Into the (Icelandic) Wild

My thoughts for our entire time in Iceland can be summarized into one sentence… “WHAT IS THIS PLACE??” Yeah, I know that doesn’t make it sound like there’s much going on in my mind, but oh well. I could NOT get over the landscape. Everything looked like nothing I had ever seen before and was completely baffling to me.

Mike on the moon

Many things seem to defy logic. When Mike and I were trying to put together plans for our first day (okay, to be fair, any credit for the miniscule amount of planning that happened belongs to Mike), we looked at going to the Blue Lagoon. If you’ve ever seen the pictures of people in massive hot springs with seemingly unnatural blue-green water, that’s probably where they were. So the question is, “Hmm. Do you want to put on a bathing suit and go outside in this place where a winter coat is much more appropriate? Don’t worry, the water is warm.” Right but then there’s the air. Which is NOT warm. At all. “Want to go sit in some lava-heated water?” LAVA?? Does that really sound wise?

We ultimately decided to skip it (not because of any of my questions) because it’s not cheap (nearly $100 each) and neither of us had any strong feelings about going. The Blue Lagoon takes the output water from a nearby geothermal power plant and feeds it into a man-made pool. I was more interested in hunting down some natural hot springs (because going in unregulated lava-heated water sounds like a much better idea, doesn’t it?). Fun facts though: the mineral-rich water at the Blue Lagoon is thought to help with certain skin conditions like psoriasis (there’s even a research facility there). Icelandic doctors will literally prescribe visits as part of treatment, and patients visit for free.

What is this place??

Instead, we went in a completely different direction (geographically and conceptually) and made our way to Garður, once the most populous town in Iceland… but definitely not anymore. Now, the population is around 1,500, and as far as we could tell, the major (only) sights there are two lighthouses. The first was built in 1897, replacing a giant, 50-year-old pile of stones that was used for wayfinding. The second was built in 1944 and is much taller than the first – 28m compared to 12.5m. That makes it the tallest lighthouse on the island, and according to a survey, it’s the second most favorite lighthouse of the Icelandic people. No, I didn’t make that up. These are the divisive questions facing the people of Iceland.

Very confusing beach-scape

Spot the lighthouses! The one on the right is the second favorite. Can you see why? (Don’t ask me, I have no idea.)

When we got out of the car, we 1. almost blew away because the wind was completely out of control, and 2. got our first glimpse of the Icelandic terrain. Well, make that Icelandic terrain type 1 because as we soon learned, nowhere looks like anywhere else on the island, but everything looks weird. In Garður, there are white sand beaches… but they’re spotted with big black lava rocks, in case you managed to forget for a second that you’re on a volcanic island. If I wasn’t worried about unintentionally taking flight, I probably would have spent longer admiring the combination of pretty blue water, dark lava rocks, and light sand. Fair warning that I’m going to completely overuse the word “weird” anytime I try to explain what anything looked like. But like… weird.

Blowing away

From there, we went to a bridge that’s probably not what you imagine when you think “bridge”. This one doesn’t span a river… nope, it spans the gap between two tectonic plates. Like I explained in my Iceland History post, Iceland is along the ridge between the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates, so there are a few places on the island where you can see a gorge that I guess is basically a giant earth crack. How weird is that? (I know, I said it again.) This was also where we had our first experience with black sand. I was completely fascinated by it and took a picture of my feet, kicking off my trip-long obsession with Icelandic groundscapes.

Headed to the bridge between continents…

Black sand!

The bridge!

Mike is hiding again. Also, this sign makes it seem like you’re standing on two continents at once, but really, you’re on neither.

Spot camouflage Mike in the earth crack!

During his research, Mike spotted some craters on Google satellite view, so that was our next target. The only issue was that he wasn’t sure exactly where they were along the road or what they were called… good, right? And you might think that it would be clear, but there are pull-offs and places to turn to see different things about every 5 feet, so the chances of you finding what you’re looking for are slim. We saw a car pulled off the road somewhere, decided to check out whatever they were checking out (this is like 90% of our decision-making process, “Oh, there are a lot of people there so it must be something cool. Let’s go.”), and realized it was Mike’s craters. Of course they have a name, the Stampar craters, because everything in Iceland has a name. Again, weird and spacey, but this time a different planet. There were some places where the rock looked like it had been liquid lava only seconds before. It was cool to be able to see so clearly how it was formed. Also, totally insane because like… lava.

Crater field

Colorful!

Me and some craters

LAVA!

We were exploring the southwest corner for the day, and there’s another popular lighthouse in the area called Reykjanesviti. Let’s take a moment to talk about Icelandic names. I mentioned this when talking about my first impressions of Iceland, but they’re ridiculous so I’m going to rant again. I don’t know much about Icelandic, but it’s one of those languages where they like to mash things together, especially in names, so instead of it being Reykjanes Lighthouse (yes, I realize that’s longer but SHH!), they just put their word for lighthouse, viti, onto the end. That leads to a lot of incredibly long names and a lot of laughing while attempting to pronounce ANYTHING correctly. Usually you get halfway through the word, reach the point where you’re just tired of making so many sounds, and give up. When you’re driving, you read about half of the word and then you’ve driven past the sign so it’s a lost cause anyway.

Reykjanes Lighthouse

Anyway, as I was saying. Reykjanesviti. It was built to replace the island’s first lighthouse because they were worried it was going to fall into the sea. So, they blew it up (you can still see the foundations) and built a new one farther inland. The same erosion (caused by a combination of storms, the sea, and earthquakes) that threatened the first lighthouse formed cliffs, Valahnúkamöl (see what I mean about the names??). They are beautiful! We climbed up to the top of one of the cliffs and were mesmerized by the sight and sound of the waves crashing into the rocks. We were also absolutely freezing, and it was windy enough to make you think you were going to get blown into the ocean. On the positive side, it wasn’t raining at that particular moment (it was off and on all day).

Valahnukamol cliffs

View from the cliff

The coastline was really pretty, so when Mike suggested we follow some ATV tracks that went out in that direction, I was all in. We walked through expanses of colorful ground plants (I’m not sure if those are natural or if they were planted as part of the efforts to stabilize the soil to eventually reforest) and finally made it to the lava-rocky coast. Again, baffling. I’m not going to waste my time trying to describe it and instead will just direct your attention to the pictures.

Views from our walk

The coastline

Other-worldly

When we’d had enough of getting drenched with sea spray, we kept moving. I think Mike was getting annoyed at me because I was walking like a lost child. I was definitely not going quickly because how was I supposed to walk and take in the fascinating landscape at the same time?? Like I said, every other thought was, “WHAT IS THIS PLACE??” I stepped off the path to see what the ground felt like where the plants were (I know, you’re probably not supposed to do that but I was curious!), and it was like stepping on a pile of cotton balls. No impact, just a slowww sink of your foot.

