Last summer, my husband and I made our first trip to Wales and that's when we learned that we have been spelling Wales wrong; it should be spelled "Wails" (but the Welsh don't want any outsiders to know).
Allow me to share my newly-obtained, firsthand knowledge about "Wails" that came from visiting a certain seaside town by the name of Llandudno. By the way, if you are pronouncing Llandudno in your head as "LAN-dud-no" then you are way off base. That's because folks living in Wales irrationally insist on speaking Welsh which means nothing is pronounced the way it is spelled.
*Llandudno is actually pronounced: Thhh-LAN-did-no.
I don't know where the TH sound came from or where the U sound went, but that's Welsh for you. (And now you won't have to embarrass yourself if you ask for directions to Llandudno should you dare to visit after reading this. You're welcome. That's just the first of my Travel Tips sprinkled throughout this post like hidden Easter Eggs.)
Tea Time with The Mad Hatter in Llandudno, Wales
where, apparently, The Mad Hatter went mad . . .
My hubby and I wound up in Wales/Wails after we suddenly found ourselves planning a very last-minute vacation. My husband had been working for a start-up company, so we hadn't had a proper vacay in THREE YEARS. Upon accepting a new job, my husband informed his new boss-to-be that he needed four weeks before starting the job: two weeks to give notice to his former employer and two weeks to give a vacation to his wife (in order to remain married).
With only a couple of weeks to plan, I really had to scramble. We had never been to Wales and thought it would be a great place to relax since it offered hiking in the mountains as well as along the coast. Of course, hordes of Europeans were thinking the same thing, so vacation rentals were scarce. Nevertheless, I was determined to find something extra-special (because, as I mentioned before, we hadn't had a vacation in THREE YEARS).
After much online searching, I located a lovely two-bedroom apartment in the charming Victorian town Thhh-LAN-did-no; the perfect base for touring the coastline and the famed Snowdonia National Park. Plus the spectacular Conwy Castle is a short drive away.
Now I am a savvy trip planner, so I usually orbit over any potential rental property on *Google Earth to determine if the location is good (that is to say: not too noisy and walking distance to a Starbucks). This property fit the bill and the price was super affordable. I was puzzled (and somewhat suspicious) that no one had snatched it up. No stranger to the U.K., I knew to assume that the windows were the originals (i.e.: ancient) and therefore we would easily hear noise from the street. But after *dropping the little Google man onto the satellite map of the main street and doing a careful rotating scan, I concluded that the town was a sleepy one. All the nearby businesses were nice restaurants and stores (plus one grand old movie theater). There was nary a bar or casino in sight, which bode well regarding noise at night.
Google view: *Drop your little gold man on the map to get the actual street view. Move him around to inspect the neighbor-hood before you make a reservation.
While I was still trying to figure out why this rental appeared "too good to be true", I discovered that local Llandudno legend claims that Lewis Carroll used to regularly visit the family of Alice Liddell there (Alice being the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland). The town is littered with Wonderland-y statues and themes. I'm a big fan of Wonderland, so I got all excited and booked the rental.
Two weeks later, we arrived in the Victorian seaside resort and parked right beside a Queen of Hearts statue. (Delightful! I immediately felt like I was in Wonderland.) The architecture was incredible, the town was quiet, and flowers spilled over the wrought iron fences bordering the short walk to our week-long rental. As soon as we stepped inside the third-floor corner apartment (with sweeping views over the town and sea) we dropped our bags and high-fived each other. Vacation-rental jackpot!!!
The fabulous views from our living room window (above)
and bedroom window (below).
After acquainting ourselves with the apartment, we went for a walk around the quaint, picturesque town lined with pastel row houses. Upon reaching the seaside promenade, we felt as though we had been transported back in time. It was like walking onto a giant film set for Downton Abbey. It made us wish we were wearing Edwardian clothes and using expressions like, "I say, old chap!"
After strolling the beautiful beach (sandwiched between two mound-shaped headlands known as the The Great Orme and The Little Orme) we explored the shops along the gorgeous Victorian pier, the longest in all of Wales. We passed old arcades and concessions (including a fresh donut shop which, unfortunately, was already closed) before reaching the ornate bandstand at the end of the pier. We were in awe of the preserved splendor of it all. No wonder Llandudno was known as The Queen of Welsh Resorts. Wales rocked!
