Quote of the Day - In Wales it's brilliant. I go to the pub and see everybody who I went to school with. And everybody says 'So what you doing now?' And I say, 'Oh, I'm doing a film with Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins.' And they say, 'Ooh, good.' And that's it.
If you're just joining this series1 and want to read from the beginning (which will make the most sense), then please scroll down to the April 2 entry where it all started. Otherwise, jump in wherever you like. It's all one trip.
The cavernous London Paddington train station is my departure point for Wales, the land of my father's ancestors. Having departed Scotland, I left behind the clans of my mother's ancestors, ringing with Scottish names I see reflected in the history there: Richardson (my maternal Grandmother) and Walker (my maternal Grandfather).
But it's on to Wales to discover the other half of my heritage. My paternal Great-grandparents Thomas Bees and Mary Ashman Hill Bees and my three-year-old Great Aunt Mabel emigrated to the US in 1896, departing Cardiff in steerage on the White Star Line for a whopping £66 pounds. My grandmother, Hilda Beese (the family got the gift of an extra "e" at Ellis Island) was born in the US.
They first left the small, rural town of Cwmtillery (pronounced by the Welsh as "come-till-airy," with the emphasis on the second syllable). Itís the four or five consonants before you get to a vowel that defines many Welsh words and town names, making it practically impossible for anyone not a native to pronounce these words properly. And they think I have an accent thatís hard to understand, especially when I talk fast. English is not the same language everywhere, you see.
The London train speeds along the countryside at 125 miles an hour (yes, it's miles in the UK, not kilometers), as I occasionally catch a glimpse of half-sized canal boats, some painted white, others painted black and a deep maroon, gracefully sliding along the waterways under tiny train trestles. Stone houses and barns with nearby sheep, cattle and horses dot the landscape of gently rolling green hills after we depart the graffiti-covered train-track-side walls of London. It's frankly a welcome change from The City.
The train stops briefly at slightly different-looking depots in English towns like Reading, Didcot Parkway and Swindon on to Newton, my South Wales destination. It's here that I get my first experience with driving a car from the passenger seat on the wrong side of the road, complete with turning from the wrong lane into the wrong lane. If you'll pardon the expression, it's a right-brain exercise on the left.
Oddly enough, the driving doesn't present too much of a challenge, but the road signage is another story. It's combination of the round-a-bouts (and I do mean bout), the need to be ready for them well before entering and the placement of the town names and road numbering system. Names like Abergavenny, Ebbw Vale, Abertillery, Bryn Mawr (at least that college was a name I had heard before, but have since learned that we mispronounce it based on the original usage Ė it's "Brin Maw" with a short "a"), Tredegar and the like come at you very fast, and without much warning. Your ultimate destination will likely not show up at the beginning of your trip Ė you have to know the names of the towns on the way. It's a journey in more ways than one.
The roads are numbered first with letters followed by numbers, somewhat similar to our road lettering system, but don't be fooled. Interstate freeways are a completely foreign language to the Welsh and English. They have motor carriageways ("M" usually followed by one number), dual carriageways ("A" followed by three to four numbers) and streets, but the style of road can change in an instant, just on the other side of a round-a-bout. It begins to make sense to me only as I get ready to turn in my "hired" car at the end of the trip. Meanwhile, I struggle with what they call a system.
Don't get fooled here: what is going on inside the car is a stark contrast with the landscape outside the car. When I can turn my concentration from the road, the scenery is every bit as enthralling as Scotland's, and perhaps more so for me because of its strange familiarity to Pennsylvania. Deep verdant valleys make up the predominant land feature, with steep, gray rocky mountains populated with heather and rushing brooks punctuating the slopes. There are some nine such valleys in a row, with the deepest, wide-open part facing the southern sea, and then coming together at the top in the valley headlands, where a road running perpendicular to the valleys provides stunning views of the southern valleys that simply takes your breath away.
Stay tuned. More about Wales tomorrow.1 And just so you don't get the idea that this trip has been all sightseeing, I've spent most of my time visiting with clients, attending seminars and presenting a seminar on The Use of Legal Technology in the Courtroom, squeezing in some side trips here and there. I'd bore you to death with all of that, so you're stuck with reading about the side trips, which is not my real reason for travel. Think that'll satisfy the IRS? back