Wales: Flowers and Flat Tires

When: Summer 2013

Where: Wales (Holyhead, Caerleon)

Hotel: The Priory

We arrived in Wales via the ferry from Dublin.  It was a quick trip over the Irish Sea and an exciting beginning to our UK adventure.  Still jet lagged from only arriving in Dublin a day earlier, we were slightly apprehensive about the day.  We were to take a cab to the docks and get on the ferry in Dublin; cross the Irish sea into Holyhead; clear customs; rent a car; and then drive a few hundred miles to Southern Wales.  What could go wrong?  We've driven that far before in no time at all!  Let's add a few sightseeing side trips to the day!  I smile now, thinking of our naive ambition. is even more beautiful than I imagined and magical too.  The people we meet are immediately friendly. My optimism is still waxing. While Todd signed our lives away securing the rental car, I popped into the terminal and decided to take out some cash for our journey.  "Unable to retrieve funds," or something to that effect flashed across the screen...the darn thing must be broken.  I try again.  Same response.  That's ok, I say to myself, we'll stop at another one!  Or I'll just use my debit/credit card to buy things!  A voice in the back of my head tells me I should have let the bank know that I was leaving the country.  Now, I know what you must be thinking and I won't repeat it (for shame), but I promise my naivety was backed by cold, hard, evidence from my solo trip to Germany the summer before.  I fly in, I get cash from the machine.  It's that easy.

We ventured off through Snowdonia, no cash in hand, cars whizzing by on the opposite side of the car from what we're used to.  "You're doing great, honey," I shout to Todd with eyes closed and breath held.  He's not amused.  Sir (our 5 year old at the time) finally fell asleep in the back seat.  I'm relieved.  He was so tired and my mom guilt was at a max.  We speed by our first sightseeing stop, Caernarfon Castle.  "You missed the turn," I say, with no response from the driver.  I guess we're not turning around.  My anxiety is slowing replacing my enthusiasm.  We were getting hungry and decided to stop at a lovely heritage center for a bite to eat and some good old fashioned worldschooling.  At the lunch counter we found an assortment of pastries, sandwiches, and soups.  We stacked up our trays and headed to the cashier.  I made sure to buy enough that they wouldn't be angry with us using our debit card.  Out from my wallet it came to the rescue!  DECLINED.  That's odd..."Try again," I protest.  DECLINED. I scramble to retrieve the back up credit card from my wallet.  DECLINED.  I reach for my husband's wallet while he entertains the cashier.  His credit card must work.  DECLINED.  My optimism is waning.  I assure my hungry, or should I say hangry, husband that this is just a fluke.  "I'm telling you, there's no need to call the bank. Their machine must be broken."  Even I don't believe me.  Last resort, the 20 pounds my mother gave me as emergency money.  The emergency money I told her I didn't need because I'm a 29 year old with a family and traveling history who knows better.  I pay for the food and we hurry to a corner table to hide from our embarrassment and access our situation in private.

Todd attempts a call to the bank while I eat with our son, my appetite sufficiently suppressed by anxiety.  I see Todd through the window looking irritated.  Maybe the phone isn't working?  Something is wrong with our data plan? that I know I took care of.  He comes back.  The number to the bank is strictly for customer service and a recording.  No way to get the correct number because there's no wifi.  Mom to the rescue again!  I call her number. No answer.  Voicemail left.  She's in Ireland at the moment and only checking her phone once or twice a day.  We try to enjoy the heritage park as much as possible and hide our concerns from our all too excited son.  We even forget about them for a moment.  But as we head to the car, the sun lowering in the sky, they return with a vengeance.  What if we need gas?  We have no money.  Hungry?  No money.  I continuously hang onto my phone waiting for the savior to call with the bank information.  Nothing.  The roads become curvier, steeper, and our conversation runs dry.  At this point, the goal is to get over the mountains before nightfall, don't run out of gas, pray my mom calls, and check into the hotel.  At least then we'll have a roof over our heads.  Quick note about the hotel: I reserved it online, but it was one of only a few that didn't make you pay ahead for the booking.  How lovely!  Oh, wait.  If it's not already paid for and we have no money, we have another problem.  I break the news to the straight-faced, white-knuckled, man in the driver's seat.