LLandudno's magnificent seafront promenade, lined with Victorian
row houses and hotels. Below is the view of the pier.
After our enchanting stroll and a visit to the local supermarket, Dan made dinner and we retired early. We were still fighting jet-lag and we had friends coming to stay with us the following night, so we wanted to be well-rested for some hiking. However, upon climbing into bed, we discovered that our mattress scored about a Negative Three on the One-to-Ten Scale of comfort. We decided to tough it out rather than move to the twin beds in the second bedroom. Fortunately, the night was fairly quiet as we began (uncomfortably) dozing off, except for the occasional cries of the seagulls.
Then the seagulls seemed to get nearer. And their cries got louder. And louder. Then they began shrieking nonstop. Neither of us had ever heard seagulls carry on in such a manner, even though we have both lived by the sea.
"Do you think they are fighting?" I whispered groggily to Dan.
"Maybe it's mating season."
"Is that what seagulls sound like when they mate?"
"I have no idea."
Then the shrieking really began. But the additional shrieking came from a drunk woman sitting on the sidewalk bench right below our window. Soon she was joined by her drunken ex-lover, as he began screaming back.
I can't write what they were screaming verbatim, but it sounded a lot like this:
#%&*!!! %#*&&!## . . . &%%$**# Oh yaaa? %$**##&!!!
NOTE: I have to tell you that the only time I have ever been exposed to that amount and intensity of screamed-at-the-top-of-one's-lung's profanity was when I attended a Boston Bruins playoff game (and the Bruins lost). In an amazing display of vocal projection, the railing, Welsh ex-couple managed to out-scream and out-curse the entire city of Boston.
Clearly theirs was no sudden argument that sprang up in the heat of the moment; it was like The War of the Roses! It lasted for hours. And hours. And hours! Until sun-up, to be exact. That's when they both passed out. I wished I could have. Dan had already fled to the other bedroom, but really fared no better because his mattress was even worse and there was a bus stop under his window and (surprise!) buses run early in Llandudno. Dan gave up on sleep and was up making breakfast around 7a.m. while I desperately attempted to catch a quick cat-nap. Unfortunately, I was foiled by the sudden screeches that sounded like fingernails-scratching-a-chalkboard. Those were made by the professional window washers who began cleaning our windows (unannounced) just as I was beginning to doze off. If I hadn't been getting over jet-lag, it might have been funny. But it wasn't.
Nevertheless, we were excited to be on our first vacation in three years, in spite of the sleepless night of wailing drunks and seagulls. We shook off our fatigue and made ready for the arrival of our dear English friends, Sue and Ray. The British twosome are a fun, well-traveled, unflappable couple (and they just happen to run a *lovely vacation apartment outside of Lancaster, England where there are no shrieking seagulls . . . You're welcome for that travel tip.) Upon their arrival, Sue and Ray expressed approval of our fetching Llandudno apartment and had a good laugh when we told them about the Night of Wails. But their amusement ended once they went to bed. That's because:
#1: Their mattresses SUCKED! Apparently, the mattresses on the twin beds rated even lower than the one in the master bedroom on the One-to-Ten Comfort Scale (as in a Negative Five and a Negative Seven).
#2: The screaming seagulls began their nightly chorus (only this time there were more of them) and the drunken ex-lovers returned with friends who took sides in Part Two of their screaming match. It was like being trapped in front row seats for the Opera from Hell.
At some point during the night, Dan threw open our 100-year-old window and began shouting at the growing collective of inebriated screamers. He warned them if they didn't move along he was going to call the police. They got quiet for about three minutes, but I think they were merely confused as to whose side of the argument he was on and then they went right back to
#%&*!!! %#*&&!## . . . &%%$**# Oh yaaa? %$**##&!!!
(Multiplied by the additional friends.)
In the morning we all staggered to the kitchen and exchanged our horror stories from the night before. Ray informed us that the innocent-looking movie theater across the street actually housed a bar franchise that was renown for selling the cheapest alcohol in Great Britain. (Add a flock of mating/fighting seagulls; a bus stop, window washers, benches filled with angry, raging drunks and possibly the worst mattresses that ever rested on bed frames and you have a nearly-complete description of the things NOT listed on the rental apartment's website.)
