The general synopsis was, as I headed off on
the train from Edinburgh to Cardiff, that I was making a mistake. I had heard
aphorisms like, "Why da fook ya goin't Waylz?!" to "Get a new travel agent!"
when I told some people I had met on the train to Crewe of my final
destination. The disadvantage Wales has is that it is so sadly neglected by
coming to Britain, who opts for the more illustrious and hyped England and
Scotland. Only 5% of the British population is Welsh and they don't quite have
the festivals, the fame, and, most importantly, the extraordinary capital
cities their rival pair of Kingdoms possess.
||Despite these obvious
drawbacks, there are definitely reasons to go to Wales. It is probably the most
culturally strong and authentic of the three Kingdoms on Britain. Wales is in
fact one the oldest countries in the world with some of its rocks found to be
more than 3000 million years old. There is evidence of human habitat in Wales
dating back some 200,000 years before the Celts drafted in around 600 BC. Wales
became a recognizable entity around the 9th and 10th century as its individual
kingdoms began to unite in order to survive onslaughts from the Vikings. This
unification was set back in 927 when they recognized Athelstan, the Anglo-Saxon
ruler of England, as their overlord in return for protection against the
Vikings. Wales continued to fight for it's independence from its neighbors
until the Acts of Unification came in 1536-43 under King Henry VII. This
brought with English law and rule in return for parliament representation. The
title Prince of Wales is still given to the monarch's eldest son after Llwelyn
the Great attempted to set up an independent Welsh state.
|"Everyday when I
wake up, I thank the lord I'm Welsh" is not only the chorus from the title
track of Catatonia's International Velvet but it is a slogan written on
T-shirts, shops, signposts, pub walls and everywhere else you look in Wales.
Welsh nationalism is as strong as ever right now. The Welsh are friendly, warm
and somber people ... that is, as long as you don't mistake them for being
English. Not too many Welsh will even call themselves British, simply referring
to themselves as "Welsh". Plaid Cymru (aka; the Welsh National Party) was
formed in 1925 and it has since encouraged cultural separation from their
English neighbors through the preservation of their heritage and language.
Although many will claim Welsh a dead language, it is found on signposts
everywhere and sometimes even appears ahead of its English translation.
Although not too many of today's Welsh generation are fluent in their own
language, Wales celebrates it's own TV station, Sianel Pedwar Cymru (SC4 -
Channel 4 Wales). The Welsh flag is another major ingredient behind this
uprising nationalism as the red dragon proudly flown all over
To boost the Welsh confidence, in 1997, the
majority of the people voted for home rule. This means that the people of Wales
will be governed by a Welsh Assembly based in Cardiff, rather than send 38 MP's
to the House of Commons in Westminster, London.
Cardiff castle is
one of Wales biggest tourist destinations
Cats in Cardiff have a reputation for
being a bit "stoned"
|After the all the commotion in
Edinburgh, it was quite pleasant to arrive in Cardiff. It was in many ways the
absolute opposite of Edinburgh. There were plenty of places to stay, sunshine,
relatively inexpensive prices and best of all.... virtually no tourists! Even
my tour book, the Lonely Planet Guide had warned against "city hopping" in
Wales, stating the best way to see Wales would be through excursions in the
countryside. Unfortunately I did not have time for this sort of a journey so
the only plausible option was a short stopover at Cardiff. All I really wanted
to do was get a general "feel" of Welsh environment.
That I certainly did. Cardiff has been the
Welsh capital since 1955. It's highlights include Cardiff Castle, Bute Park
& Sophia Gardens, Tiger Bay (aka Cardiff Bay), the newly built Millennium
Stadium and Law Courts & City Hall.
It took a good 6-7 hours to reach Cardiff
by train via a stopover in Crewe. I easily found myself a cozy bed &
breakfast for 20 pounds just across Pontcanna Fields. While it seemed like
every tourist in the world was in Edinburgh, I was somewhat of a novelty in
Cardiff. This came as quite a surprise to me as Cardiff is boosting itself as a
major tourist destination right now. The city is currently reinventing itself
and after hosting the 1999 Rugby World Cup, is being dubbed as the "fastest
growing city in Europe". Nevertheless, the owner's of
the B & B seemed delighted to have an American staying at their guesthouse.
|After a short rest, my first
destination was to walk straight through the cities centre all the way to Tiger
Bay. The walk takes you through the heart of Cardiff, passing both the Castle
and the impressive Millennium Stadium; a 75,000 seater built on the shore of
the Taff River especially to host the final of the 1999 Rugby World Cup. The
Bay itself was a little disappointing however. The whole re-invention process
is currently at its peak and tractors, forklifts and construction utilities
reared their ugly heads almost everywhere I went. There was still some charm to
it left thought once I managed to get onto the promenade with some beautiful
blend of Modern and Victorian architecture, most notably the Pierhead
I went out for a
nights drink but found not too much was happening being it a Monday night and
there not being any students around due to the summer break. After a
comfortable nights sleep, I rose early to do a days worth of sight-seeing in
order to catch my afternoon train to Borough Green, Kent.
Right; the decorations
outside the impressive City Hall are a real sight for soar
After a wonderful walk through Bute Park, it
was off to Cardiff Castle. While it didn't quite have the same instant appeal
as the Edinburgh Castle, the beautiful grassland surroundings gave it a
decorative supplement. The decorative walls of the castle added to its beauty
with stone carvings of bears, lions and wolves placed on top of its
The millennium stadium (left) is located
just across the street from the castle and makes a nice photograph. And then
there's the City Hall, a must see due to its surrounding decorations of dragons
and Welsh figures.
the sight-seeing was done, it was time to let my effeminate side out a little
and do some shopping. I was determined to take home the cool Welsh flag so I
found one at a local souvenir shop for a relatively cheap price. I did not dare
try speaking the language however; Cymru (Welsh for Wales) is pronounced
"coom-ree" while the Welsh translation for good morning may be spelt
madding va, however it is pronounced "madain
Left; the famous Millennium Stadium has become one of Cardiff's most
So then it was back on the train and off to
England to see Damien in Kent. My stay in Wales may have been short, no longer
than twenty hours even, but it was a beneficial and rewarding trip. My only
regret was that I didn't get to spend more time exploring the "Land of the
Dragons". Oh well, that will be another day another trip. Till then it's off to
England and as the Welsh would say, "Un yee ish oo ghoe, ciamar a gheibh mi
gu da iawn tuh ee beck merched!"
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