Lora and I have now completed one leg of our journey! We moved from England to Wales! Our first stop? Cardiff.

Cardiff is the capital of Wales and is located in southern part of the region. It’s a reasonably sized city that feels small. Tourist hoards haven’t seemed to have found and transformed it yet, which gives Cardiff a chance to display its own virtues. During my time in the city, we visited Cardiff Market, and which had local shops, cafes and restaurants a, local produce, and butcher shops. It was super cute to explore and quiet relaxing.

Right across from the Market and one of the biggest tourist sites in Cardiff was the Castle. Cardiff Castle is beautiful. It consists of the old moat and castle wall surrounding the original tower in the middle. To one side of the grounds inside the wall is a great house built by the third Marquess of Bute, John Crichton-Stuart.

The castle was originally a Roman Fort built between 50-400 AD. The foundations of the tower and walls are leftover from this Fort. Later, the Normans built the tower and walls we see today on top of the Roman foundations during the tenth through twelfth centuries. This castle is really odd because in the middle of the 18th century, the castle fell into the hands of the first Marquess and the Marquesses family. When John Crichton-Stuart (the third Marquess) inherited the castle, he hired William Burges, an architect, to design and renovate the castle house.

The house that Burges designed is the epitome of luxury, containing everything from a clock tower to a rooftop garden (right). Gold leaf was included in each room along with various forms of marble, granite, and other expensive stones. The tile work in the rooftop garden created scenes of beauty along the walls and floors. Each room contained words in a different language, one of the 21 John Crichton-Stuart spoke fluently. The rooftop garden used Hebrew, while his bedroom used Greek. Even the bathroom was updated, possessing a flushing toilet.

The house tour alone made the entire trip to Cardiff worthwhile (and it was already pretty great). To explore Cardiff Castle cost £13 ($18.23). They have two tours for an extra £4 ($5.61) each for the house tour (one Lora and I went on) and for the clock tower tour. I highly recommend the tours because the inside of the house is magnificent! The tower tour is most likely just as rewarding. For more information, visit the Cardiff Castle website.

Overall, Cardiff was a wonderful and relaxing adventure. It was nice to have a break from popular tourist destinations, and this is the perfect place to do that. If you have time on your trip to the United Kingdom, please visit Cardiff.

(I take all my own pictures)

Up the road from the wonderful Oxford, Lora and I came upon Stratford-Upon-Avon, so named for the Avon river which the Stratford village sits beside. Stratford, of course, is the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare was born around 1564 and died in 1616. He lived during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the first. He wrote about 39 plays and 154 sonnets along with a few other pieces of work. He was an actor in addition to being a poet and a play writer. He has long been thought of as one of the greatest authors and contributors to the English language of all time.

Here in Stratford, the house he was born and raised in is available for visiting (shown to the right) along with his grave and Anne Hathaway’s (Shakespeare’s wife) Cottage from when she was a child growing up. During my visit here, I only visited his birthplace.

The house was the original house; some parts even had their original flooring. The inside used furniture modeled after that of the time period. People dressed in traditional costumes are scattered about the place to give information about the various rooms and of Shakespeare’s upbringing. I found the experience to be really interesting overall but not especially time consuming.

Outside the house is more on Shakespeare’s parents, siblings, and children. A beautiful garden wraps around the house. My favorite part was the giant wall giving summaries along with cartoon scenes from each of Shakespeare’s plays.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace cost about £17 ($23.78) on its own. There is a discount ticket for the Birthplace, Hathaway’s Cottage, and his grave for £25 ($34.97), which is a much better deal. If I had more time, I would have chosen this deal over paying £17 for just one of the locations. The cost is rather high for what you get, and the whole town feels especially touristy.

My absolute favorite part about Stratford had nothing to do with Shakespeare, but rather a Greek food restaurant that Lora and I happened upon called El Greco.

The day Lora and I visited Stratford, it was Mother’s Day in England, and we did not have reservations. This cute place managed to squeeze us in no problem. The fancy restaurant had great service, and soon we were eating the best food I have had his entire trip! We gorged on tzatiziki sauce, spanacopita (spinach and cheese fried parcels), pita bread, and moussaka (similar to lasagna). I thought I might have died and entered paradise the food was so delicious!

So for everyone thinking to travel to Stratford-Upon-Avon:

  1. Buy the bundle for Shakespeare related activities to get your money’s worth,
  2. And go to El Greco; it is an absolute must.

To find out more about El Greco, here is a link to their website. To discover more about Shakespeare in Stratford, here is the website for that.

(I take all of my own pictures. I eat all of the food I order)

I love FREE! Who doesn’t love FREE! I love FREE so much that when something says FREE, and it’s not FREE, I get a little upset.

