My last day in Wales happened to be Red Nose Day, an annual day where all over the U.K. money is raised for a charity.
We headed over to the school where my friend’s mom worked to watch the school program for Red Nose Day. There were several performances by teachers, which were hilarious. The kids especially enjoyed three male teachers dressed as superheroes in tutus.
My friend, her parents, and I then took a guided tour of the Big Pit, a former coal mine. The tours are all given by former coal miners. We each put on a protective white helmet with a headlight wrapped around it and a belt snug around our winter jackets. After leaving behind our electronics and metal jewelry, we shuffled into a shaft elevator and descended 300 feet. The guide led us through the dim passages. What a hard life those miners had.
Spending time with my friend and her parents made me realize that when they were all talking, I understood about 98% of their conversation, but once in a while I had no idea what they just said. So much for traveling to a country that shares my native language. At least I was already used to my friend saying “ta, babe.” Ta means thanks, and babe is a friendly term of endearment. What’s funny is that none of my other friends from the U.K. say this.
In the early evening, my friend and went back to Tesco’s. I bought sparkly dark blue ballet flats for five pounds. It figures that I would walk and in out of many shoe stores in Wales, spend two hours in Primark, and end up finding shoes at an extension of a supermarket. At the time, I didn’t know where to buy inexpensive, comfortable shoes in Paris.
I also picked up my food loot to bring back to Paris. In France I hadn’t craved American food, but somehow seeing familiar items in the supermarket in Wales made me miss even things I don’t buy often in the States. That’s how I ended up bringing raisin bread back in my carry-on bag.
I purchased some sultana scones and learned from my friend that sultanas are simply raisins. I somehow thought they had something to do with sultans. Apparently the sultana is a type of grape.
In Wales, all stores charge a few cents for plastic bags, no exception. My friend told me that the money is donated to environmental charities. In France, large supermarkets charge a few centimes for plastic bags, while small groceries often provide them for free. Department stores usually give them as well. In the U.S., it varies by city; some charge for plastic bags and some don’t. Food and beverage sellers in Washington D.C., for example, must charge five cents per bag. In my area, there are people who bring reusable bags to the supermarket, but you can also have your groceries bagged (by a bagger!) in paper or plastic. Some retail stores ask you if you need a bag as opposed to automatically giving you one. On most plastic bags is the text “Please reuse” or “Please recycle.” My local supermarket has a bin where one can discard plastic bags to be recycled.
In between the recycling bins at Tesco, this shiny red mailbox of course delighted me.
Back at my friend’s house, I marveled not for the first time in my life at how photogenic cats are. If asked whether I’m a dog or cat person, I would say dog, but if I see a cat framed by a window, I feel inspired.
I’ve been lucky to be welcomed into friends’ homes in places previously unknown to me. Prior to my trip to Wales, in the U.K. I had visited London and Edinburgh. They’re great cities that many tourists flock to. But if I hadn’t been invited to Wales, it would have been a while before I made it there, even though it is lovely. There are many beautiful places in the world. Thanks to an invitation from a different friend, one closer to my mom’s age than mine, my next voyage from Paris to the U.K. would be to a village in Yorkshire, England.