July 11 2010

Beginning in Bogotá

Ok, I’ll admit it: I was not enthusiastic when my flight to Maricaibo was canceled and Bogotá became my first stop in South America. I  planned to skipped the Colombian capital altogether and I was not at all excited to visit Bogotá.  In hindsight, Bogotá most definitely was a better [and probably safer] introduction to South America than Maricaibo.

La Candelaria, Bogota

My original plans were to skip Bogotá because I had read so many horror stories of muggings and I hadn’t found any articles in which people were raving about the city. It seemed like most people were rushing through Bogotá, hitting up the most important museums, using it as a transit stop and moving on quickly to the next place, whatever that place may be.

Part of the reason for choosing South America was that, in theory, I speak Spanish fluently, or at least I did 10 years ago. I’m feeling a little isolated since I am trying to not speak English unless it is absolutely necessary, but today that changed. Not that I magically became fluent overnight, but it is coming back to me, especially if the person with whom I am speaking speaks slowly (for Spanish).

For example, today I took the Transmileno to the other side of Bogotá for no reason than to see another part of the city.

transmilenio bogota
Bogotá Transport

On the return trip, I had conversation with an elderly gentleman who sat next to me. It was nothing serious, weather, I’m new in town, ect, but it was a chance to practice Spanish with someone who didn’t speak crazy fast. I’m feeling a little more confident. After successfully ordering lunch [3 courses $5500 COP ~3.25], I stopped in the frutería. Fruiteria = a store only for fruit… these are some of the things I love about being away–I’d never get that in the USA. I only wanted to get a few snacks for the road, but I was talked into a fruit salad. Nothing like I’ve ever had. It included mango, papaya, pear, banana, and a couple other fruits I have never seen before. Before leaving, I ask the fruit man Que es esto? esto y esto, and very patiently he shows me all the fruits in the store, both in the natural state and the cut up state. So while my fruit salad was only slightly less than lunch, the education about fruit was worth the $2.75 price tag.

fruit salad bogota

Bogotá is a city of more than 8 million people, and I am not a big-city person, but as if often the case, big cities are full of fascinating history and people.  I arrived at El Dorado airport at 2a, a full one day + 18 hours after my intended arrival time.  I just wanted to get into a bed as quickly as possible.  So I took a taxi, which I hate, to my hostel in Candelaria, where I promptly crashed for a few hours.

The next morning, I started to explore the city, and I noticed two things right away: the altitude [O.M.G breathing is so hard] and the thick layer of gray clouds that hover over the city on most days. The altitude – Bogotá sits at 8,675 feet caused me to huff and puff my way up and down Candelaria’s steep streets like a chain-smoking asthmatic; I never got used to it during my two weeks in the city. Bogotá is not exactly warm;  I can see why it’s off the radar with most travelers – especially when you were coming from sea level, tropical temperatures and perfect weather.

I joined a few of the free walking tours during  my stay; they are excellent for getting bearings straight in a new city, finding out a few more details about the city, places to hit up, and adressing safety concerns.  They are also good for traveling by yourself but having saftey in numbers.

candelaria

Bogotá blew my mind as an interesting destination and I was always a little bit happy when I had to return to the city for various reasons. Stay tuned for more posts about Bogotá, and how it beyond exceeded my expectations and really got me excited for traveling again.

July 4 2010

An Epic Packing List

A Packing List for the Unknown [*updated post]

I am going to South America.  Perhaps you knew that already. I leave in a couple of weeks, and have no set return date, and yet, I’m just starting to make my packing list. As of now my plans include: Hiking Macchu Picchu in Peru, renting an apartment in Buenos Aires, and trying to set foot in all 13 countries on the continent.  So given the fact that my time-frame is undefined, and my itinerary is open how does one begin to pack for an adventure such as this. Carefully, very carefully.  I know one thing:  I need a bag.  My previous backpack is a Kelty external frame doozy and while it gotten my safely around Mexico and Central America, I need something a little more up to date so I ordered a bag similar to the one below from REI [mine is UT orange]. 90% of what I take will fit in this bag. I’m also taking a smaller [think school sized] backpack to keep with me on the bus that will have my camera, passport, money, ect.

