Tales from Italy ch.8: SPRING BREAK! Part 4- Cardiff, Wales and London, England

The day we were to leave Ireland, Janelle and I had an early flight to Bristol, England. We caught a taxi at 4:30AM and were in the air by 6:30. Since I had been sick with congestion the last few days, our flight was easily the most uncomfortable flight I had ever been on and the descent was enough to make my eyes tear. Once again, the flight was only about 40 minutes long so I didn’t have to endure it for too long.

Once we were in Bristol, it was a quick train ride to Cardiff, Wales. Just like in Ireland with seeing the Irish language everywhere, we were all of a sudden confronted with Welsh once we crossed the border. Like Irish, I wasn’t well aware of Welsh until actually experiencing it in the country. For me, both Irish and Welsh were interesting things to really take in; when I considered the UK and Ireland, I generally associated the language spoken as English. While I was correct to some extent in thinking this, I was incorrect in neglecting how there are still other official languages spoken in these countries. Don’t get me wrong, I had heard of Irish and Welsh and knew they were still spoken, but like many things, it doesn’t really sink in until you hear and see it for yourself.

We got to Cardiff Central around 8 in the morning. We were to meet my friend, Eleanor around then, but there was a slight mix-up in the AM/PM part of 8:00. I guess that would be one of the times you can really appreciate the popularity of military time in most of Europe. It’s not like Janelle or I minded though; we were still a bit sleepy from our travels, and the extra time gave us enough time to grab a bite to eat and sort out our bus tickets to London for the next day.

Later that day, Eleanor took us to see St. Fagan’s Outdoor Museum. It was such a fun experience, and it reminded me a lot of the historical-remake little colonial cities we can find on the east coast in the US. We saw actual homes that date back from the 1500s, like this one from 1544:

This home belonged to a wealthy farmer; its two chimneys are a wealthy status symbol, as it was not always so simple to afford ventilation.

Other sights that we saw at St. Fagan’s included a pasture loaded with sheep, miner’s homes that were each decorated to a different time period ranging from 1805-1980, some pottery being made, and an old cathedral.

Just before leaving the museum, we stopped at a small candy shop where I got to taste some delicious gingerbread and some hard, green glow-stick candy that tasted oddly like Mountain Dew.

After the Museum, we walked over to the Castle and strolled around the castle grounds. The gardens were stunning, especially with the beautiful day we were having!

After the castle, we were off to Cardiff Bay. One of the first things we saw was the Cardiff Opera house. The building is spectacularly modern and in-your-face so-to-speak, and is decorated with Welsh:

For lunch, we went to Wagaman’s Japanese. Apparently it’s a pretty popular chain in the UK… lucky them- It was so good! During lunch, Eleanor’s mom called to ask about dinner. Our choices were salad or curry. Janelle and I, having only ever associated curry solely as a spice, said salad because we didn’t know what ‘curry’ meant. This lead into a cultural discussion on what the Welsh (And English?) refer to as curry, and what we, as Americans, refer to as curry. Basically, in the end, we discovered that her mom was making curry chicken for dinner, of which we eagerly accepted. Turns out, ‘curry’ can mean any meal cooked with curry spices, while for us, we take the unnecessary time to say ‘curry chicken’ or ‘chicken with curry sauce.’

After lunch we grabbed some ice cream on the pier just before a daunting line (or as they say in the UK, “queue”) formed behind us. Ice creams in hand, we then hopped on the last boat tour of the day that took us around the bay. Being in the water, we were able to get some nice views of the shore: (The big armadillo looking building in the back is the Opera house, and the red one in the front is the old port):

Our tour guide on the boat also told us some funny tales about what we were seeing from the boat. For example:

From the boat we were able to see these two images above. The first is of a Norwegian church; the second, a statue of the Welsh man who attempted to be the first to reach the South Pole. Unfortunately for the latter, the Norwegians beat him there. So where did they put his statue?:

That evening after dinner, Janelle, Eleanor, and I watched a DVD of the Welsh comedian, Rhod Gilbert, after being inspired when we passed by the actual Rhod Gilbert on the way home. Even though sometimes his heavy Welsh accent made it a little difficult to understand, he was actually pretty good, and we got in some laughs (mine between blowing my nose because of my  still-existent cold!) before bed.

The next day, the three of us went on a tour of the Cardiff Palace before catching our bus to Reading where we would meet up with my friend, Toni. Once inside the grounds, it was like stepping into a life-size version of a child’s castle play-set. Old castle walls that guarded the lovely scenery before us surrounded us. To our left was the actual Palace home and in the center was the “Shell” –complete with moat- (this is what reminded me so much of a castle-toy) where the family, in times of danger, would come to stay:

We toured the Palace house, the shell, and the inside of the surrounding walls (referred to as the ‘war tunnels’).  (There are pictures from the inside of all of these in the link at the bottom of this journal).

After the Palace, Janelle and I said our goodbyes and were off to Reading. The bus ride wasn’t too long, and we arrived in time for dinner. That night, Toni was having family over for a BBQ. It was great- I hadn’t had a BBQ in such a long time, and after all our traveling, taking the time to just enjoy such a family-oriented event was relaxing, even if there were a handful of little children running all over the place. Dinner was delicious and we ate outside on a picnic blanket. After dinner, the relatives began to disperse, and we spent the evening watching Zombieland. Before bed, I took a bath since the shower wasn’t working due to construction. Not like I’m complaining- I LOVE baths!! It was so nice to just lie there and soak in hot water; just the thing I needed to relax.

The next day, we took a trip into London. The first thing we saw was the changing of the guard.

Once the guard had changed, we followed them to Buckingham Palace where there were more demonstrations. While there, we noticed that the flag was at half-mast, which means that the Queen is not home.

After Buckingham Palace, we saw Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the “London Eye” (though it’s expensive price kept us off it), Tower Bridge, London Bridge, and –get this- Platform 9 ¾!!!! From Harry Potter!!

We finished off our day at the London Dungeons; I guess you could call it a museum, but it reminded me a lot of the haunted houses people visit on Halloween. The only exception was this had 2 rides: a water ride and a drop ride. The actors inside were really funny, and despite the amusement-parkness of it all, we learned a lot about London’s darker history with law and punishment over the centuries.

At the end of the day, we went out to dinner where I once again ordered a Steak and Ale pie- it was officially my first and last meal in the UK. I didn’t mind though- I had already completed my check-list of foods to have in the UK and Ireland, which included:

  • Steak and Ale pie
  • Deep-fried Mars bar
  • Fish and chips
  • Haggis
  • Scones
  • Hot-cross buns

Of the above, I miss Steak and Ale Pie and Fish and Chips the most.

My trip to the UK and Ireland was amazing. In such a short time, I got to see 4 different countries, meet up with lots of my old friends, and try a ton of new things. Yet even though it was one of my greatest experiences, I was very happy to get back to Urbino in the end. Two weeks of constant travel is a lot of work and really tires you out. It was nice to get back to a familiar bed and schedule; stuff I was used to. Nonetheless, the memories I made there I’ll never forget. I’m so glad I went.

(More pictures from Cardiff and London)

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