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Back Buzz - October 25, 2009

pumping heartBistro Betws y Coed, Holyhead Road, Betws-y-Coed, Caernarfonshire, Northwest Wales

A couple of months ago I went on a short holiday to North Wales. As this was my first visit to the land of the Double LLs, I was excited to see all the bilingual road signs and shop signs with the first language being Welsh, with all its wonderfully confusing Ws and Ys and rollicking double-letter beginnings. Many people think of Wales as the land of Tom Jones and Charlotte Church, where all the residents are liable to break out into song at any given moment as if they were living in a musical called Wales! As I do enjoy the occasional musical -- as long as it's not by Andrew Lloyd Weber -- I wouldn't have minded if this had been the case. But in my brief taste of Wales I found it to be a land where the people are friendly and polite without the need of musical accompaniment.

What struck me most was the scenery. After a drive out onto the isle of Anglesey, the former breadbasket of North Wales and site of the longest place name in Wales (Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch), we drove down into Snowdonia, a mountainous area dominated by the 1,085-metre-high (3,560 feet) Mt Snowdon. In the coniferous Gwydyr Forest we came upon the picturesque alpine village of Betws-y-Coed, near where the River Conwy meets the River Lledr, the River Llugwy, and the River Machno. Founded in the late 6th century around a monastery, Betws-y-Coed translates as "prayer house in the wood". The prayer house blossomed into a village in Victorian times when artists flocked to the area and formed an artists' colony.

We decided this was a perfect locale to stop for a coffee. We parked in a car park full of hikers and tourists and walked across the River Llugwy on the Pont-y-Pair Bridge. Nearby we found the Bistro Betws Y Coed where we ordered double macchiatos and took them outside so we could sit at a picnic table and enjoy the view. Although Bistro Betws Y Coed advertises its award-winning chefs, the so-called "espresso" tasted more like Kenya beans made at normal coffee strength with foamy milk. Our drinks were served in regular coffee cups as well, so it was even harder to convince ourselves we were drinking the double macchiatos we had ordered. Ah well, it was a nice cup of Kenya coffee, nevertheless, and any decent cup of coffee was welcome on our long sleepy drive. And the alpine view was very relaxing and enjoyable.

Aw shucks, Betws-Y-Coed is such a darn cute village I could have pinched its cheeks, if I only knew where a village's cheeks are located. For some reason it reminded me of Ashland, Oregon. And as we first entered Snowdonia I was reminded of the Peak District, and soon after that the Orkney island of Hoy, all very pleasant places to be. If we'd had proper dark-roast macchiatos the pure excellence might have been too much for our systems.

Speaking of sitting outside and inhaling all that fresh Alpine air reminds me of an e-mail exchange from a year ago with my Bay Area friend:

I heard about a new "cologne" in one of the anecdotes from NPR morning news. It was described as "The scent of seduction, with a bit of flame-broiled meat". As a co-worker pointed out, this may attract more bears than babes. You can see more here. We've talked about no-cologne zones and meat-free areas in a restaurant. What a nightmare to be stuck in a crowded elevator with someone who has overdosed on this stuff. Oh my god, it's bad enough that so many young people -- at least Sheffield university students -- are using some sort of hair product that smells like rancid oil. I suppose that's a relief from the musk colognes popular a few years ago that smelled like baby diarrhoea -- and at least at my job I'm constantly smelling rancid chip-shop oil rather than burgers.

I suppose, after the popularity of fruit-flavoured toiletries, this was inevitable. There's the TV commercial over here for Lynx Body Spray for men which features a chocolate man whose body parts are slowly eaten away by all the women he encounters. So if one wants to smell like raspberries or chocolate, what's next? Pepperoni Pizza? Peanut Butter? Fried Eggs? Wieners and Sauerkraut?

How I dread the thought of Pork Chop or Fritos...