Tag Archives: castle

Nottingham, England – Impressions

Part of the England’s East Midlands, Nottingham is just over 200km north of London. It’s steeped in the legend of Robin Hood and is surrounded by Sherwood Forest to the north. The city gets its name from an Anglo-Saxon chieftain named Snot, who ruled the area of Snotingham, meaning the homestead of the people of Snot.

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A week ago, I was in Norwich for a couple of days, and after a short week at work, I headed north to do the same in Nottingham.

Robin Hood Statue
It’s impossible to think of Nottingham without at some point thinking of Robin Hood. While there’s no actual proof he was a real person, it’s believed the name was a local reference to bandits in general. A legend grew around the character, spawning books and movies and growing a host of folklore about his Merry Men, his lover and nemesis, the Sheriff. The statue is in place outside Nottingham Castle.

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Sky Mirror
Situated outside the Playhouse in Wellington Circus on the Northside, the 6-metre diameter circular stainless steel mirror weighs nearly 10 tons. Its surface is said to reflect the ever-changing environment. A similar but somewhat larger 11-metre mirror was installed at the Rockefeller Centre in New York. With others in Monaco, Saint Petersburg and Tilburg, the Netherlands.

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Arboretum
Arboretum was the first designated public park in the city, opening in 1845. As the town grew around it, the neighbourhood took on its name. Past the lake and carpet bed, along the path with the Aviary to the left and Victorian flower garden to the right, the Arboretum opens into a pleasant grassy park lined with trees. Other features on the Arboretum include a formal garden, a Chinese bell tower, and a Bandstand. However, the latter was cordoned off for special events. A pleasant stroll on a cloudy afternoon.

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Theatre Royal Nottingham
The grand theatre in the heart of Nottingham is connected to the Royal Concert Hall. Like its namesake in London, it regularly attracts major touring dramas, opera, ballet, West End musicals and even an annual pantomime. It can seat 1186 people over four floors.

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Nottingham University
While not as sprawling as the universities of Oxford or Canterbury, Nottingham’s University takes up a fair chunk of the north side of the city.

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Old Market Square
At the base of the steps leading up to the city council chambers is one of the largest paved pedestrian squares in the UK. It was originally the centre point between the Norman town of Nottingham and an old Anglo-Saxon town called Snothryngham (the original spelling), where a market square was formed. It was also the site of the Nottingham Goose Fair between the 12th century and 1928, when it was moved due to space limitations. The fair has gathered in October every year for most of those 700 years, although it was cancelled in 1646 due to the Great Plague and during both world wars. It was also cancelled last year for the COVID pandemic. In 1764 it was notable for the cheese riot that occurred due to the significant increase in cheese prices from the previous year.

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Motorpoint Arena and National Ice Centre
The Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham is the sister Arena to the one in Cardiff I visited 18 months ago, before the world got strange. It is also used as a concert venue, although I didn’t go inside this one. Connected to it is the National Ice Centre, UK’s first twin Olympic-sized rink, and where Nottingham-born Olympic champions Torvill and Dean first developed their love for skating.

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Nottingham Castle
Built-in 1068 by Willian the Conqueror and originally a wooden structure, it was replaced by the more defensible stone castle. Then by 1651, it was largely demolished except for its walls and gates.

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20 years later, a ducal palace was built on the site, only to be burned down by rioters. It was then rebuilt and became the art gallery that stands there now. During my visit, it held a display on three of Nottingham’s most rebellious and bloody episodes, a creative gallery and the museum of the Mercian Regiment.

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The castle, ducal palace, and the art gallery were all perched atop a bluff of Triassic sandstone riddled with caves and underground passageways. It was through some of these tunnels that various acts of violence were brought against the castle and palace. During my visit, I went down into some of the caves and tunnels beneath the gallery on a cave tour.

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Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem
Nestled at the base of the Castle walls, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem claims to be the oldest inn in England dating from 1189AD, the year Richard the Lionheart became king. However, there is no documentation to verify this date. Several other inns across the country claim the same honour, including several in Nottingham. But, after I visited the castle, I had to pop in for lunch, because maybe it is the oldest, perhaps it’s not, but the Fish and Chips were good.