We eventually ended up at a crater where Mike found a cave opening with ropes hanging down. I’m sure there’s some technical name and explanation for what it is and how it was formed, but I’m going to call it a cave because I don’t know any of that. We couldn’t see very far because it was pitch black. If we wanted to know what, if anything, was down there, our only choice was to go in. We looked at each other, the question hanging between us. I, for one, wasn’t worried about the cave or what was in it. I was primarily concerned about having to trust the sufficiency of my upper body strength to get back out because I haven’t done a rope-climb since elementary school. I don’t know what Mike was thinking, but he didn’t come up with a quick answer either. Explore or play it safe? What do you think we should have done? What do you think we did?

The crater where we found the cave

The cave in question

This is a PERFECT time to leave you with a “to be continued…” cavehanger (it’s like a cliffhanger but this was a cave, soo…).

Iceland History

Iceland is the world’s largest volcanically-formed island. Like other volcanic islands, it’s located on a “hot spot” on the earth’s surface. These hot spots occur where magma from the earth’s mantle layer (the one between the crust and the core) breaks through the crust. In the cases of islands like Hawaii, the hot spot is in the middle of a tectonic plate (the big pieces of the earth’s crust that the different land masses are attached to), and as the plates shift, the hot spot leaves a trail of islands behind it. In the case of Iceland, the hot spot coincides with a ridge between two tectonic plates, the North American and the Eurasian. There are a few places on the island where you can actually go and stand between the two continental plates! They continue to drift farther and farther apart, moving at a rate of about 2cm per year (a little less than an inch). That maybe doesn’t sound like much, but we’re talking about massive portions of the earth’s crust. That’s insane!!

This is one of the areas where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is visible on land. The North American plate is on the right, and the Eurasian plate is on the left. I’m standing on a bridge that spans the gap between the two.

Here’s a helpful sign showing the locations of the tectonic plates with a star on Iceland

According to estimates, the island started to form around 20 million years ago when magma broke through the earth’s crust, came up through the seafloor, and quickly cooled and hardened. This area grew and grew over time, and due to its location on the ridge line, there are a lot of earthquakes, geysers, and volcanoes. The volcanoes grew the island even more, adding new land with each eruption. On average, there’s a volcanic eruption in Iceland every three years! One-third of the lava that has reached earth’s surface in recorded history has come from eruptions in Iceland.

It looks like this lava could have cooled about 5 seconds ago…

Iceland is considered very young in the scheme of the world’s land masses, but get this: between 1963 and 1967, a new volcanic island was formed about 32km (20mi) off the coast of Iceland! It’s called Surtsey, and it was quickly claimed by the Icelandic government. In 1967, it was about 2.7km2 (1mi2) in area, and now, less than 50 years later, it has eroded to half that size. It’s really cool because it’s completely uninhabited by humans, and scientists are using it to understand more about how plants begin to grow on new land and how animals move in and affect its development. There are currently more than 65 plant species and 16 bird species found on the island! In some places, the land is still incredibly hot. Temperatures can be as high as 100 degrees C (over 200 degrees F) just slightly below the surface!

There are plenty of places where you can see steam rising up from the ground in Iceland. They have an abundance of geothermal heat! That’s the primary source of energy for heating homes and water, and there are some geothermal power plants. They also produce a lot of hydropower from all of the glacial rivers and waterfalls on the island.

The first serious settlers came to Iceland around 870AD. Before that, Nordic Viking explorers came and went, learning more about the island and seeing if it would be feasible to settle there. It started with just a couple families, and at the end of the 9th century, there was an influx of settlers from the British Isles and the Nordic countries, especially Norway due to the oppressive and barbaric king at the time.

This is a statue of Ingolfur Arnarson. He and his crew were the first to settle in Iceland, specifically in the now-capital, Reykjavik. They named it Reykjavic, or “Smoke Cove”, after the steam coming from the hot springs. The statue also depicts various figures from Norse mythology.

People were free to claim land as they came, and within about 60 years, the habitable land on the island was fully settled. During this time of settlement, the people were mostly led by various chieftains, but by 1930, they recognized that there needed to be greater coordination to establish order. As a result, the “Althing”, the world’s oldest nationwide parliament, was formed. It met each summer at Thingvellir to make laws, settle disputes, and organize trade.

The settlers arrived as pagans, mostly worshipping the Norse gods (you’re probably familiar with at least one of them, Thor). When a new king came to power in Norway in 995AD, he decided to make a project of converting the people of Iceland. He sent missionaries who were semi-successful, and this led to conflict both on the island and between Iceland and Norway. To avoid civil war, the pagan Law Speaker (responsible for reciting the laws at Althing sessions) at the time was given the authority to decide the official religion. He concluded that Iceland should become Christian, mostly to avoid further conflict, but people should be allowed to continue their pagan worship practices in private.

This flagpole marks the believed location of Law Rock, where the Law Speaker would stand to read the laws to the attendees at the beginning of each annual Althing session.

This picture (from a sign at Thingvellir) shows the Law Speaker standing on Law Rock. He is reciting the laws to the people standing below.

The rocky area near Law Rock.

This picture (from a sign at Thingvellir) shows a meeting of the Law Council. This was the time when new laws were enacted and legal disputes were settled. The people were then responsible for the enforcement of the laws. The Law Speaker was elected by the chieftains and served as the moderator.

And so, all was generally calm for a while. Writing was introduced in the early 12th century, and this led to the Age of Writing. A written lawbook came first in 1117 and was followed by various history books and sagas. Then, in 1220, the peace was broken when power struggles arose between one of the most powerful clans on the island, the Sturlung clan, and others. During this “Age of Sturlungs”, the clans fought each other in a bloody civil war. Even after the Sturlungs were defeated, fighting continued sporadically for years and years. Finally, in 1262, the Althing signed the “Old Covenant” with Norway, agreeing to become a province of the Kingdom of Norway and ending the clan conflicts.

Iceland was part of the Norwegian kingdom until 1380 when Norway, Sweden, and Denmark were unified. Denmark was the dominant power, and unlike Norway, it didn’t have a need for Icelandic goods, and it didn’t care much about Iceland. Without this trade, the Icelanders struggled, and the next few centuries under Danish rule were difficult. The Black Death and other widespread diseases wiped out large portions of the population. A climate shift made it difficult to grow crops. Hundreds of people were kidnapped into slavery by pirates from North Africa. A volcanic eruption killed thousands, eliminated most of the livestock, and caused the eventual starvation of thousands more. A trade monopoly implemented by Denmark made it impossible for the economy to grow.

