There’s this saying… You must be from Nova Scotia if you can say ‘Tatamagouche’, ‘Kejimikujik’, and ‘Musquodoboit’. Well, I say you must be from Wales if you can say ‘Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch’.
If you’re wondering what the hell that is, it’s a real place in Wales, and also a local government. The literal meaning is ‘Saint Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave’. And I thought Shubenacadie was too long of a place name.
We didn’t see any sign saying ‘Welcome to Wales’ when driving from England, but we could certainly tell we were in a different part of the world. The signs suddenly don’t just say the place name, they also have a bunch of random consonants thrown together above them. Or, I guess, the same thing in Welsh. These signs just made me think, this must be what it’s like to try to read when you’re dyslexic.
The first thing we noticed about places in Wales is that there are tonnes of them that start with ‘Ll’. I.e., Llanthony, Llansamlet, Llanelli… They love their L’s. But they aren’t pronounced like a regular L, the ‘Llan’ is actually said like ‘clan’. Go figure, more weird pronounciations in the UK. But, I can’t give it as much shit as I do British English; at least this is actually a different language.
So anyway, if you don’t know too much about Wales, it’s one of the countries which makes up the island of Great Britain, and sits on the western side of the land mass. It’s known for its very rugged coastlines, mountainous national parks, Celtic culture, and of course, the Welsh language.
I haven’t actually been anywhere in Wales other than Cardiff, but I do have a trip to Snowdonia planned in March. Snowdonia is a mountainous national park in Wales, home to Snowdon – the highest peak in Great Britain outside of the Scottish Highlands, standing at 1085m tall.
This park is very popular for hiking, but also has plenty of lakes, remote villages, and even a railway which takes you to the top of Snowdon. The railway is strictly for tourist purposes, running for about 5 miles with panoramic views, passing waterfalls and a ruined chapel to get to the summit of Snowdon. But, like I said, I haven’t been there yet, so I’ll update you once I have.
Anywho, Cardiff. AKA, Caerdydd. We weren’t in the capital of Wales for long, just spent the night here really, but I loved the city. I realize I say this about nearly every city I visit over here, but every one is just so unique and interesting, I can’t help but fall in love with them.
We arrived fairly late in the day, had supper – actually, the best fish and chips I’ve had in the UK so far – at a place called The Docks. Afterward, we walked around the Roald Dahl Plass – the public space named after the Cardiff-born authour – a bit, then headed back to our Airbnb for the night.
… Have I mentioned how terrible my phone is at taking pictures at night…?
The next morning, we headed to the Royal Mint, about a half hour’s drive outside of Cardiff. Even if you don’t collect coins, the tour is quite interesting and has more history and stories than I expected. There’s even a book with Queen Elizabeth’s signature as a girl when she and Princess Margaret visited in the 30’s.
A visit to the mint makes you appreciate coins a bit more, once you understand how much work and thought is put into each and every coin. Our tour guide was great, and at the end of the tour we got to strike our very own 50p coin.
We went to check out Cardiff Castle after our mint experience, an old Roman fort with 2000 years of history. After the Norman conquest, it became a Norman stronghold, and then finally, a Victorian Gothic palace for the Bute family.
We actually spent a lot more time than I had intended at the castle. I thought we’d just go in and take a quick look around, it’s just another castle… but no. There’s so much to see in this place – an aviary, castle apartments, the Norman keep, wartime tunnels…
We started by having a peek at the owls and hawks in the aviary, and even got to hold this little fella… Meet ‘Mr.T’:
Already worth the £13 admission, we went to go see what the castle apartment fuss was all about. The ‘palace’ portion was created for one of the richest men in the world in the 1860’s – the 3rd Marquess of Bute. Guided tours last about 50 minutes, and show the winter and summer smoking rooms, the nursery, the banquet hall, the library, the Marquess’s bedroom and even a rooftop garden.
