Sunday, March 15, 2009

Where the b***** hell are you?

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, thats where! No, that is not gobbely gook - it the name of a town in Wales! In fact, this is the longest town name in Wales and one that quite a few Welsh people can just roll off their tongues. Just don't ask me to pronounce it without a substantial amount of whisky in my system!
Luckily, the railway station has a phonetic spelling under the town name on the platform! No doubt the girls back home could have easily coped with this the other night.

Before we called in here, we went to Llanberis to catch the steam train around the lake at the foot of the Snowdonia ranges. Unfortunately most of the stream trains and the cable car do not start their season for another couple of weeks. Darn! The steam trains used have been rescued from the closed slate quarries in the Llanberis area.

We arrived after the first train for the day had left, and with about 40 minutes to kill before the next one, we went for a walk to see where the local dive school trains and practices their dives - in the abandoned pit of a shale mine. One of the guys leading the dives told us that they can go as deep as 17 metres at the moment and at its deepest it can get to 19 m after a heavy rain. Today is a mere 10 degrees so I guess that they are super keen! Actually we saw a few of them putting on their wetsuits in the car park - over full winter clothing. They had the most beautiful clear day for the dives today and one of the ladies who had just emerged said that they could see the ducks paddling on the lake above them.

And so on with the choo choo - it was like having a little boy with me in Michael. Camera firmly in hand, clicking away, he wandered around with a grin on his face for the next hour and a bit. Even in the carriage as the train was travelling he darted from one side to the other looking out the windows on either side to get the best shots of steam and coal dust and the little engine and the carriages and occasionally one of the passing scenery! The air was thick to breathe with that familiar smell from our childhood of burning coals. There were a total of about 20 people on that run - one of the benefits of being very early in the season, but it would have been nice to do one of the runs up into the mountains - oh well, there will be opportunities in Scotland and in Scandanavia later.

From Llanberis we went across to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch calling in at the Tourist Information Office where they have no trouble pronouncing the town's name. One of the ladies explains that is it usually shortened to LLanfair PR. She also explains that if a town name begins with Llan then that town has a parish church. We have come to know quite a few that have churches and don't begin with Llan.

Done with the tongue twister, we headed for the Isle of Anglesey - the large island just off the north of Wales and connected to the mainland by the Menai and Britannia Bridges - both of which we crossed today. We choose to drive around the outside perimeter of the island to see as much of the coastline as possible. The scenery and the landform is quite different from that on the mainland. While still wet and muddy, it is drier and therefore not quite as green. The vegetation is stumpy in deference to the fierce winds. Even the houses are more squat as if digging in against the winds and weather that roar in from the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. The local buildings are either whitewashed or plain in the dark colours of the slate that dominates the landscape. And in a real juxtaposition, in one view we see lots of wind farms on one side and then a nuclear power plant on the other - right on the edge of the sea.

Out to the west of Holyhead there is the Short Stack Lighthouse. Down 410 steps and back up again went Michael to get a close(r) view. The view from there was amazing although he did not see any of the puffins that often inhabit the area of the lighthouse. Back in the car park, I saw lots of blackbirds and gulls feeding and then there was a very pretty black and white bird that had much the same build as the blackbirds, with the addition of a beautiful vibrant blue stripe just in front of its wing. I reach for Michael's little point and shoot to get a photo - but guess where it is? On his belt - and he has the Nikon with him as well. Bugger!

As we are leaving we pass a sign to an 'Ancient Monument' which turns out to be farmhouse circles - built 2000+ years ago. There is surprisingly a lot of the outlines of the structures left and if we had the time we could have climbed up to a Norman fort and Roman ruins, but time was running short.

We wanted to go down to Llanddno for dinner tonight. This town is one the peninsula out from where we are staying at Conwy. It looks like Brighton with the front Promenade of the town being given over to lavish hotels that look out to sea. There is an interesting history around these buildings. Edward Mostyn wanted to rescue the town (that had started to develop a tourist industry) after the closure of the copper mines. He and a few other local businessmen developed the plan that would put high class hotels on thefront promenade, large wide shoppng streets one block back and then residential and service industries back from that. It was a huge success and remains Wales largest tourist resort today. It is certainly very impressive to look at.

We scouted around for somewhere to have dinner and settled on the 'Mediterranean Restaurant' Operated by a family of definite but indistinct mediterranean background it had an authentic feel. The menu was very extensive and a broad indication of all mediterranean cuisines. We settle down to wait for our food:
Entrees - we shared
Mediterranean Hors d'oeurve plate with Dolmades, Tzatziki, Humus and Taramasalata with warm pita bread
Grilled Haloumi Cheese
Fillets of sardines, breadcrumbed and grilled served in a tomato and onion sauce
Lemon Sole with Smoked Bacon and Prawns (Michael)
Deep Sea Bass with Crab in a Cream Sauce (Maria) - a little disappointed as it was presented with prawns instead of crab.
Both served with fresh vegetables and chips
We finished with coffee as there was no way we could fit in dessert!

Off to get a few photos of the promenade at night before we head back to Bryn Derwen for an earlier night tonight. Interestingly on BBC1 there is a program about western Scotland - our next destination!

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