Undeterred by our group exhaustion, we chugged down coffee and got ready to do some hiking in Snowdonia. And that's exactly what we didn't do because we went into town first to get some bottled water and when we returned to the apartment, the lock on the door wouldn't work and we couldn't get inside (to get our car keys). I had my cell phone, so I called for assistance, but I only got an answering machine. At that point, the wails in Wales were our own. (An hour later the landlord texted me to let me know that they would send a locksmith . . . In the late afternoon.)
Thank God our unflappable-even-if-sleep-deprived friends had their car. In spite of being locked out of our apartment, we had a perfectly lovely day exploring Conwy Castle and hiking the Great Orme and Betws-y-Coed. (Don't even attempt to pronounce that last name!)
Queen Sue, King Ray and My Hubby (Dan the Court Jester)
& Conwy Castle
At the end of the day, as we sat in a cosy restaurant eating dinner, our friends began begging us to flee with them to the north of England. "You can't possibly survive that apartment for the rest of the week!" Ray cried. Their offer was ever-so-tempting, but we knew that they both had a busy week planned, so we graciously declined. Feeling invigorated from our fabulous day of friends and sightseeing, we were certain we could weather the screeching seagulls for another few days.
Or so we thought. That night the seagulls were out in force, probably hosting their annual convention. Unfortunately, so were the drunks. The following morning, Dan and I were feeling as mad as The Hatter himself, plus it was raining cats and dogs. We were too exhausted for soggy hiking, so we spent the entire day searching online for a replacement rental that we could flee to immediately. Hours passed and it began to dawn on us that every hotel and holiday rental in Wales was booked.
Finally I snapped. Startling my husband, I shouted, "Screw Wales! We're going to North Yorkshire!" And then I rented a castle! (Really.) You might consider that little maneuver to be a splurge, but I knew we needed some place AMAZING just to make up for the terrible nights we had already endured because it was our first vacation. IN. THREE. YEARS! And I was pretty sure we could lose the screeching seagulls (and hopefully the drunks) if we drove more than halfway across Great Britain.
We packed our bags, cleaned the apartment, and I sent a message to the landlord explaining that we couldn't survive the rest of the week. (We didn't get any kind of refund, in spite of being locked out of the apartment for a full day. We did, however, get blamed for breaking the lock on the door.)
The following morning (after yet another night of wails) we loaded the car and just as we were about to depart I mentioned that I was sad that we hadn't gotten to try one of the freshly cooked donuts on the pier. Dan turned off the ignition and said, "Hey. There's no rush. Let's go have one last walk along the promenade and then we'll go on the pier and get fresh donuts. It will a nice way to exit Wales."
We took one last walk along the lovely, genteel, promenade and I posed by my kindred spirit, The Mad Hatter and I whispered softly in his ear that I understood why he had gone bonkers in Llandudno. Then we strolled onto the pier and purchased steaming hot donuts. We had just made our way to a bench to enjoy our mouthwatering feast when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a seagull dive towards the back of Dan's head.
BAM! It smacked Dan on the skull and before he could react he was hit by a second one. We started to laugh, but another dove in and snatched Dan's donut right out of its paper pocket. Suddenly we found ourselves being circled by an ominous flock of the savage creatures. We leapt up and began walking away, only to have the seagulls begin dive-bombing us. One slammed, beak first, into the top of my head. As my right hand flew up to slap him off (and check for blood), a second gull nearly took some fingers off my left hand as his razor-sharp beak sliced off the top of my donut. The dang seagulls were working in concert with one another!
I heard myself scream as a third bird slammed into my chest and snatched the rest of the doughnut from my still-stinging fingers. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dan shaking seagulls off his head and arms and then punt another seagull like a football with a well-placed kick. Dan's donuts had been completely devoured by the ravenous flock and although I was pretty sure my head might be bleeding, I was determined to not have my last donut taken. Leaving my already-beaked skull unshielded, I shoved my remaining donut into its paper wrapper and tucked it inside my jacket while running down the promenade (followed by my flailing husband as he continued to smack away the pastry-thieving predators).
As Dan and I fled (looking much like Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor in Hitchcock's The Birds) a nearby Welshman caught my eye as he lunged towards his daughter. I assumed that he was about to provide the child with cover from an imminent bird attack, but then I realized that he had taken a crouch position next to her to point and laugh at us as we batted birds and bolted towards town. (I am left to believe that watching unsuspecting tourists get attacked by seagulls is a local Welsh pastime.)
