Saturday, February 12, 2011

They Don't Serve Food in Wales

Today was the much-anticipated Wales excursion! I was really excited to be able to travel to a country for a fairly low price, especially since I probably wouldn't have been able to go otherwise; Wales is nearly a three hour driving trip away from the city of London. And as is the case with most of my adventures here in the U.K., not everything went according to plan...

It all started out promisingly enough. I got up with plenty of time to get ready, leisurely eat breakfast, freak out over next year's theatre season, etc. before heading out with Adrienne to meet the bus at 8:15. They had announced that they were leaving at 8:30 whether they had everyone or not. Even so, we anticipated many people running onto the bus at 8:29. Not so- everyone was there on time (wow... originally typed "well early," which is a very English phrase, or at least, a very QMUL students' phrase... I don't want to generalise) and we actually left campus before 8:30. Hooray!

It took about two and a half hours to get to our first destination, which was Gloucester Cathedral in Gloucester, England.

Besides being a pretty cool cathedral on its own, it's also been used as a set for a few of the Harry Potter films. As a huge Harry Potter fan since I was about nine or ten, this was pretty exciting.

I can see the wizarding magic sparkling in the air!

I wasn't technically supposed to take any of the millions of pictures that I did inside the cathedral- not because it is a working place of worship (which I believe it is), but because they wanted you to pay five pounds to take even one picture. We did not pay, but since there weren't docents in most of the parts of the cathedral, Adrienne and I snapped away like the delinquents we are.

Random cathedral picture time!

Very different styles of stained glass windows than you usually see, though they had mostly "regular" styles.

We were told before we got off the bus at the cathedral that lunch wouldn't be until 1:30. We didn't have a problem with that- 1:30 wasn't that late. But due to the fact that we ate breakfast at seven in the morning, our stomachs asked for food after the cathedral and we stopped and got a snack at a cafe. The bus was late picking us up from the cathedral, but everyone was at the bus stop on time.

We started driving to Wey Valley where we'd climb a hill to get a view of the valley and see England and Wales at the same time.

We were only given fifteen minutes here, but there wasn't a whole lot to see once you'd gazed at the great view for awhile. However, it seemed to be a problem for our fellow group members.

Let me pause here for a moment to explain what our group was comprised of. It was, I believe, entirely made up of international students, which makes sense. I think only about five of us were American. Everyone else, from the sounds of their native languages and accents, were from elsewhere in Europe. And their behavior gave me hope that Americans are not, in fact, the rudest people on the planet; about 80% of the group had any American I've ever met trumped by a good amount. After we stopped at Wey Valley, most of our group lost the ability to keep track of time. They would hang out at each location, eventually wander to the thing we were there to see, goof around in/around/on it, smoke a few cigarettes, throw the butt on the ground, see that the bus was ready to leave and saunter to the bathroom, taking ages to come back out and finally stroll back to the bus.
This was the pattern for the rest of the day. Cumulatively, we probably lost about forty-five minutes to an hour waiting for stragglers (usually for them to stop smoking. At least I know my mom will always be employed... it seems like EVERYONE here smokes all the time.)

Finally, we departed from Wey Valley, finally heading for Wales. On our way, we passed the Forest of Dean, which they decided semi-recently that they wanted to sell to people to do with as the buyers wished. The "foresters" (as the locals are called) as well as well-known people like Dame Judi Dench and Bill Bryson, have spoken out against this.

These signs, as well as yellow ribbons, adorn a lot of trees in the area.

The countryside of both England and Wales is absolutely beautiful! They made sure that we took the scenic route while heading to our destinations.

Once we got to Wales, our tour guide pointed out that all of the signs sport two languages: English and Welsh. It's required that they do, even though only one-fifth of the population speaks Welsh as their primary language, and that is more in the north of the country. Welsh has a lot of consonants in it, and the combinations of some of the consonants signal that a vowel sound is supposed to be used. How confusing!

Our first stop in Wales was the Tyndern Abbey. We were given a little under two hours here. We could go on the guided tour of the abbey, wander it by ourselves, and have lunch in the village right next to it.
Adrienne and I decided that, since we weren't hungry yet after our snack, we'd go into the abbey. We didn't want the guided tour, so we took off on our own exploring the ruins. They were pretty awesome- in much better shape than the Reculver Fort ruins that we visited in Herne Bay last month.

