Posts filed under ‘Wales’

Lines Composed Eleven Months after Visiting Tintern Abbey

I’ll be honest: I’m not big on poetry, despite having a B.A. in English. I’ve always preferred thick, wordy volumes of prose. I’m still not entirely sure what a chapbook is, or at least what makes a chapbook a chapbook. I like the way poetry sounds, sometimes, when read aloud, but I still don’t really connect with the meaning. When I was younger, I tried to get into poetry. I carried around a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets for a while. I have a book of Tsvetaeva, with the original Russian poems across from English translations, but I was more interested in the translation aspect than the poems themselves.

But in a Brit Lit course at Olivet College, I read “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” by William Worsdworth. And I really loved it.

Last year, while planning this trip, I was in another Brit Lit course, one that focused on Romanticism, and we studied Wordsworth again. Although the anthology was different, the painting of Tintern Abbey was the same, and I remember staring at the page, wondering if it was really as magical of a place as it looked. I realized that if Wordsworth wrote this poem after a geeky touristy sightseeing trip, then maybe I could still take a geeky sightseeing trip to Tintern Abbey. And it turns out that you still can!

From the research I did online, it seemed like a trip to Tintern required a car. I didn’t have a car rental in my budget, so I looked into joining a day tour, but those were pricey as well. I eventually decided to just show up in Cardiff and ask for information at the tourist office. I figured that I couldn’t be the only tourist on a budget who wanted to see Tintern Abbey.

The folks in the Cardiff tourist office were prepared, and a sweet old man produced a printout showing the train and bus schedule, and how they linked up. I needed to take the train from Cardiff to Chepstow, and then in Chepstow, I’d catch a bus to Tintern. The schedules weren’t perfectly aligned, and I’d end up having time to kill in Chepstow, but what photographer doesn’t love having time to kill in a small town?

So on a warm Monday morning, I packed up my bags and left them at my hotel when I checked out, then walked down to Cardiff Central Station. The ride to Chepstow was only 45 minutes, but then I had over an hour before the bus left for Tintern. The Chepstow train station is not in the central part of town and the bus station is, but it only took me 15 or 20 minutes to walk to the bus station. It was easy enough to find after I asked directions.

Chepstow is a cute town. I wanted to find the bus “station” first (they pull up in front of the supermarket), but then I decided to sit and have a coffee in a pub called the Red Lantern. When I ordered a coffee, the woman working warned me that they only had “red milk” and not “blue milk” (or vice versa), which took some explaining. It turned out that they only had skim (the colours refer to the caps, I think), which is what I like anyway, but I was a little disappointed that they didn’t dye their milks crazy colours in Wales. I ended up sitting on a ledge near the buses for a while, where I entertained myself by listening to some small-town gossip while the gossipers looked at me suspiciously. One of the gossipers turned out to be my bus driver, who was nice when I asked a stupid question like “How many stops until Tintern Abbey?” and he reassured me that I wouldn’t miss it.

Tintern Abbey
Nope, not likely that I would miss this!

I had been so cautiously hopeful that Tintern Abbey would blow me away, and it did. For as much as I didn’t enjoy Cardiff, this side trip absolutely made my trip to Cardiff worth it!

Tintern Abbey
The abbey was founded in 1131 and fell into ruin after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in England and Wales. Tintern Abbey was surrendered in 1536. Much of its valuables were turned over to royalty, and in the centuries that followed, pieces of the building, including materials from the roof, were sold.

Tintern Abbey
During the 18th century, it became popular for people to tour the countryside, including the Wye Valley in Wales, where Tintern is located. The site gained a new wave of fame, and Wordsworth wrote his poem in 1798. It is still a tourist attraction, but it is fairly quiet. Even in the summer, I only had to share the ruins with a handful of other people.

Tintern Abbey
Most of what remains is the outline of the main church, which dates from the end of the 13th century.

Me at Tintern Abbey
Tintern Abbey
I followed the brochure and gave myself a tour, trying to imagine all of the different rooms. I was glad that I had seen the abbey at Mont St. Michel, because I could picture what a lot of the rooms would have looked like.

A bus back to Chepstow was going to be arriving shortly, but I was having such a nice time that I decided to wait for the next bus so that I could enjoy the town of Tintern. I had picked up some information, and I decided to walk through the village to the old train station, which is now a café.

The town was a little touristy—it looks like it’s a hub for antique lovers, in addition to having the abbey as a draw, but it was pleasant, and I enjoyed my walk along the Wye river.