I’m not going to revisit every item in my backpack**, but there was the usual–Socks, underwear, long sleeved/ short sleeve shirt, pants (yes, those obnoxious zip off kind), skirt or two, jacket, fleece, and a professional-ish jacket for the occasions that required me to not look like a bum. Sandals, trail shoes, and hiking boots. A few toiletries, a Kindle, a Zune (does anybody even know what that is anymore?), travel guides, and a couple of book.  Oh and some random items that we’ll get into later.

**At the bottom of this post is my original packing last, posted July 4, 2010**

These item convinced me I was a packing genius.

Packing cubes

I will never, ever not even for a day, travel without packing cubes again.  I discovered these babies in 2006 prior to my Italian holiday and these changed how I pack my bag. Instead of rummaging through my bag  to find random necessary item, it is quick and easy to find it as long as the cubes are organized in a way that makes sense to you. If you don’t have them believe me you need them.

Keen Sandals

I bought my first pair prior to leaving and have since gone through 2 other pair and I have another pair waiting to be broken in as soon as the current  pair bite the dust [it won’t be long].  These sandals are durable, waterproof, have a closed rubberized toe so that when you  I inevitably stub my toe on roots or cobblestones, it  will only hurt my pride.

My first aid kit
I usually go overboard on packing my first aid kit and going to South America was certainly no exception.  However, the meds you can get in most countries are much much cheaper than in the US and they also have meds not available in the US that work amazingly well [See Magic Pills].  I also overstock on the supplies, but every single supply in there is something I’ve used at least once.

Sleeping Sheet

I originally was going to buy a silk sleeping bag liner, but those things border on $100. Instead, I bought a leopard print queen size slinky microfiber flat sheet and sewed it up at the edges.  Yes I used it for sleeping. I also used it for my Halloween costume.

 

These items seriously made me question my sanity

Travel wash bag

The awkward size took up too much room. I thought the hook at the top would be practical but most places did not have somewhere for me to hang it. I carried it around for 16 long months because I do use it when I go hiking.

Expensive travel clothes

I was so excited at this big trip I went out and bought a bunch of fancy travel clothes. Patagonia pullover? Check. Silk base layers? Check. REI parka? Check. Fancy hiking boots?  Again, check. If you are an adventure traveler you may need this, and to some degree I am and will probably always be one but if you realize that hiking is not an activity for you, spend the $500 on something you truly enjoy.  You’ll come to hate lugging around heavy hiking boots, leave them under some hostel bed, and then wonder why you buy nice things.

All that aside, I did wear [and return home with] every single nice adventure clothing item I took.  I still wear the same parka 7 years later.  It’s good quality stuff and will  last a long time.  If you prefer high heels to hiking boots, buy them at home. You’ll get a lot more wear out of them.

Rain poncho

I had a hiking jacket and another waterproof windbreaker. Why I thought I needed a 99 cent poncho was beyond me. I finally put it in the trash around month 9 after living in the desert for 3 months. I saw some kids playing with it and thought ‘well, at least someone is using it.’

Multi tool

I used the knife function frequently.  But the other tools never even saw the light of day. Next time I’ll just bring a knife.

Sewing Kit

Yes I had one, Yes, I even used it more than once, but every time I needed something sewn or patched and I was in a city, I just dropped it off  at a seamstress store and she fixed it for something like 50 cents.

Mini flashlight on keychain

I had a head lamp, which was recommended by many and I used it quite a bit, even if just to enter dorm rooms at night.  I mainly used it on the beaches.  Nice to have. Small. Compact. But definitely not necessary.

 

 

 

Mineral Water

Electronics

I’m not going crazy with the electronics.  I am taking a small point and shoot camera [FujiFilm Z70; it’s waterproof], my Canon digital Rebel, 2 lenses + flash, a unlocked cell phone I got off e-bay, my Zune, a couple of flash drives to save photos to, and chargers for each.  That’s it for electronics.  I hope I’m not overdoing it.

