Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Visit to Caernarfon, Wales

Continuing my pattern of writing about my trip backwards -- before London, I came from Caernarfon, a very small (pop. 9611 according to Wikipedia) town in Wales. I took the train from Bangor to London Euston station, a ride that was essentially like watching an all-around movie of countryside, hills, castles, and sheep. I found Caernarfon itself to be sleepy and introverted -- the type of place that lends itself well self-reflection, in that it's completely beautiful, and everything closes around 5 pm.

I stayed at a small hostel that seemed to be run by a family as a hobby. There's something appealing in that -- the idea of having a place for travelers to come through, meeting new people from faraway lands, hearing their stories and listening to their languages. In the reading room I found a book written in the early 1900s on the Welsh language, practicing a few of the sentences in my head just for the mental exercise. Everybody in Wales speaks English, and I've read statistics that only about 15-25% of Welsh citizens even speak Welsh at all. The two languages have equal legal standing, and all official signs are written in both languages. Before coming to Caernarfon, I hadn't heard anyone speak Welsh at all during my few days in Wales. In Caernarfon, however, it was everywhere -- not spoken to me, but spoken among families that I heard walking on the streets. I could sit on a bench in the main square and just listen, and if I closed my eyes, it seemed as though I were among elves.

I find language fascinating, and I like the idea of claiming language as a source of home and nationalistic pride. I felt a similar appreciation listening to people in Bilbao speak Basque. I think being able to speak and understand every language would be a great super power. After all, keeping language alive means keeping stories alive, and I can't think of anything more important than that.

Since my plan was to explore castles in Wales for four days, I think I ended up in the right place.

Caernarfon Castle was one of several castles in Wales built by King Edward I of England. This one was built in 1283 and I have to say, as an American, it's hard for me to fathom anything that old, except maybe my parents (just kidding, Mom & Dad).

Next stop will be Riding-Ponies-in-the-Mountains -- if that were a country, I think I would live there.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Abby, I loved reading your blog! You are such a good writer, I felt as if I were with you. As far as your thoughts on language, I am right there with you. There is a play, called, "Translations" by Brian Friel, which you should at least read, if you don't get a chance to see it. I saw it on a college campus, its not one of those that is often produced. It takes place in Ireland during the time when the British were trying to stamp out the use of Gaelic. Very thought provoking. Fits right in with your journey.