Well here I am, back home in London. I finally feel like I’m at home in London, which is a good feeling I’ve got to say.
On Monday I left Liverpool for Conwy, Wales, which is a Northern town on the river Conwy (pronounced con-wii). I made the mistake of thinking that there was a long list of things to do in Conwy, because by three in the afternoon I had already completed everything to do in the town! For a small town with the age demographic of 60 plus, most of the shops and restaurants don’t open until 9:30 or 10:00 am. My first stop was Conwy Castle, which was inhabited by Edward the II, Richard the II, and was briefly held by Charles the I. Although it is a very pretty castle, it’s worth the admission just to see the views from the castle. I must’ve been lucky, because I visited the castle right as the morning light was shining on everything in the town perfectly. Although Conwy is already a very photogenic town, so the morning light just made it even more picturesque! I’m glad I pushed aside my fear of heights for these views, but I never really got that close to the edge. Thankfully it was a wonderful spot, because for breakfast I decided to eat at Anna’s Tea Room on the main street-yes, only because my name is Anna. As I watched the docile street below me and eavesdropped on the chatty book club sitting next to me, I was reminded of Dylan Thomas’s play, Under Milkwood, which is set in an imaginary Welsh town. This, to me, is a somewhat stupid thought because of course it reminded me of Under Milkwood, Thomas was writing about Wales! Oh well, onward! Conwy is an extremely walkable town, but be prepared for heaving lungs and sore calves at the end of the day, because the town has some extremely steep streets. Although this attraction will take you less than five minutes, it’s definitely worth it to stop at the smallest house in Britain. It’s a one pound entry, which, it definitely wouldn’t be the end of the world to skip seeing the inside if you’re really stretching your pence. I can’t believe that a 6’3″ tall man lived there for such a long time, it sounds like the beginning of a Mother Goose fairy tale! Once those five minutes are over, take some time to walk down the path following the river Conwy, which takes you to the entry of the Bodlondeb Woods nature preserve. I was too worried of getting lost and entering Narnia so I stuck to the cement path against every Robert Frost inkling I had in my body. Conwy is a lovely town, but without a car or a boat, there’s quite a limited amount that one can do. You can go get a North Wales library card, like me! I needed to use a computer so I was required to sign up for a card! What a souvenir, huh? I spent the next day at the beach resort town Llandudno, which was only a twenty minute bus ride from Conwy. To give you a context of the demographic of this town, the main street was all cafes and bargain stores, one of which had a strangely large selection of motorized scooters. If you, the reader, have seen any of Wes Anderson’s films, then you will be familiar with his film style, which is usually a pastel world seemingly caught in time. It’s an old beach resort town that seems like it hasn’t moved on the Victorian town design, a large pier filled with knick knacks and arcade games at every turn. Because I was there on the off-season the town wasn’t a lively (in excitement or youth) place to be, even though it was very beautiful.
As I was surrounded by older Scousers, Manchestarians,and Welsh people, I realized that my ten day trip was actually just an intensive dialect study of the UK. What kind of nerd subconsciously plans an educational vacation?! oy vey. I find that the dialect I slip into the most is a north Yorkshire accent. I also started picking up little phrases or slightly changed words that I would say, and none of this was a conscious decision, I promise. I’m terrified of actually practicing a dialect because what if someone asked me what neighborhood or area I lived in? Or if I knew their cousin’s tailoring store on the edge of Unkown St. and Embarrassment Boulevard? It was very interesting to notice the slight changes in slang between cities. For example, in Wales it was very common to be greeted with a “Hiya!” as you entered the store, while in Bristol I kept hearing the slightly different “Heya!” Of course in most American theatres I could do an expired cockney accent and they would stand in astonishment and wonder, which goes the same for American accents in London theatre.
On Wednesday I began my long train ride to south Wales. I spent Thursday day in the city centre of Swansea and spent Thursday night and Friday day in Port Eynon, on the Gower Peninsula. My main reason for visiting Swansea is its title as the birthplace of the great poet Dylan Thomas. Other than the Dylan Thomas centre, there was not much recognition of his existence, which is very similar to the legacy (or lack thereof) of author Thomas Wolfe in Asheville, NC. The exhibition was well done, and took me probably less than 30 minutes to waddle through. After purchasing my signature purchase of post cards, I was lost of a single idea for what to do now that my day was wide open. I decided to take a bus to his birthplace, and of course after climbing the San Franciscan-esque hill to his home, I realized that you have to call ahead to visit the home. So it was closed! It would’ve been a great advertisement for V8, because I sure felt like kicking myself. Swansea is home to a pretty large university (maybe large for Wales), so apparently it’s one of the top 5 clubbing scenes in the entire UK. I was flabbergasted by this fact, but hey, you live your life how you want, Swansea.