Finally, in 1843, Iceland started to make moves towards independence again. The Althing, which had been virtually powerless for centuries and shut down in 1800 by the Danish king, was reestablished. In 1874, Denmark granted the Althing limited power and allowed the creation of a new constitution! One thousand years after Iceland’s settlement, the people were finally back on track to become independent. In 1904, Denmark recognized Iceland as a sovereign state, and Iceland continued to use Denmark for defense until World War II when Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany.

Iceland was declared neutral and was determined to stay out of the war. After the occupation of neutral Denmark by the Nazis, the UK worried that Iceland was next. Despite Iceland’s insistence that they be left alone, British troops were sent to occupy the island. Iceland protested the invasion for violating its neutrality but cooperated under the assurance that the troops would leave after the war.

This sculpture, Sun Voyager, is located in Reykjavik and is “a dream boat and ode to the sun”. It symbolizes “the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.”

Interestingly enough, the war helped to turn Iceland’s economy around. The occupiers flooded the economy with foreign money and hired locals to work on their projects, dramatically lowering the unemployment rate. Meanwhile, the people voted to become a fully independent republic in 1944. After the war, Iceland received aid that the new government used to improve the country’s industrial infrastructure, ensuring that the prosperity and high employment levels enjoyed during the war would continue.

I don’t know about you, but my head is just about spinning. It’s crazy how quickly Iceland’s luck turned around! Within 100 years, it went from poor and weak to thriving and independent. Now, it has booming tourism, aluminum, and fishing industries, among others, and is in no danger of returning to its pre-WWII economic struggle.

Usually, historical context is helpful for understanding the sights in a place. Since Iceland’s most well-known features are primarily natural, that doesn’t necessarily apply as much in this situation. Even so, I think it’s interesting to see how different countries have gotten to where they are today and how they’ve interacted with the countries around them in the past. Recently, I’ve changed the way I think about history, seeing it as a big, complicated story instead of just a school subject where you’re forced to memorize lots of dates and names. It’s changed everything for me because who doesn’t like stories?? (I know, it’s right there in the name. Silly Lara.) Now, when I go to a new place, I can’t wait to learn another part of the story of the world.

Welcome to Iceland!

My flight to Iceland left London Stansted at 6AM, so I decided that there was no point in paying for a hostel the night before because there was no chance I’d go to bed early enough to make it worth it. I took the tube to a bus to the airport, and that whole adventure took close to two hours. I was pretty darn tired by the time I got on the bus and fell asleep the instant I sat down. That was a solid 1:15 of sleep, plus the hour and a half maybe that I slept at the airport… So I was running on about 3 hours as I attempted to navigate my way to the gate which may not sound like a big deal, but I am a zombie mess without enough sleep.

Stansted does the same stupid thing as Heathrow where they don’t just announce your gate when you get to the airport. Instead, they wait until ~ 45 minutes before to release that information. My flight was at 6, the board said that the gate info would be up at 5:15, my ticket said that the gates close 30 minutes before the takeoff time, and the airport estimated that it would take at least 10 minutes to get to my gate. Does that not sound like maybe they should come up with a new system?

As usual, there was someone sitting in my seat on the plane. I thought that everyone consistently had this problem, but it seems to be just me. On at least 4/5 flights, someone is either in my seat or asks me to trade from my carefully-selected window seat to a middle seat. I like to sleep against the side of the plane, so unless my neighbors are cool with me drooling on them, it’s best if I’m left to the window.

Getting off the plane in Iceland, I was super excited about the fact that someone was waiting for me! I met my brother Mike there, and it was a nice change to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar place.

Reunited! And both practically falling asleep but not Mike because he was driving…

We picked up our rental car and headed out into the weird alien landscape that is Iceland. Here are some of my first impressions/random observations:

      1. Groundscape – I think I spent 90% of my time in Iceland staring at the ground. No, it’s not because I have terrible self-esteem. It’s because the ground is so freaking cool-looking, and in every place we went, it looked completely different. The colors, the plants, the rock formations… they’re like nothing I’d ever seen before.

        Try to tell me this isn’t awesome

      2. Prices – This is something that everyone who’s ever been to Iceland will mention. The prices are incredibly high. I’m used to going to countries where the US dollar is stronger than the local currency, but that’s totally not the case in Iceland. $1 is about 100 krónur which sounds nice, but when the cheapest meal you’ll find is 1600 krónur ($16), it’s a little less so. And that was the price for essentially ramen noodles with some chicken. An actual restaurant meal would be at least 5000 krónur ($50). I bought a 1000 krónur ($10) magnet for my cousin’s magnet collection.

        Front of Icelandic money

        Backside


      3. Language – Icelandic is VERY low on my list of languages to ever try learning. Partly because it’s almost completely worthless if you’re not in Iceland (about 90% of speakers live in Iceland), but also because it’s one of those languages where the names of things are so long that you need to stop halfway through to take a breath. Most of the letters are the same as the ones we use in English, but there are enough accented letters and extras like ð, þ, and æ to make it look very foreign. Mike and I never got sick of laughing at each other’s attempts to read the street signs.

        Here’s a good example of the kinds of place names we were dealing with. I would get as far as like “Kirkjubae…” and then shake my head and say gibberish because trying to sound out the entire thing is hopeless.

      4. Trees – Namely that there aren’t very many, and the ones that do exist are planted in VERY natural-looking rows. The island used to be about 25% forest, and after it was settled in the 9th century, the trees were gone within 300 years. They’re working on re-planting trees, but it’s an incredibly slow process because they have to stabilize the soil with smaller plants first. At the rate they’re going now, estimates are that it will take 150 years to reforest to just 5%.

        Reforestation. The trees are very well-organized

      5. Wind – I’m sure that the wind isn’t helping with the reforestation efforts. I’ve never been somewhere so consistently windy, and not only is it consistent, it’s STRONG. There were plenty of times that Mike and I had trouble even walking through it. The rental car doors had warnings on them telling you to hold on tightly when opening so that they don’t blow open too far and get damaged.
      6. Rain – Constantly. I’m sure this depends on the season, but we were there in April, and it was always raining. Usually it was a light rain, but still. Always. Raining.

