The Land of The Castle
One thing that makes Wales one of the coolest places around is that it is believed to have more castles per square mile than any other place in the world. I have absolutely no reason to doubt that fact because almost every day, I get to walk passed Cardiff Castle. Where the city has an amazing City Centre and shopping area, there is also a castle planted smack dab in the middle of the city.
We got to see the castle briefly in passing on our way to our residences the first day we arrived as well as in passing on our tour of the city, but until Saturday (24/1/15) we hadn’t had the chance to really get to explore the castle. I knew as soon as I woke up and checked the weather that I would be spending the day exploring. The majority of my days are grey and generally drizzly, but it was gloriously sunny all day and there was no way I was going to waste it. We made the oh-so-familiar walk down the main road and down to the castle and took a few moments to admire its exterior. It was lined with flags and spectators all there to check out some history.
The closest I have ever really been to a castle is visiting Hogwarts in Orlando (not that I’m complaining, that is definitely my all time favorite castle) and the closest I’ve really been to a historic atmosphere like this was probably my trip to Fort Snelling in third grade. Even though its not really a castle, the Fort is still set up to its historical accuracy to really get an understanding of what the environment was like when it was in use, a concept that I am absolutely fascinated with. I still have fond memories of that trip and want to go back to check it out, so visiting this castle could really only be fascinating.
Entering the castle requires a small admission fee, which we found out is even smaller for Cardiff residents. For £5 we bought Castle Keys, which give us full access to the castle for 3 years, which is a heck of a lot cheaper than the £12.50 day pass, we would have been stupid not to do it. We also bought tickets for a house tour, which I was ecstatic for. I couldn’t wait to check out the interior of such an incredible landmark for the city. To kill some time before the tour we explored the castle tower, which included crossing a moat (a real live castle moat!) and a pretty significant trek up some tiny, winding stairs. But at the top, we could pretty much see all of Cardiff and the surrounding area, which was amazing. I don’t think you can really see Cardiff until you get a chance to explore the castle and the tower. On the top, it feels like you have the entire city at your fingertips.
The tower, surrounded by a moat.
View from the top.
By the time we were done checking out the tower, it was time for our house tour. It was a pretty brief tour but we got to see some incredible work. I never knew how intricate and ornate the interior of a castle could be, but the time that must have been put into this place must have been astronomical (that was kind of a pun because a lot of the decor was astronomy based ). None of the rooms have any piece that isn’t decorated elaborately to meet the theme of the room, and while you may think that a fireplace is the focal point of a room, you have no idea how much of an eye catcher they can be until you’ve seen this castle.
The first room we got to see was the winter smoking/game room, the astronomy and time themed room, decorated this way because it is located in the clock tower.
The signs of the zodiac surrounding the ceiling.
We moved onto the nursery, which has fairy tales painted along all of the walls, both old and new. It was really interesting to get to see the older interpretations of fairy tales that are still being retold to this day (Emma Watson as Belle in Beauty and the Beast? Yes please.) Plus all the little toys and things from back in the day were adorable.
To the right is the painting for The Little Red Riding Hood (I’m not sure what the other fairy tales in this photo are)
After the nursery, we moved into what it is arguably one of the most intimidating rooms I have ever had the privilege of walking through. The dining hall is not only decorated with incredible stained glass and an ornate fireplace, it is decorated with a history of serving some of the world’s most notable people. The Pope has held a meal there. Prince Charles held a dinner for the players of the Ryder cup. The 2014 NATO summit was held there, meaning Barack Obama has walked the same halls that I have. Even Queen Elizabeth has dined in this hall. As our tour guide rattled off that list of names, I felt myself growing smaller and smaller. You don’t really hear that kind of prestige anywhere around Minnesota. You can also book wedding receptions here, can you imagine saying you had your wedding reception in the same place The Queen has had a quiet dinner? Nuts.
Up another tightly winding staircase was a bedchamber as well as an awesome rooftop garden. I believe we were told it was inspired by the Romans, but I felt like it had a strong Asian influence, but what do I really know about architecture? Not much. Regardless, it was a really cool place, and I can only imagine what it looked like in its heyday, with the sunlight pouring in from the open ceiling and water running through the fountains. I could only dream of just sitting up there and reading a book.
