Hello there my loyal blog readers! Do not worry if you don’t know the questions above; that is what I’m here to talk to you about. I have noticed along my travels that not many people (including some Brits) know what Cardiff and Wales are! Cardiff? Wales? Ugh, it’s like a foreign language to some people, and in a way it is; it’s not England! For all you non-geography majors out there, Cardiff is the capitol of Wales. Wales is one of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom, and it sits on the main island of Great Britain. Whoa, what?? Don’t worry, I have a map below to help you.
The United Kingdom
So the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (extreme official name) consists of: Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is the name of the giant island that homes Scotland, England, and Wales. No, the Republic of Ireland is not in the UK; they wanted to become independent in 1916, and now they are a separate EU (European Union) country with zero ties to the Commonwelth. Unfortunately, the top/north half of the island wanted to stay in the UK, so Ireland split into two countries: Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Actually, at this very moment, Scotland is trying to become independent.
So enough about them, let’s focus on Wales. Wales is pretty small to say the least. In total area, it is slightly smaller than New Jersey. About 20% of the population speak Welsh, the rest English. In the larger metropolitan cities, like Cardiff and Swansea, English is more widely spoken. I still have yet to hear people conversing in Welsh. The Welsh are very proud of its language and culture. Every single sign is written in both languages, from signs in grocery stores, street signs, school buildings, and my residence hall. It’s easy to pick up a few words, but it’s definitely not easy to pronounce. Here’s some examples:
Croeso i Gaerdydd = Welcome to Cardiff (actually, Cardiff is Caerdydd, but the “c” changes to a “g” after an “i”, hence Gaerdydd)
Cymru = Wales
Os darganfyddwch dân = On discovering a fire (that was on my fire prevention poster in my room)
Money, money, money, money, money…oh money. I like the money here: every coin is shaped differently (and there are more coins), and the paper notes are all different shapes and sizes. You can tell what is in your wallet by the color without having to take it out, unlike US Dollars. So, what currency? The Great Britain Pound Sterling (£). One of the girls in my orientation came to London with Euros in her wallet. Yes, you need at least a 3.0 GPA to get into Cardiff University. Ignorance is bliss, until you realize you can’t buy anything with Euros in the UK.
British Pound notes…what a colourful creation
From left to right: 1 penny, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, one pound, two pounds
So what is Welsh culture? My English flatmates say it consists of four things: sheep (there are more sheep in Wales than there are people), Tom Jones, leeks, and daffodils. It’s more than those stereotypical items.
Welsh Love Spoons. What’s more romantic: men carving love spoons for their girl or men giving flowers to their girl? Please, flowers are so cliché; the real romance lies within Welsh love spoons. This tradition started hundreds of years ago where a young man would spend hours carving the spoon in hopes that the girl would accept it. If the girl accepted the spoon, she would demonstrate her interest in him and commence a relationship. Where do you think the origin of the word “spooning” came from? The word might have evolved a bit over time, but the same basic love element is still there. Spoons could also suggest food on the table and a cozy family life, which would impress the girl and his ability to care for her and her family. Wales was a poor society whose youth could not afford presents or expensive jewelry, so the men would do their best to create the most beautiful spoons possible. This also demonstrated the young man’s skills. The more complicated and difficult the design, the more it would symbolize the depth of the creator’s love. How romantic!
Beautiful Welsh love spoons
Dragons. There are dragons everywhere, and actually the Welsh flag has a giant red dragon on it. One of my university buildings, the Bute Building, has a giant red dragon on the roof. But seriously, what’s up with this dragon? Well, here’s the folk tale: There were two dragons, one red and one white, that remained at Dinas Emrys for centuries until King Vortigern tried to build a castle there. However, the castle’s walls and buildings were demolished by some unknown force. Vortigern is told by his advisers he needed to find a boy without a father to sacrifice (nice, right?). This boy, named Merlinus Ambrosius, is to become the powerful wizard Merlin, whose father is supposedly the devil making him half demon. I know, complicated story, but it gets better. This wise boy told the king of the two dragons fighting in the hill. Vortigern dug up the hill, freeing the dragons. The white dragon was about to defeat the red dragon, until the last minute where the red dragon defeated the white dragon (the part of the story where the red dragon defeated the white dragon in the final moments is an important attribute for the Welsh attitude). The red dragon symbolized the Welsh and people of Vortigern while the white dragon symbolized the Saxons. It also symbolizes the constant struggle the Welsh had with the English. The red dragon is also a prophecy of the upcoming King Arthur. Whew. I hope you understood that because that was a lot to grasp in class.
