as “Alice in Wonderland ”

Day 9, October 22, Llandudno

Llandudno (pronounced “Chlon dud no” ) is a Victorian city that has kept intact its integrity since 1850’s. We walked the lovely Victorian styled and aged pier to the end with its unique shops and arcade style game rooms. At this season, however most of the shops were closed. This is reportedly the best holiday seaside resort in the UK. Its mountainous bookends called the greater and lesser Orme, protects the city’s  climate.  It is also has the legend of stopping and protecting the inhabitants against the Viking raids that plagued other coastal towns and villages in bygone eras.  Queen Victoria brought a present of Cashmere goats whose descendants we saw wondering the greater Orme.

Next morning, we walked at waterfront. There were benches with plaques of people whose family dedicated to departed who loved to be in this pier.  Very thoughtful.

We found a small synagogue that was being used as a retreat by some Jewish school from Manchester, where we chatted with students.

In the afternoon, we met with a driver guide John from VIP services, who wanted to show us “his Wales”.  We were glad to have the day off from driving.  The weather was not raining and less windy but colder about 50’s.  John was born and raised here and was armed with that integral knowledge of the area, history and local stories/fables.

Before we headed out of Llandudno, we passed a restaurant near our hotel and John stopped to talk to the restaurant owner, and introduced him to us as his brother. I had this restaurant on my list to try and asked if he has lobsters. He said will get few for us for dinner.

He took us through little known roads into the towns, villages, and Snowdonia National Park.  As we mentioned before, Three million people in Wales, 12 million sheep! Beautiful vistas narrow roads and old buildings.

We had a wonderful afternoon with John. We visited some interested churches; he drove us in Snowdonia hills above Llandudno. We went to woolen factory Trefriw Woollen Mill which was running on turn of the century machinery and hydroelectric power from the local stream through its antiquated water turbines.

We had a tea in a very unique small place “Tu Hnwt I’r Bont “ – Tea Room Gallery,  National Trust Property, http://www.tuhwntirbont.co.uk/  a very characteristic place in 12th century building. We had tea and welsh rarebits with scones. This was the best Welsh Rarebit I tasted in Wales. We discussed qualities of rarebits (food, not the hotels :-). John said it depends how much beer and mustard it is used by each cook. This one was perfect in my opinion. Scones were hot from the oven, tea was just perfectly brewed and homemade jams and cream were delicious. I started a conversation with two ladies who represent some kind of other tourist attraction nearby which was filmed in the series “Amazing Race”.

As for building itself, it had so much character that it was unreal.  The ceiling was low that Michael had to bend to watch out for the rafters.  It used to be the city hall.  It was right by a 15th century bridge.  Remember with all the rain the water was almost at flood level. We felt like I had visited the Prancing Pony from JRR Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit” in the city of Bree.  The place is so entrenched and famous there was photos of the Prince of Wales – Prince Charles enjoying his afternoon tea.  Scones were fresh baked, cream and jam just perfect. We asked for second scone and it came hot from the oven.  Tea was well brewed.

We then finished in an ancient town Betws-y-Coed, with it’s a must see old church 12 century and its waterfalls.   The town itself is quaint but had the usual junky touristy shops. John knew all these small side roads not on maps, the shepherds let us onto their farms observing them corralling the sheep and we went to view this high mountain lake that had wonderful Druid legends from bygone times surrounding it.

We saw another tea room “Ugly House” and visited there beautiful gardens in the back. We saw a waterfall and walked on suspension Foot Bridge.

We saw Conwy castle on the Conwy River in the medieval town of Conwy. It is a mostly intact castle made in four years for Edward I in 1283-89.

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle back

We returned to Llandudno and we had dinner at Seahorse restaurant where John’s brother/  the chef kept his promise and fed us lobster for dinner. It was not on the menu. It was excellent dinner at our last day and we sat and talked with chef afterwards, left him our cards and he said he might take advantage of our offer to come fishing to Florida. I liked his sign at restaurant “Never trust a thin cook!”

Back at the hotel, there was preparation for event “Alice in Wonderland”  new application launch. There were Alice dressed up characters in strategic locations all over town and they camped in our hotel’s lobby. The application is called “White Rabbit” and will be available on apple and android phones. It will be interactive touring in the town starting from hotel where Alice vacationed, a great sightseeing resource for the families.

For more info, see http://www.alicecic.co.uk/town-trail/

It seems that every day there were interesting events for us. Never boring!

Day 10, October 23.