As we near Caerleon, I get a message on my phone.  My mom tells me the sacred number slowly and surely.  I right it down.  "I've got the number!" I yell, as if I've conquered some unobtainable feat.  My fear is lifting.  I'll call as soon as we get to the hotel; right now I must play the part of navigator because why on Earth would we rent a GPS when I printed out all the directions for the trip ahead of time?  I was so prepared.  I studied the maps.  And mind you, all you tech-savvy friends, this was before the GPS was available on every, right before.  I'm fairly sure the day we returned it became a standard feature.  "Turn left here, turn right there," I say.  Things are going well.  Even Todd's smile starts to return.  It's dusk, but we are mere miles from the hotel.   Now, based on the title of this post, you must be wondering where the "flat tires" fit into the equation.  Well, fret no more!  Exactly one mile from the hotel, on an unnamed back road, we popped a tire.  (I'm not taking the blame for arriving on said unnamed back road.  It's not like I'm some sort of topographer or cartographer and it turns out some roads go by more than one name or number...keep that in mind if you go GPS free.  In fact, learn from my mistake: don't go GPS free.)  At this point we're used to this comedy of errors, but still concerned about how we are going to get to the hotel.  The directions I have don't make sense.  All we know is that the town is not far off and it's a small place.  If we can get there, we are bound to find the hotel.  There's no spare tire so we place all our bets on driving slow on the rim until we can get to town.  Slowly but surely we trudge off, guided by the force, we head in the direction we think the town must be.  Low and behold we round a corner and we see life!  We see buildings!  We see...THE PRIORY!  The magnificent, beautiful, historical, characteristic old monastery that was renovated into a world class hotel and restaurant.

We park and enter.  We have them run our card, which to no surprise didn't work.  Todd called the bank.  Success.  He calls the mechanic.  They'll change the tire first thing in the morning.  Thank goodness for insurance.  We run the card again.  Approved!  By golly we have a roof over our heads tonight and access to our funds.  They give us our key to the room...Number 1, it says.  As we navigate through the hotel I take note of the thick stone walls and stained glass.  The smell of old furniture and roasted meat wafting through from the dining room.  When we enter our bedroom, all the woes of the day melt away.  I look out of the window through dripping wisteria across a field of yellow flowers.  I sit at the writer's bureau and dream of finishing my novel right here.  Our son thinks the room "feels old and a little scary."  I think it feels exactly like a trip through time...a monastery turned town house turned nunnery turned private residence and now a home for my family for the next few nights.  Since leaving the United States, we had been awake for close to 48 hours with only an eight-hour nap in Ireland.  After hot showers and hot tea the three of us curled up in bed together and drifted off, wondering what adventures would befall us tomorrow.  It was the perfect day…well, almost perfect.

Here are some of our pictures from that crazy day!

Early in morning at the ferry terminal in Dublin.

On the ferry to Holyhead, Wales.

On the ferry, getting excited!

We stopped at a "rest area" to use the facilities and discovered this beautiful creek!

Sir exploring the countryside.
"Stop hugging me, mom, I want to run!"

One of the cute little towns we drove through.  Does anyone know what those zig zag lines means?

We made it!  The Priory Hotel is truly magical.

Yay! A bed!

Our room with a view.

The flowering fields behind the Priory.

Pure peace.

These flowers were enveloping our windows and I felt like I was in a Disney movie.

More exploring!

The Priory...we will be back.


  1. Fabulous blog post! I was in stitches over the line about not being a cartographer. Hoo boy have I been there. Love the description of your hotel room! Sounds divinely beautiful.

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