The end of our tour brought us down through a secondary dining chamber and the library. Even though the library is more of an exhibit rather than an interactive setting, I really just wanted to pull some of the dusty books off the shelves and sit down in one of the huge chairs. There was an entire shelf of Dickensian stories. How often do you get to see Charles Dickens books from around the time they were written? The Mystery of Edwin Drood was just sitting on the shelf taunting me. How does the book end? Midsentence? The end is a mystery but oh what I would do to flip through its pages.
Even though we finished our tour, we weren’t done exploring. We had to go back upstairs to see The Arab Room (we think it was so named because of the inspiration for its decor, but we’re not sure), which was left out of the tour, but is definitely not something anyone should skip. I have never in my life seen a room so ornate. The entire ceiling appears to be gilded. The room is roped off, which is probably a good thing because I definitely do not think I am worthy enough to walk through it. You look up at that ceiling and you are immediately reminded that you are in a castle. Only a castle could have a ceiling like that.
Just a casual paint job.
At this point we had sort of exhausted our time inside the living quarters, but that’s not to say that we were done seeing what the castle had to offer. Across the lawn, inside the wall, are the remains of WWII bomb shelters. When the threat of war was brought to Britain, the government of Cardiff asked the owners of the castle if the walls could be used as a refuge for Cardiff citizens during air raids. I can’t really explain my intense fascination with this part of the castle, but I had been looking forward to it all week. As soon as we walked into the tunnel, a voice came over the PA. They have a recording of the air raid sirens and announcements playing in the tunnels, just as the inhabitants would have heard during the war. Yes, I did almost fall over at the sound of the sirens, but immediately afterwards I was completely immersed in the world down there. They have war propaganda posters lining the wall, the common areas are set just as they would have been during those cold nights during the war, and there is a line of benches along the entire length of wall. The whole time we were down there we were absolutely freezing, so I cannot imagine having to spend entire nights on the interior of a castle wall, in the dark.
After walking the entire length of the shelters, we had pretty much seen the majority of the castle (there is still a Doctor Who and Sherlock filming locations tour we are planning on seeing sometime later) so we decided to head to city centre to enjoy the last few hours of sunshine. We explored some shops and ventured into my new favorite kind of shopping venue. Now, let me preface this by saying that I hail from the land of the Mall of America, so I think I have pretty high shopping centre standards, but British arcades need to be adopted in America. Immediately. They’re basically like an outlet mall with a roof and contain some of the cutest shops and cafes that I have ever seen in my entire life, including a used bookshop that I have had on my to-do list for months now, and we just happened to stumble upon it.
Now, as far as this bookshop goes, I sort of need to explain my intentions. Based on my past posts, it may be slightly evident that I am a casual (re. very very not casual, the opposite of casual) Harry Potter fan, and have been since I was about 7. As Harry Potter originates in the UK, it obviously has a strong history here, and one of the main things I associate with that history are the British book covers of the series (the books have a different cover in pretty much every country they’re sold on, which is nuts considering they’ve been translated into 67 languages). I decided a while back that I needed to try and get a hold of a British copy of one of the books (Deathly Hallows), and that a used book shop was the best way to go about that. As soon as I saw the bookshop I rushed in with my tunnel vision set on the familiar colors of the Harry Potter book spines. It took less than a minute to hone in on the children’s book section and find exactly what I’ve wanted for years. A first edition, British copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It was amazing to get to see a castle, but I had a whole different level of excitement to have that book in my hands.
I had pretty much accomplished my number one goal for my trip at this point so the rest of the day was just mindlessly wandering the arcades. We found an awesome music shop and I even located a Pizza Hut for future reference (it’s just a good idea to have a food go to, and they have an unlimited lunch buffet, you can’t say no to that) before taking a break to wander through the stalls of the Cardiff Market. I cannot wait to come back to the market to buy some fresh produce. My mouth is watering at just the thought.
I think the most incredible about today’s adventures were that they all took place within a 30-minute walk of where I live. There is a castle down the road from my bedroom. I don’t think that’s ever something I’m going to get used to. Things are looking good for this weekend so hopefully my next post will be about Cardiff Bay!
(that’s see you later in Welsh- I’m learning )