I wanted to go somewhere so I did. Cardiff in Wales was my destination of choice this time.
The day started off with a bizarre dream. I would like summarize this yarn quickly, I am, however, in a story telling mood. This particular dream began with the fact that my house here in Bristol, 115 Queens Road, and all it's inhabitants, were all suddenly living at 709 Perkins St. on Whidbey Island in Washington. We had stayed up all night having a chill party when I got the idea to watch the sunrise.
We stomped down to Cpt. Coupe's Park, laughing and chatting as we went, and upon our arrival, sat on the beach overlooking Penn Cove. There we chatted and waited for the sun to emerge from beneath it's heavy earthen duvet. Suddenly, I exclaimed that it was going to rain and so, as if upon my will, it began to sprinkle. Everyone was in awe of my ability to predict the weather; I was not as sure. Then I felt something culminating inside me; defining what that something is would surely be impossible. This culminating feeling inside me reached an apex and out poured the prophecy that it was going to thunder... and so it thundered. Whether or not I was conjuring these phenomena is still unclear to me but it was during the aforementioned ponderings that there came the most absurd occurrence.
Soaring through the pre-dawn ashen sky there came a boat; an Issaquah 130 class ferry boat to be precise. But fear not! for though, to you the reader and I the narrator, this may seem a rather appalling and perhaps even horrific event, in this whimsical dream world it was just another proverbial walk in the park.
My dream-self understood this and watched undaunted, though having to calm the others who were gasping in awe upon witnessing, for the first time, a flying ferry boat. I explained to them that there was indeed a giant crane in Seattle that would hoist the ferrys from the water and then fling them to their desired destination, always mind you, landing safely keel first.
We watched as the crew of this Issaquah 130 class ferry unbuckled from their safety harnesses, for though sailing through the Puget Sound skies is a generally innocuous occurrence, it is better to err on the side of safety.
Well my dear reader, I wish there was more to this particular dream but alas my 7 o'clock alarm sounded and I had to steal my conciousness away from that fascinating adventure. But it was the toll of my alarm which hastened the beginning of another adventure!
Bristol is a city of the night. Rarely have I set my head upon my pillow before the clock strikes midnight and, as people like to get as much sleep as possible, we can surely assert that late nights inevitably lead to later mornings. So you can imagine how bizarre it might be to come upon the streets that you are accustomed to be teeming with people, now silent and empty. There are a manner of people that are up this early: pre-work runners and the hungover, partially naked, post-partier. I did pass many such people in my shuffling to the bus stop, maybe not all half-naked but in their pyjamas at least.
Anna is a friend of mine from Boston. She organized our wonderful trip to Cardiff in Wales. It was she that I met at the bus stop at 8:00 Saturday morning.
It was my first time on a bus in England, nothing fancy but something worth noting. I still need to go on one of the red london double-deckers. We arrived at the train station and I have to say that I love train stations. I love trains. They're so relaxing. We got on train at platform 9 and 45 minutes later we arrived in Cardiff. My first impressions were mediocre at best. It may have been the overcast skies, the drizzle of rain, or the fact that Cardiff doesn't look much different than anywhere else in the western world; concrete buildings, paved streets, all the commodities of home. There are some fundamental differences in Cardiff.
You know you're in Wales because almost every piece of print is written in English and in Welsh; Cross walks, street signs, store windows, etc! Not only that, welsh is frequently spoken by the locals. I sat outside at a coffee shop called Harleys indulging in one of my favourite past times, people-watching, but also marvelling as strangers strolled by casually exchanging words quite unknown to me. "Really Zach, Welsh people speaking welsh, what a novelty" you might sarcastically say! but to be truthful, the thought of this other language had not even occurred to me until I was immersed in it. I have to say, it was electrifying. I always get excited by the littlest things!
As we moseyed the streets marvelling at the little things we came upon a not so little wall. Following it's supremely laid masonry as it tapered off in the distance, our eyes settled on a large gate, and through it we perceived upon a mound, a castle Keep. Hurriedly we scampered across the street to investigate and came to a screeching halt at the end of a queue. The price was steep to get a tour of Cardiff Castle, so we resolved to come back after we explored a little more.
There was a novelty shop directly across the street and loving all manner of trinkets I stole inside to examine the goods. It was there I bought some post cards and a welsh flag. I was going to get a shotglass, but alas! they were far too expensive.
We found a directory and were excited to see the Museum of Wales was literally around the corner! So we walked briskly in that general direction marvelling at the Castle walls as we passed. On our way to the museum we stopped at a park, whose main attraction was a rather dashing bearded man frozen forever in a pose of nobility. John III Marquess of Bute, also the Earl of Windsor, was staring thoughtfully into the distance as Anna and I stared mystified by his large cast-iron presence. It was also in this park that I found a book. It sat lonely, on a lonely bench, in a lonely park, being tormented by the rain. Well you can't just leave it there, it looked so helpless! I had to take it home with me. That is how I am the new owner of The Shadow of the Wind. I've not been terribly impressed by the beginning but a house-mate of mine tells me that the start is slow but the rest is well worth it... we'll see.
We continued forth to the museum, but in doing so we passed yet another grand place: the Town Hall. Compared to the little white building in Coupeville, this building is Epic. We didn't, however, go inside; we couldn't be bothered. We were on a mission, a mission to visit the National Museum Cardiff and bask in the glory of it's literal freeness.
"Yes" the voice inside my head stated, "This was a good choice." Walking into the museum itself was enough to knock you off your feet. A massive dome rose up as if it wanted to float away, and everywhere massive columns supported the enormous building. There were two parts to the Museum, first a natural history section and second an art section. We made a B-Line for the natural history portion and let me tell you that it was a good place to start.