After breakfast together with the Alice characters, we checked out and drove to Liverpool. On the way, we stopped in Roman town Chester. It had interesting Roman history. We took hop on/off bus and we visited military museum there. Then after last lunch of fish and chips (sigh), we drove to Liverpool airport. After we left Wales, the roads became busy. We arrived at the airport and had some difficulty in finding the rental car return – they were not well marked. Finally we made it. We returned the car and then realized we need to find a mail box to return our Wi-Fi device. The rental car clerk suggested we take a car and drive 5 min to the office to return it since they are not allowed to take package. We said “we do not want to drive anymore!”. The city driving in Liverpool was a bit exhausting… He took pity on us, and drove us to the post office where we dropped off the package. Then we walked to the terminal (it is small airport but still some walk…). There was yellow submarine outside of terminal – we are at John Lennon airport!  Lyrics from his songs were everywhere on the walls. His music was even playing quietly in the background throughout the airport atrium. That completed our stay in Wales…. I am sure we will come back next time.

Final thoughts.

Why Wales?

I’ve been thinking about visiting Wales for last few years. While most of travelers in UK tend to gravitate to London including some day trips from there, Wales opened my eyes for other opportunities for a destination  rich Norman and Roman heritage, and an unique culture shaped through years of history.

It is one of the most popular European destinations now but Americans only started to discover it. It is not overrun by tourists yet. It offers 641 castles, amazing scenery, steam trains, sheep, national parks with coastal and mountain scenery, excellent local flavors of seafood, lamb and cheeses.

Wales’ greatest contribution to European literature is The Mabinogion – medieval Welsh folk tales came to prominence in the mid 19th century. Their most famous literary figure is Dylan Thomas who wrote poems and short stories including ‘Under Milk Wood’. Other writers to come from Wales include children’s favorite Roald Dahl who was born in Cardiff to Norwegian parents and Sarah Waters shortlisted for the Booker and Orange prize for her novel ‘Fingersmith’.  Or for fans of British show Dr. Who or “The Prisoner”.

But the most wonderful asset of Wales it’s friendly, relaxed people. Whenever we went, we experienced good service with smile, and even from people on the street who did not need our business. For example, ladies in Aberaeron “welcoming committee”. The people wanted to know where we came from and were genuinely interested how we loved their land.

Food – was excellent. From regular UK fare fish and chips which we ate a lot – to gourmet cuisine in upscale restaurants, it was well prepared and presented with emphasis on local home grown food.  I liked the most Welsh rarebit, scones, Welsh cakes, and seafood. Michael enjoyed scotch and beers. Cheeses were on a par with French. I liked especially Caerphilly cheese.

Accommodations.

From well known city hotels like Radisson Blue to unique countryside properties of Welsh Rarebit collection, all of them offered good quality hospitality and were unique in its own way.

It is matter of personal opinion, but out of all accommodations, we loved the Harbourmaster the most. It was characteristic, modern, comfortable, and reflected the mood and spirit of local people. We also liked that the pub is the center of life in the town.  We loved of course other hotels but the Harbormaster was just our style.

Itinerary. We covered a lot of Wales in 9 days but if I would have more time, I would add on central part with Beacon Brecon national park. Sometime people just to come to Cardiff and stay there, but it is a large city and while it does offer a castle and museums but countryside is the best.

How to get there?

We came from Amsterdam by air – There is nonstop flight on DL/KLM from USA via Amsterdam.

From London, it is about 2.5 hour by train but for people who already been in London and interested only in Wales, it is better to fly to Manchester or Liverpool. It is also cheaper since London is much more expensive.

Wales also combines very well with Ireland since there are ferries in 2 ports of Wales from Ireland.

Touring

As my profession requests, I always explore different ways of travel so I can recommend to my clients the best choice based on their needs.

We tried:

City stay on our own with hop on/off bus, and visit of Castle and Museum Day trip out of Cardiff with Wales Where When minivan tour Self-drive Using local driver/guide Using local friend

My suggestion would be to use local driver/guides. Even though it was interesting to explore on our own, but 3 days with local people really made our touring very special.

We did not mind driving but I can see that the best way to be in a new country is to be with a local guide who loves his country and loves sharing his culture and history. Because you can drive does not mean you should drive. We enjoyed the scenery more at the day with local guide than any other day on our own.  Plus it meant we could also have a beer in the local pub.  All guides we used were excellent with good local knowledge, shared the secret places to see and eat, knew access to special sites and told local legends.

Special thanks to Welsh tourist board and the people who helped us to plan trip discover Wales.

Lauren Summers and Jennifer Minella in New York Wales office

Judith Newton and Tracey Rogers in Wales tourist board

Sioned Williams of Welsh Rarebits

Rebecca Williams and Chef Dai from Bodnant Food Center

John Hadwin from VIP travel services

Jan Williams of Wales Where When

Our local friends Steve and Antonella

Apologies if I missed anyone.

I will definitely will recommend it to visit Wales to all people I will be talking too and hope to come back in near future.

Click here to to our slideshow.

Conclusion : I hope this review of Wales will want you to visit it!

Contact me with any questions at info@mytravelfind.com

Disclaimer: this report presents just an opinion of individuals who’ve been there…. Tastes Differ…

Copyrights Sophia’s Travel Agency, division of EMCO Travel, LLC…@2014