Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tales of Bangor #7 - Of castles, reunions and butter knives

Before I start elaborating on the promised topics I want to apologise for the lack of pictures in this entry. I took plenty, but my camera is persistent in refusing cooperation and before I take any rash and irrational action I'd rather let it be. A solution is being worked on.


Coming to the topic: Weekends are generally kept clear of work for university (or at least one day is) and a lot of thought is invested in finding interesting places to visit and planning the respective trip. This has somehow become my field of duty, as I am the owner of a guide book full of suggestions and a head full of ideas and am therefore, usually, the first one to make a proposal. The others seem to be ok with it, so that's how it goes.

For this weekend we had planned to visit Llanberis, a neat little village right at the base of Snowdonia, but then things and circumstances changed: I finally got hold of Ffion, who I met on a certain wee island this summer, via a well-known communication platform. She lives near Caernarfon and I had wanted to meet up with her in the course of my stay. It turned out that this was her last weekend at home, so I abandoned the original plan and suggested a trip to Caernarfon instead. The others were ready to join me, so we went.

Like Beaumaris, Caernarfon also boasts a big and impressive castle built by Edward I (in 1284). It was part of Edward's "Iron Ring", a large number of castles scattered in North Wales, built to hold down any possible revolts by the Welsh and disable them from claiming autonomy. The castle was never completely finished, but its decay was stopped by extensive repair work during the past 2 centuries.

pinched from

We spent three hours running up and down the numerous spiral staircases to enjoy the view from every single tower and turret, reading all about the castle's history and watching a short documentary that attempted to be really gripping. (It is informative, to be sure, and the guy's accent is an ear candy, but still...).
The best thing about the whole castle experience was that we were again lucky with the weather: sun generously shone all morning and afforded us brilliant views and many good pictures.

Brian (from Maine, USA - studies Irish history) and I decided to become members of Cadw [pronounced /kadu/] a Welsh heritage organisation: We paid 24 pounds and are now entitled to visit all castles and sites run and cared for by Cadw free of charge! (PLUS: we get discount at lots of places in England and Scotland AND got our entry fee for Caernarfon castle (5 pounds) refunded on the spot.) Nothing keeping us from further cultural explorations now! And there are so many castles and places in Wales that I want to see: Conwy, Harlech and Aberystwyth castles, Tintern Abbey,...

After three hours of ambling around in cold, damp, stone-walled rooms and strolling around in high and exposed places our bodies were capable of only two sensations: cold and hunger.
We met Ffion in front of the castle and the group split up: I went to a typical sailor-style* 16th century pub with Ffion where we took a the seat on two cushioned barrels in front of the fireplace (nice and cozy) and had a delicious lunch. We caught up on gossip and she gave me loads of information, tips and advice concerning Wales, Welsh and any other interesting, related things.

*timber-framed black and white house, often found in small coastal towns. I call it sailor-style (Which is not too far-fetched as sailors used to frequent this pub many years ago).

After warming body and stomach (with a jacket potato with Welsh cheese and a curious but highly-edible raisin chutney) we braced ourselves against the cold wind again, phoned the others and took a walk to the Roman fort Segontium (As I said: I'm the planner of the trips - so the rest have to put up with my fancies and obsessions. But they don't mind and so we're all happy.)

Another interesting fact about Caernarfon is that its population is primarily Welsh-speaking (which means that they use it as their first language). Encouraged by Ffion's conversing with the tourist-information guy and waiters in Welsh and her readiness to teach me everything I want to know and to answer many questions, I felt brave enough to have a go. I just waited for the perfect moment.
When the waitress in a café put down the carrot cake I had ordered, I was surprised to find a knife with it rather than a fork and decided to ask for the latter. Here was my chance!

"Ffion, what's "Could I please have a fork?" in Welsh?"

After repeating the correct phrase after Ffion several times I finally dared to address the waitress. I took the butter knife in my right hand because I wanted to trade it for the fork and, concentrating very hard on my sentence, finally articulated the rehearsed string of words:

"Ga 'i fforc, os gwelwch chi'n dda?"
[/gai fork os gweluch i:n ða/]

Whether the waitress responded or just nodded I cannot remember: I had used Welsh for the first time and had been understood! Ffion's remark called me back to reality: "That was really good. But maybe you should not point a knife at people, next time." Whoops! I had not intended to threaten the waitress with a butter knife, but trying to produce an intelligible sentence in a language that is completely new to me needed all my cerebral powers and I had not noticed the offensive pose I had assumed as a by-product.
Note for next time: cutlery stays on the table! (And other sharp or potentially dangerous utensils as well.)


Anonymous said...

ich muss gestehen, ich bin eine begeisterte blogleserin, ich mag deinen schreibstil. wenn du wieder zurückkommst, muss ich unbedingt dein welsh hören, also lern brav weiter ;)
lg vicy

Kristina said...

Mah danke :). Das freut mich echt total!! Ich hab vor bis Ende Mai halbwegs konversationsfähig zu sein... mal schaun... werd einfach brav lernen und viel üben. Morgen ist eh wieder Kurs :).
Ich hoff in Österreich/Wien läuft auch alles super?

Anonymous said...

ja, in wien ist alles gut. einige von uns sind verkühlt, aber ansonsten ist alles ok. jetzt sind ja schließlich ferien :)))

dAnath-alÁvye said...

Harlech Castle ist toll!

Und in Aberystwyth gibts noch mehr als nur die castle ruins. Schöööne Stadt. :D

Weinviertel spricht said...

Da geht wos! Ich sag nur...Brian!!! Leute mit solchigem Namen sind üblicherweise durchtrainierte-Surfertyp-Amerikaner. Dafür geb ich dir mein grünes Licht!
Und da ich weiß, dass dich das nicht die Bohne kümmert... Wieso hast du den blöden Kuchen nicht mit dem Messer gegessen? So hätte ich es nämlich gemacht!
Ich hab heute stundenlang die DNA von meinen Bakterien extrahiert, cool gö? Was meinst du, soll ich es auch mal mit meiner eigenen probieren? (Ignorier das einfach).
Liebe Grüße, Man denkt an dich :-)

Anonymous said...

@Pia: Ich kenn' nur einen Brian, und der wurde gekreuzigt...

Kristina said...

Haha! Pia du gehst ma ab! Wenn du DNA-Proben brauchst schick ich dir gern ein bissl Spucke. Oder ein Stück Fingernagel - musst nur sagen.
Aja, u Brian ist kein durchtrainierter Durchschnittsamerikanersurfertyp. Aber ich mag ihn trotzdem :)
Meld mich in Kürze!