Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cardiff, Wales

Raquelle-------The next day we decided to descend on Wales en masse and see if they noticed.

Of course, we had to start by eating the hearty breakfast at the Malt House. You know, I really LIKE hot tea for breakfast. I never knew that before!!!

Out we trudged to the car, revelling in being able to bring as much STUFF as we wanted and not have to worry about carting it about on our shoulders all day and NOT having to keep our LIQUIDS in an infinitesimally small ZIPLOCK BAG!!!! (When a terrorist tries to bomb a plane using a ziplock bag, I don't know what we'll do after that. And let's hope they don't try to do it with a bag of M&Ms, or I'll be furious. Nobody stops me from taking my M&Ms, see?)

The drive to Cardiff, Wales took about an hour. We stopped partway through at a rest stop and fortified ourselves with a large bag of--you guessed it!--M&Ms, which Mom and I strategically placed in OUR car. :D The set-up was the same as before--Dad and Heather in the lead car with the GPS and the rest of us hanging on by the skin of our teeth in the back car, trying to keep up with the instructions (or lack thereof, snert snert) from the flagship. :D

We did all right until we got into Cardiff. Then we got turned around a few times. We ended up on a college campus somehow or other and scrunched down a cute little (NARROW) scenic lane. Then we had to turn around. Carefully. Yikes.

Finally we made our way to a car park. Come to find out that nope, there was some Important City Function happening, and we couldn't park there after all. Instead we were helpfully directed to another small car park that was fairly close to the castle.

This car park was fairly small, but the parking spaces were even smaller and the narrow aisle between the sets of parking spaces was about as wide as, maybe, a box of tinfoil. Mom had to wiggle and ooch and wiggle and ooch the car for a LONG time until we managed to squeeeeeeeeeeze into one of the few remaining spaces. It was so narrow that we could only get out of the car on one side.

After filling the parking meters, we hoofed it for Cardiff castle. Cardiff castle was built in, um, the 1300s if I remember right. The original keep is still there, albeit in crumbling ruins. (The keep, if you don't know, was the last defense inside the castle--a well-fortified, stand-alone structure.) The rest of the castle surrounding the keep was built up over the centuries.

Detail from Heather: There are Roman ruins under the castle, showing settlements dating back to around the first century AD. Parts of the castle walls are of Norman build, dating to the 1100's.

Back to Raquelle: The last person who owned the castle was a Grand Mucky-Muck, whose name has escaped me. He was extraordinarily wealthy. He made his money from coal in the 1800s and incidentally owned most of the railroads and canals used to transport the coal. I think they said he was a multi-billionaire. He lived in a part of the castle and decorated it with extreme grandeur.

Details supplied by Heather: He was 3rd Marquess of Bute, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart. He was considered in his time to be one of the richest men in the world.

Back to Raquelle: We lined up for a tour. Our guide was a short older man, with fine brownish-gray hair and an infectious smile. I wish I could remember all the things he said....he had quite a sense of humor.

He led us through the various rooms. The Grand Mucky-Muck who owned the castle really liked extreme intricacy, dark, heavy bejeweled decorations, and lots of wood carvings. All but one of the rooms--a spacious, yellow, Georgian room that was his wife's retreat from his style of decorating, which she didn't like--were amazingly crammed with colors, woods, marble, gold, you name it.

Heather: The men's smoking room had a silly carving over the door to supposedly "frighten" the ladies off - an ugly, grinning, green face. I doubt if it would have frightened me, although I would have been tempted to throw tomatoes at it.

Raquelle: Oh, like Mom did to that lady on the train? :D :D :D

Heather: The "little" private dining room, for use ONLY by the family (because it wasn't grand enough for anyone else), had such luxeries as a table with a hole in the middle so the servants could twine grapevines through it and up to the chandelier... so the family could pick fresh grapes for dessert. I'm not making this up; they had photos of the whole thing from the 1800s!

The formal dining room was being refurbished, but the part we could see was quite huge and impressive. The most fun room was the library. Ohhhh, to have a private library like that! Humongous room, full of bookshelves galore. On the walls were the usual carvings and paintings, along with the names of the world's great authors. It was fun to walk around the room and see which authors the Marquess of Bute thought were great. :D The family had given the castle to the state a generation or two before, so the actualy books weren't there any more. But I could just imagine all the cool volumes that might have lined his shelves.

Raquelle: I don't remember which room it was in--it may have been the library--but there were some funny monkey carvings around the door, slighting Darwin. Darwinism and evolution were coming into vogue just then and the Grand Mucky-Muck had no use for it (smart man!). The carvings were of monkeys fooling around like idiots with some books, totally clueless and obviously not as smart as a man. We found this entertaining.

In another room there was another monkey with a nut in his mouth. The nut was actually the button used to call the maid. :D

The children's nursery/play area was decorated with fairy tale themes. Paintings all around the wall showed Robin Hood and Sleeping Beauty and Ali Baba, etc. On one wall was "The Invisible Prince." At first glance, it's simply a painting of a rather sparse little leafy tree. But if you look closer, you can see the outline of a man's figure in the tree. Cool.

