Living Like a Tourist
About two days ago I was thinking about things, just a jumble of things, and the thought of how long I’ve been in the UK came to mind, and while I was fully convinced I had been here for three weeks, I was later reminded that its really only been two. I’ve only been here for about two weeks but I feel like I’ve done three months worth of living. In 14 days I’ve flown over seas for the first time, discovered one of the World’s biggest cities, and started school in a new country, and while I’m living like a local, I’m still exploring like a tourist.
I have spent more time watching the weather whilst I’ve been here than I ever have before in my life; Welsh weather is so notoriously rainy that any glimpse of sunlight is an opportunity that I refuse waste. My weather app said that the weekend was supposed to be sunny so I knew that I would be making an effort to get out into the city and see what Cardiff has to offer. There is a whole list of places I want to see and things I want to do that have been compiled based on months and months of internet research, reading other blogs, and Cardiff tourism sites. I made it my mission this weekend to check a few things off that list, and enjoy a beautifully, sunny Welsh weekend.
Our morning started with our daily walk down the main road past all of our school buildings and much of the University, towards city centre for our breakfast place of choice. I was on the hunt for a restaurant called The Pancake House, whose name itself should be cause to visit. It ended up being located in the Old Brewery Quarter, which is full of awesome looking restaurants that I am very eager to try, and was just a modest little building with about 5 tables. There is a menu full of countless pancake options ranging from sweet to savory with toppings you can’t even dream about. They also had American pancake options as the British pancakes are much more crepe like than fluffy American pancakes, which makes me very excited about future trips to this restaurant. Eventually I decided on a pancake with hot chocolate sauce, coconut flakes, and strawberries, and when it was finished I was presented with a pancake bigger than my head.
After our delightful breakfast we made the trek down to Cardiff Bay, which ended up being a lot shorter than what I anticipated. I have been excited to visit the bay ever since I decided to study abroad in the first place. The sites in the bay are so synonymous with some of the biggest BBC shows that it felt like I was walking through the TV, which I basically was as the BBC filming village was mere feet away. As soon as you arrive in the bay you are immediately overtaken by the towering letters of the Wales Millennium Center, which happen to make up the World’s largest piece of poetry. The building is absolutely incredible to see in person, obviously it looks cool in pictures but when you’re standing, feeling as small as a flea, in front of those massive words, you realize why this building is such an important cultural aspect of Cardiff. The interior is wonderful as well but we didn’t get to see much of it as you need tickets to see the entirety.
Directly in front of the Millennium Center is a silver tower that I just refer to as the Torchwood Tower, but I believe it is actually called the Water Tower. If any of you have seen anything about Torchwood in Doctor Who or in the show Torchwood then you will know exactly what this tower is. In the show, it serves as the main entrance to the Torchwood Institute, but even without that it’s a pretty stunning feature. It’s incredibly shiny, almost The Bean shiny, and very interesting to admire.
When we walked down to the waterfront, which is spectacular, even if you can’t really look directly at the water when the sun is out. I always love seeing the ocean and it was amazing to be able to see the other side of the Atlantic for the first time. We had a brief encounter with a man selling boat trips but we opted to explore by foot instead of facing the cold temperatures in a small boat.
We moved on to check out the gorgeous red brick building that is the Cardiff Bay Pierhead. Now, I’m going to be very honest in saying that I really don’t know anything about this building and didn’t really understand the exhibits inside, but I absolutely adore the color of the building. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen brick that red. I may not fully understand what it is, but it is stunning to look at and photograph.
More walking towards the other side of the bay led us past the National Assembly of Wales and a number of cool sculptures.
This one is dedicated to an Antarctic Exploration Mission that departed from Cardiff Bay.
As we got to the far side of the bay I got to see BBC Cymru (pronounced kum-ree for any of you trying to keep up with me in my Welsh-learning adventure), which is the studio responsible for filming Doctor Who and Sherlock, and so many other incredible BBC shows. I had to sort of take a moment to appreciate the building (which did look very impressive as well) and what that building means, not only to me and other casual TV fans, but also to Cardiff in general. The creation and boom in TV production has brought a whole new light to this amazing city, and as I know that I’m only here because I found out about the city through BBC, can’t imagine how many eyes have been opened to this area.
