Walking Wales

Online editor Monica Poling blogs from her first trip to Wales

By: By Monica Poling

Admiral Cardiff Big Weekend Festivities // (c) Monica Poling 2009
The Admiral Cardiff Big Weekend takes place on the grounds of the National Museum Wales
When traveling through Wales, I found myself becoming an expert on my many things – President Obama, Beverly Hills, even Posh Spice and David Beckham.

A related tangent is although traveling by myself, while in Wales I never actually ate a single meal alone. As soon as people realized I was from the United States, they immediately started chatting with me on a variety of global subjects—hence my instant expertise in many areas—and soon I was invited to join in the meal of my new friends.

Most of my trip was based out of Cardiff, at the fabulous Hilton Cardiff, which had a central location across the street from the Cardiff Castle, adjacent to the National Museum Cardiff, and just a five minute taxi ride from the train station.

The central location meant that much of my trip to Wales' capital could be enjoyed on foot as I was steps away from both the museum and the castle.

Coincidentally, I happened to be staying in Cardiff during the Admiral Cardiff Big Weekend, a hopping local festival with rides, bands and lots and lots of drinking. The festival, held outside the museum, attracted merrymakers from around the country. As a first-time visitor to Wales, it was hard to tell if all the jollity was due to the festival or just part of the general Welsh disposition, but I suspect it was a little bit of both.

Although I’d allotted just two days for my trip to Wales, I was foolishly worried that there might not be enough for me to do. In retrospect, though, I regret not having had at least one more day. My first day was dedicated to the reconnaissance of Cardiff. With the help of my guide, the fabulous, but strict Stella Thomas, I managed to see far more than I would have on my own, while learning plenty about the area and its residents.

With brief stops at the National Museum Wales, the city center area, the Cardiff Bay and the Cardiff Castle, I learned just enough about Welsh history to realize how much I don’t know.

Dylan Thomas Museum // (c) Monica Poling 2009
This red dragon, the symbol of Wales, is
found at the Swansea Museum
along the Gower Peninsula
My second day was the proverbial “day at the shore” with a tour of the Gower Peninsula. The area was designated an “Area of Outstanding National Beauty” in 1956 by the United Kingdom, and was well worth the trip. In addition to a short stop at Swansea to visit the Dylan Thomas Museum, we took much of the day wandering over trails along the scenic coastline.

By night, with my tourist hat firmly tucked into my suitcase, however, I turned into a near-local, taking in the music and general revelry at the Admiral Cardiff Big Weekend.

Because heavy rains had doused the area earlier in the day, rubber mats were laid out over parts of the soggy grass, so festival goers could continue to enjoy the music without worrying about sinking their feet into the grassy mud. Despite the soggy weather, spirits were high, and festival goers huddled together in the dryer areas.

A fantastic fireworks display closed the festival, and still visitors lingered, not yet ready to call a halt to the day. Knowing just how they felt, I too wished it could go on a little longer.