A Travellerspoint blog

Wales

Life in Wales

by Ben

sunny 12 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

This morning we bid farewell to Helen. She headed out on the 9:25 am train to London so she could catch a flight to Amsterdam in the afternoon. Our time with Helen seems like the quickest 12 days of our trip. We will miss her company. We hope that she did not take a cold along for the second half of her vacation. The rest of us have been hacking and coughing for the whole time Helen was here, which made us pretty quiet company by the time the evenings rolled around. Fortunately, Helen had brought some single malt scotch whiskey which did a lot to nurse me through my cold and made for a good night sleep. Hannah seemed to sleep well too, but I didn't see her take much more than a sip but perhaps when our heads were turned she took a medicinal dose too.

St Fagans Museum of Welsh Life

St Fagans Museum of Welsh Life

Unfortunately, for Helen, the best weather in two weeks arrived today. The arctic air and cloud cover gave way to sunny skies and temperatures, although far from balmy, much more suitable for an early afternoon walk. Abby decided to take a day off from sight-seeing today so that left just the three of us for more Welsh exploration.

We headed a short distance out of Cardiff to the village of St Fagans which is home to the National Museum of Welsh Life . It is an open air museum on the grounds of a 100 acre 16th manor house. On these grounds are over 40 structures from a wide variety of eras that have been moved here from all over Wales to the tell the story of how the Welsh lived out their day-to-day lives over the past several hundred years. In addition to the manor "castle," there is an active farm on site, a church, a couple of schools, a general store, bakery, toll house, post office, flour mill, a good number of farm buildings and homesteads, and even a cock fighting arena. Each structure was fully furnished to represent its era and there was an interpreter available to explain the history of the building. Adding to the atmosphere during our visit were several organ grinders playing throughout the park.

St Fagans Museum of Welsh Life

St Fagans Museum of Welsh Life

Since it was a sunny Saturday afternoon and the sight charges no admission, it is a popular place for locals to take an afternoon stroll with their families and a few were even venturing out for their first picnic of the year despite the cool air. On the grounds we got some of first samplings of the Welsh language. Only about 1 in 4 people in Wales has any facility in the language but a lot has happened in the last thirty to forty years to revive its use. All signage in Wales in bilingual and it is possible for any child to have their entire education in Welsh. This is quite the change from days gone by when all education was in English and a child was punished for speaking any Welsh in the classroom. We very much enjoyed our walk around the grounds and were especially taken with the variety of thatched roofs and the different materials use to create them.

Cardiff Streets and Buildings

Cardiff Streets and Buildings

After nearly three and a half hours of exploration we made our way back to our apartment to check in on Abby. I went for another afternoon walk in our neighbourhood, specifically to look for a shop to print off an exam for Abby. The architecture in Cardiff is quite eclectic. There is a fair bit of row housing but the fronts are much less uniform than what you would find in London. The new and the old sit side by side but seem to coexist in less harmony than they do in London or in some of the bigger towns of Spain. The new buildings seem to dwarf the old. It is a very multiethnic town with specialty shops for those of Indian, African, Caribbean and Eastern European backgrounds. There are also shops for each of these communities that specialize in wiring services to send money home to relatives. I was not successful in finding an Internet Cafe or office supply store that was open. It seems in Cardiff at least, many stores close up very early in on Saturday afternoon to get a jump on the weekend. I could have this wrong and perhaps it was due to some sort of rugby game that was on. By what we have witnessed so far, rugby is the national religion of Wales.

We wound up our last day in Wales with a quiet night at home, watching a bit of TV online and preparing for our trip to Ireland tomorrow. We are packing away the British Pounds for a couple of weeks, dusting off the Euros but will stick with driving on the left side of the road.

Posted by KZFamily 10:53 Archived in Wales Tagged cardiff wales st_fagans Comments (1)

Cardiff Castle

By Hannah

semi-overcast 7 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Waking up this morning was difficult. I realize that in the last blog post I forgot to mention the entirety of the night's escapades. Laundry was on the to-do list, as my aunt was leaving in just a couple days and we had to air dry all of our clothes. This meant doing three loads in one night, starting at nine o'clock. We realise we should've started sooner, but foolishly expected the washer to be efficient in some way, shape, or form. This was not the case. It was three in the morning by the time Auntie Helen and I flopped into bed. Each load took about one and a half to two hours to complete, and then we had to find creative ways to ensure each article of clothing was able to dry out. We played a lot of cribbage waiting for the machine to finally stop turning. Needless to say, waking up this morning was difficult.

Cardiff Castle Keep

Cardiff Castle Keep

We decided to start off our first full day in Wales by visiting the famous Cardiff Castle. As we approached the castle, we passed by Animal Wall, which is exactly what you might think it is. Fifteen carved animals sit atop the stone wall located next to Cardiff Castle, including a hyena, an anteater, and a pair of apes. The wall was nearly demolished in the 1970s in order to widen Castle Street, which it borders, but luckily this idea was discarded. It added a bit of whimsy to the otherwise intimidating building behind it. Unfortunately, the crispness in the air had amplified Mom's head cold, and she had to bow out and make her way home again. We persevered without her.

Our Cardiff Castle tour began in the tunnels, which were used as air raid shelters during the last world war. Various propaganda posters lined the walls. This one was my favourite. After we emerged, we made our way up to the keep. Mounted on a man-made hill and surrounded by a moat, this was one of the most classic looking castles I've ever seen, complete with battlements and a flag on top. From the top, we had a 360 degree view of Cardiff. Most people were inside the main area of the keep, though, protecting themselves from the wind.

