Tuesday, June 17, 2014

On To London

I wake up early and ready to go.  I am feeling much better and glad I did not try and do more yesterday.  Breakfast, shower and soon Pip and Jack (her son) stop to walk with me to the train station.  We have checked the schedule and a quick train ride to Cardiff will get me there with a little time to look around.   Arriving at the station it is the end of the route and no one is on the train.   I say thank you and good bye to my wonderful Merthyr Tydfil hosts and soon I am on my way.   I decide to play some candy crush and don't even notice the short stops along IMG_3782the way and soon we are in Cardiff at the train station.  Somewhere in between Merthyr Tydfil and Cardiff the skies filled with clouds that turn dark gray and rain began falling.  This truly changes my plans to explore the city, although I had realized that I am traveling with my luggage which would have limited my ability to look around. I did take some time while I was resting the day prior to learn a little about this capital of WalesIMG_3790 called Cardiff.  With a population of around 350,o00 people it is the largest city in Wales.  A port city on the Bristol Chanel,  it has played a large part in Welsh exportation of goods for centuries.   It is the location of the Welsh government headquarters and has become the top tourist location in the country. Today the rain is falling hard and so I strategically plan my attach,  crossing the street to get to a covered entrance or dry spot on the opposite side.    I find it ironic that I cross the street to IMG_3800one of these first dry spots and end up in front of a Brazilian restaurant which may have ended my wet journey if it had been open.  It is closed so I continue my dodging from one canopy to the next  with carry on suitcase in tow and backpack attached.     The buildings of Cardiff are definitely old and line the streets with a definite pride.    Those same hanging tree forms filled with blooming flowers line several of the streets and one can find Welsh flags hanging all over the city center.  If only the sun was shining,  I would be able to enjoy this feature at  its fullest instead of in between sprints.    I walk quickly down the sparsely inhabited streets peering down the alley in between in search of sights to see.  In the distance I can see a castle like structure and itIMG_3797 becomes my destination.  Cardiff Castle,  is located near the city center and is simply spectacular even on this less then perfect touring day.  When I finally get to the castle the rain has let up a bit and I am able to take a quick look around.  Once again I have regrets that I did not get on the bus the day prior but I guess I will just have to put Cardiff on my list of must sees for my next visit.  I find my way in through the large front entrance and in the middle of a green grassy areas stands a small castle like structure on top of a mound.  Obviously a place I would love to explore more,  but my time in Cardiff is running short so I am able to just view it from a distance.  I leave the interior of the great walls and walk down the street to the corner where a large tower which once helped protect the interior buildings IMG_3814is located.  I observe the great details of the tower and can see by the clock on it that I need to head back to the bus station.  At this point I have traveled a little ways and am not sure how far away I am.  On my way I come to a covered street which is a nice alternative to dodging from one dry spot to the next and  the wet dreary weather outside.   Lots of quick window shopping to be done as I meander towards the station.  When I arrive,  my bus is just pulling up and I realize that I am like a wet dog.  Time to get on board and enjoy the ride into London.

IMG_3821The ride through the countryside to London is nice and soon we are traveling down many different streets of the city.  Stop lights,  people strolling along the streets, and lots of traffic bring me back to life in the city after my short stay in Wales.    I am meeting my travel companions at the place we are staying - a youth hostel.  Luiz's brother has made all the travel plans and there are 11 of us for this first stop London.  I arrive at the bus station and step into a large patriotic lobby filled with shops and people hustling around.  I attempt to get my bearings and soon find my way to the street and look around.  It does not take me long to find  the street that will take me in the direction of the hostel and after looking around a bit I am off in the direction I need to go.  Somewhere along the way I miss a turn or maybe I am just confused by the street signs which way to go.  After a short detour and unfortunately a long walk up hill,  I realize I am walking in the IMG_3822wrong direction and ask a couple of people for help.  I find my way  and arrive at the hostel safe and sound.  Since there are a lot of us in our group we are taking a full room at the hostel which house 12 people so we don't have to have anyone else in the room with us. When I arrive I am greeted by the group who have just finished settling in.  They have all flown from Brazil together to meet me here.  I join them and settle into our room and since it is evening at this point and we are hungry we set out to find a IMG_3849place for dinner.  On my short detour I saw some places to eat so the group decides to heads up the hill  in that direction I was lost in and decide on Jamies Italian restaurant for our evening meal.  We plan to start touring pretty early the next morning so after dinner we head back and crawl into our bunk beds and call it a night.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Merthyr Tydfil - The Final Day...

