Here's the penultimate post on MIPTC's travel series to Scotland and Wales. April 2 was the start, but you can join in at any point.
Yesterday, I was relating my "driving" experience in Wales.
Today, nonetheless, I find my goal: the Queen's Hotel in Blaina (just five minutes from Cwmtillery), and I begin to understand how Christopher Columbus must have felt when he discovered America. The only reason he found it was because it was in the way when he was really looking for the West Indies.
Despite the "experience" of driving, our hostess, Linda Granville, co-owner, catering manager and resident director (read: chief cook and bottle washer) at the Queen's Hotel (really a bed and breakfast) is welcoming and accommodating, ushering us to our room and explaining the workings of the downstairs bar and restaurant. As I look out the window of my room, I am struck by what I already know.
Having spent my elementary and teenage years growing up in Pennsylvania, the landscape, weather and people are much the same here in Wales, which makes sense when you consider that many of the Welsh, including in 1896 my paternal great-grandparents, emigrated to the US. They sought out what they were familiar with: mining towns where other Welshmen and women were located. I marvel at finding a town in Wales named Nantyglo. My great-grandparents settled in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. Even though it has been years since I have been there, these small towns in Wales are instantly familiar.
Both have row upon row of slate-roofed, two-story stone houses, bars at one end of the street and small, two-aisle grocery stores at the other. Narrow streets travel up steep inclines, flattening out only to accommodate a perpendicular cross-street running at a right angle to the slope of the hill. The streets are overflowing with kids out playing and churches appear every few blocks, accompanied by the obligatory and immediately adjacent cemetery. I feel right at home in a foreign country because it is home.
The people are likewise familiar perhaps because like the Scots, they are warm and friendly. Of course as a foreigner from California in a very small Welsh town, I am a curiosity, and stick out like a sore thumb. I didn't pick up a newspaper, but in Pennsylvania, a visitor like me would surely have been mentioned by one of the wag columns about the comings and goings about the town. I discover that everything about my name is Welsh: all three of my names appear with great frequency here.
Everywhere I go I attract attention, not because of anything about me as James Craig Williams, but because I dress and talk differently than everyone else. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that practically every time I got into my car to drive somewhere, I entered from the left, only to discover that someone had mysteriously moved the steering wheel to the right-hand side of the car. They tried to explain to me that they drive on the left-hand side of the road because the tradition started with right-handed knights in jousting tournaments and as they would do battle against one another on the open road.
It was only then that it made perfect sense, especially given that the English as still doing battle against each other on the open road with their cars.
The final travelogue appears tomorrow.