06 November 2013

The end of the line {last days in Wales}

I haven't really wanted to write this post. I think it's the acknowledgement that in doing so I have to admit that we actually did reach the end of the holiday, although I've managed to get a lot of mileage out of it in blog posts I know!

The last 4 days of our holiday were spent with our brother, sister-in-law and nephew in Cwmbran, Wales. They live on the side of a hill (they call it a mountain but I'm not sure we would class it as such!) in a lovely neighbourhood which is less than 30 minutes drive to the centre of Cardiff, although the shopping centre in Cwmbran is so good that there's no need to go into the city very often. Both James and Ann-Marie are primary school teachers so the days we stayed coincided nicely with the start of their half-term holidays.

The drive from Somerset to Wales takes about 1.5-2 hours depending on traffic and our munchkins were kept quite entertained on the drive by counting the huge number of bridges that cross over the M5 and M4 motorways on our journey. We had a competition going to guess how many we would go under and it was a close game between my guess (40) and Noah's guess (55), with Noah taking it out closest at 52. Mylo and Mark's guesses were a bit higher so they were out of the running.

The newer Severn bridge that spans the border between Wales and England is impressive to drive over and you then immediately hit the toll bridge. Can you believe it costs nothing to leave Wales but 6 pounds to get in! There's about 10-12 lanes of tolls and then afterwards we nicknamed it The Wacky Races as all the toll lanes then have to merge back into 3 lanes of motorway without any road markings to guide the way.

We arrived just as Ann-Marie and Jack got home from school and enjoyed a cuppa and a sit down before heading out to an all-you-can-eat curry (quite the novelty) in Cwmbran.

Saturday morning James showed us his school which is in a very poor part of Newport before he and Mark went off for a 35 mile bike ride with a group of friends. Ann-Marie and Jack introduced us to the delights of Techniquest - a hands-on Science exhibition in Cardiff Bay and then treated us to GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) for lunch.

Techniquest was well cool - the boys had a ball trying out most of the 60+ models and exhibits.

The shadow room light box was a big hit.

The whisper dish was pretty cool too - you whisper into the circle and have a partner listen to you at the other identical dish on the other side of the room and then reply. 

The disappearing body trick had us all amused.

And the illusion of this shrinking chair was pretty cool too - making us all seem much tinier than real life.

 GBK is a kiwi-owned burger restaurant set up in 2001 that has taken the UK market by storm.

For my burger-mad boys, it was the perfect lunch out!

Afterward we also took a walk through the Pierhead which is a gorgeously architecturally designed historical building which walks you through much of the history of Wales.

 Inside we found a cool gadget where you could write a message and then watch it go around the room.

When the weary bikers eventually arrived home, James realised his phone, bankcard and cash had fallen out of his pocket somewhere between local pub they'd stopped in for a drink at and home. Mark scoured the streets on foot while James and Ann-Marie retraced their route in the car - thankfully finding everything including the 20 pound notes scattered up and down the rain gutters but the phone and bankcard were unfortunately crushed (having been run over). This then left me at home in charge of cooking pizzas for the masses which was interesting not really knowing where to find anything in a strange kitchen! Mark and James then headed out for a night at the pub with James' friends and we got the kids into their matching onesies (I die from the cuteness!) and they played Chubby Bunnies - see how many marshmallows you can stuff in your mouth and still clearly say Chubby Bunnies - Jack was the clear winner with 7! After the kids were in bed Ann-Marie and I curled up on the couch for a night of lovely conversation, wine and chocolate.

No more room after just 2 marshmallows!

The clocks went back that night and so we had some even earlier risers than usual as Mylo, Noah and Jack were all sharing a room during our stay. The day itself wasn't up to much and we had ummed and ahhed about the idea of super-tubing (think big rubber tubes down a dry slope) so went out to Ebbw Vale to check it out. The town was centred around iron and steelworks - in its day housing the biggest steelworks in Europe but it's all closed down now. The rain and wind sadly put paid to the supertubing idea so instead we cruised around the Festival Park outlet shopping centre, everyone coming home with a bargain or two so it wasn't a wasted day out, plus the drive there was quite lovely.

 Aunty Ann-Marie treated the boys to a couple of mini car rides - look a Punch Buggy!

That night James cooked a gorgeous pulled pork roast for us all - we were salivating all day with the smell of it cooking emanating through the house - it was a hard ask waiting till 5.30pm to eat it! The biggest storm in 25 years was predicted to hit that night so we cuched in together, firstly watching Monsters University as a family before the kids went to bed, and us adults followed on with an episode of the new season of Homeland and a rather lovely new mini series by Ricky Gervais called Derek (about a 50 year-old care naive and possibly autistic care worker in an old people's home). It is both humorous and touching, one minute you are laughing your head off and the next you are in tears - I'll be interested to see if it ever reaches NZ TV.

We awoke on Monday morning thinking 'Storm - what storm?!' as we hadn't even really heard any wind outside. As it turned out, Wales missed the brunt of it but there was a fair bit of damage along the coast and closer to London and sadly a few lives lost. We'd been concerned about Mum & Dad driving up to Wales as they even closed the Severn bridge for a while but it had all settled down again by the morning, so we headed out to The Big Pit coal museum for the day.

Wales has an incredible rich history in iron, steel and coal, and a day out here is both fascinating and educational. The highlight is definitely the underground tour where you go down in a lift 100 metres into the mine and are taken around the mine by an actual ex-miner. To go down, you must wear a hard hat, light and battery belt weighing 5 kilos and hand over any contraband - no cameras, phones, watches - basically anything with a dry-cell battery that could cause a flame.

Right until the mine closed in the 1980's there were also ponies who worked down there 50 weeks a year hauling coal carts so we also got to see the stables they were housed in.

There was also the opportunity to walk through the real-life bath houses that were put in for the miners - greatly assisting the miner's wives who had less dust, dirt and grime to deal with at home from then on. It is also both sad and incredible that to think that until 1840 children as young as five and women had to work in the dark and dirty mines.

Ann-Marie took me home via the scenic route over the hill mountain they live under and I loved capturing the autumn colours that are now in full force everywhere in the UK.

Later in the day, Grandma & Grandad arrived for the night and we all went out to Harvester for dinner for one last hurrah, and when we got home set off a few sparklers to round off a lovely last night. 

We feel decidedly poorer for having to leave, but so much richer for the memories of these days spent together. We know not when we will all meet again, but pray that is not too long until we will.

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