This is just what I imagined Wales to look like, and not at all what Cardiff looked like.

Wye River

Looking at these photos again makes me want to go back and spend a week there!

Afternoon Tea!
Upon arriving at The Old Station, I realized that my trip was rapidly drawing to a close, and I still hadn’t had a proper English tea. An adorable station-turned-café seemed like just the place for a girl’s first afternoon tea. I’ll still take a latte over a cup of tea, 99 times out of 100, but the whole experience was better than I thought it would be. Those strawberries were delicious with the clotted cream!

It was quite a long walk from Tintern Abbey to The Old Station, but I realized that I’d passed a stop for the bus that I wanted to take back, so I headed back to the stop (only about a 5-minute walk) and hoped that all of the buses made all stops. I still had a bit of time, and the stop was directly in front of an old church, so I took some photos in the churchyard.
Old Church in Tintern

Fortunately, the bus picked me up, and I was back in Chepstow quickly. I didn’t have much time to kill, but I had enough time for a little detour to take some photos of St. Mary’s Priory in Chepstow.
St. Mary's Priory

Soon enough, I was back in Cardiff. I walked back to my hotel to pick up my bags, then walked back to the train station again to catch a train to London. I had no trouble catching a nap on the way back before arriving at the familiar Paddington Station. I’d booked a bed at a nearby hostel for my last two nights in London, but I hadn’t remembered to look up directions to the hotel while I actually had internet access. The Starbucks in the station was packed, so I had to linger outside with my laptop, close enough to pick up their wireless signal, so I could locate the hostel. The way that London numbers their streets is completely maddening, and I still had a hard time finding it. I was about to dig out my phone and make an international call when I turned a corner, onto a different street than what the address actually was, and found the hostel. A nice Australian boy carried my suitcase up the stairs for me, and I slept better than I ever have before on a plastic mattress.


June 24, 2012 at 1:06 am Leave a comment

Scenic Cardiff

I began my European trip a year ago, and I’m still not quite done blogging through the four weeks that I spent there. I have a few posts left, and I hope I can get them done before I leave on my next summer adventure! This year’s trip is shorter and a little closer to home—I’ll be touring the Gaspé peninsula with Jules and Christina, my two usual travel buddies.

But back to Cardiff.

My second day in Cardiff was a Sunday, and I’d originally planned to spent it seeing the Tintern Abbey ruins. Fortunately, I consulted several brochures when I went to the tourist office to plan the rest of my time in Wales, and I realized that the National Museum was closed on Mondays. So I decided to alter my plans slightly in order to visit the National Museum on Sunday. Tintern was pushed to Monday, with a later return to London than I had originally planned.

Cardiff Castle
Cardiff was quiet on Sunday morning.

The shops were open, though, and I walked through a few of Cardiff’s famous shopping arcades before heading to the museum. I spied a cheese shop and made a mental note to come back for lunch.

The National Museum is housed in a gorgeous building!
National Museum of Cardiff

The first floor is more of a science & natural history museum, and the second floor is an art museum. I was interested in the art (of course), especially since the Cardiff museum has one of the most significant Impressionist art collections in the world.

National Museum of Cardiff

The fantastic Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection was a gift from Gwendoline and Margaret Davies, upon their deaths in 1951 and 1963. They began collecting art when they were in their 20s and, like me, they loved the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings.

National Museum of Cardiff

I really enjoyed my trip around the art galleries, but on Day 24 of my trip, I was starting to be constantly exhausted. I decided to take it easy for the rest of the day, and I went outside and enjoyed the adjacent gardens.

Gorsedd Gardens
Gorsedd Gardens

After catching up with some journaling, I headed back into the main part of town for lunch at the aforementioned cheese shop.


The walk back was nice. Cardiff is a pretty city with great architectural details, but I still couldn’t believe how quiet it was. Of course, much of Chicago is just as quiet on Sundays, but after being among thousands of tourists in London, Paris, and Edinburgh, it felt strange to feel like I had Cardiff all to myself.

They let me try a few local cheeses, and I picked one and went back to my hotel room, since leftover cheese in my bag on a hot day is a recipe for disaster.

I didn’t want to waste the rest of the day, though, so I went back out to walk around the rest of the area. I went in all of the malls, flipped through the sale racks at H&M (same stuff as at home, but for double the price), and went to Starbucks so I could check my email. It was still early after that, so I walked through the malls again, and then I thought about how much my feet hurt, swung by a convenience store for snacks, and went back to my hotel room for one last night with a big comfy bed, my own hot shower, and cable TV. Next up: Tintern Abbey!