Ok - not much to write about today.. I woke up with the sun shining through the bedroom window and plans to take the IMG_3540short bus ride and explore Cardiff.   Upon waking up I am feeling quite under the weather and not sure if the jet lag has done me in or if it is the go go go I have been doing since arriving.  I head downstairs,  eat a little breakfast and take a shower but I still feel tired and all I want to do is go back to bed.  With plans to meet up with my other European travelers for the next leg our our trip tomorrow,  I decide that it is best I take a day and rest and relax.  Do a little bit of internet exploring and since Cardiff is a bus layover on the way,  maybe I can leave earlier then planned and still see a part of the city.   So by mid morning my day has been planned as I will stay at the house and get some well needed rest.  By IMG_3781Mid afternoon I wish I had boarded the bus and headed to Cardiff but maybe I can catch up on some blogging.  ( Since the trip was last year I want to share that this day actually allowed me to write all my experiences in Wales.  I did not spend time editing and proofing them until now but at least had a rough draft.)  So that is all for this post. Hot tea, television, and an early bed is planned for today.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Off to Brecon for the Day!

Well,   the sun is up and another day has set in.  I cannot believe this leg of the trip where I am on my own is almost over.  OnlyIMG_3735 two more days in Merthyr Tydfil and I will be heading to London to meet up with the rest of my Europe travel group.  Since time is running short I have decided to hop on a bus and explore the neighboring town of  Brecon on my own.  In making plans,  Pip's oldest son Nials volunteers to accompany me and so mid morning he swings by Bernard's dads house where I join him on the journey to the downtown bus station.
IMG_3729Ok... Let's learn a little about my destination - Brecon - This modern day market town was first established as a military base in the early 1100.  A castle was constructed on the top of the hill which was strategically positioned near the intersection of the River Handdu  and River Usk.  Not far away was the only location on the River Usk where one could cross prior to the building of any bridges for a long ways.  Soon a fortified community sprung up near by and the town has always had strong military ties.  A wall was built surrounding it to protect it from invaders.  Those walls were virtually destroyed in the English civil war and the small parts that still exist today are monuments to the towns history.  Present day Brecon boasts a population just over 8,000 inhabitants and is an ideal destination for holiday as it sits just on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park.  Thanks wikipedia for the information but it is time to move on and enjoy the ride to Brecon and explore.
The sky is blue and filled with sunshine as the bus travels through the Welsh countryside IMG_3736towards Brecon.  On the edge of town we cross over a bridge spanning the Usk River and immediately I spot a must see destination standing tall on the top of a hill.  Yes the castle with all its glory is overlooking the town from above.  From this distance it is hard to tell what it exactly is,  but I know we will end up there at some point today.  A short distance later we exit  the bus stepping  into the business district and begin our exploration.  The narrow streets are filled with flowers from hanging baskets along the store fronts to what seems to be mounds of flowers strategically placed on the sidewalks.  It is quite nice and I can tell this is a town ready for tourists.   Our first stop is a local pastry shop where we enjoy IMG_3726some local fare. After my mouth waters for a bit,  I decide to try several of the treats since I am on vacation: a  cream filled doughnut, a custard slice, a mini cream Victorian sponge,  and a coffee choux all washed down with a cup of coffee.  Good thing Nials is along so I don't have to eat it all myself.  After our little breakfast we wandering around the streets and squares of Brecon.  Step after step I am impressed with how clean everything is with it brick and mortar facades.  I can easily tell this town is old and has a rich history to tell if one listens closely.  We use the church steeples which protrude high above the town's rooftops and can easily be see as a guide to explore.   They make good landmarks to walk towards and we visit several  of them on our journey.   St. Mary's church in the heart of the city with its beautiful stain glass windows we can only admire from the exterior as the doors are locked this day.  It is easy to see how its bell tower dominated the IMG_3727town skyline for centuries with its castle like top and gold plated clock.    Just outside the back of the church is a small concrete square with some of those flowering mounds and benches in front of a large statue of the Duke of Wellington. Across the street is the historic Wellington Hotel.  We take a peak inside and are transformed back many decades.  A simply elegant travel back in time if one is interested in staying in a setting like that I would suggest checking in.  We head back outside and down the narrow streets in the direction of the next church steeple.  Exploring the churches as we go,  some of them only from the outside and some of them we get to take a peak inside.   In between the churches are many little discoveries, like the town market with home made crafts, fresh meats,  and many more items The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh which looks to be a military museum of ome sort.   In front of the museum is a small yard with some military artifacts we can enjoy, but we decide not to go in the actual museum as we are enjoying being outside and the price to enter is a little more then we want to spend.
