Penwythnos yng Nghymru :: A Weekend in Wales, Chapter 1

For our final weekend in the UK, Regan and I decided to go international! (Well, sort of.) Early on Friday morning, we hiked down to the Cheltenham Spa railway station and boarded the first train to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Although Wales itself is a separate country from England, with its own Parliament and laws, it is contained within the United Kingdom, meaning that no passports are required to travel over the border. (This video sort of explains the differences, if you’re still confused. It took me a while to completely understand…)

Welsh is a langugage that I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around. I realized this weekend that, on all of my previous travel experiences, I either spoke the language in the country or had learned enough of it to have a smidge of understanding. But in Wales…not so much. Upon arriving, I realized that I had absolutely no clue how to say (or even sound out!) any Welsh words or phrases. I had completely neglected to do any pre-trip language research, and felt rather ignorant. We encountered no issues, because English is the country’s other official language, but I was still a bit disappointed in myself.

But, I digress. Upon arriving in Cardiff, we explored the downtown area a bit.

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Our first primary stop was Cardiff Castle. This immense, beautiful structure has evolved significantly over the years. In the 3rd century, the Romans constructed a fort here, to protect the area from pirates. In the 11th century, Norman invaders built a motte and bailey castle (you know, the kind with a keep and battlements and a moat) on top of the long-abandoned Roman fortifications.  However, because the Normans were encroaching on Welsh land, there were a few skirmishes, and eventually Duke Robert of Normandy (whose grave we saw at Gloucester Cathedral) was held captive here, for the last eight years of his life.

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As the years progressed, more towers and stronger walls were built. During the 19th Century, the Marquis of Bute drastically rennovated the manor house to suit his tastes, constructing it in a more Georgian style. This manor house remains today, in excellent condition.

The banqueting hall in the manor house.

The banqueting hall in the manor house.

Regan and I toured this manor house, as well as the rest of the castle interior. It was huge! It differed from Sudeley Castle in that it seemed more of a “stereotypical” castle, in that Cardiff Castle has huge fortifying walls, an immense gate, a large open area within the walls, a manor house, and an ancient stone keep. Sudeley Castle was beautiful, but consisted only of a manor house.

Cardiff Castle had a trebuchet! Sudeley had really, really beautiful gardens...but how do you beat a trebuchet?

Cardiff Castle had a trebuchet! Sudeley had really, really beautiful gardens…but how do you top a trebuchet?

During World War II, the owners of the castle opened up their property to shelter the people of Cardiff. In order to do this, they knocked holes into the castle’s outer battlement walls so that the public might access the hollow interior. These extremely fortified tunnels served as air raid shelters during the war.

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Regan and I also dared venture within the keep. Getting there was a wee bit tricky, as the rain made the 100+ steps slippery. We held tight onto the handrails, and eventually arrived safely at the top :)

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Within the keep.

Within the keep. The large triangular space on the left portion of the wall was once a fireplace.

Back in the day, this keep held many wooden buildings and is where the people who lived within the castle would go in times of danger. The keep is surrounded by a fairly deep moat and sits on a raised embankment to make it defendable if invaders breached the castle’s primary walls.

The top of the keep offered excellent views of the city of Cardiff. If you look really hard over the castle’s main gate, you can even see the sea!

You can also see Millennium Stadium poking up from behind the manor house.

You can also see Millennium Stadium poking up from behind the manor house.

After exploring the castle, Regan and I browsed around central Cardiff seeking sustenance. Soon, we made a lovely discovery along the main road: Cardiff Market.

Cardiff 1 023This immense indoor market began in the 1700′s as a farmer’s market, and has since evolved into a permanent home for dozens of merchants and restaurants. I was astonished by the variety of items available to buy. There were several butchers, a couple of bakeries, some sweet shops, and your usual shops selling fruit & veg. What I did not expect to find was a hardware store, three pet shops (you could come home with a kitty!), a haberdasher, a vintage clothing/costume shop, and a fabric shop. It was quite the variety!

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Turkish Delight, by the pound!

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A view inside one of the butchers’ stalls. Yep, that’s a pig face.

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After exploring our options, Regan and I grabbed lunch and some snacks from one of the bakers’ stalls. We also tried a few new desserts!

These Welsh cakes tasted like a mixture between a small pancake and shortbread. They were delicious, and I'm hoping to make some once I'm home. :)

These Welsh cakes resembled a mixture between shortbread and a small pancake. They were delicious, and I’m hoping to make some once I’m home. :)

This Eccles cake consisted of a hollow pastry dough, filled with blueberry compote. Again, delicious. :)

This Eccles cake consisted of hollow pastry dough filled with blueberry compote. Again, delicious. :)

After lunch, Regan and I explored the city for a while. We found a lovely (free!!) museum called The Cardiff Story, which offered several short, well-made video presentations on the evolution of the city. Cardiff is a port city, and has long depended both on the fishing industry and on production from local mines. The city still depends heavily on local coal mines, but has expanded its economic range, and now has a thriving financial sector.

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After this refreshing history lesson, Regan and I began trekking south to find our hotel and finally put down our backpacks. This trip was unlike any I’d previously experienced, in that all of my belongings constantly had a presence on my person. We weren’t able to check in to the hotel until the afternoon, so when our bags weren’t in the cloakroom of a museum, they were on our backs. It was an enlightening experience…I never realized how tiring that can be!

As usual, we got turned around a couple of times while trying to find our destination, but after lots of walking, we eventually arrived at our hotel. After checking in, we crashed for the evening…even though it was only the afternoon. Our hotel was located just off of a major highway, at least a 20-minute walk from any tourist attractions or shopping centers. So, after having dinner at the closest restaurant, Regan and I embraced the culture by watching British game shows. This was the first and only time we’ve been able to watch television on this trip, so I didn’t feel too bad about staying in for the evening. It’s still a cultural experience, right?

– Stay tuned for an update on our second day in Cardiff! –

 

 

 

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