June 18, 2012 at 1:21 pm 2 comments

Intro to Cardiff

When I last left you, I’d just had a terribly sleepless night on the Caledonia Sleeper, traveling from Edinburgh back to London. Mom and I arrived at Paddington Station completely exhausted, but we managed to drag ourselves upstairs to Paul for pain au chocolat and café au lait, which helped at least a little bit. Mom’s flight home was that morning, so she boarded the Heathrow Express, and I boarded a train for Cardiff.

I thought it silly to go all the way to the United Kingdom and travel in England and Scotland, but not Wales, so I was determined to visit Cardiff. Aside from a side trip to Tintern Abbey (more about that in a future post), I had no idea what to expect from the Welsh capital when I stepped off the train in Cardiff Central station.

Initially, I was surprised by how basic the station was, and that was my first clue that Cardiff is a much smaller city than I had thought. I had no trouble walking to my hotel, the Barcelo Angel Hotel. I was arriving around noon, so I thought I would have to drop off my bags and come back later to check in, but they had a room ready for me, which turned out to be just what I needed. Although the hotel is no longer the hot spot that it once was (when it hosted members of the Royal Family and The Beatles, for example), it was still the nicest place that I stayed in during my European adventure. I got a last-minute deal on Hotwire, and it was still more expensive than the hostel, but it was so worth it for a long hot shower and an afternoon nap on a huge, comfortable bed with a white duvet.

I woke up at least partially refreshed and headed out to explore. For a Saturday in the summer, the old part of the city seemed awfully quiet.

Cardiff Castle
My hotel was just across the street from Cardiff Castle, so I had a nice walk along the grounds, then turned into the heart of the old city, where the pedestrian-only High Street made wandering extremely pleasant.

St. John the Baptist
The main church in town is St. John the Baptist, which dates back to the 12th century, and is the second-oldest building in Cardiff, after the Castle.

High Street
Like the Scots, the Welsh are quite proud of being Welsh, and their green-and-white flag is on display everywhere. Fun fact: the name of the country in Welsh is Cymru, pronounced “come-ree.”

I quickly discovered that the old city is primarily a shopping hub, and since it was Saturday evening, and I didn’t have any money to spend anyway, I decided to look for something else to do. My guidebook pointed me towards Cardiff Bay, a former industrial site that has been reclaimed into a pretty bayside destination for shopping, dining, and entertainment. There’s a bus route that heads into the area, but it didn’t look too far, so I decided to walk it. It was a nice stroll down Lloyd George Ave (probably about 30 minutes) through a new residential area.

Wales Millenium Centre
The Wales Millenium Centre is the most distinctive structure in this part of town. It is a performing arts centre that opened in 2004 as part of the revitalization of Cardiff Bay. The inscription on the front reads “In These Stones Horizons Sing” in both Welsh and English. I thought that the design was striking, I like the sentiment of the inscription, and I am down with anything that has to do with the flourishing of the performing arts. I was also told by some friends that the building has something to do with Doctor Who and Torchwood.

Of course, my guidebook failed to note that Saturday evenings in Cardiff Bay are beyond nutty during the summer festival. A band was playing and the streets were just packed with people. I needed to get some cash out, and I had to wait in line for 15 minutes at an ATM. I’m not a big fan of crowds, especially when I’m tired, so I pushed through the throngs of people until I reached the waterfront.

Cardiff Bay
Much more peaceful!

Norwegian Church
The Norwegian community in Cardiff dates back to Cardiff’s role as a major port city, and this picturesque building is the Norwegian Church of Cardiff. Author Roald Dahl was baptized here. It does not operate as a church anymore and is now an arts centre with a café.

The part of the festival that I really enjoyed were the food stalls along the path in front of the Norwegian Church. There were a lot of options with a focus on local products, but it shouldn’t shock anyone that I ultimately chose:

a chocolate-orange cupcake from The Little Round Cake Company. Again, the cake was a bit more dry than a typical American-style cupcake, but the flavour was terrific, and this cupcake was one of my favourites that I had in the UK.

After cupcakes and some time for photography and journaling, I decided to start walking back to my hotel before it got too dark. I picked up some snacks on the way and ate European chocolate and fell asleep watching cable TV. Perfect way to recharge for the full day of sightseeing ahead.

May 11, 2012 at 1:28 pm Leave a comment


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