CARDIFF: Day 1, Wednesday
Those of us going to Cardiff Uni took the train to Cardiff out of Paddington Station on Wednesday morning along with Andrew from the IFSA London office and it was really a very nice journey-the train was so much nicer than any I have traveled on in the US. Along the way we saw many fields, horses, and sheep. I’ve never seen such green grass in my life! After about an hour and forty-five minutes we arrived in Cardiff and took taxis to the University, where Andrew dropped us off to check in and then said goodbye.
University staff members helped check us in and then took us and our luggage to our residences to get our keys. Once I’d gotten my key, two very nice girls, students helping out for “Welcome Week,” helped me carry my bags up to my flat. It seemed like I had a lot of luggage when I was dragging it through airports and train stations, but it took all of ten minutes to unpack and it really made me think how little you can take with you!
I knew I needed to go to Tesco to buy some essentials and wasn’t sure where it was, but lucky for me those two girls appeared at the door to my flat and said they’d show me the way to Tesco and help me carry things back, which was so very nice of them! It was also nice to have some company since there was nobody else in my flat when I arrived. So anyway, I went to Tesco with the girls and got sheets/pillows/towels/duvet and some basic kitchen things. The room was a lot homier once I’d gotten that stuff!
I actually ended up going back to Tesco twice more that day with other people-another girl from the IFSA program and also another boy in my flat. It isn’t a particularly far walk to Tesco, but you can only carry so much back and forth! What’s interesting is that you also have to pay to use a grocery cart in the store (you get the pound back when you leave), because they are trying to deter students from the University from pushing the carts all the way back to their residences!
The rest of the day was spent just getting settled, getting the Internet to work, and meeting the other three flatmates that moved in-a boy from New York and two girls from Wales. The girls asked me if I wanted to go out with them that night, but I was still way too tired and hadn’t quite adjusted to the time change!
CARDIFF: Day 2, Thursday
When I woke up the next day nobody else was awake, so my IFSA friend and I went to the Students’ Union with our passports to get our ID cards made-the queue was so long, it took quite a while! We were rather hungry by the time we got out of the line, so we walked into the City Center and found a pub that I’d read about in a guidebook to have lunch at, called The Goat Major. Their specialty was British pies, so we each got a different pie to try–I got chicken, leek, & potato pie, which came served with peas and chips (they seem to be very into chips, aka French fries, here and serve them with everything), and it was very delicious!
After lunch we just wandered around the City Center, checking out the various shops. I needed to buy rain boots, so I did that, and we also stopped by a little Farmer’s Market right by Cardiff Castle that was selling all kinds of food–I definitely would like to go back one week for lunch. In the center of Cardiff there is also the Central Market, where you can buy all sorts of things such as fruit, vegetables, fresh meat, fish, records, books, bags, even small pet animals! It was a very interesting place to walk around, and I also go to try a miniature Welsh cake (baked on a Welsh baking stone), warm off the stone, which was delicious! It was rather similar to a good scone in flavor, though perhaps a bit less dry. Mine had raisins in it and cinnamon/sugar sprinkled on top.
By the time we walked back to our residence, we’d been out and about for almost 6 hours! The rest of my flatmate had moved in by then, so we now had 8 total-4 boys, 4 girls. That night most of the “natives” went out with friends they already knew, so the three Americans in my flat stopped by our residence’s “Social Center,” where a lot of people were drinking. Once again, though, we were all pretty tired so we turned in quite early.
CARDIFF: Day 3, Friday
Another busy, busy day! On Friday there was an International Students’ Fair as well as walking tours of the Cathays Park campus, where all my classes will be, so I did both of those things along with my flatmate Molly, which took up most of the morning and early afternoon. At 3 o’clock there was a meeting for new International students in my school at Cardiff, the School of History, Archaeology, and Religion, so I went to that and got to me students from the US, France, the Philippines, Switzerland, and some current Cardiff students in those departments. We also had a tour of the building, classrooms, cafe, library, etc., all very helpful for when classes begin in a week!
Friday night there was another event for International students–“Twmpath,” where we learned traditional Welsh folk dancing! It was so much fun, and because you changed partners a lot during the dances, I got to meet a lot of other new students, if only briefly. Some of the dances were more challenging than others, but I think I did pretty well. I went to a Civil War Ball at my home university once where I learned to do 1860s dances, and a lot of the ones I learned here were quite similar, so I had a bit of an advantage. In any case, it was a great event!
