Flirting with Wales

by Molly Kenney

I have a rocky relationship with London, and we’re going through a rough patch right now. I love cities, so London’s got that going for it. It’s also got some great markets and a few good museums. But currently, that seems about it.

I’m sure London has lots of other redeeming qualities, but I can’t see them while being pushed aside by hurried Londoners with eyes only for investment banking. I can’t afford to explore cool hidden bars and clubs — even the public transportation to get me there is exorbitant. Seemingly unconstrained by zoning regulations on building height, London's skyscrapers, particularly in my East End neighborhood, block out all hope of sun. More often than not, London and Londoners, seem grey and impersonal.

The bumps in the road of our relationship grow only more pronounced when I get away from the city, and last weekend, I must admit I had a bit of an affair. Recently, I returned to the city after several days in Wales — one spent visiting Tintern Abbey and a couple small towns (including Hay-on-Wye, a tiny hamlet with 35 bookshops) and the other spent horseback riding in the Brecon Beacon National Park. That’s all it took to fall in love.

The weather in Wales didn’t have much on London’s, but out in the Brecon Beacons, you can see the rain for miles. The Welsh we met were incredibly kind, and for the first time in my five months in the UK, someone held a door open for me. Hay-on-Wye had a bookstore where everything cost one pound, and The Three Horseshoes pub actually gave me the appropriate amount of food for my money. I also rode a horse named Midnight, and although she walked me into a fence, I still felt safer perched on the edge of a hill with her than on a London bus. Wales is about the same size as Massachusetts, but it feels homey and welcoming in a way that densely-packed London never could.

I’d love to go back some day, but London will have to do for now. I suppose I am pretty comfortable here in my flat with some biscuits and tea, and I am looking forward to my morning walk past St. Paul’s Cathedral and evening happy hour at the local Drunken Monkey. London, the old ball and chain, isn’t perfect, but it’s home until June.

(For another view of expatriate life in London, please see: "Sporting London.")

(Photo of Tintern Abbey by PhillipC of Wellington, New Zealand via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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