Such is the case when I attempted to tour certain colleges at Oxford University. Online some buildings like All Souls College and Corpus Christi College were listed as being free of charge for visitors to tour. So on my first day in Oxford, I go to All Souls College to take a tour of the campus, only to find that FREE means I don’t even get to enter the school building. I get access to two courtyards and a chapel (shown above). Granted, the chapel was beautiful, but it wasn’t the college. Each college I wandered up to had a cover charge to explore. The Bodleian Library required that you use a self-guide audio tour, and they charged for £2.50 for that. I was upset that the most I could get was courtyards and the outsides of buildings.

The longer I looked to find somewhere to explore, the more it felt like a money-making tourist machine. Even Christ Church cost £10 to get in if I wasn’t worshipping. Over all, the frustration from trying to be satisfied with “free” Oxford encouraged me to think that while beautiful, the university isn’t worth exploring unless you are willing to pay at least £15 to see it.

I ended up wandering through Christ Church Meadow and Botanical Gardens, which was much more satisfying. The grounds were extremely beautiful and calm, instead of the hustle and bustle of Oxford University.

If you wanted to explore Oxford University, you might be much happier than I was. The building are gorgeous, and I’m sure the insides are too. From what I observed, most buildings are only a few pounds each to enter. Here is a link to their website to check out more.

Interestingly enough, my favorite part about Oxford was the tower tour at the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin right in the middle of campus. It was a self-guided tour that cost £4 ($). The tour is first come, first serve, as only so many people can be at the top at once. I didn’t really think much of it until I climbed to the top and found a very narrow walkway around the outside of the tower.

The walkway has high stone railing for anyone afraid of heights (not that this assured a few people I observed). The path gave a fantastic view of the entire surrounding city. Unlike at the Oxford Castle, which I wrote previously about, the view of the city was mostly focused on the college buildings. The Radcliffe Camera and All Souls College offered picturesque scenery for photos.

The architecture of the tower itself is also wonderful. Classically gothic, the tower, as with the church itself, blends with the similar gothic architecture of most of the Oxford campus.

St. Mary’s Church and Tower should definitely be visited by all those who enjoy photography, scenic views, and great architecture. Be warned if you are afraid of heights, that this is entirely open to the elements and quite high up. To visit the church, click here to visit their website and check their hours.

(I take all my own pictures. I do not earn money for advertising)

Oxford Castle

My very first ever castle in my life was this odd structure right here: Oxford Castle. It wasn’t that big to begin with, and most of it has been incorporated into other buildings. What is left has been used for various things over the years, including a school before Oxford University was built and a jail for the town. What you see resembling a castle today is preserved as a part of the Oxford Castle tour and exhibition.

I was a little disappointed when I first saw the castle; I was expecting a bit more castle to be honest. Lora and I bought our tour tickets anyway. I’m glad we did because the castle turned out to be more interesting than I thought.

This structure was first built in 1,071 as a defense against William the Conquerer. The castle was destroyed during the English Civil War, but St. George’s Tower and the side wall remained. For a period, the building was used as a school until Oxford University was built. Then the building began being used as a jail. At first it mainly was used to hold students who got too drunk and rowdy overnight. Later it turned into a full-scale jail, holding many criminals up until 1996, when the jail closed.

The tour allowed us to climb St. George’s Tower as well as explore the jail cells. The view of the city is fantastic from the top of the tower. Our tour guide told us about specific people who’d been jailed there when it was open. We even gout to go into the “haunted” basement.

While I enjoyed the tour, Oxford Castle is not a must see. It’s a cool bit of history for those who have extra time in Oxford. The tickets cost £10 ($13.85). It really is a neat place to visit, but don’t go expecting a traditional castle. If you would like more information about Oxford Castle or to buy tickets, here is a link to their website.

(I take all of my own photos)

When I left Salisbury, I had no idea that I was going towards one of the best towns around: Bath! The city was built to astound! The center of town sits between two rivers in a valley surrounded by seven hills. The architecture is consistent and pleasing to the eye. The whole town feels like it is a step back into the 17 hundreds. In a place covered by twisting alleys, open markets, and gothic abbeys, one can easily be enthralled for an entire day simply by walking around town.

That being said, my least favorite thing to see in Bath was the Fashion Museum. The museum showcases traditional dress in Bath starting in the 16 hundreds all the way up to modern day. Bath has always been a very fashionable city in England, and many people would come to Bath to see and buy some of the latest fashions. The entry ticket includes a free audio tour that provides lots of interesting information on how the clothes were made and what the designs symbolized.

All of this is really cool, but I do not think the museum was worth the price. The ticket cost a mere £8 ($11), otherwise I might not have gone. I am not particularly passionate about or interested in fashion, which is probably why it wasn’t as fulfilling as it could have been. If you are really interested in traditional fashion, this is definitely worth it. Otherwise I might skip this altogether.

My absolute favorite part of Bath was, of course, the Roman Baths. I almost skipped this place because the ticket price was so expensive (£16.50 or $23). Going into it, I didn’t expect much, just what you always see in photos online of the main bath (pictured above). However, the Roman Baths consisted of so much more!