CARDIFF: Day 4, Saturday
More fun in Cardiff! On Saturday the other two Americans in my flat and I once again were up early, before our other flatmates (I think they were all recovering from their night’s out!), so after filling out and turning in some forms required by the University, we walked down to the City Center again to attend the Great British Cheese Festival inside Cardiff Castle! It cost about 7 pounds to get in, but it was a lot of fun. There were hundreds of types of cheeses to sample from creameries and dairies all over Wales, everything from mild cheddars to super stinky aged blue cheeses. It was really quite an experience-if you happen to think that the British are unfailingly polite, you haven’t seen them at a cheese festival!!
In addition to the cheese there were also European wine samplings, and many stalls selling traditional food as well as Welsh ciders. We tried the Welsh Pear Cider, which was amazing! After making it through the first circuit of the cheese tasting tent, we decided we needed a cheese break, so we spent some time watching the World Cheese Tossing Championships-yes, cheese tossing. Pretty fantastic. While the main living quarters of the castle, the Victorian part, was not open, we did get to go inside the “inner ward,” the tower on top of the motte, which, after climbing an extremely steep twisty staircase, afforded a full view of most of the city to the surrounding countryside.
After climbing up and down all those stairs we decided we were ready for some more cheese, so we then went to the second circuit of cheese tasting! Good thing we’d chosen to have super light lunches!
Finally on Saturday night most of my flat got together to go have a few drinks and listen to some live music at a place called the Live Lounge in the City Center. It was a lot of fun just hanging out and getting to know one another. Everyone in my flat seems very nice and I don’t think we’ll have too many problems living with one another!
CARDIFF: Day 4, Sunday
Today has been pretty low-key so far. We all decided to sleep in today and nobody was really up and moving until around 1 or 2pm! Most of my flat then walked down to the City Center to buy some cheap shirts for the Welcome Party tonight-everyone is supposed to wear a color assigned to their residence and our color is yellow!
Some other random thoughts:
At Cardiff Uni, everyone gets a single room, and 75% of residences have en-suite private bathrooms, including my residence, which is really nice. On the downside, they have what is called a “wet shower”, meaning the spigot is basically just sticking out of the wall right between the sink and toilet, so EVERYTHING gets wet when you take a shower! Oh, well.
It’s been a really interesting first few days in Wales. So far, I really like it. Everyone I have met, either at school or in shops or pubs, has been extremely nice and willing to help with any questions/confusion. It’s a big change for me, going from a school with 2,500 students in a pretty rural area to as school of 27,000 in a city (even if it’s a small one). There are just people everywhere all the time! Also, there is a very distinct drinking culture here which is very different from the US. There is no stigma associated with drinking and as most people know, the drinking age is lower here. From what I’ve seen, students tend to drink better quality alcohol, and while they do drink a lot and there are always those people who get extremely drunk and make a scene, drinking generally seems to just be more of a social thing here–you just go out with your friends and dance and have a drink and it really isn’t a big deal. I am not much of a drinker at all, and sometimes at home I felt like people really pressured me or judged me for not drinking, but here I have not felt that at all. People really don’t care if you just order a glass of water or a diet Coke, or just stick to a half pint of something. Nobody questions you about it, which I must say, is a nice change.
We have also been extremely lucky with the weather so far! It did rain last night, but most of it was between 3 am and noon today, and this afternoon it was very sunny and warm! The temperature has been staying mainly between 55-65 degrees during the day, though when they say about the weather being very…mercurial here is absolutely true. One minute is bright and sunny, then it’s quite grey and cloudy, then sunny, then sprinkling rain, then back again. As the girls told me on my first day here, “just make sure you always have sunglasses and an umbrella with you and you’ll be fine!”
In other news, with the exception of when I visited Greece, I have never walked so much on a daily basis, as a matter of routine, in my life! You really must be very sensible about what shoes you choose to bring here–if they’re comfortable in the US, try walking 6 miles in them one day and see how they feel! Even my blisters have blisters and I’m running through bandaids like crazy!
I apologize for the multiple, super-long text posts! Now that I am settled in here with reliable internet access, I should be able to post more frequently!