Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Exploring Wales, Cardiff and the Valleys!

It is a little known secret that whilst I am a self proclaimed city girl through and through, I actually do love a good dose of the old country air from time to time. I also love the Welsh accent, though until now, I'd never been there. That's why when my good friend Andy said he was heading to Wales for a few days, I gratefully accepted the invitation to run around some castles, breathe in the valley air and check out the famous capital city and what it all had to offer.


Apparently, Cardiff was voted by Europeans last year as the best city to live in, and after spending just three days there, I can see why. Cardiff reminds me of a mixture of some of my favourite cities in the world. For me, a great capital city is not necessarily the biggest or most cosmopolitan, like London, Paris or New York. I'm comfortable being just a tourist in those places. I get the buzz out of being in a fast paced space and then at the end of it, retiring in a smaller pond, comfortable that I can walk outside and see people that I know. I'm happy in the medium of having the amenities of a city, yet still have that sense of familiarity and community.

That's the main reason I liked Cardiff. It's not often that you find a capital city where you can walk from one end to the other in a few hours, yet find so much going on in between. Exploring the city kind of made me feel like I was being hugged by an old friend. The beautiful architecture is reminiscent to me of Prague or Cambridge and it's archaic buildings, mixed up alongside new and innovative spaces. You get a balance of green spaces and nature, so you can run away to the hills, or be an urbanite in the centre, whatever takes your fancy. It's also really cheap living for a capital city. The shopping there seemed on a par to any other large cities, and the bars and restaurants were frequent and plentiful. Basically, Cardiff seems to have struck a perfect balance.

You can also tell a lot about a city by it's people. The friendly and warming nature of the people I met there reminded me quite a lot of the warm welcome I received in Dublin, where people will open their doors to you, buy you a drink, and take a real interest in who you are.

Despite my comparisons, Cardiff doesn't appear to be emulating anyone else's game, or following the lead of other places in order to generate a tourist trade. She seems confident in herself, with plenty of secrets and hidden spaces, and lots of imaginative and unique elements in the city design and the way she interacts with her people. By far my favourite space was Cardiff Bay, which transported me into a peaceful mood, where I could quite easily imagine myself sitting and contemplating life for hours.

View at night time of Cardiff Bay, the home of Dr Who 
We visited Andy's favourite bar there, Porters, twice in three days and I could sense why it felt like home to him. We saw a jazz band, I met some great new people, and explored the city centre in the rain. Not that the weather mattered, I was enamoured enough that I wouldn't have traded it for a day in the sun in a heartbeat.

We left on a big match day where everyone had come out to celebrate Wales vs Ireland in the Rugby. Everyone was in such high spirits!

The Valleys & Caerphilly 

We explored a few different areas in the valleys, which I found fascinating. Each one was a different size, and had a different personality. The view was also breath taking. I loved the thatched roof pubs with roaring fireplaces, the small village shops with quirky names (we found one called 'the nicest shop in the world' - i'm not making that up). We also witnessed a Welsh pub brawl between a landlady and her cook!

Lots of the villages have an interesting historic background, if you dig deep enough. Llangynwyd is known for the legend of Anne Maddocks, a young maid who fell in love with a man called Will Hopkin, but was forced to marry someone else. Her true love was sent away, and she died pining for him. Legend has it she requested to see him on her death bed, and when he arrived she died promptly in his arms. She was buried here, so we went on an adventure looking for her.

Caerphilly was probably one of my favourite highlights. It's stunningly beautiful and the town itself is wrapped around it's historic castle, which sits proudly as a centrepiece. I'm quite outdoorsy at heart, I used to love climbing on rocks and running around outside as a little girl, so exploring the castle was great fun. We learnt a bit about the history - of which spans hundreds of years, and many occupants. I found a spot overlooking the lake and just breathed in the valley air. It was one of those moments where everything just felt serene and beautiful, and nothing else really mattered too much. Taking the time to stop sometimes is really the best thing you can do.

Overall, Wales completely won my heart!

Alice x

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