        Smiling despite the wind and the rain

      7. Credit cards – You can use credit cards everywhere. Even the bathrooms that cost 100 kroner ($1) had credit card machines outside. I was especially thrown off by this because I was coming from 9 months of living in a completely cash-based culture, and we would have been almost completely fine without ANY cash in Iceland (we only needed cash at one campsite).
      8. Landscape – Even though the entire island looks like another planet, it doesn’t all necessarily look like the SAME another planet. In one place, you have black sand beaches. In another, there’s white sand. There are mountains and craters, black rocks and red rocks, glaciers and geysers. And waterfalls everywhere. I kind of thought that we were going to get tired of seeing the same thing over and over again because it’s just a little island and how much variety could there be? But no matter how many similarities things had, they were also COMPLETELY different.

        Alien. Landscape.

        Another planet.
        Can you spot Mike in this picture?

        Like… what is this place???

        Stairs at one of the random sights we stopped at along the road

      9. There are things to see everywhere – Literally. We had pretty loose plans, so a lot of the things we checked out were just what we happened to be driving past. It seemed like there was a sign announcing something to see every two seconds, so we had to start filtering some out because otherwise we’d never make it to the things we planned.
      10. Well-maintained – And despite the fact that there are things to see everywhere, it’s not like they’re falling into disrepair or there’s no tourist infrastructure there. I seriously don’t know how they keep up with maintenance. Everything we stopped at had a parking area, a path with those plastic ground-grate things to keep it from getting slippery, and a built viewing area if necessary. And nothing was falling apart or looked like it had seen better days, even at the tiny little sights that weren’t super popular.
      11. Everything has a name – Like EVERYTHING. This mountain range has a name, and so does every single mountain in it. This rock has a name. This little trickle of a waterfall. That crater… and the other one and the other one. They all have names. Probably, when they reforest, they give each tree a name too. And each blade of grass and ant and so on.
      12. Legends – Similarly, everything has a legend for how/why it exists. I loved the legends in Armenia, but honestly, I think Icelandic folklore is even a step above that. It’s filled with stories of elves and trolls, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
      13. People names – Obviously all of the people have names… that’s not what I was going to say. But people names are taken from lists of pre-approved boy and girl names, unless their parents go through the process to submit a new name that must meet all of the criteria, such as: names must be grammatically compatible with Icelandic, girls must be given girl names and boys boy names, names must not cause the bearer embarrassment. Also, for last names, people generally don’t use family names. Instead, last names depend on the person’s parents’ first names; for example Jónsson “Jon’s son” or Jónsdóttir “Jon’s daughter”. Sometimes, mothers’ names are used. In the phone book, people are listed by first name, and first names are used almost exclusively for addressing others. Even when speaking to someone like the president, you would use his first name.

I could probably write 20 pages about my first impressions and things that I thought were absolutely fascinating, but I’ll leave you with these for now. Next time, I’ll get into a little history before taking you along with us on a sightseeing tour of the island!

Inside the Tower

In my last post, I explained some of the history behind the Tower of London. Obviously, many things look a lot different than they did during the palace and prison and torture days, but there are some things that haven’t changed much.

Outer wall of the Tower

Certain parts of the Tower have been tourist attractions since the 17th century. One of these is the Jewel House where the Crown Jewels are kept! I made a beeline for the jewels when I got inside because everyone says that the line gets very long later in the day. I don’t know much about precious gemstones and jewelry, but even I could tell that the stuff they have in the Jewel House is ridiculous. They have the coronation crown which weighs 7 pounds. Imagine having to wear that on your head! There’s also the world’s largest clear-cut diamond. It’s 530 carats which means nothing to me but apparently the average size for an engagement ring diamond is around 1 carat, soooo… it’s 530 times that. The oldest object, the anointing spoon used in coronations, is from the 1300s. Most of the other objects are much newer because the originals were melted down when the monarchy was abolished in the English Civil War (1649).

The Jewel House

My personal favorite object in the Jewel House was a “punch bowl” that was made of solid gold and, according to the sign, could hold 144 bottles of wine. 144 BOTTLES. Now, I know I’m just a commoner who doesn’t know how anything works, but could someone PLEASE explain to me why that’s necessary?? I couldn’t wrap my head around most of the things in the room, to be honest. The gemstones weren’t that impressive because my brain couldn’t comprehend that they weren’t rhinestones, they were real. I thought about how people save up to buy gold jewelry… how many rings and necklaces do you think you could make with a 144-bottles-of-wine-sized punch bowl? Insanity.

When I was finished gaping at the jewels, I went on a Yeoman Warder tour. The Yeoman Warders, popularly called Beefeaters (though the origin of that name is unknown), are the keepers of the Tower, responsible for guarding any prisoners (historically) and watching over the crown jewels. There are 37 of them who live within the Tower walls with their families. To qualify, they must have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years and been awarded a good conduct medal. They give free tours throughout the day, explaining the history of and telling stories about the Tower. The whole thing is a kind of theatrical experience and is very well done.

Tower views

The Tower complex is HUGE. After the Beefeater tour, I checked out the torture devices, walked along the walls, and explored a bunch of different towers before going into the White Tower. Today, it’s filled with exhibitions of armor and weaponry. I can’t say I’m terribly interested in either, but the collection was still impressive which is pretty much the point. Originally, its purpose was to show the monarch’s right to rule and awe visitors.

While I was walking around, I bumped into a big group that was part of an interactive skit. I don’t know how well you can see, but one of the guys in this picture is dressed up as a knight. They explained all of the different groups in history who tried to seize control of the Tower. At the end, they explained that the only group that ever successfully infiltrated the castle was the peasants during the Peasants Revolt. It was a fun way to learn about history! (Definitely geared towards kids, but no matter.)

View from the White Tower looking towards Tower Green

Armor display in the White Tower

This book made me laugh because it’s HUGE. According to the label, it’s 914 pages of inventory, spanning from 1675-1679. Imagine if it was your job to write in this monstrosity.

One of the unsolved mysteries of the Tower of London took place in the White Tower. In 1483, King Edward IV died. His son, Edward V, was next in line for the throne, but he was only 12 years old. Edward V’s uncle was put in charge until he was old enough to rule, and he brought Edward and his 9-year-old brother, Richard, to the Tower of London. After their uncle was crowned king, the boys disappeared and were thought to have been murdered, though their bodies were nowhere to be found. In 1674, during some construction work, the bones of two children were found underneath a staircase in the White Tower. They were assumed to be the bones Edward and Richard and were reburied in Westminster Abbey; however, they haven’t been tested to confirm that assumption. And so, the mystery continues.

The building in the corner is the Queen’s House. It is the home of the Resident Governor of the Tower of London. It was built around 1540 and is architecturally significant because most other buildings in London from this time period burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. This one survived thanks to its location within the Tower’s stone walls.

