Wales – A Great Decision
A travel update from mum.
Ten days after concluding our house sitting assignment in Shropshire, we would fly to Cyprus. Ten days all to ourselves and without a plan of what to do. There were a great many possibilities. We had already spent a week in London before going to Shropshire. It was likely very cold in Scotland. Perhaps, we should head south to Oxford or Bristol. After considering several options, we decided to see southern Wales. It was a great decision.
Wales is, perhaps, the least talked about area of the United Kingdom. Yet Wales is surprisingly welcoming and beautiful. We traveled to 3 of Wales’ coastal cities. We head first to west Aberystwyth by train from Shrewsbury, England.
We arrived in Aberystwyth late afternoon. Evan had arranged for us to stay in a guesthouse within walking distance to the center of town. The guesthouse was the only disappointment in Aberystwyth. The upkeep was lacking and breakfast was not available. Ah well, we would not be staying long. We were quickly off to see the town which was in easy walking distance and charming. Located on the Celtic Sea, there is a beautiful walk along the harbor and remains of castle to explore.
Our first stop was the tourist center. This was manned by a delightful woman who was perfectly suited to helping tourists feel welcomed. She thoroughly explained the map of the town and its sights. Since it was past 5 PM and the town shops were closing, we walked back toward the guesthouse looking for a place for dinner. We decided on a pub, Scholars, close to the guesthouse. Pubs are a great place for dinner for the budget-minded. Many offer 2 dinners for less than 10 pounds with selections from Steak & Ale pie, Faggots, Bangers & Mash, Fish & Chips, and other Welsh favorites. It’s the perfect comfort food in cold weather after a long day.
The next morning we were up early and on our way to see the sights. We walked the full length of the harbor and viewed the castle area. By noon, we were ready to hike up the hill to the National Library. Aberystwyth is able to boast it has the only National Library in all of Wales.
Evan who continually presses me onward, and in this case uphill as well, had us walk. Making it to the library was worth it. The library was impressive. It is possible to trace your Welsh ancestry and search archival data bases. It is also one of best cared for public buildings I have ever visited. The entire place gleams. When I remarked on this to a security guard, he blushed with pride.
On our walk back to the guesthouse, a haberdashery caught our eye with wool sport coats in the window. We decided to have a look. Without a doubt, a wool herringbone sport coat suits Evan. After thinking about it overnight, we bought it the next morning. It looks great on him!
Our next destination in Wales was Swansea. We arrived in Swansea before dinner time. This time the guesthouse, Leonardo’s, was spotless and included breakfast. We were able to nestled in comfortable beds with down comforters. Nothing feels so cozy as to be warm on cold night.
While Aberystwyth is considered a town, Swansea is a legitimate city. A strategic shipping location, Swansea was heavily bombed by the Nazis. As a result there is a newness to Swansea, if you consider post World War II new.
Our most memorable experience while staying in Swansea was the Gower Peninsula. A mere 45 minutes bus ride away from Swansea’s city center. Rolling hills of sheep pastures and hedgerows wind through a series of villages and whistle stops.
At the tip of the peninsula is the small village of Rhossilli. We were knocked sideways by the magnitude of the view. The Celtic Sea appears endless. Sharp cliffs of black rock jut out along the shore. They’re dotted with patches of emerald green with grazing sheep. This has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Our last stop in Wales was Cardiff. We took the Greyhound Express from Swansea for less than half the fare of the train and arrived in comfort.
The bustling city of Cardiff is the capital of Wales. We booked ourselves into Nos Da Hostel opposite the Millennium Stadium on the river boardwalk. It was my first stay in hostel. I was pleasantly surprised. Nos Da was very clean and comfortable with a friendly staff.
We had planned to stay in Cardiff two days but stayed four. It is a very livable city that has managed to both modernize and preserve its history.
We were very glad to have taken the guided tour of the Millennium Stadium which is definitely the pride of the city. The Welsh are keen on their rugby which is played at the Stadium. The tour took us into the locker rooms, the press box, and through the player’s entrance to the stadium as a recorded cheer of 70,000 fans rang in our ears. We visited a VIP suite, and the President’s box which seats the Royal Family when in town. The whole process of readying the stadium for various events was explained since the stadium also is used for concerts, motor cross, and various rallies. We agreed their recent award for Best Stadium was well deserved.
The next day we headed to Cardiff Castle. I convinced Evan we should have a guided tour rather than just wander through. Cardiff Castle for centuries was inhabited for centuries by several powerful families. Under the ownership of the first Marquee of Bute, a coal baron, the castle was redecorated and modernized in 1800′s. The result is awe inspiring. The Marquee spared no expense nor ignored any detail.
Since on the top of my to-do list in Wales was to hear a Welsh Male Choir, we headed to the Tourist Center with the Millennium Center to inquire. Once again, the friendliest and willingness of the staff was extraordinary. The clerk reviewed every performance schedule. When none were performing, she suggested and checked for rehearsals times. Finding one, she called, obtained permission for our attendance, and map out our route by train. Outstanding service!
For me, it was the most precious experience of our travels. We welcomed by the director and several members of the choir and listened while they worked on the harmony of new performance song. After their break and before we left, they sang one of their traditional Welsh hymns for our enjoyment solely. BRAVO!!!!
Our original plan had been to travel from Wales to Bristol and Oxford before leaving for Cyprus. We did not. Instead we stayed longer in Cardiff and were sad to go. We had fallen in love with Wales and its citizens. My lasting impression of Wales is that it is filled with friendly people who truly go out of their way to be welcoming and helpful. We met them everywhere. Another is that they value what they have and care for it.