Inside I got to touch some of the oldest rocks on Earth, from the British Isles, and finally from Wales itself. Now, for most touching rocks might not be the biggest thrill but come on! Oldest rocks in the world... a literal blast from the past. I happened to love my Geology class and the entire field itself, so this was rather like my version of the proverbial kid-in-the-candy-store experience. I also got to touch an iron meteorite that was about the size of a basketball. It's hard to describe what it looked like, but my first response was a giddy smile followed quickly by the thought "funky."
We made our way through the rest of the natural history part quite quickly, I was actually more interested in the history of Wales from a human aspect, but this exhibit pretty much ended with prehistoric man in Britain. Hmm...
Anna and I took a moment to sit and rehydrate and then we were on to the Art section. Anna is not a huge fan of Art in general. She said she had been to the Louvre in Paris and spent a grand total of 15 minutes in it; secretly I was sobbing on the inside. Regardless, I dragged her along.
I really enjoyed some of the busts we had to pass to enter the exhibit, not anyone of major note, they were mostly just busts of British people. One guy had the most amazing mutton chops. Seriously, cast forever in marble with those things framing your face is pretty incredible. I didn't get to take much time inside the art Museum as our day was limited, but I did take some time to admire Mr. Monet's paintings. Yeah. The Nation Museum Cardiff has original Monet paintings. I was awed. You always see copies of them around, or cards, posters on uni students' walls, etc. But I was in Wales, in Britain, looking at original Monet paintings. God I love my life. Thanks everyone who helped me get here.
After that high, Cardiff would present us with some lows before it would reveal more of it's treasures...
Anna and I arrived in Cardiff early that Saturday morning, little did we know that we were not the only ones with this grand Cardiffian adventure in mind. We marched back the way we came and found, to our dismay, that the train station was "conveniently" close to the Cardiff shopping centre. At 9 in the morning the streets are pleasantly manageable but at 1:00 on Saturday, a hoard of consumers descends into Cardiff. Anna and I, going from the serenity of a quite museum were immediately overwhelmed and made for the quickest route to some calmer place; to regain our composure and confidence. Sooner or later we'd have to go back in, the map says there's a cathedral on the other side of the mob, the directly other side.
The second time through wasn't as bad and Anna even bought a scarf. It was a nice scarf. Also, having recomposed ourselves, we were now able to move through with relative ease, but it took all our senses, strength, and experience, to manage our way through that unforgiving beehive.
We reached the chapel but to our dismay it was not open, nor was there a graveyard. Anna has a thing for gravestones and I can definitely relate. There is a graveyard literally a block away from my abode that is now a park. Some of the stones have been lost to time, some have fallen over, and some are just fine. Walking around, admiring the stones, thinking about the people, it's calming and I hope not at all morbid. People were here before me, this is their mark on the world. Some were even younger than me, buried with their mothers, fathers, or siblings. Why is a graveyard so calming?
By this time Anna and I were feeling quite hungry. So, this time taking side streets, we finagled our way back towards the train station; earlier during our wanderings we spotted a wonderful pub called The Prince of Wales and that was our destination of choice.
It was well worth it and the pub was HUGE. I guess it served as a pub and a club at night. Two stories, massive open areas in the middle, TV's everywhere with a football game showing, wood floors, sports pictures on the walls, it was quite a place. I dare say it took up about a city block. Lunch was simple but good, Anna had a cider with her meal... because we can and no other reason.
It was in the Prince of Wales that we came across a small dilemma. What do we do from here? We could make an epic walk down to the waterfront. It was a risk because there were no indications of attractions other than places to "eat, drink, and shop." But it's a waterfront, surely there may have been an old wooden boat? A Lighthouse perhaps? It was a gamble because it was about 4 times as far to get there as it was to go back to Cardiff Castle.
We went to Cardiff Castle. It was a good choice.
All of the tours of the inside were full until almost 5, we didn't know if we were going to be around at that time, I had a birthday celebration to get back to at Queens Road. So we decided to pay a lesser fee and amble around the castle grounds for a while. What they were hesitant to tell us, but that we fantastically discovered anyway, was that we could go into the Castle Keep and the Museum as well with just the purchase the grounds ticket! Yay for frugality.
The Museum was great, it was more about the human history of Wales. Well, no, it was more about the military history of Wales. How there men were present in pretty much every British conflict, their bravery, their outfit changes, the different weapons they carried. There was a sword commissioned by some Welsh general for his regiment, it was similar to a short sword and one was given to each man. So cool, in a violent sort of way...
The castle keep was also very impressive. Surrounded by that token moat with a bridge. I can't really describe the pleasure I got out of it. Being there was just an overall good feeling.
After the climb to the top to gaze out over Cardiff, Anna and I agreed that it was time to go. All this adventure had worn us down. We made out way back to the trainstation and, having an open ended ticket, we hopped on the first train back to Bristol. I wasn't on the train fore 5 minutes before my head slumped to my chest and I was asleep. There is something be said for vibration. Be it cars, trains, a warm dryer, it always makes me sleepy. Next thing I knew we were in Bristol and about a half hour after that I was in my room safe and sound.
Besides this entry, my only physical reminders of Wales are my flag and my post cards. But memories are all I need, it was a grand experience. The only thing I'd do differently next time is go to a less touristy place. Everyone wants a genuine experience so they go to the token places, but I have an Ace up my sleeve: I have friends who live here and can tell me where I should go to avoid said mobs. Next time I go to Wales, I believe my Welsh informant Idriz spoke of the sea coast and the small town on which it lies...