The best way to check out another country while based in England is to visit the one that’s a little over an hour away from you. I hopped on a train on a Friday morning to meet my housemate Bea, who had arrived the previous afternoon.
After meeting up at the train station, we first searched for some food. We found a cheap Irish Breakfast at a pub called O’Neil’s for about four pounds. It’s exceedingly nice to share a meal with someone whose likes and dislikes compliment your own. I could give Bea my mushrooms and she could pass me her tomatoes and baked beans (which incidentally go surprisingly well with breakfast).
After eating we continued exploring the streets of Cardiff, where unbeknownst to us we were naturally herded straight to Cardiff Castle. Since we were already right there, we bought tickets and began exploring. The first section we entered had tunnels running along the interior of the castle walls, which were dimly lit in an ominous fashion. But then the cobweb covered speakers on the wall activated, and we were suddenly listening to radio broadcasts and the sounds of bombings. The atmosphere it created was very dark, and you could almost imagine what it would have felt like huddling in the tunnels trying to survive the WWII air raids.
Eventually we reached the exterior of the walls, and after circling around, we eventually went to the main keep. Here the stairs were even steeper and more narrow than those in our house! But at the top was a very impressive view of the surrounding city. The history of the castle indicated that it had been the site of battle in its past, and it was incredible to imagine what it would have been like trying to fight one’s way into the keep. The architects certainly knew how to take advantage of the high ground (and gravity).
After leaving the keep we went back to exploring the castle grounds, including a trebuchet on display. As we were walking back, something came into view, and suddenly Bea directed to my attention to a museum worker with a level of excitement I had never seen before. It soon became apparent that he was a caretaker of an eagle owl, which he was allowing visitors to hold. Bea naturally took advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity, assertively declaring that she was ready as she put on the leather glove in preparation. She was practically beaming as she held the owl. Though I don’t think the creature liked me very much it. It kept giving me the side eye.
After leaving the owl to entertain others, we saw the Victorian addition to the castle, with all its opulence. After a little bit more exploring, we decided to head back to the hostel. But we got a bit sidetracked at a tattoo and piercing shop, where Bea decided to get her industrial piercing done. The woman who did the piercing was very professional and reassuring. As Bea’s moral support, I somehow also qualified for a lollipop at the end of the session.
Our activity for the evening was watching Black Panther, which we were able to see on a Superscreen for about 4 pounds with a student discount. In addition to the affordability, the venue itself was so much fun, and included numerous escalators with neon lighting.
After returning to the hostel we encountered some rugby players, seemingly from Spain and Germany. Their knowledge of the American national anthem left something to be desired, but one Irishman was able to hold some very intelligent conversation with me about American politics. The hostel itself was remarkably clean. Our room was about the size of a hotel room, but featured two sets of bunk beds, each of which featured a convenient charging station for phones. Considering the affordability of the stay, I was very impressed.
The next day we met up with Maddie, and following brunch at a cafe, we hit Cardiff Bay. We spontaneously found a ferry that took us on a tour of the bay itself, while also dropping us off at another location where we were able to explore the pier and nearby beach. While freezing, we were able to take in some amazing views.
We eventually decided to visit the National Museum of Cardiff, which interestingly featured more natural history than I was expecting. However, the exhibits were still fascinating, and often incorporated items that you could touch, which made Maddie and Bea particularly excited. Following a nice dinner at a little restaurant called Bill’s we escorted Maddie to the train station.
The next morning we began the day with an interesting conversation with one of our roommates, a Muslim woman from Saudi Arabia. Her English wasn’t great, but we were generally able to understand the gist of what she was saying. She was very excited to be able to get me to repeat good morning in Arabic. She then asked if I was married, and then implied that I should come to Saudi Arabia to marry her son (it was a bit difficult to tell if she was teasing me or not). But when she found out I can’t cook, that seemed to be a deal breaker. But the conversation took a more serious turn when she explained that she had lived in Saudi Arabia for 14 years. A little math places that transition around 2004. She explained that she was born in Iraq, and indicated with hand motions and the word “problems” that the fighting and troubles there caused her to leave. She expressed a deep longing to return to her homeland, but again indicated that the problems there were simply too big. It was a sobering moment that put a human face to the Iraq war. Studying abroad has definitely allowed me to meet all sorts of people.
For our last day in Cardiff, we explored Bute Park, which was a lovely area to walk and talk, and featured some amazing scenery.
Bea and I then decided to visit Llandaff Cathedral, which was about a 2 mile hike from the city center. We used the time to talk and bond, before eventually reaching some very amazing sites. Our first stop was at some nearby ruins of the Bishop’s Palace. Most of the main structure had crumbled away, leaving some fascinating remnants of stone walls, stairs, and buildings.
We then circled the exterior of the Cathedral itself, which featured gorgeous architecture and beautiful cemetery space.
Finally we ventured inside, where we were able to explore various art, markers, and artifacts, all while accompanied by piano music being presumably practiced by a church member.
This was our last major stop of the day, and we headed back to the train station to return to Bath. Our first train to Newport actually was replaced by a bus, and the Newport station and later the streets of Bath were freezing. But eventually we returned home, with myself feeling more grown as a person having been to Cardiff.