I’m no interior designer, or architect buff of any sort, but the rooms in this place really are something special. They’ve each got their own unique theme, like the smoking room in the clock tower, all focused around time. It has the sun and the moon, every season, and even each of the zodiac signs.
When you first walk into the room, it’s almost a bit overwhelming as it looks so busy, and there’s so much going on. But once you focus and listen to the guide explain the design, and point out all of the little details, you can really appreciate the amount of effort it would’ve taken to design such a place.
The Arab Room is a masterpiece all on its own, with shining gold leaf on the ceiling, marble everywhere, and even a stained glass window. The gold in this room alone is estimated to be worth a whopping £8 million, and the high-vaulted ceilings required the two floors above it to be removed.
Even the nursery is a very detailed room; there’s hand-painted tiles depicting fairytales and children’s stories on every wall, labelled underneath. We saw ‘Aladdin’, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, and ‘Riding Hood’, among many others.
After making our way through the narrow passageways and climbing the spiral staircases up the towers, the large open areas of the banquet hall and library were breaths of fresh air. The banquet hall has a religious feel to it, with heraldry and angels all throughout the ceiling.
If this library looks familiar, you must be a Dr. Who fan… It’s featured in the show as the TARDIS library. There used to be a Dr. Who Experience in Cardiff, but it shut down in September of 2017. There are still bus and walking tours you can partake in though.
Once our tour was finished, we thanked our guide, who (understandably) was a bit confused by our Polish and Canadian accents, mixed in with the rest of the English accents in our group.
When he heard me say I was Canadian, he suddenly got very excited, saying, ‘Oh! We have a direct connection to Canada! Follow me!’ And led us back in to the dining room. So he told me to look up, and see if anything looked familiar. Lo and behold…
There, on the ceiling of the banquet hall in Cardiff Castle, I spotted the Nova Scotia coat of arms. What are the chances? He explained that back in the 17th century, James Stuart, Marquess of Bute, became a baronet of Nova Scotia.
If, like me, you have no idea what that means… Basically, back when New England and New France were formed, King James wanted to establish a New Scotland; following in their footsteps. He tried for years (unsuccessfully) to persuade Scottish settlers to immigrate to New Scotland. In 1625, the dignity of baronet was created by Charles I and given to any Scottish person who would pay for settlers to set up residence in New Scotland.
The Baronets of Nova Scotia would then become land owners of New Scotland. The baronetage cost 2000 marks (equivalent to £2000 in those times), and granted members the right to wear the badge of Nova Scotia: a silver shield with an azure saltire imposed on it, together with an inescutcheon of the Arms of Scotland. AKA, diagonal blue heraldry cross with the small shield placed in a larger one of the Arms of Scotland; AKA, the very coat of arms of Nova Scotia we still use today.
So, there you have it. Nova Scotia, directly correlated with Cardiff. Who knew?
So after this discovery, once we were done marveling in the amazing, intricate attention to detail everywhere in the Castle Apartments, we headed to the old Norman keep. This keep is a ‘shell’ type keep – the outer walls act as a shell to protect the inner buildings. These days, there’s nothing inside to protect, but you get some pretty panoramic views of the castle and Cardiff city from the top of the keep.
We went to the Wartime Shelters afterward, located in the tunnels within the walls of the castle. These tunnels served as air raid shelters during WWII, where it was estimated that 1800 people could take shelter when the sirens sounded. There were actually dormitories with bunks, kitchens, toilets, and first aid posts concealed in these walls.
So after learning all about the history of Cardiff Castle, feeling a bit warm and fuzzy with my newfound connection to Cardiff, we headed to wander the city centre a bit. We were walking for all of about two minutes when I looked up and couldn’t believe my eyes and suddenly got very giddy…
I found a Tim Hortons! In all places, a Tims in Cardiff! And it’s not so much that I even really miss Tims, but when you find a bit of home in your new home-away-from-home, you get pretty dang excited. So I ran in, bought myself a new mug, a french vanilla, and a bunch’a timbits, and hit the road back to Notts, a pretty content Canadian.