Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Few Hours in Cardiff

Unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, Wales was only a short train ride away from where I stayed in England. So of course I had to visit, and thus complete my tour of all four "nations" of the UK.

To be honest, my visit to Cardiff was a bit anti-climatic. I had a short visit - about 8 hours - and I mostly just ended up doing a lot of walking.

It didn't help that the city is inconveniently split into two "centers" that are about two miles apart - so I had to be picky about where I spent my time if I wanted to get anything resembling a good overview of the place.

First impressions: It's kind of gloomy.

On the positive side, there was some really good and surprisingly affordable street food (fresh donuts and warm crepes, mmm...)


My first stop was Cardiff Castle - a combination medieval fortress and Victorian-era mansion.

I took the tour that takes you inside the mansion and gives you some of the backstory of the people who lived there (short version: rich people living rich, privileged lives.)

Then I walked along the tops of the walls, caught the view from inside the medieval fortress, and wandered around the grounds a bit.

I like the contrast between the old clock tower and the ginormous Millennium Stadium.

I took a peek inside the falconry:

My favorite part, though, was the chance to visit the tunnels inside the walls that run around the entire site. I think I've already mentioned this on the blog, but I've long been fascinated by the WW2 homefront experience.  Though they were built several hundreds year earlier, they were used as a air raid shelter for the people of Cardiff during WW2.

You start walking down this long, dim, narrow stone corridor - surprised by how long it stretches out in front of you. The air is slightly chilly and damp. On both sides of you, the walls are lined with homefront propaganda and informational posters ("Loose talk costs lives" being one of the most common themes - two people sitting at a table, with Hitler sticking his head out from under the tablecloth. Or: "Save wheat and help the fleet - eat less bread!" And: "Hitler will send no warning - always carry your gas mask!" Lots more with nutrition and rationing suggestions, information for volunteers, and so on.) Then, unexpectedly, an audio recording starts: A Churchill speech - the declaration of war. Even though nearly 80 years have passed, the words give me chills. Then we hear snippets of other speeches, interspersed with the sounds of bombs falling and explosions - the volume loud enough to nearly shake the walls of the tunnel. It's dark, the air is chilly and slightly damp. The words and sounds echo through time, and as you walk you begin to feel transported.

For a brief moment, I felt transported to a much darker and more frightening time. I could almost imagine what it was like to be one of the hundreds of men, women, and children huddled together in these walls, hearing - and feeling - the bombs exploding outside. Wondering if one had destroyed your home, or your school, or your office. Wondering if the next one might be a direct hit on the place where you're huddling right now.

Then... The sounds of Vera Lynn's heartbreaking "We'll Meet Again" begins to rise above the din. Initially, it's almost drowned out by the sounds of bombs. Then the bombs subside, and it's just Vera Lynn singing of a possibly never-to-be time of reunion and peace.

It's simple - just the soundtrack, and the space. But it's incredibly effective, and as you might have guessed it made quite an impact on me.


After leaving Cardiff Castle, I stopped in at some small, free museums - but mostly I just wandered. I ended up at Cardiff Bay, and walked along the barrage for about a mile. I passed the Dr. Who Experience, which would have been fun to visit if it hadn't been closed by then.

It's bigger on the inside.

Eventually I headed back towards the train station, bought another crepe or three, and made the journey back to England.


  1. That's a cool experience you had in the halls of the fortress.

    Too bad the Dr. Who Experience was closed.

  2. Sounds like a great place to spend 8 hours wandering. Scary but at the same time cool experience in the tunnel. Cannot even imagine what the doctor Who experience could be. (Sorry about using the same word twice. ) The Vera Lynne song is a haunting song and very appropriate. Amazing place with a falconry and all.

  3. Weirdly, it looks a lot like I expected Wales to look like. Your experience at the WW2 homefront sounds pretty powerful. It made me wonder if you'd ever been to the Newseum?