Backpacking Things

  • Thermarest compressible pillow
  • 0 degree sleeping bag
  • down vest [white]
  • waterproof parka [red]
  • Patagonia long sleeves fleece [black]
  • 1 pair of waterproof hiking pants
  • fleece gloves
  • ear wrap
  • light weight rain jacket
  • plastic poncho

Clothes + Shoes

  • Asolo Hiking Boots
  • Merrill Trail Walking Shoes
  • Asaics tennis shoes
  • Keen Sandals
  • Clark’s Sandals
  • Flip-flops
  • 5 pairs of wool socks
  • 5 pairs of regular socks
  • 10 pairs of underwear
  • 5 bras/5 sports bras
  • 2 bathing suits
  • 8 ‘nicer’ shirts
  • 5 t shirts
  • 3 long-sleeve t-shirts
  • 1 pair fleece pants
  • 1 pair thermal underwear pants
  • 5 pairs of pants [mostly khakis]
  • 2 pair of zip-off pants
  • 2 skirts
  • 3 pair of shorts

Toiletries

  • travel brush/mirror
  • small make up kit
  • nail kit + polish
  • toothbrush/toothpaste/floss
  • lotion
  • shampoo/conditioner
  • razor + refills
  • powder
  • deodorant
  • lip balm
  • soap
  • feminine hygiene products

Miscellaneous

  • washcloths x4
  • quick dry towel
  • extra shower flip flops
  • swiss army knife
  • guide book [South America on a Shoestring]
  • 3 paperback books [for trading en route]
  • copies of passport/visas
  • snacks
  •  bucket style hat [for sun protection]
  • notebooks x2
  • travel journal
  • pens
  • first aid kit
  • head lamp
  • water bottle x2
  • sewing kit
  • hand sanitizer

Whew!  That’s a long list.  Is it too much? Did I leave anything out?  Will I have to go shopping somewhere?  Stay tuned for updates…

June 27 2010

Sinners, Saints, and the Drink in Dublin

A person can learn a lot about a country by the symbols the country uses to represent it.  It tells you a lot about Ireland that the symbols of the country is a musical instrument , a harp facing in one direction. And the unofficial symbol of Ireland may just well be a pint.  Of Guinness to be exact.  A Beer that uses the National symbol isn’t all that uncommon, but music and beer–well, that tells you a lot about Ireland, doesn’t it?

 

The Guinness Harp–a symbol of Ireland

 

AND the gates to the Guinness brewery… Notice the similarities

See, music and beer. Throw in a few writers, poets, and books, and you have Dublin in an overly-simplified nutshell

Trinity College:   Nowhere in America is there a 400 year old college much less a 900 year old book. Trinity College is a contemporary college still accepting students; its building are a mix of architectural styles from 400 years to present. And during spring and summer, it’s elegant gardens are truly a sight to behold. I love visiting college campuses… especially well done ones, and ones with spectacular libraries.  The Old Library at Trinity is amazing: stack and stacks of ancient wooden bookshelves filled with ancient (and not so ancient) books that seem to go on endlessly.

And while Trinity College is certainly something to be seen, my absolute favorite part of the college is the Long Room in the Old Library at Trinity College. The room is a book-lovers dream (and downstairs you can see the famous Book of Kells).

The Sinners:

Kilmainham Gaol: Maybe it’s my dark, twisted soul that has me visiting things like cemeteries and jails wherever I go, but Kilmainham Gaol is Irish revolutionary history in living color.  Constructed in 1796, and used as a prison for the city of Dublin through 1924, the uprisings of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916 ended with the leaders’ confinement here. Robert Emmet, Thomas Francis Meagher, Charles Stewart Parnell and the 1916 Easter Rising leaders were all visitors, but it was the executions in 1916 that most deeply etched the jail’s name into the Irish consciousness. Of the 15 executions that took place between 3 May and 12 May after the revolt, 14 were conducted here. As a finale, prisoners from the Civil War were held here from 1922.