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Nottingham Contemporary
Near the National Ice Centre is a contemporary art space with large sprawling rooms, sparsely decorated with art. This one is from a Brazilian artist and contains several large pieces, along with many wall hangings. It was only a quick visit as there was honestly not a lot to see.

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National Justice Museum
The museum is housed in a former Victorian courtroom, prison, and police station, and details the historical process where people could be arrested, tried, sentenced and executed. A visit to the museum often starts with a court trial with several audience members playing roles. This little role play is designed to show how cutthroat the system could be.

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Beneath the courtroom, are several floors of cells, which get steadily worse the lower you go until at the bottom they are little more than dark, dank caves where prisoners were held. The prisons were separated into men’s and women’s gaols, with the men doing more hard labour, while the women did more menial labour.

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The back courtyard has a set of gallows where a mock hanging takes place, although the ‘prisoner’ (a member of the audience) gets saved by a writ from the king. The back courtyard only held a small number of hangings at the time as most were held on the front steps, so locals could watch.

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Impressions
Nottingham is smaller than many of the other cities I’ve explored and has perhaps more of a common township feel than a magical place where legends were born. Yet, I still enjoyed exploring another of England’s historical locations.

Until next time,
The World Wanderer

Norwich, England – Impressions

About a hundred miles to the North East of London is Norwich, which until the 18th century was the second-largest city in England. The town was founded in about the 6th century as Northwic (North Farm) and over time has become Norwich, with a silent ‘w’.

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In its early years, Norwich was a bustling trade centre even while being raided and burnt in 1004 by the Viking king of Denmark. Wool was Norwich’s primary trade good, which was said to have made England rich and funded many churches in the region. Norwich has more medieval churches than any other city in Western Europe north of the Alps.

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So, taking a couple of days off, I caught the train out of London and, after dropping my bag at my hotel, set about exploring the city.

Cow Tower

Skirting north along the River Wensum, I discovered the Cow Tower nestled on one of its bends. The late 12th-century artillery tower was built to defend the northeastern approach to the city from the local English rebels and the French. The weapons of choice on the defensive building were hand cannons and bombards.

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City Walls – Barre Gate and Magdelen Gates

Continuing along the river, I found two different sections of the seven-metre wall that once surrounded the city. Norwich had twelve such fortified gates and boasted the longest system of urban defences in Britain. I did find other scattered bits throughout the city. An artist’s impression can be found here.

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Dinosaur Art Trail

As I walked towards the centre of the city, I discovered a two-metre tall, brightly painted T. rex on the side of the road. Littered throughout the city are 21 of these sculptures, of which I may have found about 10. They are part of the GoGo Art Trail in Norwich, which has included hares and dragons in previous years, with woolly mammoths next year.

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Elm Hill

Just north of the city centre is a historical cobbled lane that dates back to the Tudor period between 1485 and 1603. The lane’s name is from several Elm trees that once grew in the square at the top of the road. Due to Dutch Elm Disease, the tree in Elm Hill is no longer an Elm tree.

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Tombland

At the bottom of Elm Hill lane is Tombland, the location of an ancient Anglo-Saxon marketplace. While today it is a popular restaurant area, it also houses a pair of old gates into the courtyard of the Norwich Cathedral.

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Norwich Cathedral

The cathedral is one of the most complete Norman Cathedrals in England. Some parts were sectioned off for an exhibition called Dippy on tour, the cast bones of a Diplodocus dinosaur. The display had closed by the time I popped by, but a choir was practising at the other end. While we couldn’t take photos of the choir, the cathedral’s acoustics gave their voices an awe-inspiring sound.

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Norwich Castle

The castle at the centre of Norwich is perhaps the most untypical looking castle I’ve seen in my travels with its distinct cubic shape. (Although during my trip to Nottingham the next week, I found another just like it). Its construction was ordered by William the Conquerer late in the tenth century. The castle was used as a prison from 1220 to 1887 before being converted to a Museum. Unfortunately, during my visit to the city, the castle had some of the original medieval floors and rooms being reconstructed, and I couldn’t visit the site.