After running all the way back into town, we paused to catch our breath. That's when we happened to notice of the NAME of the store on the bottom floor of our holiday rental. Right beneath our third-floor windows were the words, "Perfect Dreams". It was a flippin' mattress store!
Oh the irony!
~ Parting Notes ~
The Queen of Hearts.
we know now that she wasn't shouting, "Off with her head!"
She was likely screaming,
We took The Queen's advice and didn't stop fleeing until we reached North
Yorkshire. Dan and I shared my cold, un-beaked donut in triumph as we sped away, leaving Llandudno (and The Birds) in the dust.
It just so happens that I snapped a photo of the cute little sign on the pier warning folks about the pesky, but adorable, seagulls.
Talk about false advertising!!!
that sweet seagull sign is like having a surgeon general's warning on a pack of cigarettes that says:
"you'll be fine. Just don't inhale."
In reality, the seagull situation in Llandudno is this:
I also happened to snap a photo of the fresh donuts in the security mirror and now I wonder if any of these folks in the photo made it off the pier alive . . . This picture may be the only evidence of their last whereabouts before the gulls got 'em.
Oh, and as for Alice . . .
We never did see an Alice statue. Only an Alice tea room.
I suspect that she attempted to eat a donut and now . . .
Alice doesn't live here anymore . . .
"I'm outta here!"
~ Post Script ~
and *travel tipZ*
I didn't want to leave you with a bad impression of Wales. It is a beautiful place and I highly recommend it. (No, really!) Llandudno is exquisitely preserved if you want to visit a resort town where you feel like you have time-traveled. I even recommend the apartment we stayed in; as long as you
*Bring some noise-cancelling headsets and wear them to bed.
*Don't eat ANYTHING near the pier.
Or the beach.
Or anywhere there is open sky.
And you may want to
*Pack the biggest, baddest super-soaker submachine gun you can find to launch an ice-water counterattack on the loitering, screaming, drunken townsfolk (or seagulls or window cleaners) as you shout from your window;
"Who's wailing now? You Welsh!"
(Ummm, sorry. I'm projecting now.)
**Check out my Instagram to see some of the highlights of our short stay in Wails.
(I mean Wales.)
It really is a great place to visit!
And don't forget my
*MOST IMPORTANT TRAVEL TIP*
IF YOU FIND YOURSELF TRAPPED IN AN UNBEARABLE VACATION RENTAL:
FLEE TO A PRIVATE CASTLE!
NO MATTER WHAT IT COSTS.
I PROMISE IT WILL BE WORTH IT!
The lovely dinner we enjoyed in the gatehouse remains of our
private castle after we fled "Wails".
CASTLE PERK: ROOFTOP VIEWS FOR MILES
DAN ON THE CASTLE ROOF - ENJOYING THE PEACE AND QUIET.
There were no seagulls nearby, but the castle previously had a dovecote
for raising doves as food. Generations of their cooing offspring still live on the property and like to be heard.
We chose not to eat donuts . . . Just in case.
*ONE ADDITIONAL TRAVEL TIP*
FLEE TO A CASTLE
IF YOU HAVE AN ISSUE WITH HEIGHTS BECAUSE . . .
THIS IS HOW YOU GET TO THE BATHROOM FROM YOUR BEDROOM.
(WHICH I FOUND TO BE ESPECIALLY TREACHEROUS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT.)
Question: Did everybody have really tiny feet back in the 1400's?
Furthermore, the spiraling stone stairs are also the only means of reaching the roof or the second bedroom. The rope is the only handrail. My husband took one misstep and found himself swinging like tarzan until he regained his footing. Every time I went up or down those stairs I clung to the rope like it was my only means of life support . . . because it was!
The takeaway: Vacation rentals from the fifteenth century are not for the faint of heart.
BUT STILL . . .
It's the remains of a CASTLE!
(AND IN OUR MINDS, WORTH THE RISK TO LIFE AND LIMB! )
Dan in front of the banqueting hall of Cawood Castle.
The guest quarters are to the right inside the turreted gatehouse, which contains two bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom.
CHECK OUT MY INSTAGRAM FOR MORE PHOTOS OF
WALES & Cawood Castle.
Then plan your trip!