In Scotland, people said, "Why would you go to Cardiff?"...they were genuinely puzzled. Bernie and I wanted to be in Wales and Cardiff seemed as good a destination as any. Although it does not have the ancient ruins and the dramatic history of other places, Cardiff turned out to have its own charms.
The Sandringham Hotel wasn't one of them. The Queen has an official residence called the Sandringham. Our hotel wasn't even a poor relation. It was a bit like the city of Cardiff, a bit worn, a little tired with a grander past somewhere. (Think Faulty Towers.) At first we thought we had made a dreadful "booking on-line" mistake. The curtains favoured their own thick coating of dust. There was a splatter on one wall that could have been blood (we have active imaginations) and the carpet hid unknown former crunchy life forms. However, the bathroom and the Wi-Fi worked so Bernie and I laughed nervously and determined to make it an adventure. Except for young people frolicking back and forth all night down the street outside our window, the Sandringham was okay and the staff were super friendly.
You can see Bernie here, happy to have survived the night, in front of the the Keep of Cardiff Castle. Cardiff was the site of four different Roman Forts from the 50's AD. Cardiff Castle was home to many aristocrats until it came into the hands of the Bute family in 1766. The Second Marques turned Cardiff (on the sea) into the world's largest coal exporting port. The Third Marques was by the 1860's thought to be the richest man in the world. He had more money than the Rockefellers. He hired the genius of architect William Burgess to transform the Castle Lodgings to the opulent interiors Bernie and I toured. There are rooms with a definite Arab flavour and others decorated more in the Italian fashion. Cardiff Castle became a Victorian Welsh Camelot. The Fourth Marques completed the renovations and changes and the family donated the Castle to the City of Cardiff in the 1930's. The Roman wall has been restored around the castle and you can go up into the keep. The view of the turrets of the Castle and the grounds is magnificent. The beer we enjoyed from the restaurant on the grounds was fine, too.
We had a tour of Cardiff on one of the "jump on, jump off" busses.
We got off the bus at the port where you can walk along a stone walk that borders the water. The port is still (although little used) a port. We had thought we might like to dabble our feet in the water but decided against it partly because there was no access and partly because the water looked icky. We did see the Norwegian Church that Roald Dahl attended as a child. There was an amusement park with rides for children and the breeze from the ocean felt good.
At one time there were thousands of ships carrying coal in and out of the port of Cardiff. Then the coal mines depleted and today the number of ships which come from Russia carrying coal to Cardiff is, in a year, what used to depart within the week.
Cardiff, today, struggles. It isn't a rich city but there plenty of sights for the couple of days we were there. Under the Roman wall, a replica of the London Underground as a bomb shelter was complete with the sounds of the Battle of Britain. It let one imagine the feeling of being in the tube tunnels and hearing the bombs landing nearby. The memory is poignant now with Remembrance Day so close.
The picture to the left is a rugby match Bernie and I stumbled onto following her curiosity. The fellow at the ticket gate let us in to watch for a few minutes. The match was between teams of 18 year olds and it is a ROUGH sport. Bernie and I had no idea of the rules except that there didn't seem to be any and piling on anyone near the ball was fair game. Hockey players back home assure us hockey is just as rough. I'm no judge but these young men didn't have any protective gear...yikes.
The next day Bernie and I left Cardiff in overcast rain. The only real rain we had on our holiday. My Walmart rain "coat" made a definite fashion statement but it did keep me more or less dry. By the time we got to Bath...the weather was nice again.
From York on to Edinburgh. We arrived by train and were assured by a gentleman who looked like he should know that he could direct us to our hotel. "It's only a 5-10 minute walk," he said. Uh-huh. It was farther and there was a more direct route we found later. AND later I was in trouble for mentioning that the Scots told some whoppers. Well, okay- I was a little more direct than that.
We got to Edinburgh on August Bank Holiday as the Fringe started. It was a pretty busy place for two old prairie dwellers. I felt like I was up and down the Royal Mile more often the Queen in our three days. I have always said that I loved Edinburgh Castle because it fits my idea of what a castle should look like. It turns out I liked Holyroodhouse Palace a lot more. It's the Queen's official residence when she's in Edinburgh and you can see it the picture above as viewed from the path up to Arthur's Seat. As fitting, it is quite grand and ancient (the rugs are even a little threadbare in one of the dining rooms.) The ruins of Holyrood Abbey are awe-inspiring and I say it knowing how over-used the words awe and awesome are. Holyrood Abbey is old and no longer functioning except as a site for tourists. The grounds of the palace are pretty nice, too.
This is Arthur's Seat which you can climb right to the top of. Bernie and I didn't but we did do a good 3/4 of it which isn't shown. It was really a break after the crowds on the Royal Mile and in the city generally. The weather was perfect ( a little warm for Bernie because she had a sleeved top.) We took our time climbing and stopped at one point to rest beneath a cliff on the rocks. There are spectacular views of Edinburgh in one direction and the Salisbury Crags in another. Paths criss-cross the area but it seems fairly natural.
Arthur's seat and adjoining hills are old volcanic vents and the Salisbury Crags are part of the same formation. You can tell that they are ancient because they are fairly rounded and not sharp and steep like the Rockies. Legend suggests that Arthurs' Seat may have been the site of Camelot of Knights of the Round Table Fame. However, there are many similarly named formations in Britain.