Interior Tower views

The Traitors’ Gate was the water entrance to the Tower. A lot of the prisoners kept in the Tower throughout history were brought in through the Traitors’ Gate.

As you can see, it was a slightly foggy day… Crazy how the tops of those buildings completely vanish.

Me with the White Tower!

Another former attraction at the Tower was the “Menagerie”, basically a predecessor of modern-day zoos but way less functional. The royalty used to receive exotic animals as gifts from leaders of other nations (actually, fun fact: the Queen STILL receives animals as gifts – what?!?! – but now they’re sent to the London Zoo). The Tower housed this collection starting the early 13th century, including now-extinct Barbary lions, leopards, a polar bear that used to fish for food in the Thames River, monkeys, bears, an African elephant that was fed wine every day in an attempt to keep it warm (!?!? And then it died after four years because obviously that didn’t work), a hyena, wolves, an ostrich that died from eating too many nails thanks to ignorant visitors who thought ostriches ate iron, birds, snakes that were wrapped in blankets and put on a stove to keep them warm, and more. They weren’t terribly well-kept, partly because the people in charge didn’t know much about how to take care of some of them, and would attack each other and sometimes visitors. The Menagerie was opened to the public in the 18th century, and admission was either 3 half-pence (cents) or a dog or cat to feed to the lions. I promise I didn’t make that up. In the 19th century, the animals were moved to Regent’s Park, now the site of the London Zoo where they are properly cared for.

There are animal sculptures around the Tower as a reminder of the good ‘ole Menagerie days.

Spotted! The Tower ravens are allowed to roam freely within the complex, and I stumbled upon one of them during my explorations

There are still some animals on the Tower grounds… ravens. Six ravens are kept due to the superstition that if the ravens depart, the Tower will crumble and the kingdom will follow. No one is completely sure how or why the superstition and tradition came to be, but there’s no turning back now! The Tower ravens are cared for by one of the Beefeaters, the Ravenmaster. One of the signs said that they each eat 170g of raw meat and bird biscuits soaked in blood each day. So that’s gross. And sometimes, for a special treat, they get a sheep’s heart. Double ew.

The ravens’ cages

By the time I left the Tower, it was about to close, along with everything else I was considering seeing. So much for my ambitious plans for the day! I should have known, though, because never in my life have I gone through a museum quickly.

You can see the two layers of walls and the White Tower rising up behind them. Imagine planning to attack the Tower and seeing this view as you approached (plus a moat!)… I don’t think I would have very high hopes for my chances.

Walking across the bridge.

I made one last stop at Tower Bridge, the famous bridge next to the Tower. Even though the two look similar, the bridge was built during Victorian times (late 1800s). It was required to “blend in” with its surroundings and be built in the Gothic style, hence why it stylistically looks much older than it is. Even though it’s not THAT old comparatively, it’s still pretty impressive that they made an operable bridge 120 years ago that worked for 70 years (the hydraulic system was replaced in the 1970s).

Me with Tower Bridge!

Tower Bridge! It’s a little weird to see a bridge built in Gothic style but with steel components. Those absolutely give it away as a modern (relatively) addition.

View of the Tower of London from Tower Bridge. I know, the view is simply breathtaking because it was such a beautiful and clear day.

After that, I went snack shopping (my favorite part of travel days!) and headed back to my hostel to get ready to go to the airport. Next stop: Iceland!

I had to take a picture of this sign because I don’t think I agree with its claim that the Tower Bridge is the most famous bridge in the world. Personally, I would have guessed that the Golden Gate Bridge is more famous, though I’m not sure how you measure fame. What do you think is the world’s most famous bridge?

History of the Tower of London

I had ambitious plans for my last day in London, and of course, they were way too ambitious. I thought I’d spend maybe four hours at the Tower of London and then I could go to either the National Gallery (one of my favorite London museums) or the Tate Britain (Maddy’s favorite museum which I haven’t been to).

From the very beginning, I failed to follow the plan. I wanted to get there at 9:30 because it opens at 10, but I read that they usually let people in a bit early. I had to pack my stuff up before heading out for the day because I was headed to the airport that night, so I didn’t leave even close to on time. I made it to the Tower around 11:30 and surprisingly still managed to beat the crowds. Maybe people were slowed down because of the dreary weather.

I didn’t know much about the Tower before I went, but now my brain is full. My gosh there’s a lot of history in that place. Here’s where I attempt to summarize masses of information and not bore you to tears…

The White Tower, the central structure in the Tower of London complex, was the first structure built in the mid-11th century by William the Conqueror. He believed that he had a rightful claim to the throne of England, and when it was given to another, he and his army successfully invaded from Normandy. He was declared king in 1066. As a show of his power and in an attempt to intimidate the Londoners, he ordered the construction of the 90-foot-tall tower (with 15’ wide walls!!) which would have been, by far, the tallest building they’d ever seen.

The White Tower

During its early years, the Tower was used as a royal residence and prison for wealthy and high-profile people. Many of the kings were afraid of the people, making the idea of living in an easily-defensible castle very appealing. It did a decent job of keeping people out and a much worse job of keeping people in. In fact, the very first prisoner, Bishop Ranulf Flambard, escaped! As the legend goes, he organized a bit of a party for his guards, got them drunk on wine, and snuck out using a rope that was smuggled in at the bottom of the wine container. He wasn’t the last person to escape either… others successfully bribed the guards to help them out!

There aren’t many original furnishings and decorations in the Tower, but in some spaces, historians have tried to recreate what the royal living quarters might have looked like.

Ceiling in one of the towers

The Tower was expanded a few times. An inner ring of walls was constructed and was soon followed up by a second layer of walls, giving it 21 more towers and a moat. Generally, the monarchs who were most concerned with the upkeep of the Tower were the ones who were most disconnected from and fearful of their subjects.

There were multiple times throughout history when people tried to siege the Tower. The only time anyone was successful was during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. They were protesting excessive taxation and managed to make it inside the White Tower. They found the Lord Chancellor and Lord High Treasurer in this chapel inside, two of the men leading the government on behalf of 14-year-old King Richard II, dragged them out to Tower Hill, and executed them. There’s speculation that the peasants were let into the Tower by guards who were sympathetic to their cause.

This pathway runs between the inner and outer walls. I’m standing on an inner wall.

Archer defending the Tower!

