There are some life lessons in which I always seem to need a refresher course. Yup – “Amy 2.0” often requires upgrading. And while some improvements have been conveniently downloaded at home, other bugs have required fixes on the road. Like the time an ATM machine mercilessly ate my one resource for funds right at the beginning of a solo vacation in Wales. Could I be a grown-up about it and take this wrinkle in stride? Or would I let it send me off the BritRails..?
The trip started with plenty of promise. I was taking the long way round to Ireland by flying from LA to London, then journeying the rest of the way over land and sea. This was 2003 and the first big trip I’d fully employed the internet as my travel agent: I booked a couple B&B’s online, ordered a four day bus pass to explore Wales, and secured a seat for the quick ferry trip from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire. Everything was set.
At least I thought it was.
I started my personally arranged tour with a glorious day in the the walled city of Chester! Originally constructed for defending and patrolling, its walls are now perfect for strolling to get the lay of the land – and signing on for a walking tour will introduce you to terrific little gems of detail you might not uncover on your own.
Formerly the garrison of a Roman legion, Chester retains bits and pieces of the past that represent its evolution through medieval and Victorian times and on to the picturesque layer cake of history it is today. There’s the impressive Chester Castle:
The ornate Chester Cathedral:
And the lovely Rows with their white walls, dark timbers and inviting shops:
Chester proved a super place to indulge my fascination for all things Roman too. There are prominent structures like the Roman amphitheater (since my visit, more work has been done on the site, and the idea has even been put forth that it’s actually King Arthur’s legendary Round Table) – but my guide for the walking tour knew where other tantalizing examples of Chester’s Roman days were hidden.
She took us into shops where among racks of clothes were sections of clear flooring through which we could look straight down into the remains of Roman structures beneath. And even though Rome vacated Britain long ago, I still spotted a cohort of wee Legionaries being put through their paces all these centuries later.
I was having so much fun in Chester that I couldn’t pull myself away until quite late to head for my next destination – the city of Caernarfon in nearby Wales. It wasn’t until the next morning that I had time to take care of business and replenish my supply of sestertii – I mean to grab more cash.
At a local bank’s ATM, I was struggling to convert currencies and choose what to withdraw when my hesitation cost me big time. While I pondered which button to press, the machine (either as a security measure or out of sheer boredom) suddenly sucked my card into its narrow little mouth like a piece of al dente pasta. My transaction was unquestionably completed.
Here’s where my first instincts often aren’t so good…
As I stood gaping at the ATM that was already displaying a cheery greeting for the next customer, worry latched onto my brain like a terrier on a pant leg – and it refused to let go. This was Saturday and the bank was closed until my tightly scheduled Monday departure for Ireland. What if I couldn’t get my card back? What if I got my card back but it didn’t work anymore? What if I got my card back but the process took so long that I ended up missing my ferry? And what if I missed my ferry but could catch another ferry except that I needed money to buy a new ferry ticket and maybe I thought the card still worked but it actually didn’t..?
And on and on it went.
Feeling very alone (and quite naked as one tends to in the absence of credit), I sunk down onto a bench in the shadow of Caernarfon Castle to meditate and try to regroup. On inspection, I did have just enough cash in my wallet to pay for my B&B. The breakfasts were filling, and I had that pre-paid bus pass, so I wouldn’t starve and I’d still be able to get around. This was really a minor inconvenience I could probably fix first thing Monday – but what I really had to deal with over the next couple days was the uncertainty of that. No easy task for me.
As I sat there being doused in a little light rain and a whole lot of angst, I was distracted by the crisp flapping of a Welsh flag that billowed over the castle. Its vivid red dragon reminded me where I actually was – and the sound of the flag’s snapping in the wind hit me like some kind of “What the heck is wrong with you?” wake-up call. The flag was right. How ridiculous would it be to ruin this chance to discover the myth and history all around me?
I took a deep breath and decided that I just mustn’t do that.
So I jumped up determined not to squander this grand opportunity and started my Welsh adventure by exploring Caernarfon Castle. I climbed every open staircase, read every sign and poked my nose into every alcove of this sturdy medieval fortress. Next, I wandered up a residential hillside to find the remains of Segontium – another one-time Roman fort for the region.
I used my bus pass to get out in the countryside and experience the eclectic architecture of Portmeirion (see https://tesserology.com/2014/07/31/the-location-location-location-bit-part-1/) and the verdant charm of Beddgelert. I learned about the legendarily loyal – but tragically misunderstood – dog, Gelert, with whom the town is associated. (He was killed by his master who mistakenly thought Gelert had attacked his child rather than protected the boy from a wolf.)
I walked out to the spot designated as “Gelert’s Grave” where I had the slight suspicion that it might as likely have been Grant’s tomb as Gelert’s – but it didn’t really matter. Gazing from underneath my umbrella at the lush scenery around me, I could have been told there was every kind of magical creature roaming the enchanting landscape and I wouldn’t have doubted it for a moment.
Maybe it was some spell cast by Wales – or the distant call of my ancestors with names like Morgan and Cadwallader – that helped me set aside my cares and just enjoy the time. Oh – and come Monday morning? I still had enough cash to pay my B&B proprietors after a very pleasant stay. I retrieved my ATM card and it still worked. I caught my bus. I caught my train. I caught my ferry. And, as it so often does, everything worked out in the end.
It takes a village to raise some people – but I think for me, it may require a whole wide world. I need reminders as often as I can get them to be where I am, fix what I can when I can, and let the rest go. Otherwise, there’s an awful lot to miss. I’m so lucky to have been able to pick up these lessons in the most amazing ways – including, of all things, from an impatient Welsh ATM.
Best wishes to all for a happy and healthy 2015! And may the coming year be filled with grand adventures and maybe a great lesson or two!