Now, before you get all excited and think:
“Wow! RoseMary is learning to speak Welsh!” Let me stop you…. In my dreams I can understand Welsh and ignore the English signs posted everywhere and behave rather smugly as I pronounce them in Cymraeg.
Yes, I dream big, large, wide and impossibly improbable things. Frequently.
Learning to pronounce Welsh words in English is, well, as difficult for us Americans as it is to pronounce Welsh words in Welsh. Some places are simple, like Haverfordwest—each syllable stated with clarity: Have-r-ford-west. Tada! But when we asked for the bus to Goodwick as good-wick, we were immediately corrected: Gud-ick. Sigh. Thus began the learning of us to properly stating place names.
Or at least attempting to.
On our second trip, Jackie and I were instructed by two fellows in a visitor’s center in how to say Brecon (Break-in) Beacons. They also helped with Caerphilly (Car-filly)—after causing much laughter from the natives as we initially butchered both. Just between us, we still refer to the town of Cardigan as Pullover-pullover and Caerphilly as Caterpilly and Eglwyswrw and Eye-Chart. That one was too much to handle.
Those rebels in the colonies.
No, our Welsh learning curve has more to do with how to experience the most when visiting this delightful, tiny country.
Tiny to someone living in the USA:
Our state of Massachusetts:
8,257 square miles
8,024 square miles
When people ask why we’ve made our third very long trek to this obscure-to-some country, well, gosh, let me explain, keeping in mind that so far we’ve only spent extensive time in South Wales. There’s the entire north part of the country to explore.
Here are reasons we keep going back:
This country is gorgeous with an 870-mile coastline that rivals the Cinque Terre National Park in Italy or many shores I’ve seen throughout Hawaii. The Welsh Coast Path stretches the length of this while the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is 186 miles of that. We’ve been to the start/end on either side of this place and hunks of it in between. Our goal is to conquer the whole path—delighting in the multitude of sights along the way. The Pembrokeshire coastline alternates between long, smooth beaches and cliffs that wear drama like a shawl, draping rocks and boulders down into the crashing waves.
The people are also beautiful. On our first trip, the first day, the first hike, we came across a couple lunching beside the path. Not only did they tell us there were seals around the next bend so to keep trekking on, but when we asked about the well-known tradition of miners singing a song to soothe your soul, the gent broke into a tune. Turns out he sang with a choir.
When we asked the proprietor of a store in Fishguard how long a particular hike was, with a twinkle in his eye he wisely (and wise-guy?) responded, “As long as you want it to be.”
The owners of the homes we’ve rented, Sara (Edith Cottage, Saundersfoot) and Martin and father Leslie (Coedmor in Newport) have become our friends. We exchange emails and letters and feel blessed to have met them.
On our third trip, I reserved a car through Costco in the town of Milford Haven, a mere 18 miles from Saundersfoot. By train or bus, the trip was an astounding two hours! We popped onto our favorite Facebook Group, Pembrokeshire – I love it, and asked how to get there from there. Not only did the locals, with typical Welsh humor come up with all sorts of ideas (helicopter), one woman offered to drive from Milford Haven to Saundersfoot and take us back to Costco! Our landlord for the week, Sara (yep, at Edith Cottage—a place we recommend renting if you want to stay in a quiet spot in Saundersfoot) offered to re-arrange her work schedule and take us as well.
It wasn’t long before someone said to can the Costco idea and rent from Pembrokeshire Self Drive Hire and what a grand idea that was. They are covered more in my 10 Tips for an American Driving in Wales post, but let’s simply say better customer service is hard to find. They also provide tips, “Keep it on the tarmac and you’ll be fine,” for my niece driving for the first time on the opposite side of the road.
That’s the humor of them
Like their driving tips, from our first journey, we quickly realized that although Dad’s family made it to Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s, he (they!) retained a key gene from his heritage: never-failing humor. One elderly gent asked how many miles we planned on hiking each day. We exchanged concerned glances, wondering if this was a pop quiz, what would happen if we gave the wrong answer. Jackie ventured, “Six?” The crinkle lines at the corner of his eyes showed he was trying hard not to laugh, as he remarked, “To a Welshman that’s a stroll.”
A few things we’ve learned during our travels to Mid, South, and West Wales.
Avoid any money exchange businesses and get your cash from ATMs. You’ll do better on the fees or not pay any depending on your bank. Using Pounds isn’t any different from using the American Dollar except that they are continually running above our buck. Since we started our treks in 2014, many more businesses are accepting credit cards, which again if your card does not charge you a fee, is a great way to go.