Another room had bejewelled walls--not real jewels (although one of the rooms was decorated in fabulous gold leaf), but little sparkly things set in beautiful mountings in a row all around the room. Yowee! I felt so....plain in my black slacks and gray blouse. Sigh. I think I missed my calling. I should have been a billionaire. Send me donations, 'kay? ":D

Heather: At last the tour was over and we headed down to the bowels of the castle for lunch. The cafe was in a former storage room. Although quite lofty and large, it was very dark and stone and castle-ish, meaning it smelled dank. I'm not sure if the others appreciated the ambience, but Raquelle and I got a huge kick out of eating bacon cheese "jacket potatoes" (and hot chocolate) in a dark, musty castle. If we couldn't imagine how the Marquess of Bute felt with his fresh grapevines, at least we could imagine how the servants felt!

After the tour, we left the updated part of the castle and went to explore the keep itself. Grandma stayed on the ground and enjoyed the scenery, which included a moat full of lillypads and peacocks strutting around on the castle green. (One peackock snuck up on her, climbed the masonry beside her and gave her eyeball-to-eyeball going over. Presumably she returned the favor.) The rest of us climbed all forty-leven narrow, dark, winding flights of stairs to get to the top. Of course, the view was great up there so we took lots of pictures. (Pictures which, by the way, are newly uploaded today.)

Raquelle: At the top level, we met an older gentleman was was a Welsh native and quite chatty. Gramps told him we are part Welsh, which is the oral tradition handed down. "Ah, I knew you were a good fellow!" the gent said congenially. He told us that he had been to the U.S. before, to San Francisco, among other places. "I've never seen anything like it!" he said. That's probably true. Thank goodness (shudder!). :D

After descended the tortuous stairs and exiting the keep, we decided it would be fun to walk along the battlements. Trouble was, we couldn't figure out how you got up there. Dad asked one of the castle folks how to get up there. They explained that the area where the stairs were was under construction and inaccessible. He also said that he, y'know, wasn't allowed to tell us we could simply climb the slope.....

So we climbed the slope. :D It was a steep slope but there were no mishaps, save for Mom's woolly cardigan and my black sweater, which magically attracted a bunch of stickers from sticker bushes. BIG stickers!

We walked along the walls for a short way, enjoying the view. Alas, however, time on the parking meter was running out--and yes, there was an attendant for the little bitty lot, walking to and fro and checking everyone's ticket read-outs, just hoping to catch someone a few minutes late and whop 'em with a big fine. (Don't those people have anything better to do? :D)

So we began the descent down the slope, which was rather perilous, but again uneventful--except for more stickers. Dadgum, how DO those things come out of nowhere like that!!!

Heather: Then we headed back down and went across the street to the gift shop. Everyone wanted a souveneir from Wales. I already had a souvenier from Wales from our last trip (some earrings) so I refrained. I had determined not to spend tons of money on this trip, and I'd shot my wad on the plaid skirts in Scotland.

Raquelle: Oh, such a killjoy. :D I spent mine rather frivolously and bought a little cat figurine made from Wales coal and a little bitty harp in its own case. The clerk wanted to know if I could play it? "Yes, I play the harp," I said. "No, no, ye have to play THAT one!" he chortled. Uh, sure...with a toothpick maybe? :D

Heather: Then we had a brisk afternoon walk back to the cars and a nice, quiet trip home. Oh... except, the GPS tried to route us around the Old Malt House instead of toward it. I pointed this out to Dad and told him where I thought we should go. This is one of the rare times in my life that I have disagreed with Dad AND the GPS - and been RIGHT!!! Ha! We followed my directions and got home just fine. Crow! (Sorry, I just had to do that, it happens so rarely!)

Raquelle: Everyone was sort of tired, so they all retired to rest. I opted to get my book and read in the little sitting room. I propped myself up amongst the many and varied pillows on the old, comfortable sofa and read a Most Thrilling adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Lord Tony's Wife, to be exact. It wasn't too bad, except that the heroine was kind of---but wait, this is a blog about our trip, not my book.....

Supper that night was equally delicious as the previous nights. I ordered "Steak and Ale Pie." Non-alcoholic, of course--the alcohol cooks off. It wasn't bad...big juicy chunks of beef in gravy, with a large pastry on top. A sort of silly-looking pastry, it must be admitted. Looked like a pastry that had aspired to being a football and failed. :D

For dessert, almost all of us ordered something Dad had tried the night before. It was a small crispy shell (it looked a lot like a miniature taco shell), made out of something chewy and caramelized that tasted like ginger snaps. Inside was vanilla ice cream, topped with caramel, and there were large chunks of caramel-drizzled bananas all around it. It was very unusual and FABULOUSLY good.

After supper we waddled into the sitting room for a little while. The night before we had all sat in there for a little while after dinner, finishing some postcards, journaling, and downloading our cameras to the laptop. In fact, Mom and Dad even got inspired and tried a little swing-dancing to a catchy song that was quietly playing (the proprietor and his wife clapped for the performance when it was done). It was so fun and so cozy! Unfortunately, we couldn't spend as long in the sitting room tonight, as we had to leave the next day and had to pack up a little.

And that is the true and faithful account of our trip to Wales!

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