Flag of Wales
The dragon on top of the Bute Building, Cardiff University
Rugby. These fans are crazy about their rugby. They also like their cricket and football (soccer for you Americans), but rugby is the main sport. For February and March, there is the 6 Nations rugby tournament that consists of six nations: Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Italy. They play at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff in the city centre, just south of my campus.
Welsh cakes. Honestly, I don’t know how important Welsh cakes are to Welsh culture, but I have been eating a lot of them, so I think they’re important. They are made up of eggs, butter, flour, sugar, and currants. They look like mini pancakes, but they are much more firm. You can find these anywhere, especially from vendors in Cardiff Market located in the city centre.
I am located in Cardiff, which I said is the capitol. It is the largest city in the country, with around 330,000 people. This is also one of the cheapest cities in the UK, and that’s great for my wallet. Cars are driven on the opposite side of the street (like the rest of Great Britain), but I’m pretty much used to that by now. Cardiff’s city centre is known for their shopping arcades, which are like mini shopping malls between the buildings and main shops. The city centre also consists of the most high-tech library I’ve ever been in. I got a library card and took out two books, and honestly it’s one of the nicest buildings there. There is no circulation desk, but there are a bunch of computer stations on all floors where you can “self-check out” your books. Just scan your library card, scan your book, and you are good to go! However, the books are the British versions (obviously) and the grammar and terminology is different.
The front entrance to the Queens Arcade
Cardiff Central Library: one of Cardiff’s 20 library branches, this is the biggest located in the City Centre.
Cardiff has the reputation of being “UK’s party city.” The nightlife is pretty awesome. The routine is pub-hopping (traveling from pub to pub), then settling down at a club. The students don’t go to the city clubs on Saturday because that’s when the rural Welsh people from the boondocks come out. Everyday besides Saturday is fair game. I have found the best night out has been Wednesday, which is convenient for me since I don’t have class Wednesday, and I start at 2 pm on Thursday.
My school is Cardiff University. Even though it is located in a larger city right next to the city centre, a museum, city hall, and Cardiff Castle, you know when you are on and off campus. It is not like DePaul or other city schools where the city and campus blends. My uni (short for university) has about 30,000 students, so it is quite a big school, but everything is in walking distance! I live just under a mile from campus, but once I’m there, all my buildings are close. The Student Union is so cool, with a pub and nightclub right in there! Sometimes, the union nightclub is the largest one in Cardiff. Crazy huh? We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore. I have joined the Cardiff University Tennis Club, and the courts are right next to Cardiff Castle. Literally, the far court is pretty much touching the wall that surrounds the castle. How awesome is that!? I play tennis next to a castle. I bet you have never said that before. The only downside is that we don’t have any indoor courts, so, rain or shine, we are out there to play. They have hard courts and astro-turf (basically fake grass). I could not get the feel of the astro-turf, and I thought I was going to slip and do the splits any second.
I am still adjusting to the academic system. It’s hard reading for class when some textbooks are unavailable to students. Students do not buy their books; they check them out of the library. The professors give a ridiculous reading list (maybe 50 references), and we (students) select what we want to read. This is such a different concept; I’m still figuring it out. There are almost no online articles that I’m used to in the States; everything is in textbooks. No procrastination allowed.
British word of the entry: Quid. Slang for British Pounds. Instead of saying something costs 50 pounds, you say it cost 50 quid. Just like US Dollars, you would say 50 bucks. Same idea.