Further down the bay is the Doctor Who experience, which I am very excited for, but my television class is taking a field trip there (!!!) so I have to be a little patient for that one. There is also a small Norwegian Church and a boat exhibit (we passed on that one) and a pathway along the waterfront.
We made our way over to Mermaid Quay, the commercial part of the bay featuring a few shops and many restaurants, to try and locate a few more sites we were looking for. While we were walking through, I noticed a place called Fabulous Welsh cakes, and I knew I needed to go in and try one for the first time. I think Welsh cakes are the only true Welsh food that I knew about so I’ve wanted to try one since I’ve been here. And holy cow they did not disappoint. The shop was adorable and had a big griddle cooking up fresh Welsh cakes in three different flavors. I opted to try one of each to get the full experience. It’s kind of hard to describe what a Welsh cake is, but their main ingredients are butter, sugar, and flour so they’re pretty basic. I’d say they’re like a smaller, fluffy (American) pancake that is brown and crispy and sugary on the outside and warm and crumbly on the inside, and about the size of a scone (I think?). They had the classic flavor (spice and raisins), lemon and pistachio, and milk chocolate chip, and were all absolutely delicious. I think the lemon ones were my favorite, but I will definitely be returning to eat many more of these wonderful treats.
Fabulous is an understatement let me tell you.
We eventually made it to the Ianto Jones Shrine (which will only make sense if you’ve seen Torchwood) and Roald Dahl Plass, a small section of the bay dedicated to Roald Dahl, the beloved children’s novelist, who grew up in Cardiff.
This ended our time in Cardiff Bay, but not our time exploring for the weekend. Sunday was another beautiful sunny day and while a day laying in bed would have been wonderful, I knew that I wanted to take advantage of the weather and see some more of Cardiff. I had the idea to figure out where Llandaff Cathedral was because I bought some postcards that had it featured on them and I didn’t really know anything about it. Turns out, its only a 30 minute walk from where I live. I messaged the crew to see if anyone wanted to join me on a walk to Llandaff and we left to go explore!
The walk to the Cathedral was absolutely wonderful, especially on such a sunny day. We decided to take the Taff Trail in Bute Park because we haven’t really explored it yet, and why not. The trail runs along the Taff River and is lined with trees and serves as a lovely path for runners and bikers and walkers to enjoy the less metropolitan part of Cardiff. Eventually we made it to the adorable town of Llandaff and quickly found the cathedral towering over the street. I genuinely knew nothing about this cathedral so I was excited to see what it was about.
Taff Trail is awesome.
Apparently it was initially constructed in the 12th century, but has since gone through a number of serious renovations. It took quite a bit of damage during the Cardiff Blitz of WWII and the main tower had to be rebuilt, and then more recently the organ had to be completely replaced as a result of the building being struck by lightning, so it’s both incredibly old but with modern updates.
I don’t know that I’ve ever visited a cathedral before so I didn’t really know what to expect, but I definitely didn’t anticipate it being so somber and humbling. Obviously the building is set up like a church as it still functions and holds services, but it also serves as a massive memorial and cemetery. The walls are lined with tombs for notable members of the church, each with their own sculpture on top. I found some of the tombs slightly creepy because the sculptures on top were either A. incredibly realistic or B. looked like a Dementor in a serious stage of decay. For each case I really couldn’t look at them long. The interior is also lined with countless plaques commemorating members of the congregation who died in combat, so the cathedral is very much dedicated to remembering its congregation.
One of the incredibly realistic sculptures.
I think this quote is the epitome of what this cathedral represents. It serves as a vessel for the distinguished members of its congregation to live on forevermore, whether that be through a physical resting place or through a plaque honoring their lives.
After a good few hours admiring the cathedral we wandered the grounds outside and explored the town for a while. We found an adorable tearoom that I believe we are going to attempt to visit later on for afternoon tea.
To finish off a weekend of being a tourist, we did the most American thing possible and watched the Super Bowl (which in all honesty just isn’t the same here because they don’t play the American ads- what’s the point without the ads?) but it was fun to watch American Football in a room full of non-Americans. At one point everyone was drinking tea so the room was both incredibly British and incredibly American at the same time.
I have an incredibly busy weekend coming up so there should be a pretty fun blog post some time next week!