The outer walls and the area that used to be the moat

The rack

Starting in the 16th century, the Tower was less popular as a residence among the royals, and it transitioned into other roles. Mostly, it became known as a terrifying prison with horrible conditions and widespread torture. In reality, prisoners were still generally of high-status, were imprisoned for only short time periods, and with enough money, could live in comfort. Torture, while rare, did happen. There were less than 50 recorded incidents of torture at the Tower, but the methods were rather brutal. The most well-known method (though not often used) is probably the rack, where a person’s wrists and ankles are fastened and pulled in opposite directions, stretching the body and dislocating the joints. Another less-used contraption compresses the body by pushing down on the back of someone curled up with their shins on the ground. Others were put in shackles, sometimes hanging from the ceiling. One of the most famous people tortured at the Tower was Guy Fawkes who was part of a plot to blow up Parliament on 5 November 1605 (if you’ve seen the movie V for Vendetta, you’re probably familiar with his name).

“Besides the Rack, the principal kind of torture in England is called the ‘Scavenger’s Daughter’. It is the complete opposite of the rack… The prisoner’s body is folded into three with the shins up against the thighs and the thighs against the stomach. The torturer then forces the ends of two iron bows together and locks the prisoner inside, almost crushing his body with a hellish compression. The is an inhuman torture, in every way worse than the rack…”.

There are carvings all over the various rooms of the Tower where people were imprisoned. Some of them were what I expected, little scratchings that are about as profound as “Lara wuz here”, but then there were also impressive works of art like this one.

Many of the prisoners held in the Tower were eventually executed, either by hanging or beheading. The majority were taken to a nearby hill (Tower Hill) where their deaths were public spectacles. A select few were given the honor of being killed inside the Tower walls on Tower Green, including Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII. Apparently, out of “kindness”, he hired an expert swordsman for her execution (to me, “kindness” is a strong word in this situation because he still had her killed…), ensuring that she would be successfully beheaded on the first strike. In other cases, it wasn’t uncommon for the executioner to have to take a few swings before hitting accurately enough to kill the person. That. Sounds. HORRIBLE. I read somewhere that executioners didn’t perform enough executions to become truly skilled (I guess that’s a good thing) and were probably a little drunk because how else could you do that job?

More prisoner carvings.

A memorial in remembrance of the people who were killed on Tower Green.

This big, grassy area is Tower Green, where the most important people were executed, away from the eyes of the public.

This church, the Royal Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, is the burial place of some of the most famous people who were executed on Tower Green and Tower Hill.

In the 1800s, the moat was filled in with dirt because the water was gross, and people were getting sick from it. The Tower was used to hold prisoners for the last time during WWI and WWII, and some were executed by firing squad within the Tower walls. The final execution was of a German spy in 1941.

Now, the Tower is mostly used for ceremonial purposes and is a huge tourist attraction. I’ll tell you about my visit in my next post

No Time for Getting Sick

The day after I visited Cardiff, I had an 8:15AM bus to London. That was the day when I decided I HAD to stop scheduling myself for transportation that left before 10AM because it never goes well. First of all, I always have things left to pack, and no one in a hostel wakes up before like 9AM unless they’re leaving. That means you have to try to be quiet (or I guess you don’t HAVE to, but I’m not an inconsiderate jerk) which really slows down the packing process. Second, you’re supposed to get to the bus station 15 minutes early. Third, I never budget enough time to get to the bus station, though luckily, in Bristol at least, I didn’t have far to go.

I set my alarm for 7AM, shortly concluded that I didn’t leave myself quite enough time, and went into a panic rush as I tried to get everything done quickly. Of course, rushing leads to stupid mistakes, and while I was packing my bag in the hallway (because I have a lot of very noisy plastic vacuum bags that I don’t like to roll up while people are sleeping), I accidentally locked myself out of my room and had to run downstairs to reception to ask for someone to let me back in.

By the time I left the hostel, I had less than 15 minutes until my bus was supposed to leave, the walk there was about 8 minutes, and of course, it was raining. And of course, I wasn’t wearing a rain jacket because that would have required looking out the window to see that it was raining, and I was too busy panic packing. I practically ran to the bus (both because I was late and because of the rain), and thankfully I made it with about 5 minutes to spare. And I was soaked with rain and also sweating because I ran and there were barely any seats left because I was so late and I sat my disheveled-self next to a girl who was sleeping because she couldn’t be appalled by me if she was asleep.

As much as I like to pretend that I’m a robot who doesn’t require any rest and can walk for an eternity and be fine and doesn’t have to play by the same physical rules as the rest of the people in the universe, I’m not. I have limits, and by the time I left Bristol, I was a bit of a wreck. Not only had I spent like 15 hours a day walking around for three days straight, I also spent my nights trying to catch up on my blog and make plans for the following days and wash every article of clothing in my bag (because I was at almost three weeks of wearing/re-wearing my one week’s worth of clothing).

The results of my complete disregard for my health were that I was 1. Getting sick (and had an intense stuffy/runny nose situation), 2. Absolutely exhausted and could barely keep my eyes open, and 3. Having acute big-toe pain that was so bad I could barely even walk. Yes, you read that correctly. My right big toe was KILLING me. I experienced shooting pain every time I took a step, so when I said that I “ran” to the bus that morning, more accurately I speedily hobble/limped there.

I was worried that something was seriously wrong with me, and that was just not acceptable because I don’t have time to get hurt! Since my brother, Mike, is a doctor, I take full advantage of free medical advice from him, especially when I’m abroad and want to avoid paying to visit a doctor if I don’t need to. (Really though, I just do it for the benefit of his education because it’s good for him to practice diagnosing things. I’m such a thoughtful sister.) I messaged him to ask what he thought was wrong with my toe, and his conclusion was that I had overused it and needed to wear more supportive shoes. Wow. That made me feel stupid. An overused big toe? Come on, Lara. Pull it together!

The good news was that I had already been to London, and I hit the sightseeing pretty hard on that trip. Yes, there are always more things to see, but with Iceland coming up the following week, I didn’t want to keep pushing myself and end up totally useless by the time I made it there. I had three days to spend in London, and the only thing I HAD to do before leaving was go to the Tower of London because I didn’t have time during my previous visit. Otherwise, I wanted to take it slow and give my body a chance to recover.

My plans for my first two days: meet up with friends, sleep, and catch up on work. I was meeting Mike in Iceland in three days, and since Mike loves to hike, my toe had to be better by then. I was NOT interested in tromping around the Icelandic wilderness with a bum foot and slowing Mike down more than I already would.

I met up with Maddy for Sunday roast which is a British tradition. The meal consists of a meat (we went with beef), vegetables, potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding (which is not even close to the “pudding” of American English. It’s the thing on the right side of the plate and is hard to describe… it’s kind of bread-like but denser but also airy. Conceptually, it’s maybe equivalent to an American biscuit because you generally put gravy on it.)