While the revolutionaries are certainly the most (in)famous citizens of the prison, Kilmainham Goal hosted men, women, and children during its nearly 130 years in operation.  While some inmates were there for crimes such as murder and assault, others were there for theft of food to feed a starving tummy. The jail closed in 1924, but happily these days, one can tour the jail and the tour leads you through old, crumbly prison cell-blocks and ends in the yard where the  hangings used to occur.  I’m not one to be superstitious, but if any place is haunted, I’d imagine this place would be.

 

The site of executions at the gaol–yes, it’s a little bit creepy

The Saints:

St. Patrick’s Cathedral:  Construction began in 1191; it became a cathedral in 1224.  Yep, it’s over 800 years old… kinda makes the 400 year old college [Trinity] look like a spring chicken, and most surprisingly [to me] it’s not a Catholic church.  The most famous church in a country known for Catholicism is Anglican.

 

The Drinks:

Take a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, which may just be Ireland’s top tourist attraction. Yes, more people come here than visit the Book of Kells or the Cliffs of Moher. For around 15 Euros, you can tour the 7-story building, learning  important things like the history of the Guinness, how it’s produced, and how the it has evolved over the years. At the end of the tour, there is the chance to enjoy a complimentary pint at the Gravity Bar (although for 15 euros, in my opinion you should get something).

I was 19 years old the first time I visited Ireland and some of my first alcoholic drinks were in Dublin, because how can you not? While the taste of a Guinness never took,  Irish Whiskey most certainly did. Especially in the form of Irish Coffee… There’s a reason Irish Breakfasts are a thing, and Irish Coffee is a great addition to it.  Jameson’s distillery was the first distillery I ever visited and those smooth triple distilled grains are like sweet honey. Even though I’m not a huge coffee drinker, the combination of whiskey, Irish cream, and coffee is pure magic.

Jameson Irish Whisky

The Temple Bar, I guessing at one time, was authentically Irish.  These days, its just another overpriced bar, with a great location, that caters to tourists.  For the love of all things holy, go somewhere (anywhere) else to get an authentic ‘pub experience’.  The are literally hundreds of pubs in Dublin and I’d wager than any one of them not located in the city center would be a better experience than the Temple Bar. I’m not saying to not go to the Temple Bar, just know that these days, you’ll rarely find a local hanging out there.  One cool thing about the Temple Bar, is there’s always live music playing so pop in, if for no other reason than to listen to a tune or two.

The HaPenny Bridge–Dublin
June 27 2010

When in Cork…

Encounters with Blarney

I am not above being a cheesy tourist.

And one of the more cheesy, more touristy things I have ever done occurred a few years ago when I spent a few weeks tooling around Ireland.  After taking the ferry over from Anglesey, Wales to Dublin and tooling around Dublin for a few days, I headed south out of the city towards Cork.  I’m not a bad driver, but I don’t do so well with the manual transmission or driving on the opposite side of the road than what I’m used to.  Let’s just say it was baptism by fire, and I probably shaved a few years off my life and perhaps some of the other drivers on the Dublin-Cork highway.

I am a small town kinda girl, and while Cork is a pretty big city, but it’s fairly navigable.  Cork has a fair amount of charm, but it main draw in the Blarney Stone and to a lesser extent–Blarney Castle.

So the question of the day is did I kiss the stone? Did I really put my lips on that wet slab of germ-infested rock where thousands…maybe millions of people have done the same thing before me? Did I actually DANGLE my body off the side of the castle and risk my life?!  People have actually DIED doing this.

Yes. Yes I did.

I mean, how can you not? It’s there; I’m there. A lot of other people were doing it, and while it may be cheesy and touristy… occasionally I’m cheesy and occasionally touristy.