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Plantation Garden

Also known as the Secret Garden, the Plantation Garden was established more than a hundred years ago in an abandoned chalk quarry beside the Roman Catholic Cathedral. The garden is a spot of serenity in the city includes a huge gothic fountain, a 10-metre long Victorian-style greenhouse and a medieval terrace wall.

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The South Asia Collection – Old Skating Rink Gallery

Not far from the centre of the city is a large restored Victorian roller skating rink with a dramatic arched wooden roof. It originally opened in 1876 but barely lasted a year. Over the years, it has been a Vaudeville Theatre, an American tinned meat sales building, a Salvation Army citadel and a builder’s merchant. In 1993 it was bought for the South Asia Collection and converted to an art gallery and shop. Unsurprisingly, it now holds an extensive collection of art from Southern Asia.

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The Museum of Norwich at Bridewell

Hidden away in a small building near the central city, the museum tells the story of Norwich’s industries and the people who lived and worked there. The period stretches from medieval to modern and shows how the city adapted to changing fortunes through the textile trade, shoes, chocolate, and mustard production.

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Impressions

I was surprised to find a city of art, numerous gaming stores and many many churches, along with quaint old Victorian lanes and plentiful history. It was a nice place to explore for a couple of days.

Until next time,

The World Wanderer

Edinburgh, Scotland – Impressions

In the past 2 months, I’ve spent time in 6 different European countries, enjoying their cultures and hiking. But like the midges of Scotland, the more you scratch, the more the travel bug itches. So, under the again rising heel of COVID, I flew to Edinburgh for a long weekend to explore Scotland’s capital.

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While it rained for most my first day in the city, I still made the most of seeing what I could, starting with a most glorious Full Scottish Breakfast, including haggis. Then I was off to explore the rainswept streets looking for indoor activities.

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Architecture
Compared to many other cities in the UK, Edinburgh is perhaps the most majestic, with grand architecture across much of the city, and classic stone buildings which turn black in the rain.

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Scott Monument
At the edge of the New Town, a gothic spire pokes up into the grey sky dedicated to the writer Sir Walter Scott. In the early 19th century, he wrote the famous poem The Lady of the Lake, along with the novels Waverley, Rob Roy, and Ivanhoe. He now sits beneath the spire in polished marble contemplating the rain.

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Carlton Hill
On the eastern end of the New City, the craggy, grass-covered Calton Hill protrudes from the cityscape. I climbed it on the rainy first day of my visit, but not all of the views were muted. The Dugald Stewart monument, dedicated to a Scottish philosopher, was built in 1831 and modelled after the Tower of the Winds in Athens. In the background is the Old Town with the gloomy Edinburgh Castle in the distance.

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I climbed it again on my second day, with the sun out, for better views across the city to the Firth of Forth.

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There are several monuments on the hill, including The National Monument of Scotland, left unfinished in 1829, a memorial to soldiers and sailors who perished in the Napoleonic Wars.

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Nelson’s Tower monument, to commemorate Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson’s victory over the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar in 1805.

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At the top of the hill is an observatory. I investigated the domed building to discover a philosophical experiment where, over time, they are collecting 3D renditions of people to populate a new world. I came for the views and ended up getting digitised to live among thousands of other digital souls in the exhibit.

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Camera Obscura and The World of Illusions
On the Royal mile near the Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura and the World of Illusions is the oldest purpose-built attraction in Edinburgh. Over five floors, plus the roof, there are more than 100 interactive illusion based exhibits, although the Camera Obscura is closed due to COVID.

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But, the rooftop still gives one of the better views of Edinburgh, even across the wet city.

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The kinds of things you see in the World of Illusions are quite varied, with mirrors featuring in many ways, in 3D representations and other twisted mirror illusions. Other tricks include a collection of multi-view pictures like the one below, shadow photographic stunts, on the fly software morphing, and various electrical tricks. While it is popular with kids, it’s also fun for adults on a rainy day.

