19 Jan 2014: Wales

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Big Pit Mining, Wales

I’ve been busy. Between trying and failing to see Rupert Grint, attending and also failing to see much of the Changing of the Guards (who do all those tourists think they are!) at Buckingham Palace, I’m not giving up.

Kaleo, Kelle and I explored Piccadilly further and had our hearts broken by Fortnum & Mason (a ritzy multi-level shop with smoked meats, macaroons, nougats, nine-thousand-pound whiskey and everything you’d never really need, but that fairy tales are made of), Cath Kidston which threatened to wipe my budget clean (whilst providing a new wallet, of course) and a few chocolate shops that shall be nameless (read: forgotten). I walked away empty-handed. You may ask how and I wonder the same, but I’m going to humbly admit to it being willpower.

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Caerphilly Castle

And then I went to Wales because when classes are cancelled and you haven’t stepped foot in 1/1800th of London, you go somewhere else. I have decided I want to come back as one of the 10.2 million sheep that call Wales ‘home’. Compare that to the 2.9 million residents and it’s quite pathetic, but my chances are good I’d say. I took a coach with 71 other study abroad students, but not just from the states! We touristed our way through Caerleon (The Fortress of Legions) where we explored the only exposed Roman Barracks, the Caerleon Amphitheater and a Roman Bath situated in a strange little museum. An hour later we were headed to lunch in Caerphilly and explored the Caerphilly Castle, the second largest remaining castle in the UK after Windsor Palace. It was quite exquisite really. Next was an open-air museum: St. Fagan’s Museum of Welsh Life. Let me tell you about the rain in Wales though. Never have I met a sky so unsure. I had to hold a blow dryer to my socks when I got to the hotel. But I’d recommend that brief look into Welsh life at the museum, it was quite fascinating.

We stayed on the river in Swansea that night. The main town exists on a street called Wind so my roomie, Emilee, and I made our tired little selves go explore and pick up some grub. I’m so glad we did because the Welsh are so kind. We took an unexpected walk to Swansea Castle and Swansea Beach because of two sweet kids we met on our night out. One spoke a bit of Welsh and it is forever to be known that Welsh will not be a language that I am physically capable of speaking. The sounds that came out of his mouth were astonishing and completely unrepeatable. Though they seemed to fancy my inherited southern slang, even creating a drinking game out of how often I say ‘y’all’. Good fun.

Breakfast was “free” at the hotel so I devoured 2 weeks of mixed, thawed fruit because I’m produce deprived. We made our way to Big Pit, the site of the the best black gold (coal) in the world. If you’re a curious soul, you may be wondering just what fueled the Titanic and it was indeed coal from this very mine. We put on hard hats and dropped 300m in a mining shaft. At one point we all switched off our headlamps and I have never in my entire life seen darkness like that. There was more light inside of my closed eyelids. It sounds slightly horrible, but that was a sweet thing to experience. Pure darkness is very thought provoking. Next stop, Monmouth, home of Charles Stewart Rolls, co-founder of Rolls Royce. I grabbed a quick cured meat focaccia and I was driven off to Tintern Abbey.

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Tintern Abbey

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Tintern Abbey

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Tintern Abbey

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Caerleon Amphitheater

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Tintern Abbey

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Tintern Abbey

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Caerphilly

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Big Pit

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Charles Stewart Rolls

I am sure I just witnessed something life altering. As we cross the bridge during the magic hour and enter England once again, I’m left completely awestruck by Tintern Abbey. The Abbey rests in a place that I cannot put words to. The sun was setting on the already golden trees beyond, creating the perfect opportunity to take way too many photographs. But I found that I just needed to be. Sometimes pictures just don’t do justice (but I’ve tried, for you). The realest moments of our life are the ones you just can’t be looking through a viewfinder at, you’d miss it entirely. The beauty that surrounds Wales is absolutely magnificent and I couldn’t imagine never coming back. Something turned over in my head and I know that I made the absolute best decision for myself by taking this semester abroad. I will be so invigorated that I may be hard-pressed to return. I’m sure this feeling is mutual with so many others who see the wonders of this life. I ache to see more. It’s hard not to when you’re here.

β€œOnce you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”
― Pat Conroy

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