First, a quick lesson (this might be “duh” to some of you, but it was novel to my American ignorance): The terms “United Kingdom” and “Great Britain” are NOT interchangeable. GB refers to the big island including Scotland, Wales and England. The United Kingdom includes those three PLUS Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a complete separate country from Ireland though they share a land mass. Northern Ireland is the Protestant part, the south is Catholic. With my flights alone I touched all these areas, except Scotland, since I flew in and out of Belfast (Northern Ireland), then into Bristol (England), out of Cardiff (Wales), through Dublin (Ireland). But with the time between these flights, I got to see some of the actual countries with my lovely native tour guides.
Laura lives in a small village called Loughgall that resides in what is known as the Orchard County. Lucky me, the apple trees were blossoming and gorgeous. Equally gorgeous was the road trip Miss Debra took us on to the North Coast, home to the Giant’s Causeway and spectacular views of Irish farmlands. We got to also take a day trip into Belfast, the capital, to check out Laura’s university and the mall (where she probably spends equal amounts of time) and drink milkshakes. Mine had Skittles in it. It’s better than it seems, promise. Other highlights include playing soccer and tennis with her little brother, getting to see her father’s antique tractor collection (wish he could hang out with my dad, they’d SO be besties), and a traditional breakfast spread known as an Ulster Fry.
So Wales has Welsh, its own language, who knew? It’s pretty cool to see all the signs in two languages and I got the chance to use a bit of what Ben had taught us over the previous months. (“Wedi blino” = I’m sleepy.) Ben’s Wales included tours of filming locations of Gavin and Stacey, a British television show he shared with us (it’s kind of hilarious, the parts an American unfamiliar with Welsh culture can understand anyway) filmed in Barry, Ben’s hometown. St. Fagan’s (or in Welsh, “Ffffffagans”) is similar to the Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge but way bigger and, you know, Welsh. Ben hooked us up food-wise as well: fish and chips, curry, full English breakfast, Welsh beer, etc. And he dropped us off at the airport, being the last friend I saw in Europe before heading home…
But other than these little bits and bobs, really the best part was just seeing their hometowns and meeting their people. I’m indebted to them and their families for their hospitality. Hopefully I’ll get to return the favor someday in their visits to Louisiana. Consider it a standing invitation.