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The Scotch Whiskey Experience
After visiting the Guinness brewery in Dublin, I couldn’t not do the Scotch Whiskey Experience while in Edinburgh. The tour begins in a moving barrel gliding through the process of making Scotch Whiskey. It then teaches us about the five different regions of Scotch distillation and each of their characteristics.

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We were then walked through a room with a collection of 3000 unopened bottles, no two the same, one bottle having been bought for US$3000 in the 1970s.

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The final part of the experience is, of course, the tasting. The standard silver tour comes with a single tasting, but the gold, which I bought, includes five so I could try all of the different regional Scotches.

Edinburgh Castle
With the sun coming out on my second day in Edinburgh, I explored the grand castle on the hill.

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Edinburgh Castle is the most besieged place in Scotland and one of the most attacked places in the world. In its 1100-year history, it’s been under siege some 26 times.

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But, after the Lang Siege in the 16th century, it had to be rebuilt as it had been largely destroyed by artillery bombardment. There’s a vast amount of history in the walls, with several small museums, and, of course, great views in all directions.

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Leith and the Firth of Forth
With the sun continuing to hold on the 2nd day of my visit, I took a thirty-minute walk along a street lined with polished stone building out to the port district of Leith beside the Firth of Forth.

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Leith has a definite British suburban feel, similar to where I live in Wembley, but once on the waterfront, it steps it up a notch, with expensive-looking high-rises and hotels. I walked along the coast a little way to Newhaven, before cutting back into central Edinburgh. All up about a 6-mile walk, well needed after the big breakfasts and all the Scotch.

The Edinburgh Dungeon
The dungeon is one of several underground ‘shows’ designed to showcase some of Edinburgh’s history but includes visitor interactions, 4D style effects, frights and laughs.

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Visitors head down through small underground corridors in dim light to several well set up small rooms. We witnessed a witch trial, some haunted rooms where we learned of some gruesome deaths, witnessed ghosts looking for vengeance and hung out in the sewer sanctuary of cannibals. The acting and storytelling were excellent, although the COVID masks did impede speech for some of the quieter speakers.

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Overall Impressions
Edinburgh is a beautiful city architecturally with plenty to do inside during the rain, typical for Scotland, but also many outdoor activities for those lucky enough to see the sun.

Until next time,

The World Wanderer.

Cardiff, Wales – Impressions

In late January 2020, I headed across to Cardiff for a concert and decided to stay for a couple of days to explore the city. As it’s winter, and Southern Wales, I was expecting rain, and I was not disappointed. But I’m waterproof, and a bit of drizzle wasn’t going to stop me enjoying my stay.

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Cardiff (Caerdydd in Welsh) is the largest city in Wales, but only the 11th largest in the UK. And, as it’s only a 2-hour train ride from London, it’s not that much of a trip. The first thing I noticed when arriving in the Welsh Capital is the number of covered arcades and malls. It’s a great way to explore the city without going out in the rain too often.

Motorpoint Arena
The point of coming to Cardiff was for a concert. Motorpoint Arena was first opened by Shirley Bassey in 1993. But my concert wasn’t as sedate, I was there to see Megadeth and Five Finger Death Punch. Metal, raw and loud. The venue was large, holding 5,500 on the floor. After a very long wait out in the icy conditions to get in the door, I eventually warmed up and enjoyed the concert. The venue, like most in the UK, is heavily sprinkled with alcohol sales points, although the crowds in London feel a little more raucous.

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Principality Stadium
Also known as Millennium Stadium, it is the home of the Welsh Rugby team and was built in 1999 to host the Rugby World Cup. The stadium in it’s latest form was constructed over another park which has a more sentimental note for me. When I was very young, I would sometimes get up at stupid times in the morning with my father to watch the All Blacks play at Cardiff Arms Park. The Six Nations Rugby was just beginning on the day I came back to London.

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Cardiff Castle
You can’t come to Cardiff and not visit Cardiff Castle, and the best was to see it is on a self-guided audio tour. Beneath the entrance and front wall is a small museum called Firing Line, showing the lives of Welsh Soldiers going all the way back to the Bronze Age. Next to the museum is a long bronze wall depicting scenes from Roman times opposite the actual remains of the Roman wall.

