Photo: Diane Urbanski O'Brien
Beautiful birthday cake made by my sister-in-law Diane
I turned 60 years of age at the end of April and it feels amazing. Somehow, it feels like a proper coming-of-age. And it comes with benefits. Not only am I now eligible for discounts (or 'concessions' as they call them here) on everything from cinema tickets to theatre productions, I can also -- drumroll, please -- ride the buses for FREE.
Not only can I hop on a city bus for nothing, I can hop on any government-sponsored local buses between towns and counties -- at any time, with no restrictions. Some people have travelled all around Wales. Mind you, this would take awhile, as most of these buses are not direct nor high-speed, but most of them travel through beautiful Welsh countryside, so what's the hurry on a day or two off.
My birthday fell on a Sunday and city offices weren't open, but on the Monday I was in first thing. The woman took my picture, took my proof of age and residency, and issued me my card. As the offices were conveniently located across from the main bus terminal I went straight to the bus heading for Porthcawl. Whereas a day pass for Porthcawl and area costs £5.50, I paid nothing. This is a rather glorious feeling. I intend to repeat it often.
I've done much of my international and continental travel already this year (posts on my recent trip to Italy and Germany to come!) and for the summer plan day trips galore through the lovely, Welsh country and seaside.
The Welsh government has had this plan in place for a little more than 10 years now and is committed to it through 2014; it is very popular, as you can imagine, so I can't see them getting rid of it, or at any rate, I hope they keep it, despite its probably substantial cost. The pass is not good for travel in England or Scotland, only within Wales, but can be used for some trips to England, as long as they begin or end in Wales (I'm thinking this will come in handy for visits to Bristol!).
Scotland, England and N. Ireland have similar programs, with that of England coming with more restrictions and cutbacks: for example, in England the pass is only good during non-peak hours (though this apparently only means no early morning rides) and the age is gradually being raised to 65.
Well done, Wales! Well done, UK!