As my bus rumbled into the town of Port Eynon, my eyes widened as scenes of coastal perfection passed me. The Gower peninsula is absolutely gorgeous, it was all that I hoped and more. It was here that I finally had the realization of why travelling alone can be so important and helpful for the soul. I squirmed and fidgeted throughout checking into my hostel because I wanted to climb, walk, and explore as much as possible while it was still sunset. My YHA sat right on the edge of the water, with picnic tables practically touching the water at high tide. I caution those visiting rocky beaches, because in my flimsy flip flops I was worried about the slightest twist of a step and hearing a crack as I looked down upon my newly broken ankle. Fortunately this did not happen, but hey it might have! From the hostel it was about a ten minute walk/hike up to the top of the nearest cliff. I usually try and journal whenever I’m at a vista or large moment in my life, but I didn’t want to write because it would’ve been distracting me from the beauty surrounding me. A wide stupid smile spread across my face as my lungs filled with the clean and substantial air that Wales has to offer. I’m not usually the biggest fan of the beach due to my hatred of sand, but beaches guarded by cliffs and mountains is worth the weeks of gritty feet following the visit. One of those heat of the moment phrases we all have is “What I would give to live here!” The thought crossed my mind, but before I could declare it I looked around for what evidence of life there was around me. Let me not mislead you into thinking that I am a solitary person. I highly enjoy the company of chums and family too much to move to the beautiful solitary confinement of these beaches. They’re perfect for getaways and vacations, but they didn’t even have a convenience store! On Friday I was sad to leave Wales, but I had a strange excitement for my last couple of days in Bristol.
Bristol, England is the city where my paternal side of the family hails from, so it was cool to imagine my ancestors walking along the Harbourside market or going to services at Bristol cathedral. I guess it was naive of me to assume that every hostel has only same sex rooming, because when I stepped into my room I noticed three lads napping in the room. I guessed I was in the right room because as I turned around to ask, the concierge who showed me to my room had already turned around with a “Enjoy your stay!” Well, I thought, alrighty then, here’s a new experience. Life’s about challenging yourself, right? While unpacking I tried to press down thoughts of the conversation I knew I was going to have to have with my parents as their eyes bulged in worry. Bristol’s streets are filled with art on every wall or inch available. I felt like I was stepping into a different city when I approached the cathedral, almost like a guarded community from the sins of the rest of the city. Coming from a town with the motto “Keep Asheville Weird,” I have an appreciation for local artists and small businesses. If you are also a fan of these things, then Bristol is the city for you! I didn’t realize this until it was pointed out to me, but every destination I visited was near a coast. Somewhat unplanned but cool, I gotta say. With too many thrift stores and “artisanal” coffee shops to visit in a lifetime, Bristol is a great city for the young artist. There is a great appreciation for the arts and expression. Not as bohemian as Paris, but there seemed to be a communal appreciation throughout the city. On Saturday I got a matinee ticket to see a new musical at the Old Vic. theatre Bristol. I wasn’t planning on seeing a show, but because of the theatres prolific past I felt I should at least try! When I walked to the bathrooms, a young woman yelled to me “ARE YOU HERE FOR THE AUDITION?! You look like a mover!” Flattered and extremely confused I stood still and tried to quickly process what to answer. There’s the romantic idea of someone’s “big break” in theatre, and that thought definitely flew into my mind. But, I just stammered “uh, no, sorry, I wish I was!”
IT COULD’VE BEEN MY CHANCE TO BECOME A STAR.
A STAR, I TELL YOU!
I was surprised by the joy that filled me when I got back to my home tube stop in London. Once again a wide stupid smile spread across my face as I looked around my gritty grimy home of London. I guess it took a month and a ten day vacation, but London finally feels like my home, or at least until December! I also had the realization that I had just returned from a ten day vacation- all by myself! Although this is no great feat by any means, it was cool to recognize my small victory. With the double-edged sword of technology, I was never truly alone. But even with technology I still had a lot of time to ponder on myself and delve into the deep darkness of my psyche. Sounds terrifying, I know. By south Wales I reached a point where I realized that travelling (for me) is about collecting stories rather than collecting mementos. I wish it had hit me earlier in my trip, because I think it’s really necessary to push yourself miles outside your tiny comfort zone when plunging yourself into new cities and cultures. If you’re travelling alone my advice is to go somewhere alone and let the darkness overcome you until you climb back out of it triumphantly. However deep or dark your darkness may actually be, it’s the most rewarding feeling of triumph when you climb back out of the pit and come back out as a new version of yourself. Filled with new experiences and stories, how am I not a changed person? Back home many people joke about “don’t change when you go away!” I understand this was more of a joke about coming home with a union jack tattooed to my forehead or engaging in every conversation with a disgustingly thick English accent. I gotta admit, I am different. I don’t think it’s noticeable to anyone other than myself, but I am. That self-recognition of change is part of the journey into the dark pit of one’s thoughts. Sometimes the hand of Fate is too obvious to ignore, because I know that this trip was definitely necessary at this time in my life. I realize I’ve been sounding extremely Eat, Pray, Love for the past paragraph, but deal with it!
Solo travel is one of the most beneficial things someone can do for themselves, I think. Just realize that when you spend days travelling with yourself it’s not going to be the joyful romp of self discovery that the Disney channel may sell to you. Some people may already be brave enough to face themselves for long lengths of time, but I think it’s more likely that you’re not-and I think that’s totally okay.