A short trip like a breath of fresh air - that's what we offered ourselves this half term. A few days, not too far away from home, but far enough to break the daily routine and enjoy simple things we don't have time to enjoy when we're all immersed in work, can perform miracles. I feel revived and ready to embrace new challenges - well, for a few weeks only ( I'm already counting the days to the summer holiday, in all honesty).
We started on a sunny Monday - small luggage, big hopes- and a few train and bus stops down the road, we arrived to Newport, in Wales. The fact that it was a Bank Holiday didn't help our first impressions- it all seemed deserted and sad... and a bit dirty, to be frank. We checked in our lovely room at The Queens Hotel (a nice, clean and very friendly place) and went out to explore.
Apart from some windy blows every now and then, the weather kept the spirits up. We took a walk along the river, pleasantly surprised by the daring design of the new bridge, we went shopping (quite successfully) in their ultra modern shopping complex, we had a lovely late lunch/early dinner at an American-Italian restaurant, we visited the ruins of the castle and made some lovely discoveries in the galleries leading to the castle- wonderful mosaics on the walls of these otherwise unpromising, shady, dark tunnels, we saw the Arcade and the cathedral and we retrieved to our hotel room, tired and maybe not quite convinced, but reasonably satisfied.
The day after, we visited Tredegar House, a historic house under the patronage of the National Trust and that simply made our trip a hit! After a one off traditional English breakfast (I always found it excessive and totally uncalled for - my stomach, used to nothing in the morning or maybe a cup of tea, always failed to entertain the idea of digesting all of the heavy things they put on the plate on this island, so early in the day), we went to the bus depot - modern, big - impressed again. Friendly bus drivers, sunny day, the city buzzing with people - we were finally feeling the holiday vibes.
Tredegar House is deceivingly tucked away in a normal residential area, quite unpromising at a first glance. A few corners away though, the splendor unveils itself- an imposing, magnificent building sitting on the most beautiful grounds one can imagine, trimmed to the millimeter, giving the visitor a taste of grandeur, glorious past, aristocracy and decadence. I suddenly envied all those generations of Morgans that lived there, that woke up every day of the centuries they inhabited that place to the most splendid gardens, I even envied the servants who also enjoyed those views, even if it was from those attic rooms we were lucky to be able to visit that day (a rare occasion, we were told). It was the friendliest visit of this kind, all the volunteers were so kind and open, they told us a million stories about the many characters that gave life to this place since the 14th century, they allowed the visitors to interact with the place, to have a feel of the objects, to seat on the furniture, to have a real experience. From a caricature of Charles I sculpted in the wooden boards, to golden, extravagant decorations, from the sunniest, most beautiful room called for good reasons "the best chamber" to the vast kitchens and hidden rooms, from the intriguing attic populated by the legendary grey, airy silhouette and by ghosts of council people that worked there in the 70s-80s and suddenly left the place one day in 1984 when time seems to have frozen, from stories of servants locking a big door between the male and female wing of the attic, but ending in marriages and servants' balls, to stories of nuns and girls' dormitories, from stories of wives trying to kill their husbands to tales of sex, drugs and decadent parties in the 30s, this building has seen it all. And who would remain untouched by the reality that after many centuries of history in which the same family built its name and incredible fortune, being the richest family in Wales at the peak of the Industrial Revolution, in 1949 it all came to an end? The last Morgan, born with too much money, too little health and no practical sense, as a friend had described him, spent all his fortune in the most lavish, opulent and decadent life style one can imagine and died without heirs, after two spurious marriages, meant to hide his true nature, for the sake of social appearances. I couldn't help being Evan's fan - I was happy he had such a happy, full (although short) life, before being defeated by cancer. He lived his life the way we all secretly wish to do - partying, having fun with friends, having a lough at the society's rules, conventions and expectations. He had a Venetian gondola on his lake, he had kangaroos to box with guests, he had a parrot to say rude words to visitors and he even became a Catholic to spite his protestant father. Well, Catholics must have loved to have him as a member of their church! It really makes me smile. I just love Evan and I wish I had a friend like him to spice up my life and remind me we only live once. None of his predecessors took any of that wealth with them - he knew that, so he lived instead and truly enjoyed life. I thought of him strolling in that marvelous garden, along that splendid lake, sitting under the same sun, just a moment later than him, in the big economy of history.
We left Tredegar House, property of Newport Council today (administered by NT) with the biggest smile on our sun-bathed faces. We loved it immensely and I strongly recommend everyone to go and visit it. It will be memorable and highly enjoyable.
Back in town, Anita took me to Wagamama and we ate Japanese for the first time. Great food, lovely place, modern and stylish, and again very, very friendly people. The night ended at the cinema where we saw Alice through the looking glass, with a Johnny Depp much sweeter than the violent one portrayed lately in the press. The movie, so brilliantly imaginative, once again embedded the idea that time waits for no man - a leitmotif that followed us through that day.
The day after, helped by the sudden change of weather, we decided we had enough vacation and returned home. Quick stop to buy Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and off to the station, one bag heavier than what we arrived with. The station was another wonderful surprise - a very modern, futuristic structure, enhancing the current vibes of the recent development of this city. I applaud the great changes they've made, with such a modern, young tendency and I wish our town would benefit from such facilities. Newport wasn't a bad choice after all. There's a lot to like there indeed!