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Published: September 8th 2007
Gargoyle"I'm sorry ma'am but you can't get to Cardiff today. The roads are all flooded out".
In Cardiff Bay
Shanna stared wide-eyed at the man behind the counter who had just punched up this information on his computer 'thingy'. She couldn't believe what she had just heard. Walking back to Vibert, she related the bad news. Several parts of the UK were experiencing the worst flooding ever and apparently Cardiff was one of those places. British Airways had deposited us on time from Barbados and it took just about 30 minutes to clear immigration and customs and guide ourselves thru the city-sized Gatwick International Airport. And right away, at 6:15 am on a Monday morning, we were faced with a dilemma.
Tyrone, Vibert's eldest brother, lived in Cardiff, with his wife, Dawn, and their daughter, Ebony. Cardiff is the capital of Wales - one of four territories that make up the United Kingdom. The other three are England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
A few weeks before we flew to England we tried 'googling' the cheapest way to get from Gatwick to Cardiff. The fares by coach and train were astronomical, sometimes as high as £79.00 per person
😱. We thought then that there
At bus station
surely must be a cheaper option that we could explore upon arrival. And so, we had arrived without
pre-purchased tickets. Fortunately, we found a National Express ticket office and made enquiries. They had seats to Cardiff via London Victoria for £27 apiece. Oh, and their computer 'thingy' didn't show any flooding on the way to or in Cardiff. We stepped out of the airport and instantly we knew, for certain, that this was not the tropics. An icy, early morning wind slammed into us immediately erecting millions of tiny, little goosebumps. And that familiar, forgotten, homesick feeling started walking all over over lives
. In the relative warmth of the bus, we looked out on a eeriely organized city. The bus moved from the highway and started winding thru tiny, well-marked, cobbled streets lined with ginger-bread cottages. We expected any minute to see gnomes, fairies and pixies waiting by the roadside for the traffic lights to turn green. Everything looked ordered and proper including the weather vanes and chimneys on nearly every rooftop.😊
Soon we were in the heart of London - a metropolis of 7.5 million. Its diverse population draws from a wide range of peoples, cultures and religions,
Gothic architecture in the Bay
speaking over 300 different languages. Classic double-decker buses and vintage black taxis fought for space with motorcycles, pedestrians and other vehicles on relatively narrow streets. We had no camera as it had died in Suriname, so we made mental pictures. About a block away from Buckingham Palace, the bus pulled into the station. Out we went, thru a door, round the corner, crossed the road and into the departure area of the bus to Cardiff. These were flawlessly executed maneuvers in a brand, new city. Outside the city was clean, spacious and green with soft, rolling hills and big farm houses. But much of the 3½-hour ride was lost to us as we didn't want to disappoint the manufacturers of the 'sleeper bus'.😊
Shanna spotted Tyrone and Ebony while the bus was pulling into Cardiff's bus station. Outside, it was raining ice drops and a depressing gray cloud obliterated the sunlight. Vibert hadn't seen his big brother in three years. Dragging our bags thru raindrops that hit like ice blocks we made a great reunion. Shanna knew Tyrone from when he had visited in St. Maarten but now she met Ebony. Ebony spoke with a flawless British accent. Her
Only recognizable words are In These Stones Horizon
pronunciation and enunciation were perfect and her vocabulary rather elaborate for a six-year old. The house was bright and cheery and in a good neighbourhood just five minutes from the station. Actually, it would take 8 or 9 minutes but Tyrone still drove way too fast. But somewhere during the speedthru we could see that all official signage and most other advertising carried both English and Welsh. For example, 'Welcome to Cardiff' read 'Croeso i Gaerdydd'. And we quickly noticed that the Welsh language makes decent use of double 'D's.
To combat the effects of jetlag and because it got dark at 10:00 pm, we decided to stay up late. Dawn, a specialist nurse at the University Hospital, came home about 8:30 pm and we all chatted til late into the night. Rain dominated most of the following day except for about an hour or so when we went window shopping in the cold. Wednesday was a beaut though. The sun came out, the sky cleared up and we rode a First Great Western train to Caerphilly. It took some getting used to at first - being blatantly stared at. As we walked with Tyrone and Ebony thru the
lively town, complete with the very present pubs, we finally understood what goldfishes must feel like. The town became even more interesting and less disconcerting when a huge castle appeared around a bend. The largest castle in Britain after Windsor, Caerphilly Castle is one of the great medieval castles of western Europe. One of Henry III's most powerful and ambitious barons, Gilbert de Clare, lord of Glamorgan, built this castle. His purpose was to secure the area and prevent lowland south Wales from falling into the hands of the Welsh leader Llywelyn the Last, who controlled most of mid and north Wales. It was even bigger than Cardiff's castle which rose in the center of modern Cardiff. But the attraction of Cardiff's castle is that no other building in Great Britain involves so many architectural styles of various ages. The construction is the combination of a Roman fort, a classic Norman fortress and of the gothic-Victorian restoration which took place in the half of the nineteenth century.
The combination of a very strong British pound and the notorious nasty British weather kept us mostly indoors for the rest of the week. But we did sail thru Cardiff's bay and
up the river Taft, inspect the indescribable architecture of the Millenium Center and the National Assembly, stand under an umbrella in Roald Dahl's park immersed in a 'totally awesome' outdoor spectacle with giant puppets and catch a church service at Cardiff's SDA. When we were home though, we weren't bored. Ebony kept us busy when she wasn't
'in (her) zone'.
US dollars and Netherlands Antilles guilders, especially a small stash like ours, would quickly disappear in this pound economy. And so Cardiff was really only a stopover between the Caribbean and mainland Europe. But let no one misconstrue these remarks as a disparage against the UK. It, too, like the many places we've visited is rife with remarkable history, astounding natural beauty and stunning architecture. But we lacked the means to do it justice and so, just a week after arriving, we bid farewell to Tyrone, Dawn and Ebony and hopped on Eurolines for a 15-hour ride to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
It was 10:15 am when we got back to London Victoria and from there we took another bus to Dover. From Dover the Euro Tunnel ran under the English Channel connecting with Calais in France. The tunnel was
really a huge, metal pipeline sitting some 100 meters/300 feet underwater. Our bus drove into a claustrophobic box which turned out to be a cabin of a train and then we were locked inside. The train started up and it took all of 35 loooooong minutes for us to see sunlight again. From Calais we drove thru Belgium and into Brussels. Somewhere in between the onboard toilet became full and began to smell. We wrapped our noses with hankies and longed for the journey's end. A few hours later, at a stop, Vibert virtually screamed at Shanna. "Shan, get your phone and take a picture quick'
. Shanna looked out of the window but couldn't see what had raised Vibert's blood pressure.
We had made it to Holland
"The Bicycles Shanna, The Bicycles!!!".
😊 Tyrone, Dawn and Ebony
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