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From Tourist to Tour Guide

This week was really exciting because not only was I finishing up my first major assignments and officially checking them off of my to do list, my friend Shelbie was coming to visit for the weekend. I spent so much time last week working on schoolwork I was very excited to get out of my room and not have to worry about word counts or PowerPoint layouts. However I did learn a lesson or two outside the classroom.

Regardless of what I was doing this past week, I was still trying to get a better concept of time and how it was passing. I’ve been here for over a month, done probably 6 months worth of living, and still have 4 months left, but a lifetimes worth of experiences to have in those months. Next week I’m going to London, I have two class field trips, our huge IFSA trip, plans to tour coastal Wales, all before we travel Europe over spring break. I just can’t quite wrap my head around everything that I have going on and how quickly they seem to be approaching. Time has just become this mystery that I’m having a great deal coming to terms with (almost as mysterious as the rules to Rugby, still trying to figure that out).

Anyway, this week came and went and was jam packed with showing Shelbie everything I have discovered over the past month in 4 days. I took it as a personal challenge to see as much as we could, all whilst I still fit in my lectures. I met her at the train station on Wednesday and we had lunch at this restaurant called Wahaca. It was a Mexican food place in town and it ended up being really delicious. I had plantain tacos and they were wonderful. Now that I think about it, I actually tried a lot of new food this weekend and for the most part everything was really delicious. Although, I did miss out on Pancake Day as I was busy, but Magic Wrap (it’s kind of like Subway for wraps) was giving out free wraps on Tuesday so I definitely queued for an hour for a free wrap. It was 100% worth it.

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I had to take a moment to appreciate that flowers are blooming here and its still -6 degrees back home.

I had a lecture Thursday morning but we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening downtown doing some shopping and exploring the arcades. We found out that Auntie Annie’s here is just as good as back home, and my second trip to The Pancake House was just as good as the first. I had a stewed apple and cinnamon pancake that tasted like apple pie so obviously it was wonderful. When we finished dinner we had a couple hours to kill before the Harry Potter Society social, which isn’t enough time to walk all the way back to my room, so we made use of the available resources and sat in the massage chairs at the mall for an hour.

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Did you really go to The Pancake House if you didn’t take a picture of your food?

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We stopped at a really cool record store and I found this collection of Minneapolis hits. How cool is that? An album of music from home all the way in Wales.

Eventually we made our way over to the pub for the social (obviously I joined the Harry Potter Society, let’s be honest here, nobody is surprised) that ended up being really fun. It was game show night so we played a bunch of games, culminating with a very intense game of Just A Minute that had at us at each other’s throats. The idea of the game is that you have to talk about a given topic for 60 seconds with making any repeats, hesitations, or deviations from the topic. If you do so, another player can challenge you (and earn a point) and finish the time on the topic for more points. In the end we were yelling across tables challenging each other and telling elaborate stories about Harry Potter. I’m not sure why, but I ended up being quite good at coming up with talking material and our team figured out that if we challenged each other we could rack up the points. We won. It was glorious.

I was anticipating that Friday would be a pretty laid back day since most of my day is overtaken by science lectures, but as luck would have it 2 of my 3 lectures got cancelled so we had plenty of time to go to Cardiff Bay and check out the sites. I’m in love with the bay and its scenery so I will never complain about going down there. It was really fun to check out the places I’ve grown so accustomed to and be able to tell Shelbie everything I’ve picked up about their histories over the course of the past month or so. Did you know that the BBC Studios in Cardiff Bay produce some of the biggest BBC shows on the air, but Wales has no authority on them? They film and produce here, but all the control comes from London. I think the relationship between England and Wales is so interesting.

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The Wales Millennium Center had this really cool activity going for children (it was half term this week so everyone was off of school) where they could pick a plot of land on this massive map and build a house for it. If it wasn’t so busy I’m pretty sure I would have been down there building the coolest house in the neighborhood.