The Blarney Stone is a block of Carboniferous limestone built into the battlements of Blarney Castle, Blarney, about 8 kilometres from Cork, Ireland. [Thank you Wikipedia] According to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with the gift of the gab (great eloquence or skill at flattery). The stone was set into a tower of the castle in 1446. The word blarney has come to mean “clever, flattering, or coaxing talk”. John O’Connor Power’s definition is succinct: ‘Blarney is something more than mere flattery. It is flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit.

The Blarney Stone gets all the press, but the castle itself is actually rather interesting and the surrounding castle grounds are gorgeous. The tiny, winding staircases are not for the claustrophobic, but the sweeping views of lush green country and manicured gardens are worth the trip to the top.

Kissing the stone is not for the faint of heart -– you have to dangle yourself over the gaping hole in the castle floor, death-grip the handrails and the man assisting unceremoniously grabs two fist-fulls of your clothes and shoves you close enough to kiss the stone. A second later you’re hauled upright and sent on your way.

Tell me, would YOU have kissed the stone? Or do you now think my lips are now tainted for a lifetime. Leave a comment and let me know.

 

June 20 2010

Swimming with fairies and the beauty of Skye

When I was a little kid, I used to love to play make believe, and play in the creek behind my house. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only kid in the world who liked to play make-believe or play in creeks, but being as how I was an only child who lived out in the country far away from other kids, playing make-believe was a great source of entertainment for me. I loved to pretend that I was either invisible sea monster or a witch or better yet, an invisible sea monster-witch. Skye would have been a great place to grow up.

Can you imagine all the fun someone with an active imagination could have here?

Just imagine being an invisible fairy with eternal life and the power to enthrall people.. it’d make sense to live here, bewitching visitors to take off all their clothes [because now I’m a bawdy wench]. The spell of the Fairy Pools is that they look as if they must be warm…

I mean with that kind of vivid blue water it must be like the Caribbean Sea, but having come straight down from the Black Cuillins, they are anything but warm. The saying goes: temperatures in Scotland are either cold, bastard cold, or damn freezing cold. And checking in at a balmy 43F, I say these swimming holes are bastard cold.

Perhaps it is the fairy mischief that makes me want to jump into this amzing clear blue water. Water that is face-smackingly, lung-contractingly cold… wet-suit be damned… I jump in… ohmygod thisissofuckingcold… I clamber back out to catch my breath. Fairy magic… I haul my carcass out of the swimming hole, warm up, and dive in again and again. This is river swimming at its most magical.

The Isle of Skye is the largest of the Hebridean islands. It is easy to navigate, easily reached from the mainlaind village of Kyleakin, and has a huge variety of landscapes packed into a relatively small space. Scottish Gaelic is the predominate language of this part of the country , and in this area of around 10,000 people spread out over the islands, is raw wilderness.  Each sight is slightly more awe inspiring than the previous.

Just let the beauty of it all soak in for a minute, will ya?

Leaving Skye, I passed probably the most famous castle in Scotland. In my less than humble opinion, Eilean Donan Castle is the most beautiful castle in Scotland.  It’s even movie famous. Chances are you recognize it from a film or two.  Eilean Donan starred in Highlander, served as Sean Connery’s home in Entrapment, and was the Scottish Headquarters of MI6 in The World Is Not Enough. Anything related to the world’s most famous spy has my stamp of approval.

June 20 2010

Postcards from Anglesey

I absolutely loved my time on the Welsh island of Anglesey.  It’s rather remote, though certainly not hard to get to if you are in the area [I have yet to meet another person who has been to this part of Wales who isn’t from the UK].  It’s also breathtakingly beautiful in a rugged, historical sort of way.  This part of Wales, North Wales to be exact, was known as Mam Cymru (‘Mother of Wales’) during the middle ages because its fertile fields formed the breadbasket for the north of Wales.

The name Anglesey is thought to have come from a Viking place name. Anglesey is probably derived from “Ongl’s ey”, Ongl’s island. Who Ongl was, I have no idea.

Today it has several thriving towns.  The historic town of Beaumaris is the site of one of the castles built by Edward I after his defeat of the Welsh princes.

