Monday, April 17, 2017

I rise today because we will not go gentle into that night (147Cong.Rec.H31)

The second base camp in our whirlwind Welsh tour was Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. But before we reached the country's southwest tip, we swung by Swansea, whose most famous resident is most likely Dylan Thomas. I agree with the poet's assessment of the place as an "ugly, lovely town," with romantic ruins like Swansea Castle tucked in among mismatched metallic skyscrapers, including a British Telecom building (top left). The airy Swansea Market had a lot more character, but unfortunately, most of its vendors were on Sunday break (top right). Instead, we found some pre-lunch treats at the Marina Market, where stalls are set up right next to the statue in the square named after the city's native son (bottom).
Following in Thomas' footsteps, we headed west to one of his hangouts, The Mumbles, "a rather nice village, despite its name." We hit the end of the road at Mumbles Pier, where we enjoyed a snack of to-go pies from the market (top left). At the end of the pier, from the Mumbles Lifeboat Station, we could look back on Swansea (top right). We also could look over toward the Mumbles Lighthouse, which illuminates the entrance to Swansea Bay (bottom left). Indeed, the vistas were so inspiring that I even agreed to climb up an enormous rock, just to get a better view (bottom right).
Sadly, this was our small dose of Gower Peninsula, "one of the loveliest sea-coast stretches in the whole of Britain" that became the country's first Area of Natural Beauty. We hurried on toward Laugharne, where Thomas lived as an adult. On our way, we took a wrong turn and got distracted by a memorial in Burry Port, where Amelia Earhart landed when she crossed the Atlantic (left). After a short detour, we finally found the grave where the poet's body was interred after he died during a literary tour in New York (right).
Before his death, Thomas lived with his wife and kids in the Boathouse on the River Taf (top left). A few meters down the shore sits his Writing Shed, through the windows of which the poet was inspired by his surroundings, in such poems as "Over Sir John's Hill" (top right). In "Poem in October," he describes the "heron-priested shore" as he walks through the town (bottom).
In a rookie mistake, I booked us a hotel, Greenhills Country House, in what I thought was Tenby, when actually it was in St. Florence, a French-imbued village 5 miles inland from the borough's main town. The morning after check-in, we had some time to check out the coastal town, with its colorful harbor buildings (left) and crumbling Normal walls (right).
We returned to the city later in the evening, so we could check out Harbwr Brewery. (The w in the Welsh language is a vowel that sounds like oo, as in booze.) The brewery has cleverly built a classy tasting room in an old warehouse behind The Buccaneer Inn, its traditional pub on the main drag (top). After testing everything on tap, including its flagship M.V. Enterprise pale ale, we headed to the Hope and Anchor for dinner. Our main dishes of local seafood, mussels for me and fish for TJ, would've been plenty (bottom left), but I couldn't resist getting some Welsh cawl as an appetizer, which was hearty enough to be a meal on its own (bottom right).
We deserved our repast because we spent the day doing a 10K coastal walk around St. Davids peninsula. We started a bit inland at Porthclais Harbour, then cut across the craggy landscape until we reached the Pembrokeshire Coast Path (top left). Much to my dismay, it was the wrong season to see any seals, but we did stumble across remnants of a 19th-century copper mine (top right). We also saw some of the coast's islands (bottom left), an ancient hillfort, and numerous rock formations left behind from the region's volcanic past (bottom right).

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A beacon of hope and a source of comfort and solace (143Cong.Rec.H7367)

TJ generously decided to use his R&R to come visit me, so I decided maybe he should get to see some sights besides my London living room. As a result, we made good on an R&R plan we had dreamed up but never did while we were in Pakistan: a week in Wales. 

After a train ride into Cardiff (and a minor detour due to a non-dog-friendly car-rental company), we drove into our first base: Brecon, a town in the middle of the Brecon Beacons (top). We checked into our hotel, the Markets Tavern, then got the lay of the land, stopping by the actual Brecon Market right before closing time (bottom left). Then, after a long day of travel, we unwound with some Welsh lamb at The Bank (bottom right).
The national park is known for its waterfalls, and even in the middle of Brecon, the River Usk provided a few rapids (top). Overlooking the waterway is the remnants of Brecon Castle, a Norman structure whose adjoining house has been turned into a hotel (bottom left). In the 11th century, the Normans also built a house of worship on the foundations of a Celtic church; in the early 20th century, it became the Brecon Cathedral (bottom right). 
After a short loop in Brecon, we set out for a longer circular walk in the park. We thought we might have to turn around not far from the start when the route crossed some paddocks, which contained some intimidating long-horned cattle (top left) and some friendly donkeys (top right). After we managed to corral Sage past both (and over some turnstiles) without incident, we skirted a creek as we climbed up a wooded hillside (bottom).
Eventually, we steered away from the creek and through some (thankfully, empty) sheep pens until we spied our goal: Table Mountain hillfort (top left). As we scaled the last few meters, we were supposed to be able to see nearby Sugar Loaf Mountain, but unfortunately, the fog wasn't cooperating (top right). That didn't stop us from taking a break to survey the valley once we reached the footprints of the Iron Age fortress (bottom).
We descended beneath the clouds to return to Crickhowell, the Black Mountain town from which we had started. The seats by the actual fire in "The Snug" were full (left), so we found a spot by the fake woodstove in Britannia Inn. We feasted on a bit of Welsh rarebit -- and the best-tasting hot chocolate ever -- while Sage paused his paws (right).
With the dog passed out in the back seat of the car, TJ and I stopped for a small tour of Abergavenny. While watching a community rugby match, we shared some pastries we had bought in Crickhowell's market. Then we walked over to Abergavenny Market, which offered more crafts than croissants (left). On offer at Abergavenny Castle were views of the surrounding Monmouthshire countryside (right).
TJ and I each picked one last stop as we circled back to Brecon. I chose Hay-on-Wye, but sadly, the many bookstores of the literary town were shuttered for the night. TJ chose Ty Gwyn cidery, where he got to try a few samples and meet the owner before it closed (bottom). 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Having some fun on the Jersey Shore (DCPD-201300368)

