With apologies to the Royal Family.
The wedding of the decade is creeping ever closer, and it's getting harder and harder to sneak around the outskirts of the thing and avoid the hype.
Unless you live in a broom closet, here's what you probably know: Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton will wed in Westminster Abbey at the end of April. And, maybe you're on top of this: the royal couple lives in Wales. On the island of Anglesey, where William pilots helicopters in the Royal Air Force.
Mulling this over, I begin to realize that if I'd like to see Wales before the rest of the world rents beach umbrellas here, I'd better do it now. I book my flights and sketch a tour through tiny country towns and onto Anglesey, itself, which has just been voted "2011's Number One Place to Visit" by the BBC. So far, so good.
No royal bunting will bother me, I'm sure. No Beefeaters with staffs. No Grenadiers in furry hats. There's more than a month to go, and it'll still be calm. I'll trudge down quiet lanes and bogs--whatever the terrain of Wales has in store. I'll catch up on sleep, and maybe try a bite of rarebit and a sip of ale.
Soon after I join my tour group at the airport, though, my error is clear. I have been living a foolish, Prince-free dream.
Our tourguide, Idwal Jones, of Country Lane Tours, suggests we stop in for a Welsh farmer's breakfast at Hawarden Estate Farm Shop in Flintshire. Sounds like a good idea to me. My plate of fresh pork sausages has just been plunked down next to a steaming mug of tea when...no....it couldn't be. It is.
Prince William, himself, chatting with the farm shop's jolly butcher and buying himself and his fiancee traditional Welsh pasties known as "Oggies."
These crusty pockets make for a hearty meal. As the groom-to-be tries a couple of eager bites, crumbs of pastry scatter and I avert my gaze just to be polite. I try to focus on my meal. But then comes a chirpy "Excuse me" from behind. Kate needs to get past to find the Prince a couple of napkins and a bottle of sparkling water.
I finish up as quickly as I can and get back on the bus. I'm here for some peace and quiet, after all, not to get in the way of breakfasting celebrities. Our next stop, the village of Llangollen, Wales, seems at first glance just the pastoral getaway that I'd dreamed of. Misty valley views, clusters of lemony daffodils, and newborn lambs swishing their tails.
But early next day, just as we're beginning our visit, a whistle splits the air. Police cordon off the road. A mighty chuffing sound grows louder and louder. Since we're stopped right near a set of tracks, it's hard to miss: the Llangollen Steam Train rumbling and clanking past. It's stuffed with tuxedo-ed passengers waving neckties and top hats. Is that a garter belt? It couldn't be. But it is.
Prince William and his brother, Harry, have commandeered the historic train for an impromptu bachelor party on the rails. Just our luck: the train has pulled in at a station, and out come the royals and their entourage, bottles of champagne in hand. Harry taps on the bus door. "Drink a toast with us!" he urges.
Drive on! I yell to our guide. Don't let them in!
Though the bachelor and brother shout for our attention and give chase as best they can, we're too quick for them. With a puff of exhaust, we're on to Betws-y-Coed, a charmingly rustic village built of local stone and tucked into the slopes of Snowdonia. No sign of royalty in town. I'm just beginning to feel we've finally given them the shake when...it couldn't be. But it is.
A Royal Air Force 'Sea King' search-and-rescue helicopter swoops down noisily toward our bus, circling and circling. Clearly visible in the pilot's seat is none other than Prince William sporting a pair of Maui Jim aviator shades.
Drive on! I urge. But it's no use. The Prince and copter have zeroed in and they shadow us all the way to the Isle of Anglesey, itself, which I can't help noticing is one of the most serene and beautiful places I have ever seen.
Two picturesque bridges, the Menai and the Britannia, lead to a sandy refuge that puts Newport and Nantucket to shame. A breeze ruffles the dune grass along the Anglesey Coastal Path and the lens-clear water flashes and sparks with sun.
If only it wasn't for all the noise.
A loudspeaker booms from above. The Prince has let us know that he would value our opinion on a mansion near here that the royal couple is considering as their future home. Kate will be waiting in the driveway, he tells us. If we'll just devote a minute of our time.
I let out a sigh. It isn't worth the fight. We snap some photos of ourselves (the Prince has requested this too) and sign our autographs on scraps of paper. "To the Royal Couple."
To be honest, I'm pretty sure none of the above has actually happened. Could it be a symptom of getting snagged by so much anticipation? I am afraid it is true.
I am one of thousands of tourists, barely a month before the wedding. This is the Kingdom of Wales. And we are in hot demand.
Wales Tourist info: www.visitwales.com