My previous Wales post was Thursday, Friday – Castleday.
We had to plan for an early getaway because we had a deadline to return the car—if you have been following along you know an early start for us was 10.30 … we had to drive all the way across Wales and the Hertz agency closed at noon. You may also know that Wales is a mere 50 miles from east to west and so we estimated that 8.30, while being an unreasonable hour to be hitting the road, would give us enough time. With no veering off, good navigating through Haverfordwest’s numerous roundabouts, safe driving with some absolutely wicked sun in my eyes, and David’s helpful directions we arrived in Cardiff at 11 o’clock. This, for the first time, was actually the two and a ½ hours driving time estimated by Google. That’s not to say Google doesn’t get it right, only that we always had this tendency to veer off to the intended route.
To interject here, there was a heretofore unmentioned side trip we took when we first arrived in Wales. It took us first to Raglan, which has ruins described as a ‘glorious’ 15th C. castle, and the Crown Inn. It’s not a big place, population about 2000 souls. We asked a gentleman we came across where the castle was. He responded that he didn’t know, “I’m a foreigner ‘ere; I live over t’next county.” – ?! It was already middling to late afternoon and we had miles to go before we were to sleep, and so we opted for a bite in the Crown Inn.
The second destination on this side trip was Hay-on-Wye. It sits on the Welsh/English border and it is, it is said, synonymous with second-hand books. Apparently former President Clinton comes here to speak at their festival, at £1000 a head we were told. Unfortunately this could have been worthy of an earlier stop but we didn’t arrive until a little after four with only a chance to poke in a few shops before they closed.
I pick up the tale again, at the Hertz agency in Cardiff. As I pulled into the lot, brought the car to a halt and turned off the engine my whole body gave a huge, long sigh at the realization that the driving was over and we two old(er) ladies had indeed successfully motored around Wales.
Those of you who read Newport, Maine? may remember the discussion we had with the agent about car insurance: “First quote—an additional £600 ($1046!) At our horrified gasps he gave us a better rate of £300 ($523), a bit more acceptable.” Well, apparently that lower rate meant we had waived something-or-other. Now also remember that little accident we had – ?
As we handed over the keys and told him about our itty-bitty run-in with another vehicle he announced that he was going to have to charge us another £600 ($1200!) because we had waived that something-or-other. Those horrified gasps again. I told him the other driver had admitted culpability but he said he had no alternative—rules are rules. So he proceeded with his inspection of the car and as he came around to the rear he paused, you could almost see him scratching his head when he asked. “Where is the damage?”
On pointing it out, “Ahh”, he said, “well then,” and he called his manager and got permission to waive that extra £600. Thank you very much.
That all taken care of, we taxied to Cardiff Central and caught our pre-booked train to Paddington Station, arriving in London at 3.30 without incident. Our accommodation was within a short walking distance, we just didn’t know which direction. For those who have not been through Paddington, it is huge, very busy, lots of kiosks, wickets, shops and booths, and multiple exits. We approached an information kiosk and enquired how far it was to the Lancaster and he responded, “Oh about 300 yards” and provided us with a map – yes a map, to go 300 yards.
Now, as in the Welsh and English countryside where none of the roads run straight, in London none of the streets meet a right angles, and there is rarely an intersection of just two streets—it is more often three or four intersecting in a mess in the middle— it’s called Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus for a reason … and don’t forget to look right before crossing, not left—that pesky traffic is still on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
OK, so we had a map to guide us 300 yards and despite the fact our route was well delineated in black marker, we could not find the corresponding streets. That is to say, we got lost. But, we persevered and finally passed through the Lancaster’s entrance into a very fine lobby. Here we would rest, recoup and rehash our trip before heading home.