We could walk around to the left of the picture and back to Holyroodhouse palace. Our hotel wan's far from the palace.
We did go to see Edinburgh Castle and booking our tickets on-line was a good idea. It saved us a big line-up the morning we went. Unfortunately it didn't save us from the crowds of like-minded tourists gawking and we eventually gave up and left.
Not before the cannon was set off at noon, though. Bernie and I didn't realize that this was a regular thing and joined the crowd near the cannon without knowing why. The blast was loud and there was a lot of smoke. Bernie tapped a lady on the shoulder just as the cannon exploded and her jumping pretty much spoiled the woman's chance of taking a good picture.
Next- Cardiff....why?? People kept asking.
My English cousin came to Alberta five years ago and we made the ubiquitous trip to the Rockies. One of our walks was to see the Athabasca Falls which apparently made an impression. Her grown sons teased that her pictures were of "Athabasca Falls, Athabasca Falls, Athabasca Falls" I think that the cathedral in York, York Minster, might be my Athabasca Falls. When I show pictures I could say, "York Minster, York Minster, York Minster."
York Minster dominates the centre of the ancient city of York, which was founded by the Romans in AD 71. Medieval walls still surround the centre of the city and it is a popular tourist walk with views of many sights, York Minster included.
York Minster is a Gothic Cathedral built over centuries and among the largest in Northern Europe. It is the seat of the Archbishop of York (Church of England, of course) which is the second highest office in the Anglican Church. Services are "high Anglican" which are similar to Catholic, reflecting the roots of the Church of England.
The evening view from our hotel, The Jorvik, was deliciously creepy. The passageway leads into Museum Gardens and the York Museum. The Jorvik's name reflects the Viking influence in York. There was an ancient church across the street just to the left of this view. Inside smelled musty and very old. It is, however still the venue for regular services. The Yorvik was built sometime in the 1700's and had been renovated in the last several years.
In the ancient city, the Shambles is a street where the upper storey of buildings projects over the cobblestones below. The better to toss the contents of the chamber pots. This is no longer the practice, thank goodness. The street is a narrow pedestrian way, lined with shops featuring wool goods, other eclectic wares and tea rooms. We had lunch in a restaurant where our table was on the second floor and overlooked the Shambles.
Here is Bernie with one of the ancient city gates in the background. The gate is part of the wall and at one time, people seeking entrance to York would have had to be "vetted" at a gate like this one. There were rooms where the gatekeeper and his family resided. There was even one of those lovely medieval "toilets" where a hole and passage were built into the wall. Everything just dropped into the river which was once closer to the gate. The stone mason's mark is still visible on the walls. Each mason had his symbol and would mark his work. There were slits for the guards to look out of and shoot arrows if necessary. The stairs were narrow, winding and claustrophobia- inducing. Bernie even climbed them...ignoring her sensitivity to heights.
Clifford's Tower is part of the old castle of York. It is famous as York's Masada. Rather than forsake their religion, a group of Jews, including, women and children retreated to this tower. When their situation became hopeless, they killed themselves and remained true to their faith. There are faint red streaks in the rock of the walls, believed by some to be the blood of these innocent people.
We climbed the stairs to the tower and they are steep. Some heavy breathing later and we had a different view of York.
General Wolfe of the Battle of Quebec and Plains of Abraham in 1759 was a Yorkman. This is our Canadian connection. After an illustrious career, Wolfe met Montcalm leading the French. Although the battle itself was over in 15 minutes, General Wolfe was shot three times. Once in the arm, once in the shoulder and then in the chest. He died happy because the French had been routed. This famous painting depicts his death.
As you can tell, York was a high point of the UK trip for me.
I know. This isn't the Eye of London. It's the iconic Tower Bridge. Before Bernie and I got to the Eye, we took a boat tour on the Thames. It was raining part of the time but not really that cold, if you wore a jacket.
Our tour went to the bridge and then came back to the starting point. This is one of many Tower shots...the boat kept swaying and I was afraid of missing that one perfect image.
We stopped for a short walk at the Tower of London. The gloomy day seemed to fit the site where Anne Boleyn, perhaps most famously, was beheaded. Many British nobles were executed at the Tower and it was the prison where they awaited their fate. The grounds look lovely but you can't forget that they are blood-soaked.
Below is one of the capsules on the Eye. You can see all over London and even on a dull day I had magnificent views of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and the Houses of Parliament. You can walk all around and look out any part of the capsule for the half hour, the Eye takes for one revolution. Twenty people at a time were allowed on so it was not crowded. Some people sat on the middle seats but many preferred the view right up near the glass. Poor Bernie. She had a ticket but has a slight aversion to heights. Right up until we picked up our tickets (we'd pre-ordered on-line), she thought she might be able to come. Looking up at the Eye changed her mind. Patiently she waited and wandered around in her green rain jacket, stopping people to ask if she could use their phone. We had been invited to my cousin's for dinner but were running late. As well, she just gave her ticket away to a lucky tourist in the crowd. I have pictures of her looking like a little elf on the area around the Eye...her green coat does stand out!
I've been married a long time and often write about everyday events.