Wales – Day 1, Part 1

Alternate titles: The Journey That Wouldn’t End, Why Did We Think It Would Be Fun To Drive Four-ish Hours From London While Exhausted When We Could Have Flown Into Manchester, Which Is Only A Little Over An Hour Away?, or Luckily, We’re Good With Maps

I’ve spent most of the last three days in a comfy chair in front of a roaring fire with the dogs curled up on their dog beds at my feet.  I’ve finished two books and started another.  In fact, over the last twelve days, I’ve read six books and a little of a seventh.  And all of that reading has been done in Wales, in transit to and from Wales, and in front of this fire at home.  HEAVEN.  Totally awesome vacation.  A vacation about which and to you I plan to tell.  Starting now.  And starting with the airport.

There were a lot of lines and a lot of people in them.  I know the airport is traditionally busy during the holidays, and we were flying four days after Christmas and two days before New Year’s, but I’ve flown on and near holidays before, and this was truly the busiest I’ve ever seen Dulles. We waited in a long long line before we could go stand in the longer line to check in for the flight.  The ante-line, I guess.  The guy moving people from one line to the next was a jerk.  He kept yelling at people who walked in between the two lines (who were using the only path available to them to get where they were going), but he’d yell like this was the third time they’d done it and they just. weren’t. listening. I’d kind of understand that if it was the same people over and over again, but it WASN’T.  And then, of course, we waited in line at security.  We went through the new x-ray machines with no issues or possibly inappropriate pat-downs.  The guy behind me in line didn’t fully understand the x-ray machine process.  He was standing in the middle of it, like you’re supposed to, and one of the TSA agents asked him if he had anything in his pockets.  If he’d done ANY traveling in the last two decades, and he seemed like he probably had, you’d think the answer would have been no.  Of course, it wasn’t.  “Just my ticket,” he said.  The TSA agent said he should put everything in his pockets in the little bowl they provided.  He handed over his ticket. They started to scan again.  “Sir, do you have anything else in your pockets?”  “Just some change and my keys.”  “Sir, you can’t have ANYthing in your pockets.”  He put his change and keys in the little bowl.  Started the scan again.  “Sir, do you have something ELSE in your pockets?”  “Just some kleenex.”  Really exasperated now.  “SIR.  You can’t have ANYthing in your pockets.”  “Not even kleenex?”  “Nothing, sir.”  “Oh.  News to me.”  I was dying.

This may be surprising to some of you, but even after waiting in all those lines, I was not worried about making our flight. Not anxious. Our flight was supposed to leave at 5:46 and we got to the airport and started waiting in lines at 3:35. But that reminds me – I think our cab driver must have been new. He was a little early to pick us up (not the issue), and we were a little late getting out the door (also not the issue), but then he had no idea how to get to the airport. I might not expect him to be able to get out of our neighborhood without help (although he got to our house without us AND he has a GPS), but seriously – once you get to the main north-south road, there’s really no excuse for not knowing you a) have to get on it to get there and 2) it’s SOUTH. On top of that, on the access road leading to the departures drop-off section, he didn’t seem to know he needed to be in the outer lanes for departures and not the inner lanes (for arrivals), despite the signs, until the last minute when he went veering across a couple of lanes filled with cars. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in this guy. But whatever, he got us there with plenty of time to spare. And that was the end of my worrying.

The plane ride was pretty easy, if cramped (economy sucks and we didn’t pay the extra $90 each for 5 extra inches – we did on the way home).  I got an hour or two of sleep, I think, but John didn’t get any.  We were in the middle section of three on the plane, near the back, with John on the aisle and me in the middle, and a totally ungrateful guy on my other side, a fact I discovered when they fed us.  (I knew he was there, of course – I like to think I’m pretty observant – but I didn’t know he was rude until then.)  The flight attendants were out of pasta dishes by the time they got to him, and I guess he doesn’t eat meat (beef was the other option), so he said he wouldn’t have anything. I’d already gotten the pasta, but hadn’t touched it yet, so I offered it to him. Did I get a “Thanks, that’s really nice of you” or “No, thanks, I’m not really all that hungry, but I appreciate the offer”? No. I got a shrug and “okay.” Whatever, dude.  Then he put his blanket over his head and we didn’t see him again.

Landed, customs, picked up rental car (silver Peugeot – there’s a word I still can’t pronounce), blah blah, nothing particularly exciting.  It was sometime between 6 and 8am in London, but I don’t know for sure ’cause we stopped looking at clocks.  It didn’t matter anymore, and the actual time was somewhat meaningless just then.  We had a four-ish hour drive to get to our cottage in North Wales, a big map, a road atlas, and two drivers who thought it was the middle of the night.  John drove first while I navigated.  Driving on the left, thankfully, was not as hard as we thought it would be, and we made it just past Birmingham (about halfway) before John was too tired to drive anymore.  Adrenaline had kicked in for me, so I was ready to go.  It worked out nicely.  He was able to take a nap as long as we stayed on the highway (I’m sorry, the motorway), so he could navigate for me once we got into Wales and onto winding, narrow, two-lane roads with no shoulders and either tall hedges or stone walls on both sides.  Of the very narrow roads.  But more about those later.  That morning, we were just trying to get to the cottage.  Which we managed, sometime before 1pm.  I can’t tell you exactly what time it was since none of our clocks seemed to be accurate.  Our phones didn’t update because they didn’t have a network to connect to (we knew that), the clock in the car didn’t match the clock at the coffee place we stopped at on the way, and the clock on the oven in the cottage didn’t match the clock in the car.

Damn, I can be long-winded sometimes.  Here are some pictures from the drive (when John was driving – I snapped some pictures from inside the moving car, so none of them are actually good).  I’ll continue tomorrow.

It was a grey and misty morning.

Breakfast in Oxford

This was not easy after being up more than 24 hours in a row.

More story and  better pictures tomorrow.  Promise.

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