I met up with a couple of university friends, Nick and Becca, who are living in London for a year while Becca is in grad school, and a high school friend, Maddy, who I also saw almost a year and a half prior when I visited London after my time in Ghana. It was funny to see all of them because I absolutely did not think that I was going to find myself back in England anytime soon.

Becca told me months ago to let her know if I was ever in town, and I said that it was unlikely because I had already been to London. With Maddy, we laughed the first time about the weirdness of seeing each other in London after so many years apart… and this time, we laughed about the fact that my life has somehow become one where surprise, repeated London trips are a thing. That’s definitely not a reality I ever would have imagined for myself, but how cool, right?!

Cardiff

Here we go, back at it! To reorient you, we’re in England. I spent a few nights in Bristol on the suggestion of a random couple I met in Georgia, and while I was there, I did a couple of day trips: one to Bath and one to my final random-stranger-selected destination of the UK, Cardiff. Here’s where I once again embarrass myself by admitting that the only thing I knew about Cardiff was that it’s in Wales, and I only knew THAT because the previously-mentioned random strangers told me as much. It took me more than half the day to realize that Cardiff isn’t just some city in Wales, it’s the capital. Only slightly more embarrassing is the fact that I learned this from the city buses, branded as, “capital transport for our capital city”. Oops. On the bright side, travelling alone means less talking which means less opportunity for me to accidentally say something stupid before I figure things out.

Here’s a map to help you get oriented… The blue diamond is London, the purple house is Bristol, the orange heart is Bath, and the green star is Cardiff.

For anyone confused by the whole UK/Great Britain/England thing, here’s a five-second explanation. England is a country. Great Britain is the name of the island that contains the primary land area of England, Wales, and Scotland. The UK (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) is a collection of four countries: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. London is the capital city of both England and the UK as a whole. The UK countries have the same currency, military, and overall government (the Queen, Prime Minister, and the two Parliamentary houses), but they are four distinct countries with their own smaller executive governments, education systems, cultures, flags, and even languages. There are four Celtic languages spoken in various parts of the UK. In Wales, about 20% of the population can speak Welsh. Fun side fact: the blue, white, and red UK flag is the one you’re probably most familiar with. It’s a combination of the flags of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

That was more than five seconds, I know, but even that is a SUPER simplified explanation. The full details are enough to make your brain explode. Now that we have the essentials covered, here we go. Once again, I was advised that the best way to get to my destination from Bristol was the train. I still don’t understand how the train can possibly be the cheapest option, but I’m not going to question it!

When I walked out of the station in Cardiff, I had this feeling that I couldn’t completely understand… I felt like I had been there before. Things seemed familiar. Since I had definitely never been to Wales, I disregarded my feeling and kept moving. But still, it was disconcerting.

My initial thoughts:

  • Wow it really does look different than England! (*facepalm* at my ignorant past self)
  • There are so many flags here! Guess they don’t want you to forget that you’re in Wales! (Yeah, plus it’s the capital… silly Lara.)
  • Is that Welsh on those signs? Whatttttt? HOW DO YOU PRONOUNCE THAT?
  • Hm… sooo where should I go?

First impression street. Welsh flags everywhere! (Also, prepare yourself for TONS of pictures.)

I guess maybe I should’ve done some planning beyond flagging things on Google maps on the train ride from Bristol. It’s hard to plan when you’re going somewhere new every day! So maybe it wasn’t my best-planned day, but I knew I at least had to go to Cardiff Castle and decided that the rest would work itself out.

St. John the Baptist on the approach

I have a never-fail strategy for times when I don’t know where to go: Look at the people around you, and walk like you have a clue. I followed the crowd, impulsively turned into a cool-looking building, and found myself in the central market! Okay, so I didn’t actually realize that’s where I was until after I walked out… Whoops! Thank you, GPS and Google maps. But it was on my list of things to see, so be impressed with my intuition and natural directional abilities. The market has two levels – the ground floor and a balcony that wraps around the perimeter. It’s been around since 1891, and the stalls sell a WIDE range of things, from produce and prepared food to souvenirs and vintage vinyl (side note: in case you were wondering, there is such a thing as NON-vintage vinyl. Apparently, vinyl is making a comeback and you can actually get records for new music). I had fun just walking around and checking out the offerings.

From there, I made my way to Cardiff Castle, popping into St. John the Baptist City Parish Church along the way (I think they need a few more words in that name. Way too short).

View inside the market from the balcony level

St. John the Baptist Church

Inside St. John the Baptist Church

The first known fortification at the site of the castle was a 3rd-century Roman fortress, but there were probably smaller Roman defenses there starting in the 1st century. It still blows my mind that the Roman Empire stretched all the way to Wales. I know it was huge, but like… whoa. After that, a castle was built on the site in the 11th century. Throughout the years, it was held by various forces and owners who all made their own additions and modifications. It didn’t become the property of the city of Cardiff until almost 1950!

Some of the original Roman walls!

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before (just kidding… I’m sure I’ve mentioned this at least 100 times), but I LOVE CASTLES. Sometimes when I say that, especially in front of jaded backpackers who have been wandering around Europe for far too long, the response is an eye roll, a knowing smile, and the question, “How long have you been in Europe?” Their assumption is that I haven’t spent much time in Europe because if I HAD, I would be bored with castles like they are because EVERY town has a castle and they think they’re all the same and oh how cute that this little amateur traveler still finds castles exciting. You know what I have to say to those people? I have been to A LOT of castles, and guess what? I still think they’re all exciting. And a lot of churches. And I’ve walked a lot of bridges and visited a lot of cities and seen a lot of amazing views… but I’m not sick of any of those either. I think that if you’re sick of those things, you need to go back to wherever you lost your “awe” glasses and put them back on because the fact that other amazing places exist doesn’t make the one you’re at any LESS amazing. End rant. Sorry. I had to get that out. But seriously. If you’re travelling and you’re not surprised or amazed by anything, take a pause and check yourself because the world is freaking incredible. Okay, NOW I’m finished.

Entrance into the castle

Outside the castle walls

Like I was saying, I LOVE CASTLES. Even better if you can walk along the walls because my favorite thing to do (feel free to judge me for this) is walk along the walls and pretend I’m a princess. Or better yet, a queen. (As I get older, I more often go in the queen direction.)

The wall walk. Perfect for princess strolling. It would be better if you could see over the walls while strolling, but it’ll do. I’m not too picky.