I'm not going to lie, I don't believe I ever thought about the fact that because there is a state called "New Jersey," there must be an older place called "Jersey." As it turns out, that older place is Jersey Island, which couldn't be any more different than the U.S. state. I arrived in the middle of the night, but when I looked across the street from my accommodation at the Ommaroo Hotel the next morning, the situation was nothing like "The Situation." A few brave women, far from JWoww and Snooki, were taking an early-morning dip (left). Later in the day, when the tide went out, it was more obvious that they were actually swimming in the Havre des Pas Lido, not just English Channel surf (right). 
I didn't watch for long, though, because I came with the goal of biking the entire Route 1 Coastal Route, which I nearly did. When I set off from the Victorian and Regency rows of St. Helier to find a rental bike, the skies were overcast (left). Luckily, by the time I got around the harbor and on the road, the sun was making an appearance (right).
From the main city, I headed east to Le Hocq, a much less-populated stretch of beach that is dotted with defensive towers (left). Efforts are ongoing to preserve the round towers, which include ammunition magazines and gun decks, but some have already been protected by becoming part of residences (right). 
As I rounded the island's southeastern corner, I came upon Gorey, which I recognized from a distance due to Mont Orgueil Castle (left). The medieval fortress is perched over the harbor, where I nearly stopped for a cream tea (right). But knowing how far I had to travel and seeing the hill I would have to climb to get out of the town, I pressed on.
My next stop was Rozel, an off-the-beaten-path fishing town (top). This detour was planned so this hungry woman could eat at The Hungry Man, a harborside food shack (bottom left). I soaked in some sun and sipped in some tea while I ate a sandwich made from a well-known island delicacy, spider crab (bottom right).
On my way back to my hotel, I ran into some specimens of the island's other famous protein, Jersey cattle (left). I knew I wouldn't make it around the whole island in one go, so I used the scheme of Green Lanes, back roads whose speed limits are set at 15 mph to discourage cars (right), to cut back through the center of the island, so I could explore St. Helier before nightfall.
With my rental bike properly secured, I strolled through downtown. The main drag is King Street, whose French equivalent, just in case you can't see in the photo, is Rue de Derrière, which made me snigger (top left). The island is nearly as close to France (465 kilometers) as it is to England (356 kilometers), and it has long had French influence. Eventually, I stumbled upon the Central Market (top right), where inside it was easy to forget whether the flags represented the Union Jack or the Tricolour (bottom left). The same flags were flying above a giant crab in the Fishermongers' Market across the street (bottom right).
Downtown funnel into the harbor and Liberation Square, created in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the island's freedom from German occupation (top). The last British forces left Fort Regent, on Town Hill above the square, in 1940, and not long after, the Nazis moved their headquarters into the Pomme D'or Hotel. Across from the hotel, crews were setting up the finish line for the Jersey Marathon (bottom left). The next day, when I returned my rental bike a block away, I caught a few competitors heading into the chute (bottom right).
For dinner, forgoing French cuisine, I chose the Sri Lankan restaurant Unawatuna, right down the street from the hotel (top). But that was only after I stopped at a few pubs during my downtown wanderings. First, I watched some rugby at The Lamplighter (bottom left), and then at The Post Horn, I tried an IPA from the Channel Islands' only brewery, Liberation Brewery (bottom right). Jersey is so small that, after dinner that night, I stopped at The Cock and Bottle for one last drink, and I ran into and made friends with the guy in the background behind my beer in that last photo. One last drink turned into many with his group of friends -- as well as many hugs at the end of the night.
Somehow, I managed to make it up early enough the next day to cycle the other half of the island. I pedaled west to the second-largest city on the island, St. Aubin (top). Its waterfront is full of cute cafes, but it wasn't time for a break yet. I cut inland for a bit until I reached the southwest corner of the island, which is graced by La Corbiere lighthouse (middle left). After I rounded the point, I rested, allowing myself a coffee break as I watched hang-gliders drift over St. Ouen's Bay (middle right). As you can tell from the hills in the background, there were quite a few challenging climbs as I pressed on to The Priory Inn, where I followed the short path to take in Devil's Hole (bottom).
Luckily, the road back was mostly downhill. A few times, though, I did have to divert from my direct route in order to avoid the marathon. Once I got back to St. Aubin's Bay, I steered clear of the runners in the final stretch by roosting on a picnic table at the The Lookout Beach Cafe (left). The cafe's name refers to its view not of the race but of Elizabeth Castle, which is accessible by foot during low tide (right). With the tide high, it was high time I headed home.