Our last stop was the large Victorian house located on the castle grounds. I walked through the sizeable, well-equipped kitchen enviously, though less so, I'm sure, than my father when we came to the library. The walls were lined with bookshelves laden with everything from city records and Encyclopedia Britannicas to Bibles and Shakespeare plays. The shelves themselves were decorated with carvings and intricate patterns of inlaid wood. But the crowning glory of the place was the five statuettes above the fireplace, each holding the alphabet of one of the five apparent original languages: Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Runes. Making our way through the rest of the house, we found out about the servants that ran the place. It made us feel a bit like we were visiting Downton Abbey.

Cardiff Streets and Buildings-Many Arcades

Cardiff Streets and Buildings-Many Arcades

When we had finished seeing the grounds of Cardiff Castle, we took a walk through the streets of Cardiff itself. Here we encountered many shopping arcades. Apparently Cardiff has six historic ones, totaling about 800 metres in length, and filled with an assortment of vintage shops, tattoo parlours, and tiny cafes. These differ from the modern arcades, which are more like shopping malls, highly polished and with newer and well advertised stores and brands. Though we didn't buy anything, we amused ourselves by window shopping and pointing at some of the more peculiar items in said windows.

Since this was Auntie Helen's last day with us, we went out for dinner at a Thai restaurant a few blocks down from our apartment. Abby was especially happy about this, as she has been missing Little Thai Place, a restaurant often visited by our family for special occasions. She ordered her favourite Pad Thai, while Mom, Dad, and Auntie Helen stuck with curries. We all enjoyed our meals, though we noted that this was probably going to be our last dinner out for awhile. We're definitely missing Turkish prices.

On our way back home, we picked up some cheesecake and ice cream, and wound down the evening with games and conversation. Abby and I bid goodnight and farewell to our aunt, not sure if we would be able to keep any promises to see her off in the early morning hours. She's been a welcome addition to our travels these past two weeks, and we're glad we could give her the opportunity for a vacation, however brief. Hope you have a great stay in Holland!

Posted by KZFamily 10:46 Archived in Wales Tagged cardiff castle wales Comments (1)

Cymru

By Hannah

overcast 0 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

We arrived in Wales today. Our snug country cottage has been swapped for an urban apartment in Cardiff. Before we got there, however, we visited one of England's most famous sites: Stonehenge.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

We might've been able to appreciate it a bit more if it hadn't been so incredibly cold. As it was, we could barely focus on it whilst being buffeted by torrents of wind. We took a few pictures of and in front of it, but tried to limit the length of time anyone had to expose their hands to the elements. Shivering, each of us trekked around Stonehenge and half-listened to the audio guides that were freezing to our ears. Though it was important to see and worth refrigerating for, I have to say that we were all relieved to step into the warmth of the packed gift shop. Dad promptly bought a toque, which he donned before leaving the shop and heading back to the parking lot. If you want to learn more about the Neolithic monument, click here.

We spotted a restaurant on the side of the road, and stopped for lunch. It was absolutely packed with seniors. The only kids there were with their grandparents. Fish and chips seemed to be the go-to dish once again, as the restaurant proclaimed that theirs were award-winning and the majority of diners had ordered them. Abby decided to have a pie instead, and Dad and I had a variety of seafood as opposed to the traditional battered piece of white fish that my mom and aunt got. I'm worried I'm going to get sick of it. Still, these were the best fish and chips we'd had so far. And we're going to have to do something with the bottle of malt vinegar that was bought last time.

After lunch, we drove on and made one last stop in the small town of Wells. We visited a church that my parents had seen twenty years ago. Wells Cathedral is stunning. While its ornate facade is impressive enough, the interior is even more so. Its ceiling is reminiscent of that of the Westminster Abbey. It practically looks brand new, apart from the style, of course. The second oldest clock in the world is here, still chiming every half hour. An imposing pipe organ rests at the front of the church, gleaming gold and silver. There are a few chapels and a number of stone coffins with carvings of their inhabitants on top. One of these was absolutely covered in carved graffiti. The writing was so dense in almost looked artistic. Still, it stood out in such a polished environment.

Vicars' Close, Wells

Vicars' Close, Wells

Just before we continued on to Cardiff, we took a peek down England's oldest residential street, Vicars' Close. It was built in the 1300s, constructed from cobblestones and lined with delightfully old-fashioned houses. You can actually rent number 14, though the others are all currently occupied. Walking down the street was a little like stepping back in time. Though the residents of Vicars' Close certainly live somewhere beautiful and unique, I don't envy the amount of tourists they must have to put up with in the summer months.

Finally, we arrived in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. The apartment didn't seem bad at first. It was sizable enough, and seemed reasonably comfortable. However, as we started to move in, we discovered a more unpleasant aspect of the place. Grime seemed to be everywhere. We ended up washing all of the dishes, and Abby and I decided against using any of the extra bedding in the closets. The fan in the bathroom had something growing on it, and many linty dust bunnies had made their homes all over the carpets. But we'll cope. At the very least, we're doubly motivated to get out of the house during our two days here.

Posted by KZFamily 15:52 Archived in Wales Tagged cardiff england stonehenge wales Comments (2)

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