Wales is a fairytale. Wales is the shit I’d imagine when I was eight years old, playing make-believe in the forest near the edge of our property. It’s stone cottages, ivy climbing up the walls, moss blanketing the hiking trails, padding our footsteps as we walk through leaves and ferns on the forest floor. Rolling hills and gardens, speckled with bluebells and buttercups.
We weren’t planning on staying in Wales long, but when some family invited us up to their caravan near Anglesey for the long weekend, we jumped at the chance to see a more rural part of the country. We took our time getting up there, winding through the hills and mountains of Snowdonia. Short, quiet, evening hikes where we watched the sun set below an endless sea of pines. Longer hikes trekking up Mt. Snowdon - a good steep, nine-mile trek with such amazing views of the the rolling country and rough rock face from the top.
Continuing up to the northern coast we met up with Peter’s first cousins, once-removed - Michelle and Nigel (and their dog Jax). They’re English but have a caravan up in Wales they go to some weekends, and it was just our luck we were visiting over the bank holiday. It was a quiet weekend, we drove along the coast to Holyhead, and ate cold sandwiches as we watched the ferries take off for Ireland. They took us to the longest place name in Europe (for those interested: it’s Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch) and let us steal Jax for long walks through the Welsh countryside. We taught them how to play Euchre, they taught us Knock-out Whist, and told us what they really thought of Brexit. Three days of long conversations over a deck of cards passed all too quickly though, and before we knew it we were heading back south.
Our next stop was a small town called Hay-on-Wye - a "book town” that an old co-worker told me about years ago. I was in college and working a job fixing computers in a basement shop, it was slow in the summer and when my co-worker noticed the book I had stashed in my desk (for lunch breaks or while waiting for the next job to come in) started to change every two days, he told me I should check out the Hay Festival in Wales, he thought I’d like it. I looked it up later that night and read it was described as “the Woodstock of the mind”, which sounded so goddamn pretentious yet fascinating at the same time, and ever since that moment I’ve wanted to go. The timing worked out perfectly for us, the Hay Festival 2019 was wrapping up just a few days before we were set to leave Wales, giving us plenty of time to check it out.
We pulled up to the festival tent not knowing what to expect, we’ve gotten exceptionally terrible at planning ahead and were just going to head into whatever talks were open. Lucky for us there was no shortage of things to do, and to see, and to learn: slam-poetry readings, oddball comedians, authors of all kinds, discussions about politics, or gender issues, or creative processes, books lining floor-to-ceiling shelves, comfy chairs set out in quiet corners where you could get lost with your nose in a good read. I felt I could have stayed there forever.
Our last few days in Wales were spent hiking, and driving, watching the scenery pass by in rolling waves of green. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the landscape there - it truly feels as if your favorite childhood fairy tales have come to life, and it’s a magical feeling I haven’t yet gotten anywhere else.