No matter what the situation is, I will always make time to visit Fabulous Welshcakes when I’m in the Bay, and today was no exception. I bought a bag of lemon, traditional, and triple chocolate cakes and enjoyed absolutely every crumb. I’m here for another 4 months and I already know I’m going to miss them with every fiber of my being (fire up the stove mom and dad we’re going to have some baking to do). We also had lunch at this little pub called Terra Nova, I had American pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, and while they were good, they really weren’t American pancakes. They were far too small and chewy but it’s fine they tasted good (mostly the bacon if I’m honest).

We didn’t really have any big plans for Friday night so we chilled in my room, but it turned out to be an incredibly productive night of planning. With our three-week spring break quickly approaching, our over eager travel plans were in dire need of some actual execution. We were up until 2 in the morning booking plane tickets and room reservations and were getting more and more excited for next month. I’m not going to divulge anything yet so you’ll have to stick around to see what we get up to (spoiler: it’s gonna be amazing).

Saturday was a really fun day of exploring. We finally had the time to head down to Cardiff Castle and check out everything it has to offer. Even though I’ve already been there, it was still incredible to get back there and experience it all again with a better understanding of the history of the city. I think the part that I appreciated much more the second time was climbing the Norman Keep and taking in the view. From the top you can look over Cardiff and see Llandaff Cathedral, somewhere I’ve now visited, and Castell Coch, somewhere I plan on visiting. I never really took note of any of that because I was still so new to the city when I last was there I didn’t really know what I was looking at. Obviously the view is amazing, but knowing what I was looking at made me really feel like I’m learning a lot about this wonderful place.

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You can’t really see it that well in the picture but the peak of Llandaff Cathedral is in amongst the trees and Castell Coch is out in the distance in the hills.

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Happily a prisoner to this wonderful city.

We all went on the House Tour, and even though I had done this same tour a few weeks earlier, I still learned a ton about the Bute family and the castle. This tour guide was way better and kept us all engaged the entire time. After our time in the castle we walked through a little street market, making a note to come back again after we had lunch. We found this little restaurant called The Louis and sat down for some food. I had a ham, cheese, and pineapple toastie (pineapple on a sandwich? Why not.) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The cheese was oozing out and the pineapple made the whole thing just a little sweeter and it was delicious. As per our note earlier, we returned to the market for some amazing cupcakes to enjoy for dessert. I got one called the Truffle Shuffle and aside from having to adjust to frosting that was harder than I’m used to (I think it was the cold) the thing was magnificent. A chocoholic’s dream.

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We walked back to my room and relaxed for a while and then just like that we were walking back to the train station and saying goodbye. I mean not really, I’m going to London on Wednesday (yes you read that right I’m going to London in the middle of the school week, but fate has been good to me so I’m not missing any classes) so I’ll see her in 3 days. Obviously I’ll be posting about that little adventure but for now all I’ll say is I AM SO EXCITED.

I think the coolest part of Shelbie’s visit was being able to take her to all of my favorite places. I can actually say I have favorite places. I have stories about things and facts I can provide about different Cardiff staples. I’ve gone from a visitor with very little knowledge of anything in the city, eating up any opportunity for a tour, to someone who can give a tour. I’m obviously not an expert, but I don’t feel like just an American visitor anymore.

Overall, the week was really fun but I think I’ve finally found myself in the middle of a typical rainy Welsh week as it’s been raining off and on for 5 days, which didn’t really stop us from having fun but it’s been slightly frustrating. I guess it comes with the territory of living here. I’ve realized that you learn quickly how to walk outside and optimize your avoidance of the rain. If you live here long enough, you will find yourself walking on the side of the sidewalk furthest from the road, or you will end up joining the Cardiff Road Splash Hall of Fame (I was inducted this past week with what I’ve dubbed “the double bus drenching”). You will also find yourself unknowingly positioning your umbrella at just the right angle so that the wind doesn’t flip it. So long is the time for walking in a straight line, the name of the game is “avoid that puddle at all costs” even if it means an impromptu game of hopscotch. You will empathize with the umbrella-less, and scold yourself for making that same mistake. Life here is a constant battle with the rain clouds, but when you make it long enough to see the city on a sunny day, you remember why you stay.

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Well, that’s it for now. I’ve got to go start packing for my next trip!

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