When the Romans came to England, they viewed the natural hot spring in Bath as a holy place because it reminded them of Rome. That is why they built the Baths and temple next to the natural spring to form one big complex. They dedicated the temple to the goddess Minerva (Athena in Greece), and it became the social center of Bath.

After the Romans left, the Baths fell into disrepair. The city became popular again during the late 17th century and the 18th century. Bath became the number one vacation spot in England for the rich. The people would come to the Pump Room (you can still go today) and drink the water from the springs as it was said to have healing properties.

Today I was able to see the ruins of the ancient temple and walk into all of the sections of the Bath, including the cold pool, the woman’s bath, the men’s bath, and the various saunas. The Roman Baths also provide insight to how the romans lived while there as well as models of what the temple and baths would have looked in the Roman times. The ticket comes with a free audio tour, which provides a lot of the information I learned. They still let people taste the water should they be so inclined. I definitely tried it, and it tasted like straight copper to me.

As expensive as it is, the Roman Baths are worth every penny. I was amazed by the whole thing. I believe that they are an essential visit to any tour through England. For more information about either of these places, here are links to the Fashion Museum and the Roman Baths.

(I take all of my own photos)

The Jane Austen Center

Let’s take a trip to England in 1775, when one of the best romance novelists was born: Jane Austen! She began to write novels when she was thirteen, and her first book, Northanger Abbey, was based on a trip she experienced to Bath. Over the years she completed six novels and left another two unfinished. Unlike her female protagonists, Jane Austen and her only sister never married. She live her life under the care of first her parents, and then various brothers. Miss Austen often claimed that her novels were her children, and she was extremely fond of them all. Four of her books would be published during her lifetime (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma), though they were published anonymously. Her last two books (Persuasion and Northanger Abbey) would be published using her name after she died. One of her brothers, Henry Austen, later gave Jane the credit for the previous four books. Her books have been exceedingly popular and never out of print since 1832. Jane Austen died in 1817 after her health failed her. She was 42.

Jane Austen has to be one of my favorite authors for a number of reasons:

  1. Her novels beautifully showcase the late 18th and early 19th century and the difficulties for women during this time period
  2. She was extremely dedicated to her work, sometimes taking decades to edit and revise her novels
  3. Her own life was so different from the lives of her characters. She was engaged twice; her own true love died before they could get married; she lived her adult life relying on the kindness of her parents and brothers

Her hardships and experiences are imbedded in her novels. This woman is such an inspiration to me that of course I had to visit her museum in Bath, England.

The Jane Austen Center is a fabulous experience for those who love her work and anyone looking for something to do. The employees are all dressed up as characters from the novels. A ticket to the museum includes a talk about her life, learning about the history of Bath and how it influenced her writing, and seeing a wax figure of Jane Austen herself. My favorite parts of the tour included discussing where Jane had lived during her time in Bath and her experiences there, and dressing up in 18th century garb and taking photos with a Mr. Darcy wax model.

Tickets to the museum cost £12 ($16.85) for an adult, though they do accept international student ID cards. Other parts to the museum include a tea room, where you can eat traditional finger sandwiches while drinking tea, and a walking tour through Bath to all the signification places Jane Austen visited during her life. For more information, please visit their website.

(I take all of my own pictures. I do not get paid to advertise)

I will never forget seeing the Stones for the first time as they came into view over the hill. From my vantage point in the shuttle bus, they looked stubby like short barrels on the landscape. The wind bit at my face as I climbed the hill side to come as close as the fence would allow. Here was Stonehenge. This ancient landmark has been here for 5,000 years. The first Stones were arranged on this site during the Mesolithic Age in 2,500 BCE. Stonehenge…Continue Reading “Stonehenge: Why is It So Satisfying?”

It might be just me, but it always hits me the hardest that I’m in another country, seeing brand new things and exploring life when I happen to be in the shower. All showers being different of course are a visible reminder how far I’ve come. Each new Airbnb and hostel has a completely new bathroom. When I stand underneath the water of the shower, I can’t help but compare water pressure and heat. My shampoo and soap is the same but where I am…Continue Reading “Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost”

If you are wondering right now, where the hell is Salisbury? Well, you aren’t alone. Salisbury is a quaint little town slightly south-west of London. Salisbury was on my list because it would be a respite from the vastness of London, and it held a copy of the Magna Carta. In 1215, the Barons of England decided that they had had enough of King John and how he over-taxed his subjects. The Barons gathered together and presented King John with the Magna Carta at Runnymede….Continue Reading “Salisbury: The Magna Carta”

I’m a pretty young person. I like going out and seeing all the party people sometimes. When I was in China during my study abroad, we had local guides to help show us around and take us to popular bars. This trip, however doesn’t have guides. Lora and I are finding our own nightlife and pub places! Take Galvanisers Union for example: a chill hipster pub near my Airbnb. The vibe during the week is casual beer with dinner. Most people there, though, were relaxing…Continue Reading “London: Nightlife”