Saturday, October 15, 2022
THE WELSH CASTLE I missed the bus for was a good castle, or a round tower if you’re going to be Jesuitical about it, far from pretty much everything except for jaw-dropping scenery. The winner of a series of skirmishes over the control of North Wales locked his older brother up in there for 22 years, just to be safe. I read the sign about that and made a mental note to send my sisters postcards; easier to lure them into towers if you butter them up first.
The tower is old and has seen its share of battles. A few of the windows have crumbled. It doesn’t make most of the guidebooks. Even so, it is magnificent. And it isn’t going anywhere. I liked it so much I missed the only bus back to Bangor for the next two hours.
That’s the liberating thing about traveling alone, I reflected on this, the last day of my breakup trip; there is no one to annoy but yourself.
There had been a harmonic convergence of breakup, small windfall, and cheap ticket, and bang, within two days of the text message that made the rift official, I had bought a plane ticket to Europe. Wales was supposed to leave me reborn, ideally via a moment of blinding insight while standing on a windy hilltop. Not like the Phoenix exactly. Wales is determinedly rainy and there is no way you would get an outdoor fire going at the necessary scale. But maybe like whatever the soggy, earthbound counterpart of a Phoenix is. An ancient mole that bursts out of the ground, galumphs into a churning spring and splashes up renewed. I would come striding back, a Strong and Confident Woman Who Travels by Herself, doubtless with an adoring and hilarious Welsh homicide detective on my arm.
The trip home began at 5:30 a.m. with an airport shuttle. Fifteen hours later, at 10:30 p.m., I was still traveling, now on an eleven-hour flight from Berlin to California.
Travel teaches selective focus. You accept the inevitable—The Queue to Nowhere, the lung-bursting connection sprint through Amsterdam airport that KLM knowingly scheduled me for, the bro who decided that a tank top showcasing luxuriant armpit hair was ideal airplane attire.
The Welsh are good at acceptance and refocus. They have been practicing for hundreds of years. The English king Edward I only stopped building his Iron Ring of castles in Wales because he was running out of money, and also really needed to go oppress the Scots instead of the Welsh for a while. The Welsh are no fans of Edward, but they acknowledge that the man knew how to build a hell of a castle.
When the person who has been hurting you leaves, it can still be a nasty shock. Refocus. The Welsh nod and take money from the tourists who come to see Edward’s castles. However, if you care enough to ask, they will mention that there is an excellent round tower built by a true Welsh prince just a couple of towns over, free to the public.
I am not reborn. I am not magically fixed. I did not catch even a glimpse of a wisecracking, murder-solving Welshwoman. But so many people patiently put up with my Duolingo-fueled attempts at ordering meals, remarking on the weather, and asking if this was the right bus to the castle. The kind shuttle driver was worried that my card wouldn’t work on his portable, but tried to refuse payment instead of making me suffer by searching for a cash machine. The Scottish airport security guard hoped I had “a wee plastic bag” for my liquids, and was delighted when I revealed that I did.
Thank you for reading POPULA! Add your email here to receive our newsletter!