I had no idea how many parts there were to the castle complex. After my regal wall-stroll, I went INSIDE the walls. During World War II, the walls were used as air-raid shelters and could hold almost 2,000 people! As an important port city, Cardiff was heavily bombed during WWII, killing hundreds of civilians. In case you had trouble imagining that terrifying experience, there was a soundtrack that included air-raid sirens and planes flying overhead. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine how it felt. Total darkness. Stale air heavy with fear. Silence except for the sound of breathing and the occasional cry of a child. Feeling completely powerless. I started feeling claustrophobic and had to go outside.

Inside the walls. This was the part without the windows blocked off. There was another section that was almost completely dark to help with the visualization process. It wasn’t nearly as pleasant.

They had old posters from WWII on display inside the walls. This was one of a series reminding people to watch what they say because the enemy has ears everywhere. In this one, two women are talking, and the wall behind them is covered in Hitler faces. It says, “Don’t forget that walls have ears! Careless talk costs lives”

This poster reminds you of the things that you should put into place before you go to sleep.
“LOOK before you sleep
All windows and inner doors open?
Water in buckets?
Sand in buckets?
Gas mask, clothes, and torch handy?
Good night!”
Eek.


This poster is asking for women to volunteer to help children from evacuated areas. The images show the various things that need to be done, such as getting the kids ready for school, preparing meals, sewing, supervising playtime, etc.
The best part is at the bottom where it says, “These are jobs which will have to be done. All women love children and like to help them. Offer your services.”
So, in case you were wondering, ALL WOMEN LOVE CHILDREN AND WANT TO HELP THEM. But we’re not going to generalize or anything.

This poster encourages people to grow their own vegetables throughout the year. It explains what things can be planted in each season, shows a plan for crop rotation, and gives detailed instructions about how your garden should operate.


This poster shows how to properly put on and use your gas mask. It firmly reminds readers that their gas masks should be kept on-hand at ALL times.

“In an air raid
If you are caught in the street
1. Don’t stand and stare at the sky
2. Take cover at once”
This is terrifying.


Heyy self-timer with the keep in the background

Flowers!

I had to take a picture of this because it was too darn stereotypical. The two boys you can kind of see in front of the keep were sword fighting with wooden swords.

After leaving the walls, I climbed up to the keep. The current structure was built in the 12th century, and for those of you unfamiliar with castle terminology, was the main stronghold of the castle. This one is basically just a very tall stone cylinder on top of a very natural-looking hill (or motte), and from the top, there’s a nice view of the city.

Approaching the keep. Check out that motte!

The keep

Looking out from the keep. You can see the foundations where there used to be more walls. The keep was once much bigger than it is now.

Inside the keep

At the top!

View of the House and Cardiff (and tower cranes)

The last building inside the castle walls is the “House” (their words), or more accurately, the mansion. The first structure was built in the early 1400s, but practically every subsequent owner made modifications, giving it a strong architectural-collage vibe.

The House. Can you see why I don’t think “House” (even with a capital ‘H’) is a sufficient name??

Clock tower

The inside of the mansion was predictably lavish, but the décor was surprisingly varied. There was one room called the “Arab Room” that was definitely not what I was expecting to find in Wales. Then, the next second, I was in the banqueting hall that looks like the set of a movie in the Middle Ages where people are meant to be swigging beers and slamming their glasses down on the table. There’s also an absolutely amaaaaazinggg library where I wanted to touch everything and, of course, was allowed to touch nothing.

The ceiling in the Arab Room

I couldn’t stop staring… like what is even happening on this ceiling? How the heck did they build it??

Staircase. I just wish it wasn’t so plain-looking.

Honestly, I don’t even understand what’s going on up there

This place is ridiculous

Details of the banqueting hall

Casual dining room ceiling

Isn’t this what your fireplaces look like?

First peek into the library…

One day, I’m going to have a library like this (even if I have to rebind every trashy novel I own in order to make it look this classy)

Isn’t it beautiful??

There’s also a falconry on the castle grounds

I was all castled-out after I finished walking through the “House”, so I started the long walk to my next destination, Llandaff Cathedral. To be honest, I have no idea why I decided to go there. I saw it on the map, decided it might be nice to walk around a bit, and apparently wasn’t deterred by the fact that it was three miles away… ha. I tried to at least pick a scenic route through some parks, and I saw lots of normal people doing normal things. That’s another one of my favorite things to do when I’m travelling: wander into the parts of the city where regular people live life.

Outside of the castle is the famous “Animal Wall”. Along the wall, there are 15 different animals that appear to be climbing out of the park and into the city.

This hyena (I think??) was my favorite. It looks confused/terrified.

Walking the tree-lined paths to Llandaff

Llandaff Cathedral from the back

This stone is right outside the cathedral and reads, “On 2nd January 1941, the cathedral was devastated by an enemy landmine which fell in this place now set apart to receive the cremated remains of the faithful departed. Remember them before God & honour this hallowed ground.”

The cathedral was massive and beautiful, as expected. The current building isn’t actually that old because it was built after WWII when the previous building was severely damaged. I wandered through the church and around the nearby neighborhood before heading back into town.

I really don’t understand the purpose of this archway and the huge cylindrical drum over it, but I think maybe it’s just art.

Inside the cathedral

They had some serious stained glass

Llandaff Cathedral

This park used to be the Bishop’s Palace. The ruins of the old palace were left in place, and now it’s a public park. This is another thing I just stumbled upon.

On the way out of the Bishop’s palace park

Street views

Flowers along my walking route!

I still had a few things that I wanted to see down on the waterfront, but when it started drizzling and I was near the train station anyway, I decided to call it a day. Plus, my feet were hurting. A couple minutes later, I patted myself on the back for a well-made decision because it started POURING rain. No, thank you!

At the end of the day, after all of my wandering across the universe, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I had been to Wales before. The houses, the terrain, the names of places… everything seemed too familiar. It wasn’t until a couple days later that I realized the reason why. Many of the early settlers of the area where I grew up in Pennsylvania were from Wales. In fact, the Welsh Quakers were granted a large tract of land west of Philadelphia and even attempted to make it a separate county with a local government that operated in Welsh. They established settlements with Welsh names, some of which have carried on until today, such as Bala Cynwyd, Bryn Mawr, Berwyn, etc. If you’re looking at those words and wondering how the heck you pronounce them, exactly.

So, there you have it. The very long story of how I went all the way to Wales just to realize that I could have walked around at home and gotten the same effect.

Peaceful and pretty!

Happy to be in the woods!

This house is literally 80% of the houses in my town

I took the scenic route on the way back to town

How slow exactly is “DEAD SLOW”?

What country am I even in anymore???

City Hall and pretty trees

City Hall