Monday, 24 October 2011

Experiencing Wales in Cardiff

This past weekend, my friends Margie and Miranda (also a fellow blogger) headed off to Cardiff, the capitol city of Wales. The school was headed to Northern Wales, but we decided that we would rather see the city where one of our favorite TV shows, Doctor Who, is filmed, in addition to experiencing the Welsh culture. So, we booked our train for 10 am on Friday morning and, with a quick train switch in Nottingham, settled in for a 3 and a half hour train ride.

We arrived in Wales with a plan- find our hostel, see Cardiff Castle, find some food, and then hike down to the Bay that night, and then hit up a few museums the next day. But, while asking for a food recommendation for the evening, we discovered that the Welsh rugby team was scheduled to play France the next morning at 9 am. We were assured that it was not to be missed. The hostel worker who was helping us even called a local pub that he enjoyed to make sure they would be open for the game in the morning and gave us directions. We were hesitant, mostly because we knew nothing about rugby and had a limited time in the city, but the hostel worker reminded us of something very important- “Don’t spend all your time in museums. You can watch history being made tomorrow.”

We promised to watch the game and headed out. Cardiff Castle was absolutely worth the 9.50 student ticket price. It was the perfect culmination of everything we had studied so far in British Studies. From the Romans to the Normans to Tudors to the Republic- this castle had it all. It was even used as an air raid shelter in World War II! After the castle, we grabbed a bit to eat at a modern pub called Zerodegrees. I had some of the best pizza there that I’ve had the entire trip, in addition to my first taste of beer (if you go to this place, the mango beer is their specialty. That’s what I tried). Finally we were off to the Bay. Not only is the Bay beautiful, but it is also a main filming location for a spin-off show of Doctor Who called Torchwood, so we were excited to see the Tower that is prominently featured in the show. It was a long walk, and, when we arrived, we discovered that the tower and most of the bay were roped off for event prep. Slightly disappointed, we made the most of the pictures that we could get and walked around the chilly bay for a while before heading back to the hostel.

The next morning, we woke up at 8 am to a mass of red outside our window. Our hostel was positioned right next to Millennium Stadium and, even though the game was being played in New Zealand, thousands of fans were gathering in the stadium to watch it on the big screen. We carefully tried to pick out clothes that would at least make us not seem like supporters of France (we had sadly all left our red at home), and grabbed some breakfast before making our way to the pub recommended by our favorite hostel worker. It was only when we arrived that we realized how local this pub was. The name was in Welsh and the TVs were all giving commentary in Welsh, but at least most of the people were speaking English. So we grabbed a spot at the back of the pub and settled in to watch the game.

The atmosphere was electric. Not only was everyone in the place (and probably in the entire city) wearing red, but they were all extremely passionate about their team. And it was infectious. Not even halfway through the game, we found ourselves cheering and booing right along with the locals, even though we often had to guess at what was going on. At one point my friend Margie shouted something about a touchdown, which led to a few strange looks, but no one said anything else about it. Sadly, Wales ended up losing the game 8-9. We carefully snuck out the back of the pub, not wanting to intrude on the national mourning. And mourning it was. We made our way back towards the stadium and everyone that left looked a little down-hearted.

But we decided to continue with our day with some shopping, a visit to the Cardiff Market (well worth the visit), and a stop at the Cardiff National Museum. In the evening, we acquired some food from a local sandwich place and ate at our hostel. The evening was spent experiencing a British cinema for the first time as we saw Tinker, Taylor, Solider, Spy.

The next morning we spent in the park, getting a little homework and some last minute shopping done before another lunch of sandwiches (this time eaten in the park) and catching our train home. Overall, my favorite part about the trip to Cardiff was the rugby game. I’m so glad that we listen to the locals and watched.

Travel Tip: Talk to the people who work at the hostels. They often know what they’re talking about.

Do I recommend Cardiff?: Yes. Whole-heartedly. The Welsh people were very friendly and, even though they are not an independent country, have so much national pride. It’s so interesting to just immerse yourself in. Plus, it’s pretty easy to find your way off the beaten tourist path and into the places that the locals actually go to.

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