The town of Holyhead serves as a ferry port for travel across the Irish Sea to Dublin and Llangefni, in the center of the island, is the county town.

 

Anglesey also has the village with the longest place name in Britain:  Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch .  The name, when translated into English, means “The church of St. Mary in a hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and near St. Tysilio’s church by the red cave”. The name was actually coined in the nineteenth century to attract tourists to the Island. It is abbreviated to Llanfairpwll or Llanfair P.G. by the locals.

I did make it to the town with the world’s longest name whilst wandering about Wales. Thankfully they just call it Llanfair. This one tells you what it means…

This one tell you how to pronounce it… Not that it helps too much.

Anglesey also has a few windmills which reminds me a little Holland than the United Kingdom.  At one time there were 50 or so windmills just on the island; sadly only a few still remain on the island.

Llanddeusant-llynon windmill, Anglesey, Wales

My favorite is the rugged coast of the Irish Sea…

The White Arch and the Irish Sea

 

Baby seal

 

June 13 2010

Wandering about Holyhead

Ahhhh, Holyhead… One of those places where you truly feel like you are at the edge of the world.

Holyhead, located on the Island of Anglesey and Irish Sea, is the jumping off point for Ireland and for nearly 4000 years people have been making the journey from the Welsh outpost to Ireland and vice-versa.  The town is the largest town on the Isle of Anglesey with a population of around 11,000.  It’s a mere hour from Bewts-y-Coed that I featured previously in my post about Snowdonia.  Holyhead is a cute little town located on the Irish sea.  It has been continuously occupied for over 1000 years.  The town center is built around St. Cybi’s Church, which is built inside one of Europe’s few three-walled Roman forts (the fourth wall being the sea, which used to come up to the fort).  There are only three remaining three walled cities in all of Europe.

The church of St. Cybi was sacked by the Vikings in the 10th century, damaged by Henry IV’s army in the 15th century in an assault on the holdings of a Welsh prince and much of the interior destroyed by Cromwell’s army in the 17th century. Despite this, most of the church remain intact.

If you’ve ever been to or seen the Cliff of Moher in Ireland, then you might have an idea of what Holyhead Mountain is.  It is not, as I originally thought, a mountain with subtle gains of elevation.  It is, however, a giant rock formation surround by water.

 

If rock climbing is your groove, this is the place for you.  We all know that that would be an excellent way for me to injure myself, but I do think it’s an awesome sport.

 

On the island where the lighthouse is located… you can see a few of the 400 steps that lead to it

The beautiful and wild Irish Sea at the edge of the world… 

Rocks delicately balancing on each other in the shape of a person… I cannot claim this; it was already there when I made my way down to the oh-so rocky beach.

June 6 2010

All aboard for Aberystwyth

Do you ever feel like you need to get away from it all?  As an introvert, cities easily overwhelm me and while I am a fan of London, think Cardiff is cool, and loved Liverpool, Aberystwyth was like a breath of fresh air.  Just over an hour’s train ride from Swansea, Aber [as the  locals call it; Aberystwyth is just too hard to pronouce]  is a haven for Welsh speakers [of which I am not], mountain bikers [I did my fair share of mountain biking although no mountains were actually biked], and trail walkers [trails were most definitely walked]. Much of the beauty of Aberystwyth lies in its isolation.  Swansea is 70 miles away; Shrewsbury is 75 miles away.  Cardiff is over 100 miles away and London is more than 200 miles away.

So what is there to do in this historic outpost in middle Wales, you may ask?  Allow me to show you…

Aber has a pretty nifty castle.  I think I could see a hundred castles, and still be amazed by the architecture and craftsmanship that went into building said castle.

The stone work is simply amazing

A castle with an ocean view? Yes, please. I am going to pretend that this in my ancestral home as I am am about a quarter Welsh.

Also I love the blue-gray color of the stone used here

Aberystwyth is located on the Atlantic Ocean in the Ceredigion region of Wales, and has an approximate population of 15,000 people.

