An American’s first visit to Wales

Joanne Kuzma at Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey, Wye Valley & the Vale of Usk

 by Joanne Kuzma

Like many Americans, Joanna Kuzma didn’t know the first thing about Wales - apart from the actor Richard Burton. But then a week-long tour in 2013 introduced her to a wonderful world of castles, ancient history, and friendly natives.

I’m from Pennsylvania, and although my ancestors worked in the mines like a lot of Welsh immigrants, my family were from Slovakia, so I didn’t know anything about Wales - other than Richard Burton! I only really became aware of Wales when I moved to England six years ago. I was looking for somewhere to go on holiday within the UK and I thought, ‘I’ve never been to Wales, let’s give it a shot.’

I went on a week long trip with Dragon Tours, and I loved it. The people are so nice, they’re all so friendly, it really is a wonderful place to visit. I was astonished to learn about your history, going right back through the Middle Ages, all the way to Roman times. 

In the States we’re taught a lot about English history, but nobody tells us anything about Wales. We hear about the Prince of Wales, but we don’t understand the relationship between the English and the Welsh, and the history behind that. Sorry, but we assume you’re all the same!

Llanthony Priory

Llanthony Priory, Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons

So for instance we learn about Henry VIII, but nothing about the Dissolution of the Monasteries. So when we went to Llanthony Priory and Tintern Abbey, it was actually quite sad to look at these beautiful ruins and imagine what they must have been like hundreds of years ago when they were full of life. 

I had no idea there were so many castles here, either. There are zillions here, all very different, and all very beautiful. I really enjoyed the big castles at Caernarfon, Conwy and Caerphilly, and learning about the history of each of them.

The other thing I didn’t know about was all the Roman history - I had no idea the Romans had even been in Wales! We went to the amphitheatre at Caerleon and it was fascinating to see the museum with all these artefacts.

I also really like the wonderful mining museum at Big Pit. Being from Pennsylvania, and having ancestors who worked in the mines, I know a little about mining. But it was fascinating to hear the whole background of the mining industry in Wales – the environment, the politics, the role of Margaret Thatcher. It’s great that you’ve kept some of the mines open for tourists, so we can go down and learn about it all.

Llanfair PG station sign, Anglesey

Llanfair PG station sign, Anglesey

I had no idea that the Welsh language was so prevalent, either. I assumed that everything would be in English, and Welsh was a little thing on the side, but when you cross the border and see the road signs, and hear it spoken, you soon realise that it’s much more than that. We visited that little town with the longest name [Llanfairpwllgwyngyll… etc] but there’s no way I could ever learnt to say that!

You really need to tell the world about all the wonderful things you can do in Wales. I’m definitely going back to try – what do you call it – coasteering? I would love to have a go at that.