The main reason for planning a three-month trip to Great Britain was to be able to have time to explore the history, absorb the culture, and get to know some of the people. What better opportunity to get to know the locals than when traveling in an English-speaking country?

While making my B&B reservations last spring, I imagined chatting over a cup of tea with our hosts – exchanging insights into our countries and cultures, exploring and appreciating both the differences and the similarities. We wouldn’t solve the world’s problems, but perhaps we would resolve the curiosities we each had about “those people on the other side of the pond.” It would all be tempered with laughter, of course, and that razor-sharp, self-deprecating British wit that I love.

What we got instead were a string of B&B hosts who seemed exhausted from a busy tourist season, served us breakfast with the briefest of inquiries into how we were getting on, and then retreated to the kitchen to get on with their own lives. What had I been thinking? Of course, these people are running a business – and often the B&B was a supplement to their primary job. They are looking for clients to help them make ends meet, not their next BFF. And so I resigned myself to continue my exploration using only my own observations and assumptions, minus the native commentary.

And then we stayed in a beautiful home in a delightfully remote village in southern Wales. Our hosts, Andrew and Anne, not only cooked breakfast, but also sat and shared the meal with us. We lingered a bit over the meal discussing our respective worlds – nothing terribly significant or noteworthy, but always satisfying and enriching. And then we’d part ways – us, to explore a corner of the world they were so happy to share with us, and them, to return to the daily lives they gladly set aside for a short time to sit and have a chat. We felt like welcomed guests.

The B&B’s I reserved were chosen for their access to the sights I wanted to see. I wasn’t always able to find rooms or flats exactly where I’d hoped, and often had to pick locations I’d never heard of or never would have sought out for themselves because it was the closest I could find. I tend to be an über-planner, and sometimes have difficulty yielding to chance. But I find, as I learn to relax and go with that elusive flow, that more often than not the consequence of serendipity is a brilliant discovery. I need to do it more often.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentleI never liked poetry in school. It seems we always started with the medieval Beowulf and never got to the more modern stuff before the school year ended. I just couldn’t relate. But Monday we stopped in at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, Wales, the proud home of the poet and writer. I was impressed. Not only by his mastery of the English language, but also by the brief life (39 years) of the man himself and the many people he influenced. For starters, financial contributors to the exhibit were, among others, Sir Paul McCartney and former President Bill Clinton. Oh, yes, and Bob Zimmerman chose to change his last name to Dylan in honor of the poet.

Caernarfon Castle

After Edward I of England (Longshanks, to those of you who have seen Braveheart) conquered Wales in 1284, he extracted cooperation from the Welsh by promising them that their next ruler would be “a prince born in Wales who did not speak a word of English.” When Edward’s son (later to become Edward II of England) was born several months later in Caernarfon Castle, Wales, he was presented to the Welsh people as the first Prince of Wales. The Welsh people had no choice but to accept him as their ruler; the baby didn’t speak a word of English.

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

Since then, the heir apparent to the reigning monarch of England has been titled the Prince of Wales. Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales, was officially invested in Caernarfon Castle in 1969.

Caernarfon was one of 17 castles that Edward built in Wales after 1284 to assimilate the English into Wales. He felt the need, however, to build heavily fortified settlements for the English so that the Welsh would not have access.