Friday, August 14, 2009

Voyage of the Vikings, Day 21 - Liverpool, England and the Welsh Experience

Day is breaking as we enter the river Mersey and approach Liverpool. On the way in we spot a large oil or gas platform, glowing like a small city in the dawn sky. Weather is overcast, temperature in the 50's, wind light & varisb!e; what's new?


Fairie Castle in the Early Dawn Irish Sea

As we approach Liverpool, the low, dark shoreline gradually resolves into individual structures, mostly industrial. Windmills are everywhere, onshore and off.


Liverpool Emerges From the Murk

8am, we are docked in Liverpool, and are in the Rembrandt Lounge awaiting our "Welsh Experience" tour. Kathy's father's people came from Wales, so Kathy especially wants to visit and see the countryside.

Liverpool seems a bit tawdry and gray, but it is home to the Beatles, for those of you who care. A very utilitarian looking city, with occasional litter in view. Daily ro-ro ferry service is available to Belfast and Dublin.


Typical Suburban Liverpool Homes

The good news is we have an all day tour to North wales. The bad news is, we need to walk a considerable distance to the tour bus. The better news is, there is a complimentary shuttle for those of us who have trouble walking. The worst news is we are the last ones on the bus and there are not 2 seats together. The travails of young love!

After leaving Liverpool, we head southeast between the Rivers Mersey and Dee. This territory is on a peninsula called the Wirral . We are still in England. Wales is across the River Dee. The landscape is flat to rolling, and is very green. Along the way we see evidence of re-forestation.


Rolling Green Landscape on the Whirl Peninsula


Roadside Reforestation

We are now crossing the Clwydian Hills. Moelfemmau (bald top) hill is in view.


Approaching the Clwydian Hills, With Bald Top in view

We now are crossing the canalized River Dee into Wales. All road signs bilingual. The Welsh language is very different from English. Wales, very much a rural country, has 3 million people and 12 million sheep. A very pretty, and very well ferilized countryside.


The Unimpressive River Dee Separates England and Wales


Sheep Abound in Wales


Sheep Fertilizer Abounds in Wales

Passing through another pretty Welsh village. Won some sort of prize. If I see another cute Welsh village, I think I will barf.


A Traditional Welsh Thatch Roof House


A Typical Welsh Stone Church


A Typical Welsh Butcher Shop

In all honesty, the Welsh countryside is beautiful. Tall hills (or short mountains), thickly wooded in places, with broad swatches of green green grass, all courtesy the Gulf Stream.

After driving for a couple of hours, with no comfort stop, we pause at the Ponderosa Café and gift shop. In Wales you need to pay to use a public toilet. It costs 20 pence. The tour company has a deal with the Ponderosa so for us he toilets are free. Keith couldn't wait, so he went behind the bus. Fortunately, Kathy didn't know about it. Keith took a couple of landscape photos while Kathy was shopping.


Welsh Countryside, With Heather in the Foreground


Slate Quarry Tailings, Sandwiched Between Heather and Sheep

The Ponderosa gift shop is very unusual. It has a large selection of post cards as well as inexpensive souvenirs, but in the back it also had a selection of adult (read x-rated) items. When Kathy told Keith, he said he was not surprised because this is not the repressed US.

After leaving the Ponderosa we drove along a highway that traveled a long horseshoe curve as it descended into a steep valley.


Looking Down Into the Valley From the Horseshoe Curve

Next we board an antique train for a short ride through yet more Welsh countryside. It reminded Keith strongly of the ride through the Berkshires on Amtrak, except these were vintage coaches are not nearly as comfortable as our modern cars. The train engine was built like Thomas and is a big draw for families in the area. For 1 price kids can ride Thomas all day. The kiddies also get to see and speak with Sir Toppem Hat, of Thomas fame.


Thomas, the Very Useful Locomotive


Sir Toppem Hat Supervises Loading Thomas

Along the way we see more typical Welsh scenes, including a campground, a sturdy looking stone farmstead, and the ruins of an ancient monastery.


Camping is Popular in the British Isles


A Traditional Welsh Farmstead


The Ruins of An Ancient Cistercian Monastery

After our train ride we have lunch at a local hotel. Now because we were in Wales I thought maybe we would be served Welsh food, like pasties or something. No such luck. Would you believe lunch was turkey, cranberry sauce and steamed vegetables from a New England boiled dinner. Oh well what can you expect for a 5 pound lunch.

After lunch we drove through more beautiful countryside and past the Agricultural College of Wales. Here students learn how to be competent farmers and herders as well as hedge builders and stone wall constructors, which is a dying art. The other feature of interest was a modern viaduct built on the lines of the ancient Roman arch bridges.


An Modern Arch Viaduct Fashioned in the Ancient Roman Tradition

Our next stop was Crick Castle. Keith said it reminded him of Richards Hall, his freshman dorm at Lehigh. As you may surmise, neither Keith or Kathy are into castles.


Crick Castle

The ride to the boat was entertaining as our tour guide Violet played Welsh choral music for us. Wales is famous for its international music festival held every year.

The good news is that the shuttle was waiting to drive us back to the ship; however the bad news was that Keith’s back was bothering him a lot more than usual, as a result of a bumpy ride in a grossly uncomfortable bus seat.

We are now sitting in the Crow’s Nest. Kathy is enjoying a Mojito and Keith is enjoying our debarkation from Liverpool. Tomorrow we tour Glasgow and environs. I cant wait!

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