I am declaring a new rule. I will call it the two-by-two rule: no more than two drinks in a day when traveling, and drinking no more than two days in a row. I disembarked the ferry a little after 6pm on Tuesday, with a 60-dollar B&B booked, and tickets purchased to London the following day. It had been my original plan to hop on a train an hour after exiting the ferry, pulling into London rather late on Tuesday night. Having waited until I was on the ferry going to Wales to buy my ticket, prices skyrocketed over 200%, so I found myself looking for accommodations nearby. I was not too upset by this. After all, I had always loved Dylan Thomas, and found Welsh culture interesting. The region being so geographically close to England proper, and yet still maintaining a distinct local language, lends a certain fascination for the geographically obsessed.
As I write this, in a Holyhead cafe, there is an older Welsh woman behind me ordering something from the young English-sounding waitress. What an accent! It seems more common amongst the older folks in the community, I suppose a result of Anglesey, Wales being increasingly connected to the rest of England by communication technology, mass transit and the like. If one describes the Irish accent as a “brogue,” which makes it sound sort of rough and hearty, I would describe a Welsh accent as a hiss. I would not be surprised if parseltongue, the language of snakes in Harry Potter, were somehow related to Welsh.
I strolled through the ferry terminal and over an elaborate modern bridge to the decidedly less elaborate and less modern town. There was hardly anyone out in the street, despite car being parked on nearly every curb, both residential and commercial. Through the mist I could make out old churches, and even what I later learned were neglected Roman ruins dating back millenia. I passed the occasional pub with a handful of visitors inside, and some open Chinese and Indian restaurants, but I couldn’t tell where everyone else was. Was it a major holiday? Was there a hurricane coming? I walked along the windswept A5154 on my way to “The Beach Hut,” a lovely beach-themed Bed & Breakfast clustered among other beach-themed B&Bs in the northeast of town. Despite it being mid-August, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would consider this cold corner of the world a beach destination. Howard, half of the gay couple who owned The Beach Hut, checked me in and went over some of the sights I should check out before leaving Holyhead. He explained that everything I’d want to see was beyond the Hut to the west, “towards the beach.” I can neither confirm nor deny that there is in fact a beach in Holyhead, but if there is, it is quite well hidden. I walked to the end of Beach Road, and all the way back, and didn’t see a single grain of sand. I did, however, see wetsuit-clad children diving off a pier into what had to be frigid Welsh waters. I settled in with a local beer at Langdon’s, a restaurant/ bar that Howard recommended, and ran into a couplein their fifties or so, who were also staying at the Hut. Happy to be in the warmth, I had two beers whose glasses actually came printed with a warning not to go for a drunk swim. They didn’t have to tell me twice. I had a mushroom appetizer and two beers while listened to a hired accordionist play La Vie en Rose twice, along with a slew of other songs I did not recognize. “If only Will,” my good accordionist/ pianist friend “had been here,” I thought. He’d get a kick out of meeting someone withthe same unusual trade so far off from home. He could have given the guy a note, we could have had dinner with the chap. That would’ve made the day. Regardless, I felt good. Not good enough to go for a swim, but good enough to jog the long stretch to Holyhead’s downtown, which I hoped would be livelier. It was not. I stopped in The Stanley Arms for a pint of… Calling? Or Calming, maybe? It was drink #3 and all I remember is a capital C in older English script. Supposedly a popular spot, Stanley Arms was dead, so on I went to find somewhere with a more chatty clientele.
I turned up near the Hut, and saw an older, reddish-purple-haired woman sipping from a straw in a Coke can at a bar. After trying 2 different doors, I finally found the correct entrance and was greeted by the very friendly bartender, who had the entire pub to herself. She affirmed that the bar was open, so I got another beer. We chatted for a bit, and she told me about how she lived all her life in South Africa, and had only moved to Wales five weeks prior to work in that bar. She told me her whole family still lived in South Africa, and that she wished her kids would move to Wales, where it was a lot safer. She said she understood Afrikaans and Dutch, and a bit of Welsh, which was cool because I have yet to meet many Afrikaaners. South Africa is a place I feel I have very little knowledge of, despite it being a large part of the Anglosphere. Maybe my Anglophone literatures class in the fall will orient me further.