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Beneath the other walls are tunnels used during World War 2 as bomb shelters. They are long, dim-lit and eerie. On the far side of the grassy courtyard is the Norman keep surrounded by a moat. Climbing up to it, and then up its main tower gives excellent views across Cardiff.

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Then along one side of the castle grounds are the Castle Apartments and Clock Tower. The self-tour allows access to some of the rooms in this building to see their lavish designs.

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Roath Street Art
While Bristol is home to Banksy, Cardiff is also a hub of street art. With limited time, I chose to walk out to the suburb of Roath to check out the local street art. 2014 was apparently the big year in the suburb for street art. There are many pieces still evident on walls around the area (although some buildings have since been demolished and the artwork lost).

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But while walking the streets of Roath, I discovered hidden back alleys absolutely filled with the less creative street art. By less creative, I refer to large words in different fonts. Sure, it’s art, but is it that creative?

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The Animal Wall
Just along from Cardiff Castle and near the entrance to Bute park are a series of 15 stone animals ‘peering’ over a wall that has come to be known as the Animal Wall. They were based on drawings from the 1300s, were carved in London, and built into the wall in 1887.

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Bute Park
Once the grounds of Cardiff Castle, Bute Park is 130 acres of landscaped gardens and parkland. It runs from the castle at one end, along to Gabalfa Woods at the other. Scattered throughout the park are various sculptures, many made from tree trunks left just for that purpose. There’s also a rock circle just past the castle, the Gorsedd Stones which were placed for the National Eisteddfod (a bardic arts festival) in 1978.

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Welsh National War Memorial
Completed in 1928, the memorial stands in Alexandra Gardens and commemorates the servicemen who died in the First World War. A plaque was added in 1949 to commemorate those who died in World War 2 also. The memorial houses four bronze statues. The three around the base of the main plinth relate the three services, airforce, navy and army, while the figure on the plinth represents Victory.

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City Hall
To avoid the rain, I popped into the City Hall near the War Memorial and stayed to have a look around. I found my way up to the first-floor landing, which is known as the ‘Marble Hall’. Beyond the marble columns, there are nearly two dozen marble statues around the walls. Only one stands in the centre, the figure of Saint David. There are also various paintings around the halls, while most are landscapes, there is one of Prince Charles and another of Princess Diana.

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Cardiff Story Museum
Situated in the middle of the city centre in the old library building, the small museum tells the story of Cardiff. The museum contains more than 3000 donated objects relating to the life and times of Cardiff from its inception to current times. There’s much interesting information on the layout of the city over the years and a look into the lives of people who live there. While it’s small, it’s an excellent way to get to know the city on a rainy day, and it’s entirely free.

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National Museum and Art Gallery
Next to City Hall is the much larger National Museum and Art Gallery. Like the Cardiff Story Museum, it’s free and is something to do when it’s raining. With many large open halls, and several passageways between, there is plenty to see. The gallery holds many paintings by Claude Monet, along with several from Rodin, Van Gogh and several Welsh artists. The museum has an exhibition on the fossil swamps of over 300 million years ago. There are also photography exhibits from several different artists and a detailed history of the universe from the Big Bang to how Cardiff was formed. I managed to lose about three hours wandering around the halls, but at least I stayed dry.

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Cardiff Bay
With a couple hours to spare before my train back to London, I wound my way down to Cardiff Bay for lunch and a quick look around. Thankfully, today I was treated to the sun, a nice farewell for the trip. The bay area houses Mermaid Quay with its plentiful restaurants and cafes, along with the Millennium centre, The Senedd and the Red Dragon Centre, a movie theatre complex.

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Overall impressions
Cardiff is a great small city with just enough of a vibe to make it an enjoyable stay. There is plenty to do for a couple of days in summer or winter. There was more I could have investigated, but due to time and the rain, I didn’t get the chance.

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Next, I’m off to explore Liverpool at Easter,

The World Wanderer