IMG_3760At this point we have been walking a lot and the morning has disappeared quickly.  We are now in need of some lunch and I am hungry for traditional fish and chips Welsh style.  We begin our search for a nice local restaurant as we cross over a nondescript rock bridge into another part of town.   When we get to the opposite side of the river,  I notice a plaque on a house wall stating that the bridge was constructed in 1563.  It was one of the first bridges constructed over the river and with some structural assistance over the years it still stands today.  We continue our walk down the busy street lined with row buildings showcasing  shops to explore just beyond the sidewalks along the right had side.  On the other side, beyond the sidewalk, is a large open grassy knoll behind a decorative fence.  We  pass by several little eateries on our IMG_3756way but they all seem to be closed or don't have fish and chips.   On the opposite side of the street we come to a gate with a driveway that leads through the open grass area to  several lovely building nestled not far down the driveway.  One of them has a tall steeple which is why we decided to head this way.   It is the campus of Christ College, a boarding school for kids.  A gorgeous campus just at the edge of town.  We decide not to check into the possibility of exploring the campus as we are in search of lunch and now we find ourselves on the edge of town and the only way back is the direction we just came.
IMG_3763The little detour sure has pushed back our lunchtime and when we are finished revisiting our steps,  we come to a small restaurant in a part of town obviously frequented by tourists.  Not exactly what we were looking for but by this time we are hungry and fish and chips are on the menu.  We devour lunch which is delightful and ask for directions to the fort returning to our quest.  At the top of a hill in the directionIMG_3740 we are traveling we see steeple which we decide to use  as a guide.   We wander towards the steeple situated on top of a hill, our hope is that we will be able to find our bearings  by looking out from there and that we can see the castle and know which direction to go.  Brecon Cathedral, a massive structure looming on top of a steep hill surrounded by well manicured gardens.  The views are wonderful and we are encouraged  to explore by one of the nuns as we wander through the gardens.  At least we think she was a nun. This time we are fortunate as the building is unlocked and we are able to take a look around.   Into the sanctuary we step quietly with it empty pews and acoustical chamber.   At the front of the church are five spectacular stain glass IMG_3739windows rising above the elaborate alter.   When writing this post,  I searched for information regarding the amazing alter but was not able to find any story.
After spending some time enjoying the building and gardens of Brecon Cathedral,  we look out over the city and are disappointed as we are unable to see the castle anywhere.  We were sure we would be able to see it from up there but no luck.  Like before, the only way down the hill was the way we came so we trace our steps back down the steep hillside.  At this point I am determined to find the castle although I am starting to feel a little under the weather.  We ask for some assistance from some of the locals traveling with us through the streets and after a little over an hour we finally arrive at the entrance of the Castle Hotel.   A three star hotel built next to the remains of the original Brecon Castle,  we look around for access to the castle but it IMG_3759
looks like just the outside walls remain.   We head through the lobby and dining area into the lavish gardens on the other side.  Walking around the side of the hotel we can get close but do not find anyplace to gain entrance.  I have seen my first bits of a true castle and look forward to more on this European adventure.  By this time it is mid afternoon and I am beginning to drag a little.  I think with the jet lag and all the miles of walking,  I have wore myself out and may have even caught a bug of some sort.  We decide to head back towards the bus stop only stopping for a quick look around the Brecon Canal.  I wish we would have found the canal earlier as it offers a cruise which would have been fun to take.   But as the evening is approaching we start our  journey back to Merythr Tydfil.   As I step onto the bus,  I am exhausted and cannot help but hope that I am not coming down with anything..  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Europe – Exploring Merthyr Tydfil, Wales

