Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Croeso i Gymru!

Today I was sitting at Cardiff Queen Street station with my mates, all of us looking slightly pale, wearing 4-day old clothes covered in miscellaneous stains, stinking of whisky and beer waiting for the airport train. One of them says, "Let's figure out how many alcohol units we had this weekend." Some very scientific calculations ensue, with the response "Wait, so we had at least 50 alcohol units, each, over 3 days?" We all high-five each other until it is pointed out that 50 alcohol units is what is recommended for women over the period of a month (maximum of 2 each day, which is about one drink). My friend says "It's okay, Erin, you drink like a guy anyway." and there is a brief pause before someone says, "You know... we're a government statistic."

So yes, we have made it back from our Cardiff liver-destruction holiday. We all decided to have a wee reunion of folk who had left Glasgow and visit some of them down in their new home. Of course, in case you had not been following, on Thursday we had the general election for the United Kingdom. Without trying to explain British politics, essentially no one was elected because they did not get enough constituencies, so they are trying to negotiate between parties at this point. Sadly, the party to get the most votes was the Conservatives. Anyway, this was a hot topic of conversation over the weekend.

I went over to my friend's house in Edinburgh before our afternoon flight and we caught up and made bruschetta for a nice, healthy lunch to make up for the destruction that was about to annihilate our system over the next few days. Hey, at least we had foresight, right? So we watched a video of a heavy metal concert in Greece over lunch and then went off to the airport. We met up with another friend of ours at the gate who promptly greeted me with lamentations about the election. They had the news on at the airport with the speeches from the party leaders that everyone was watching. I am impressed with the level of intelligent discourse from the general public when discussing the election.

Volcano-be-damned, we made it to Cardiff. One of our friends met us at the airport and drove us to his house. We lounged about and made tea while we figured out what people were doing and such. Finally we went out to a micro-brewery (yes! they have them here!) for some pizza and beer. A few others from the department at the university came by as well later, so we had a good group of people and discussed politics at length over pitchers and pitchers of beer. Of course, as this was the first reunion night, one of the boys who will never be forgiven for this, started ordering us shots of Jagermeister with the beer. Over the course of many hours we polished off 8 pitchers of beer (about 35 pints, us scientists figured out) and £60 worth of Jager shots, actually running the bar out of it. I will not mention how many of us were drinking as that is a bit embarrassing. After staying at the microbrew until they closed we went out to a generic chain pub and settled in for a pint. Finally we went back to one of their houses and listened to metal music and lounged about and drank more beer until we all eventually crashed around 5:30 in the morning, when it was light out. The group staying at the other friend's house went home and two of us stayed and crashed on the couches.

The next morning (okay, the next afternoon) we woke up at about 12:30. The other crowd came over bearing litres and litres of Irn Bru (hangover cure 101), morning rolls with bacon, sausage and eggs and copies of The Guardian so we could read about the election (how classy is that?). After we pontificated over protein and caffeine we wandered out to explore downtown Cardiff. It was a miserable day but we persevered. We were going to go to Caerphilly Castle that day, but we had gotten up too late. We thought about going to Cardiff Castle, but it looked like a renaissance festival-ish parody (and it was £10) so we gave it a pass and wandered around the arcades instead. There was a wee cafe that looked cute, but us looking like a bunch of metal-head miscreants earned us scorning looks from the Daily-Mail-reader-types and they did not have any seats, so it didn't matter. No one would guess that the majority present had PhDs and well-established careers in Astrophysics. We were then relegated to an outdoor cafe with crap tea for 60p while we figured out our next move. We decided to go see a film that night, so we went back to the house and settled in with some new records until the new episode of Dr Who was on (which is obligatory and watched without question every Saturday night).

