Cardiff: Here be Dragons

The day after I got back to London from Oktoberfest I started a new job. Three months later I’m working crazy hours and have moved to a new flat. It was, in short, time for a bit of a break. Also, I had vacation days that I had to use up, so I was conveniently being pushed to take a break as well. Due to a series of things (mainly not getting the dates confirmed until late and then being extremely lazy) there were no good cheap flights for the times I was off. While tossing various destinations into train fare calculators a small pop-up on the side of my screen caught my attention. It asked me if I had tried searching for the same fare in National Express (the bus service). Well, no Mr. Pop-Up I hadn’t. Turns out, I could go to Cardiff, Wales, for £18.00 return by bus rather an £80.00 return by train. Cardiff it was!

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Cardiff Castle, right in the center of the city.

One quite pleasant 3 and a half hour bus ride later (I truly can’t believe I just wrote that sentence), I found myself in Cardiff rather than the often chaotic streets of London. Through the park and past the castle I went off in search of my hostel. About a 7 minute walk from the castle in the main shopping and restaurant area, Mrs. Potts is a truly adorable hostel at a fairly reasonable price. Seriously, this place is an 11 on the cuteness scale–they even have coffee mugs with puffins! Not a party hostel by any stretch of the imagination, but if you are looking for a comfortable and secure place to crash at the end of a long day, I’d take a look a Mrs. Potts.

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My much loved puffin mugs! I did seriously consider taking one home. But I would like to be able to stay there again so maybe stealing isn’t the best option.

My first day was really just wandering about and trying to find my way around the city.I explored all the shopping arcades, the covered market, and took a stroll through Bute park. Being December it was fairly cold and it starts getting properly dark around 4:30pm, which means the party starts early in Cardiff in the winter. After the sun went down the streets were full of people in Christmas sweaters going into all the pubs and bars that line the streets. The party was in full swing by 7:30 on a Friday night.

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All the streets of the shopping district were decorated with Christmas lights, all complimented by the hordes of people in Christmas sweaters wandering between the bars and pubs.

For my first full day in Cardiff I left Cardiff. I wanted to do something that would get me outside the city on this trip. Not wanting to deal with Sunday service schedules on buses and trains, it meant that almost as soon as I arrived, I was leaving. Naively I had thought I could find a day trip company when I arrived, only to realize quite quickly that most are not operating between November and March. So I decided to go it alone, picked a location, and bought some tickets. I decided to head for Tintern Abbey, about an hour and half out of Cardiff in the Wye Valley. So worth the trip!

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Just the view from the bus stop. Nothing spectacular to see here people.

As it is only open from 11am-4pm, I tried to get there early, which for me meant about 12:30. For almost two hours I had the place to myself. Just me, my camera, and the walls left standing.

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Photos cannot do this place justice, it is truly an experience to stand in the middle of the knave and look up to where the ceiling used to be. To try to reconstruct the walls in your mind and see it as it used to be.

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I had a late lunch in the town (Tintern) and took a bit of a wander around after. Mist hung off the sides of the hills and you can understand how people at one time came up with stories of dragons and magical creatures in a place like this. It is the kind of landscape where you can still feel today like a dragon might be lurking just past that ridge. This was definitely the highlight of my trip. I need to plan another trip to Wales this summer just to spend more time in the country side.

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The Wye Valley–a place where you could still believe dragons might be hiding behind the fog.

My last full day was spent trying to see Cardiff itself. A bit of a difficult task when it’s dark by 4:30. My day started cold and misty at Cardiff Castle where I unnecessarily paid extra for the guided tour option (the audio guide is included in your ticket price and is just as good).

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Inside with walls of Cardiff Castle

Roman walls, a Norman keep, and Gothic revival rooms make up the collection of buildings that is Cardiff Castle.

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Ceilings added in the Victorian Era. This part of the castle was done in Gothic revival, even though the castle was in use during the time of the actual Gothic style. The upper photo is the ceiling of the Arab Room and the lower one is the main dinning hall.

Apparently the views from the keep are great, all that was visible when I was there was grey mist. It’s cool (it’s a castle, how can it not be!) but certainly not going to take up your whole day. My favourite part of the castle was actually the build your own trebuchet kit that I found in the gift shop, rated for ages 8 and up. I’m not sure if it’s actually a great plan to give an 8 year old a working siege weapon–it certainly would have been a terrible idea one to give at to me at that age–but sure, let’s go for it! Sorry mom, I hope you didn’t want that window intact!

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Though the weather did clear up later, it was certainly misty (and more that a bit magical) that morning.

Lunch in the Christmas market and then I took a long wander down to Cardiff Bay. When Google Maps said it was a 40 minute walk, I’m not sure why I chose not to believe it, but I didn’t. It’s not a bad walk, just long and not much to see along the way. Take the bus, I certainly did on the way back.

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Walking through the Christmas Market

Even though it is a bit of a hike, it is worth it when you get there. The waterfront is built up with shops and restaurants, there are trips around the bay if you’re up for it, the Millennium Center (which is pretty cool even just to look at), as well as the Dr. Who Experience if you are one of the show’s legion of fans. Another spot probably best enjoyed in the summer, but I am glad I took the long walk down.

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The top photo is the Millennium center, the bottom left is Cardiff Bay, and of course bottom right is yours truly

I will be back in Cardiff this summer, no question about it. It’s a fun city, though I think it may be better as a jump off point for a trip into the country side rather than the destination in it’s own right. Though I was not super impressed with the city itself, I did fall in love with Tintern. A place that I almost didn’t bother to go see–I was worried about getting stuck with no transit service in the middle of no where. But I’m glad I took the risk and went. It just goes to show that there is magic left in this world if you’re just brave enough to go out and find it.

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