Though the ruins were cool, we didn't need to spend more than half an hour wandering them, so soon we visited the gift shop, got a few things (three postcards for me), and headed out for food. This is where the problems arose.
We decided to try the bigger of the two places; one was a tiny tea room and one was a pub/restaurant type place. We went in, chose a table, stole a menu from a couple who had just said they knew what they wanted, and chose for ourselves. But when we went up to order, I only got out, "Could I have-" before the man behind the bar interrupted me with, "We've stopped serving food, I'm afraid."
I stared at him, taking in the fact that I was standing in the middle of a restaurant with people eating food around me, being told that they had stopped serving food. It was not even three p.m.
We were not pleased, but headed over to the tea room across the street after telling the American boys who had just entered the pub that they would not be getting food, if that's what they were after. Since they were, in fact, American boys in their late teens/twenties, that is, of course, what they wanted, so they followed us to the tea room.
This place didn't have as much of a selection, but I didn't have a problem with some soup and a toasted tea cake. Adrienne and I managed to jump on a table for two under a staircase (this place was tiny) and got in line outside the kitchen to place orders. When the person ahead of us was next, the lone cook announced that she had too many orders and would not be taking any more. Translation: they were also not serving food anymore.

Let me paint you a picture: We are in Wales. And not just Wales, but the Welsh countryside, in a tiny village that hosts some ruins and two eateries that have just taken the "eat" out of their titles. I overheard a girl in our group say that she had been told that the only other places to eat in the vicinity were on the other side of the village. We did not have time to find out how big this village was.
Adrienne and I stalked around angrily for a bit (we're neither of us happy people when we're hungry.) We both had chocolate of sorts in our bags, but we didn't want them to be our lunch- they were more "snacks for the ride home if we feel like it or perhaps as a last treat before we die of lung cancer because of all of our group members' second-hand smoke."

In stalking one direction, I noticed a hotel on a hill across the street. I proposed we go over and see if they served non-guests, and since we had no other prospects, Adrienne agreed. As we drew closer, I saw that they did, in fact, advertise their bar and brasserie. We went through the door marked 'bar,' closely followed by two other girls from our group. We saw a menu on the wall of much delicious food, and a young woman came out of a side door behind the bar and smiled at us. She seemed the nice, food-giving sort that might take pity on some ravenous foreigners. But she must have seen us hungrily eyeing the menu, because before we said anything, she announced, "We're not serving any more food until six."

We slumped out of the bar and back down the hill to the ruins and the other foodless food places. We ran into our tour guide, who explained that the problem had a bigger cause- apparently,all of us students had been told the wrong time to meet the tour in the first place, so we got started an hour late, therefore throwing off the entire schedule, which is why we hadn't made it in time for food. Yay.

Even though it was time to leave soon after that, most of our group had other ideas. They were reluctant to pull themselves away from the various alcoholic beverages that served as their lunches, and when they finally did, they had to smoke... slowly. When they finally boarded the bus, one guy threw a tantrum because someone was sitting in "his" seat (he apparently didn't notice the ten free ones in front of him.) Then, the bus was finally pulling out of the parking lot (twenty minutes late) when a girl cried that she left a bag in one of the shops. She didn't know which. She ran off the bus and into the tea room. Then her friend decided she had to go help her (okay, I know that girls always go to the bathroom together, but looking for a light paper bag together is a new one.) They finally returned and we left at last.

Our last stop, about thirty minutes away, was Chipstow Castle. Since most of us hadn't eaten, we were told we could when we got there. Our tour guide showed us a street with a few eateries and we chose the first one we could find. There, we had delicious cold roast beef sandwiches (my first ever) on delicious bread and french fries. We ate as fast as we could chew since we wanted to get back down to the castle, take some pictures, and then go to the border of England and Wales and be in two places at once.
(Side note about the food- I don't think they eat ketchup with as much in the UK as Americans do at home. We asked for ketchup for our fries and the waitress presented us with a tiny bowl about the size of those paper ketchup cups from McDonald's... for both of us.)

Despite practically choking down our meals, by the time we were done, it was too late to do much of anything and we did want to be hypocrites and turn up late for the bus. So we ran down the hill to where it was parked, snapped a few blurry pictures of the castle (which the group as a whole was too late to go into, thanks to the incorrect start time), and climbed on the bus. We both really regret not being able to go to the border.

But the fun wasn't over yet! Throughout most of the day, our lovely and amiable group members had been complaining about something or another, but we didn't know what. Soon we found out that they wanted to be dropped off at their respective places of residence... individually. This was annoying. While it's true that not everyone lives on campus at QMUL, they knew that we both departed from and arrived at the campus. If they had a problem with that, they should not have come on the tour (though there shouldn't have been a problem with getting back; we were scheduled to be back on campus by 7:30.) So in addition to the initial two and a half hour ride back to London, we had to stop at an extra place, which led us to hitting traffic and making our bus ride four hours long in the end. Adrienne and I (and I'm sure the other sane people on the tour) were not pleased.

However, Wales is beautiful and I really enjoyed what I did get to see. I wish the tour hadn't been spoiled by our poorly behaved group members, but that's what you get sometimes, unfortunately. Hopefully if I go on another day trip, it won't be like that.


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