The same Atlantic Ocean I see back home

 There is something about a small city on the ocean with mountains in the background that will always make  me happy.

Perhaps you are a train nerd, or just want to imagine you are on your way to Hogwarts.  Aberystwyth has something for you as well. [Fun fact:  I actually, at one time, had a hardback, UK printed, first edition copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone because I went to a book store to pick up something to read between Stafford and Edinburgh.  Oh how I wish I had that book now].  It’s a steam engine train that runs from Aber to Devils Bridge, a distance of 12 miles on a narrow gauge track [see, train nerds?].

More into hiking or biking than trains?  That is quite OK, me too, Aber has you covered on that front too.  Just past the borders of the town lie the Cambrian  Mountains, and probably hundreds of different hiking trails, biking paths, sheep roads? that you could take to truly make the hike [bike?] trek your own.  Also, not coincidentally I think, cardigans got there start nearby.

Hiking through the Cambrian Mountains

The Cambrians in all their glory

Think of the sweaters that could come from these guys

Other than cats, this is problaby my favorite animal…. He just looks so sweet and cuddly [I know that he’s not, and those horns aren’t just decoration,  but look at him… I want to take him home with me]
 

 

May 23 2010

Stopping by Swansea

After starting in the North, and making my way down south via Anglesey and Pembrokeshire, I have arrived in Swansea. Swansea’s, in south Wales,  first settlement was a Norman castle in 1099 during the reign of William the Conqueror. The city developed as a major port for the south Wales coal mines from 1700. Today, it is the 2nd largest city in Wales behind Cardiff. It is located on the beautiful Gower Peninsula – the United Kingdom’s first designated “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”.

 

part of the Gower peninsula

Gower Peninsula

 

With its abundance of high quality coal, Swansea became the copper smelting capital of the world, producing nearly 65% of the worlds copper. When deposits dwindled, the raw copper was then imported from as far afield as Chile. With the number of sailors that had endured the journey around South America, they soon became known as the “Horners” [from having to travel around Cape Horn in Patagonia] and a pub near the docks is still called “The Cape Horner”.

The area known as the Mumbles

Swansea also claims the first ever passenger railway, the old Mumbles railway which skirted its way around Swansea bay, but sadly, this was dismantled in the 1960’s.  However, Mumbles is still quite the destination as it has more than 100 restaurants and shops on the west side of Swansea Bay, and if the timing is right, the Mumbles Oyster Festival is one of the only ones in the United Kingdom.  If oysters are your things, prepare to suck them down.

Brandy Cove

Swansea is also the home of writer Dylan Thomas and there are a few monuments to him.

Dylan Thoma’s writing shed

Although I didn’t spend a lot of time in the city, Swansea was interesting enough to pass a couple of days in on my way to Cardiff.

May 16 2010

Passing through Pembrokeshire

After tackling Wales’ highest [and in my opinion, scariest] peak, I was looking for a little ummm, less challenging hike that would still allow me to experience the best that Wales has to offer.  Enter Pembrokeshire.

A lot of the charm of Pembrokeshire lies in its remoteness.  It seems as if it is a different world.  On the edge of the Earth.  Rocky coasts.  Charming little towns.  The craggy coastal towns on the Atlantic Ocean. Castles. Sleepy little towns.

Some of the best walks on the Wales Coast Path runs through Pembrokeshire.  When complete, the Wales Coast Path aims to link all 870 miles of the Welsh coast by foot path.   I’m not necessarily one who would sign up to complete it, but I like the idea of long distance hiking, especially in an area as beautiful as Wales.

If I had to choose one are of Wales to visit over and over again it would be Pembrokeshire. Cardiff is nice for industry and Snowdonia is mountainous and windy, but Pembrokeshire gets my vote. It is wild. And beautiful. And sparsely populated. And of all the places I’ve ever visited, this land speaks to me more, and I could one day, you know, immigration laws notwithstanding, call it home. I’d even commit to learning as of now the unpronounceable Welsh language.