Day 6 - United Kingdom: Topa! Of Castles, Chance Encounters, and the Joy of Making New Friends

Making sure to get my daily allotment of buttery baked beans and toast before leaving the city, I headed out on the Great Western train for Cardiff in Wales. I wanted to make sure that I saw Wales and the coastline, and Cardiff was relatively close and centralized for a number of other places that I was hoping to reach in the United Kingdom.

On arrival, I soon learned to my dismay that public restrooms are very difficult to find along the residential paths through the city. The walk to the hostel was a little out of the way, and required some unusual paths through roundabouts to reach the building. Certain streets in Wales are marked specifically as having no access to pedestrians (and given how narrow the roads are, I wouldn’t walk them).

The receptionist at the Hostel was kind enough to suggest several locations to visit during my stay, including a Doctor Who Experience that I was unaware of. You can probably imagine the change in my facial expression upon hearing this, from haggard to hopping around like the over enthusiastic fan that I am.

Originally planning to take some time to rest, my plans were dramatically changed by the entrance of a new player from stage left. It is so easy to keep to yourself, but so much more interesting to meet and discover the stories of the people who join you in this journey. Often, all it takes is to say hello and your whole day changes.

Alex (henceforth all names will be changed to protect their owners, unless I have their express permission to include them) from Basque certainly made things much more interesting.

One of my favorite parts about traveling is learning directly from people with entirely different backgrounds from yourself. I had never met anyone from the Basque region before, and it was fascinating to know someone with a grasp of one of the world’s oldest and most unique languages (Basque shares no common roots with other Indo-European languages). I learned that hello is “kaixo,” cheers is “topa,” and a few other colorful phrases that I won’t repeat here (but can in person if prompted).

We decided to go walking around the city, visiting the Castle (which was free for VF Day) and then heading down to Cardiff Bay to meet with Alex’s friend Jean-Pierre. Jean-Pierre was working in Cardiff as an assistant French teacher for the school year and was very fond of outdated 1990s American slang.

We went to a pub on the waterfront to wait for his friend from secondary school, Paul-Henri, now working as a materials engineer in the city and his friend Maria from Spain.

Spending time with new people has been one of the most rewarding experiences that I have had thus far. Conversations that involve language barriers are fascinating because they reveal a natural human desire to communicate in a way that is often lost between people of similar backgrounds. Yet, even with different origins, people can often have similar experiences.

Maria, for example, had been working a career job for years before falling ill for a few months. Realizing that she was unhappy with her situation, and finding the courage to make a change to it, she left everything she had in Spain to pursue a masters in the United Kingdom. It’s comforting to know that others have made choices similar to my own and become much happier for it.

At the end of the day, I returned to the hostel with Alex to cook food in the kitchen. We ate rice, eggs and tomato sauce that he had gotten from the market earlier in the day. From someone that has foregone shaving in order to save money, it was an extraordinarily kind gesture, and one that I will not soon forget.