A few guys trickled in over the next hour or so. I grabbed a Bulmer’s cider from the fridge and drank that, bringing my total to 5 drinks. I went to the bathroom twice while I was there, and had to ask where it was both times because my cider-soaked brain had forgotten where it was between pissings. The most interesting character was a barely-intelligible Welsh man, who walked with the trappings of someone who had already had a few too many that night, and many nights before for that matter. He kept talking about something. What was it? The Venice ferries, was it? Yeah that was it, he kept talking about how, when someone died out on those islands, they’d have to put the coffin on a ferry and send it back to the mainland. He must’ve said that two or three times. Pretty grim. When he left for a smoke the rest of the patrons and the bartender started talking about how they weren’t big fans of his, but that they tolerated him. I guess there’s always the odd one out.
On my other side was a skinny older man with long gray hair and a beard. He quietly gave me little history lessons on European history between my lessons on Venetian funeral logistics. On his other side, by the bathroom that I struggled to find, sat a younger man in a paint-stained T-shirt, who was later replaced by a man in his 40s who enjoyed hearing about my travels and loved to say “cheers” whenever I told him a story. Truly a classic assemblage of Welsh bar-folk, and an experience I am glad I had. However, five drinks was well over my limit, especially on a near-empty stomach. I bought a £2 juice to get some fluids in my body, and waved goodbye to my new friends. They wished me safe travels and the bartender had a look of tenderness, or else concern, in her eye as I stepped out to enter the B&B just two doors down.
I struggled to sleep, as I always do with too much alcohol in me. It took me around two hours to fall asleep, and I also awoke two hours before my alarm. What was supposed to be a nice treat, to have a private room where I could catch up on sleep without worrying about my stuff getting stolen, ended up being a half-sleeping half-waking fight for rest as the world spun around me. The next morning, I showered to calm my headache. I felt a little nauseous, and forced myself to vomit after about an hour of debating it. I felt a bit better after emptying my stomach into the toilet, and walked downstairs to breakfast where the same couple I had seen twice before was eating breakfast. Howard had told me the day before that Anglesey was the most popular beach destination in England. I had met less than a dozen tourists, so I found that hard to believe but, to be fair, when I think of beaches I don’t really think of England. Or even New England for that matter. Maybe that’s why they call where I’m from New England: rocks, terrible beaches, and frigid weather. I promptly poured my Welsh Breakfast of local sausage, egg, beans, ham, and toast, into my toilet. I suppose it is a good thing I held off on the grilled tomato; the acidity probably would have made the process a touch more difficult.
As I wait for my train, with just a cappuccino in my stomach, I am starting to feel better. I enjoyed Wales. It was almost entertainingly unentertaining. I found myself enjoying the sheer absurdity of this cold and rainy beach town without a beach, and mingling with the locals who spoke Welsh and English, or else a more-or-less intelligible parseltongue patois. Wales was a land of contradictions, as I see it. It is England but not English, quaint but also gritty. The homeless sit drinking in alleys, but cheerfully say ‘Hi’ as you walk by, sipping from flasks, cans and bottles. They sit, sleep, and drink outside, despite houses being vacant on every block, such vacant real estate already unusual for ‘Britain’s biggest beachtown.’ The food is good and local, and yet there are token international restaurants that have stay in business somehow. My Welsh stopover was an interesting one. Even now, at noon, the fog has yet to burn off, but everyone seems rather cheery. People are walking about, smoking outside, and the cafe I am in actually has the front door wide open, to my short-sleeved chagrin. Anyway, on to the next city. Let’s hope London’s a bit warmer.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.