Monday the 4th of April, 2022
I heard once that it takes one day for each hour of time-zone change to fully get over jet-lag. Since I am 5 zones away from home, and today is the 4th day here, I am well on my way to being acclimated. Now, can I do those first three days over again please, to really, really squeeze the most pleasure out of this trip? No? Oh well, I am still so happy to be here.
I am also glad I decided to record this trip both digitally and ‘analog-ly’ (which I doubt is a real word…). I have my trusty 60-page 6”x 8” (or 15cm x 20cm!) paper sketchbook with me at all times, taking notes and sketching as we go along each day. Then each evening I top it off by sitting with my tiny tablet computer in my room, tapping out the day’s story from the evening’s vantage point.
[FYI Back story: I grew up in a family of writers, and was utterly unaware of the fact at the time. It is like saying I grew up in a family of breathers, it was just that natural. Mom kept a daily diary that helped to validate the slow progress she made on her projects as an artist and housewife in the 1950s and 1960s, and later as an independent spirit right into her late 80s. Her diary was both her anchor and her North Star, and I get that now. A day without reflection is a day without perspective.
And what of Dad? If there is an afterlife, or if I get some sort of do-over, Dad is at the very top of the list of people I hope to see again. I never really knew him, adult to adult, because he died when I was quite young, but I know that he valued education and clarity of thinking over pretty much everything. As kids we used to joke about it, the edict seeming to be, “You can rape and you can pillage, but you will not use bad grammar!” He worked in publishing, in fact my parents met at Macmillan Publishing, where they both worked. Our literate fates were sealed for my brothers and me.]
So, enough back story! Ellen Davies and I have gotten into a smooth rhythm of transitioning from strangers to roommates. The ideal bunk-mate for a single elder is another single elder, and since we are both from rural New England, it seems we have a ‘country code’ in common as well. After breakfast today we decided to travel together (mix and mingle is usually the best way to get the most out of these trips), and we also got on ‘the other coach’, just to shake things up. I noticed on a prior trip that a natural self-sorting happens when there are two coaches for a group of 20 or so travelers. The extroverts tend to gravitate together and the quiet ones do so as well. Our drivers are equipped with microphones and on the way to our destinations, they use that time to give a talk, explaining the countryside we are passing through and any relevant history. The folks on the chatty bus ask all sorts of questions as the driver is talking, turning it into a conversation. The introverts on the ‘quiet bus’ sit silently, some even taking notes like they would in a lecture hall, only murmuring quiet verbal applause as is appropriate without running the risk of interrupting. I find the yin and yang of these group dynamics very entertaining. I also know that after another day or so, if we tried to switch buses, we would be helpfully told by fellow travelers, “Sorry dear, but I think you might be getting on the wrong bus”, as if there really were such a thing. Aren’t people funny?
After breakfast today (4th April 2022) we set off back to the north, past Bodnant Garden and Conwy Castle to the Great Orme Tramway, in the village of LLandudno, located on the Creuddyn Peninsula, jutting north into the Irish Sea. The tram climbed a full mile up a mountainside, and at the top the view was stunning! It was a clear day, thank goodness, and the few clouds in the distant sky only added to the sense of depth as we looked toward the distant Isle of Man, Blackpool, and even my beloved Lake District!
I did this drawing of the tramway ride, shaky as it is, as we climbed the hillside, and added the tramcar later. The perspective is way off, but I still like it because I can smell the salty air and feel the breeze.
Our next stop was the Great Orme Copper Mine. Honestly, I never in a million years thought I would be interested in this part of the trip, but leave it to Road Scholar and their collaborators at each site, it was absolutely fascinating.
How do you wrap your head around a date like “3,500-4,000 years ago…”? Mind-boggling. Apparently, the mine was most productive in the period between 1700 BC and 1400 BC (!), and wasn’t worked again until maybe the 1600s, finally being abandoned in 1881. A hundred years later, in 1987 a new excavation began, revealing over 5 miles of tunnels, going down more than 230 feet below the surface. Claustrophobia anyone? The site was opened to the public as an historic / educational center in 1991, and the tours it offers continue to keep this rich part of Welsh history alive. I have to say, being there, actually standing where the miners stood, is nothing like reading about it in a book.
We had lunch on our own in Llandudno (like Hullan-DID-no), and I realized again how awkward it is to travel where all of one’s pronunciations of written words will be wrong, wrong, wrong! Different members of my group have made attempts at trying to pronounce names right, and I’ve learned that there are easy ways to do homework ahead of time in the hotel (with wi-fi access) so there’s a chance of looking like we at least made the effort. Having traveled in Japan, Russia, and El Salvador, I really respect tour guides who are constantly, and I mean constantly, asked, “How do you say that?” and “What does that mean?” as if the guide were a walking Google app. At times like this I cringe at being a mono-lingual American tourist.
After lunch we all re-boarded the coaches and headed south, settling in for a lovely meandering ride back to our hotel, where we enjoyed two really informative lectures about the Celtic period of local history, and about the Roman invasion.
It reminded me of a UK gardens tour I took in 2016, which unfortunately is no longer offered because the one-of-a-kind tour guide retired, and no one since could fill her brilliant horticulturalist shoes. Anyway, on that tour we actually spent several hours in slide-show lectures each morning, before boarding the buses for on-site visits to the historic gardens we had just studied. It was amazing, the very best of a graduate school education combined with stimulating first-hand experience. Because I had had this combo of classroom-and-on-site Road Scholar learning before, I knew in my bones that it was well worth spending an afternoon indoors. And of course, the cream tea that was offered mid-afternoon made it all the more palatable, literally.
The only drawback for me is that any traditional study of ‘history’ tends to be about the history of conflict, and aggression, often by warring men, and I am always left to wonder, “Where are all the women in these stories?” Of course they were often hidden away, tending to terrified children and trying to keep what was left of their homes intact. I wonder how many millions of women have gone to all the bother of birthing children, raising them through difficult toddler-hoods and young adulthoods, just to see them conscripted to fight in battles over ancient grudges and pride as much as over limited resources, resources that actually might be adequate if creative cooperation were in our DNA as much as domination seems to be. (Phew, long sentence!) There are no easy answers to these questions, but sadly I wish they were asked more often.
The day has ended as always with a scrumptious dinner, and restful evening, knowing that we will have the entire morning tomorrow free to explore on foot our Royal Oak Hotel and the village of Betws-y-Coed, which I now can pronounce with ease!