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May 16, 2002
Cymru: Aberhonddu (Russell)

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The magnificent vistas of Brecon Beacons

Our time in Cymru will consist of two parts: we will spend about half a week in southern Wales, followed by about half a week in northern Wales.  On May 14th, we left Caerdydd and drove a little bit north into one of the most picturesque areas of southern Wales, centered around Aberhonddu (Brecon).

Rick Steves' book barely gives any mention to southern Wales, so we relied on a freebie guide that we found at one of the TIs, succinctly titled "Stay on a Farm".  Here, we found a B&B in the nearby town of Talgarth called Lodge Farm, run by Marion Meredith with help from her husband, Rob.  We had absolutely no idea how to get here (the book indicated only that it was "1.5 miles from Talgarth" -- how difficult could that be?), but we cleverly stopped at another TI and kept flipping through books until we saw it listed somewhere with directions.  At the end of a circuitous and narrow road through the forest, we found the very nice farmhouse, where we had two rooms for two nights.  For dinner we drove into the larger town of Aberhonddu, where we were just about the only patrons in an Indian restaurant.

Every day in Cymru, we ask our host/hostess what the weather outlook is for the day.  They look up at the gray and threatening sky and declare, "It looks like it's going to clear."  And usually, it ends up raining by the end of the day.  With this predictable unpredictability, we are trying to choose our Welsh excursions carefully.

On May 15th, we drove to the nearby town of Y Gelli (Hay-on-Wye).  This small village used to be far off of the tourist track until forty years ago, when someone got the bright idea of converting the old town cinema into a bookstore.  Today, Y Gelli calls itself "The Town of Books," boasting more than three dozen used bookstores catering to every kind of specialty.  We spent several hours here, where Russell was very pleased to find a couple of out-of-print children's books (by John Verney) that he has been hunting for years.

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Russell in his element -- a city of book stores

With the day's rain looking more inevitable, we went to Llangorse to check out its horse riding center and indoor rope course, but decided that neither would be satisfying for the boys.  Instead, we braved the weather and proceeded on to the Canolfan Fynydd (Mountain Centre) in the heart of the massive Parc Cenedlaethol Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons National Park -- 520 square miles of high mountains and moorland).  After lunch in its "award-winning" café (which actually tasted very much like ordinary cafeteria food), we went on a lovely three-mile hike through the Comin Mynydd Illtyd (Mynydd Illtyd Commons) to the remains of an old Twyn y Gaer (Iron Age fort).  There is absolutely nothing left of the fort today (even the obelisk marker is completely blank), but the view was spectacular and the scenery along the way was gorgeous.  We are utterly enamored of Cymru's lush green sheep-covered plains and vast rolling hills that go on forever into the distance.  Cameron and Joss did their usual play with sticks (whacking away at the gorse bushes), until Joss accidentally snapped his homemade bow right in two.

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Hiking the Mynydd Illtyd Commons

We were pretty exhausted after our day out, so the boys stayed in at the rooms while Gail and Russell went into Talgarth to order some take-away Chinese food.  The woman who runs the little hole-in-the-wall place (they only do take-away -- there are no tables or chairs) looked delighted to see Russell, and immediately started chatting away to him in Chinese.  It turns out that she is from Hong Kong, has lived in Scotland for the last ten years, and recently came down to Wales to open this restaurant (we learned this when she reverted to speaking English).  Russell is probably one of the first Chinese people she has seen in a long time, and he was very sorry that he couldn't speak the language.

On May 16th, we made one last stop on the way out of the Brecon Beacons, driving back to Y Gelli.  Here, we stopped at the only Internet café we have seen in weeks, so that Russell could make a long-overdue update to the Web site.  Hay Design & Print is actually run by an ex-patriot woman from California.  Russell gained a very amusing cultural education by watching Pat interact with the various locals who came into the shop.  They wanted everything from paper to photocopies to scans to computer-generated documents.  One elderly gentleman sat and dictated while Pat typed away on the PC.  Pat admits that, surrounded by a population who doesn't know the first thing about computers, she feels like everyone's secretary -- or mother.

We left Pat to her fish-out-of-water life and departed southern Wales.  Our next stop will be... northern Wales.


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