The link explains tipping in more detail, but for our most common usage, restaurants, it’s 10-15% at a sit-down-and-order place. If you’re dining casually, whether ordering at a counter and picking it up yourself or having it delivered to the table, a pound or two is considered polite, but not essential. Unlike in the USA, folks throughout Europe are paid a living wage to work as wait staff. It is frequently a profession of choice, a family business, and should be considered so. A tip truly is a tip to show that you appreciate the service you received.
The second common place for a traveler to tip would be taxi drivers. But don’t get carried away. Again, this is a profession and it is customary to simply round-up as much for convenience with the math as to say thank you. Of course, there was the insane ride Jackie and I experienced getting from the Bristol (yes, in Britain) train station to the gorgeous Bristol Marriott Hotel where we were lucky to survive the crazed-talking-on-the-phone-driving-with-one-hand—he didn’t get anything but the fare as we jumped out of the cab with our bags and ran screaming away.
Happy Hour in Cardiff:
We accidentally (we do a lot of things by accident on our adventures—it’s SUCH fun!) went into the Missoula (okay, we did this on purpose because of Missoula, Montana—a college town in Jackie’s home state) Hotel bar/restaurant in Cardiff. After a day of touring around the city, we didn’t realize the time, but it happened to be happy hour. We had two refreshing glasses of wine at a mere L4.75 total.
This is something I can’t stress enough to anyone traveling to Europe from the USA. Things are not Texas-sized there the way they are here! Speaking in generalities, taxis are smaller, you’ll do some train riding—my favorite mode of getting around—with limited storage space. And, you’ll most likely wind up on a Welsh bus or two, which is a whole different paragraph, also with limited storage space.
Here’s a link to Dressing Advice for an American in Europe, beyond that, here are a few unique things about Wales travel to keep a light load:
We take two pairs of shoes—sandals and hiking. For beach wading, you may want to stash a pair of water shoes—they don’t take much room or add weight. Pack in layers—rain jacket, warm pullover, lighter shirts both long and short sleeves. A hat is critical in the hot Welsh sun. For additional style in the evening to keep your crazy hair under the way is a hair banana—practical and nice looking.
Here’s the packing that works for us.
eBags – Jackie, Jenny, and I have the Junior Weekender backpacks—purple and two shades of blue—and full-sets of packing cubes. While I’ve found the biggest cube to be cumbersome for my clothing, it works great for husband’s business shirts on his work trips. Yes, he has his own set of cubes in purple, I choose my favorite color green and bought three medium ones in raspberry. Having a unique color works great when you’re spending one night at a location. Put what you need for the evening and next day and you’re not unpacking five cubes to get to the appropriate attire.
Back to stuffing that pack. If you are small folks like us, you could fill the bag and not be able to handle it, we quickly learned in our trial packing experiments not to carry too much. The philosophy of packing everything you want to take and then removing one-third of it is a very wise approach. Odds are you won’t need it and if you do need something, buy it!
We wisely take one small additional suitcase along. Because we choose to rent vacation homes—remember Edith Cottage in Saundersfoot—we filled this suitcase with supplies like toilet paper, favorite breakfast foods, and packing materials. As we emptied the suitcase, we were able to put purchases in it for the return trip and toss in our dirty clothes, further lightening our return home load. My suitcase, ancient, experienced a wheel-chassis-break and I had to buy a new one. Such is life and the little thing has come in handy—much lighter than the one it replaced.
Arbitrary delights & discoveries
At one cafe we enjoyed huge, delicious lattes and scones. Why are American scones as hard as bricks? You break them into pieces to be nibbled, winding up with crumbs everywhere or you dunk them in your coffee to soften them to an edible consistency—yuk.
We experimented with clotted cream and discovered we liked it.
It was amazing to see many people frolicking in the water like it’s a warm Hawaiian beach while we were bundled up.
The Welsh everywhere asking, as Maggie said, ”How long are you here?” She explained it means, “How long do we get to enjoy your company?”
“Off Licence” on a store sign means they can sell liquor.
“Car Boot” is a flea market.
“Fly tipping” is illegally dumping trash.
The more whimsical you are in your adventures throughout Wales, the easier learning the ins and outs of traveling there will be. The most important thing is to relax and intentionally allow your stress to seep out of you into the rich earth you’re walking on. You want your time in Wales to be enchanting and the best way to do that is to let both country and the Welsh to beguile and mesmerize you.