OH... wait.. our local meal at Bessemer's Carvery and Grill is delightful, but not quite the exclamation point to this day as we are not done yet.. Since everyone is already in the car and Pip's husband is done working for the day, he decides to take me on a driving tour of some areas around town.  Always ready for an adventure let's get this tour started.
We drive  through some of the neighborhoods of the town passing by churches, stores and the usual town buildings.  We soon decided to stop at a beIMG_3652autiful area with walking paths for miles.  Although our journey today has included hours and miles of walking we did finish our meal with ice cream so  a little more walking seems appropriate.  We stroll along the path where steam locomotives once passed which have now been transformed into wonderful recreational paths.  Through the beautiful countryside of Wales.    About thirty minutes later we come to an old viaduct which used to take trains overhead.  I cannot help but think back to the time when this was built.  Today it is not as much of a wonder with the machines and advanced technologies,  but these structures were put here in a time when moving Earth was definitely a more difficult task.  We admire the structure and the vegetation which surround it for a bit.   Pip's IMG_3657oldest son Nial  finds a dirt path which traverses the hill leading to the top of the ravine.  We decided to leave the asphalt and make the hike up the dirt path and partake in the amazing views on top of the viaduct.    Rolling hills as far a the eye can see.  We cross the viaduct and continue looking around.  It is a wonderful evening and we don't want to waste any daylight so we head back towards the car and jump in.  Down and up through the winding hills just outside Merthyr Tydfil we travel.  Stopping to take a closer looks at an beautiful Spanish influenced home built on the side of the hill.   The home was started and has never quite gotten finished but it is truly spectacular and we leave wishing we knew more of the structures story and later I am disappointed I did not take a photo of the home.   The hills are filled with old run down Inns, pubs, and homes like this,  each with their own story and history.
IMG_3700When were walking around Merthyr Tydfil earlier in the day, I had spoken of my desire to visit a real castle while in Europe and so it is decided we will try and find our way to the remains of Morlais Castle.  Built in 1288 A.D. the once prominent castle sits in ruins not far away so we begin our quest to see it never making it there before getting distracted and the sun setting.   Yes distracted by a little plot of land where the congregation at St Gwynno's Church and the haunted Inn sits deserted next to it.  The small country church with its rock bell tower  is surrounded by overgrown vegetation half covering ancient graves.   Stories of rich and poor people being buried here alike, one of them being the great iron master Robert Thompson Crawshay.  Manager of the mines and iron works for years and in 1879 he passed away leaving his company and fortune to his son.  His tomb is said to weigh over 10 tons and has  "God Forgive Me" inscribed on it. IMG_3684 2 Some say he had these words inscribed on his grave because he was asking repentance for closing  Cyfarthfa Works and leaving so many families destitute and others say it is because of the way he behaved towards his own family.  I guess no one will ever know.
IMG_3682 2We explore some more and soon come across a plaque on the wall of the church building.  Although the congregation is called St Gwynno's the actual church is Vaynor Church.  Funded by Robert Crawshay after the original church here came close to collapse.  The congregation has called this building home for many years.  It is said that the bell tower was used as a prison and local legends say a thief once took refuge in the tower and found one hundred plus skulls scattered inside.   Today the doors are locked so we will not be looking around inside for any proof of this tale.  Speaking of folklore,  across the graveyard lies the old vacant Vaynor Pub.  Believed to be haunted,  this well known structure has a long history in local folklore as many a Welsh man and women have wandered the halls and rooms of the old structure.IMG_3662 2
As we head back to the car, we give up on our quest to visit the castle remains and decide to head back toward Potsarn viaduct.  Another of the area's great train bridges where we plan to watch the sun hide behind the horizon.  As we drive along we have time for a quick stop at Potsheticill reservoir to enjoy the sound of water and the orange and yellow reflections of the evening sun off the glistening water.  But it is a quick stop and soon we arrive at the viaduct, park the car and walk the 1/4 mile to the middle.  You can see Cyfarthfa castle from earlier today and other parts of the city.  We watch as the sun begins its journey towards the horizon.Enjoying the cool evening breeze and reminiscing about all the walking we have done as we wait for the last light of the evening to approach.  The views from atop are simply spectacular and it has been a wonderful journey,  but tomorrow will be another day and soon the sun has set behind the horizon.  Nothing more to see tonight except the lightning bugs and stars above as we walk back to the car and head back into town.

I feel like I am getting caught up on my writing as we are almost a year away from this journey.  I hope to catch some more writing time to continue this exploration of Europe with you.