A Whale of a Time in Wales

Our trip to Wales came about purely by chance. A few other study abroad students had planned out a Wales trip and shared the information on Facebook. It was relatively inexpensive, so we booked the trip. I knew next to nothing about Wales, except that the heir to the throne of England holds the title of Prince of Wales, and their language is essentially impossible to pronounce (case in point, Welsh for “Excuse me” is “Esgusodwch fi”). But my philosophy for this trip has always been to seize any reasonably priced opportunity to travel that comes my way, so I was excited to see another part of the English Isles.

To our surprise, the bus taking us to Wales Friday morning was Megabus Gold (basically upgraded, first class bus travel). The seats were larger, more leg room, and we were given complimentary drinks, snacks, and sandwiches. For 10 pounds round trip, we were very pleased with the service. Travelign via Megabus Gold does not stop the busdrivers from dropping us off on a random street corner, however. Luckily, our hostel was located right in the heart of the city, and we were able to locate it with minimal wandering. One of the highlights of our trip for me was the Bunkhouse. Walking into the lobby felt similar to walking into an antique shop. The room was illuminated with Christmas lights on the ceiling and mismatched lamps placed throughout the space. Picnic tables with umbrellas offered dining space, while couches all different shapes, sizes, and colors were scattered around. My favorite part though was the final seating option; three beds placed directly across from the bar. This was the first bar I had ever seen where I could see myself spending exorbitant amounts of time. Our bunk room was adorable as well. The room was large to accommodate 18 beds, but it was also blinding bright pink. No mistaking that we were in an all-girls room.

For our first day in Cardiff, we decided to tour Cardiff Castle, which was located about five minutes from the Bunkhouse. The castle was first established by the Romans when they occupied Wales in the first century AD. Since that time, the area has always been used as a military fortress or important residence. It was fascinating to walk through the yard, and see walls built by the Romans protecting a medieval tower and a Rococo mansion. That is what I love about European cities. Although they are still modern centers of business and advancement, you can still see a medieval castle, or ancient ruins standing in juxtaposition against modern skyscrapers. The most exciting part of going to a new city for me is happening upon the evidence of the past in the midst of modernity.

Still exhausted from our bus trip, we turned in early Friday night, but rose bright and early Saturday morning ready to tackle Wales. We first caught a train out to Caerphilly Castle, another vestige of the medieval age. All that remains of the castle are the walls and a large tower that can be climbed. We were also delighted to discover that Caerphilly Castle is home to the tower with the third greatest degree of tilt in the world. Having already seen the number one tiltiest tower in the world in Germany, we were delighted to add another wonky building to our list. Visiting the castle also gave us the opportunity to view more of the Welsh countryside. It is easy to forget in the excitement of London that much of Great Britain’s beauty lies outside of the cities. The rolling green hills masked partially by mist were a mere harbinger of what we found in the highlands of Scotland (more on that later) and what I will see in a couple of weeks in Ireland.

After leaving the castle, we returned to Cardiff, this time traveling all the way down to the bay. Our target: the Doctor Who experience. Doctor Who is the quintessentially British science fiction telly programme that has delighted audiences for 50 years (the half-century anniversary is this year) and one of my personal favorites. My friends and I were fangirling over Tennant’s TARDIS, the costumes of all eleven doctors, Weeping Angels, Daleks, and so much more. In a rare moment of cooperation, the skies opened up as soon as we went inside to the experience, and let up just as we were getting ready to leave. Not only did the rain stop, but the sun came out to reveal a spectacular blue sky. We spent the rest of the day walking around the bay, enjoying the beautiful day. It was even warm enough to warrant the purchase of ice cream (as if cold weather can negate the necessity of ice cream). I was also surprised to discover that a canal was named after Roald Dahl, one of my favorite authors. I hadn’t realized that he was born and raised in Cardiff, and we had actually walked past the church where he was baptized. I searched for a statue of the BFG or the Twits, but I couldn’t find one anywhere. The city of Cardiff really must remedy this sad lack of statues inspired by Dahl’s books.

When we returned to Cardiff, we set off in search a proper Welsh dinner. As often happens in the UK, the most authentic food can be found in the pubs. The pub we wandered into just happened to sell the official best meat pie in all of Great Britain. Now, as I have not tried all the meat pies in the UK, I cannot attest to it being the best, but it certainly was darn fantastic to me. The mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables were just gravy (as was the gravy itself).

Overall, Wales was an unexpected delight. I did not have many expectations beforehand, but I had a truly wonderful time. I’ve found that no matter where we go, whether it’s Wales, the middle of nowhere in Germany, or Rome, there is culture to be experienced, great food to be tasted, history to be discovered, and great times to be had.

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