After Dr Who we went to the cinema and watched Four Lions which is a new film about incompetent terrorists. It was absolutely hilarious and very sobering, so well-done to the directors for making such a thought-provoking film. Apologies, but I doubt it will be widely distributed in America; not just because of the serious terrorism stuff, but because it is very, very British with jokes that I certainly would not have understood a year ago. We all enjoyed it but did not really know what to make of it. After that we went to a Thai restaurant nearby and were again treated like miscreants. Okay, so we were not dressed very nicely, but they put us in a back room and stuck us with a really mean, scary waitress. It is totally undeserving, too, because it's not like we do not have money and do not behave ourselves. The food was awesome though and we had a good laugh about it before heading to a pub. After the pub we went over to our other friends house (it's about midnight at this point) and settled in with some beer and played the game Zombies, which was really fun to play with super-competitive people who love each other, but love screwing each other to the wall even more. It turns out I am a zombie killing machine. I left a wake of zombies in my path. Of course, this meant I was close to winning so there was an epic betrayal resulting in my death and loss of my zombie count. It was tragic. Their loss too, because we did not finish until 4:30am. Half of us wandered into the dawning sky back to the other flat to crash well and proper.

We forced ourselves up before noon the next day to make it to Caerphilly Castle (see link). Half of us drove there and the other half took a bus. This was absolutely epic and actually it is hard to describe the awesome-ness that was this castle. It was a small town, smaller than Boulder and the city park in the middle of town seemed perfectly normal. A regular sized park with a big lake in the middle. However, that lake turns out to be the moat around a 13th century castle. It seemed so normal too, it really was like walking around City Park in Fort Collins in the summer. Families out, kids fishing in the lake, ice cream vans, the works. The castle, as I said, was epic. It was only £3.60 to get in and it was almost free rein of these ruins. The main tower had been rebuilt in the 1930s but the rest was all original. There was a series of walls to get into the main castle and you could wander in and out of all the rooms and towers and grounds. They also had some replica weapons including this medieval crossbow that we could just go up and mess about with. It took about 4 men to operate and held an arrow that was 1.5 metres long. We figured it would look suspicious to leave and come back with sticks and crowbars to operate it, so we decided against it. It was aimed at the lake (and ominously at the ice cream van on the other side) as well as some other, blocked off weapons that we figured were for their festivals and such.

We wandered by ourselves a bit, exploring the nooks and crannies. It was great because you were essentially allowed to climb in and out of almost everything; you could walk along the walls, poke into the corners of rooms...there were very few places that were blocked off. We talked about how one could siege a war on the Morrison's across the road and how we could utilise the castle for a zombie attack, me being in charge of zombie annihilation. After we had satisfactorily explored every corner of the grounds we just met up in-between the walls at the base of the main castle and lay down in the grass, discussing what a bastard Oliver Cromwell was and the ponciness of Edward II and how great it would have been if the Spanish had made it to Britain to watch Elizabeth I personally take them down.

We went back to Cardiff and after lots of splitting up, getting lost, finding each other again, we settled in a beer garden to figure out what to do that evening. We decided to go back to our home base and order curry, a supply of liquor (three of us decided to split a bottle of Balvenie Double Wood, very recommended) and went back home. We called in an absurdly huge curry order, having to compensate for being in Wales by ordering almost every meal "extra hot". Two gents went out to pick it up and returned back saying with extreme glee "they gave us a crate!" Indeed, it was a crate of curry; a glorious sight. We watched the original Inglorious Bastards from the 70s while we ate. Afterwards, the whisky was poured and it was suggested to watch Yes, Minister so yes, we settled in and six guys and me in our 20s and 30s watched Yes, Minister until the wee hours. It was absolutely brilliant and totally unexpected given how that show is perceived in America. It is fantastic for explaining British politics in the same way the West Wing explains American politics. After this whole holiday, the best thing I got out of it was a giant sense of respect for how well-educated my circle of friends are and the level of intelligent discussion from politics to history to heavy metal to zombies that went on this weekend.

We got up this morning at a reasonable time and went to the airport and made it home, thought threat of the ash was imminent. Ash-be-damned, I'm home and refreshed and ready to face the push to the end of my first year here. Hwyl!

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