Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cardiff (Wales), Stonehenge, and Edinburgh (Scotland)

During the decade before Carter was born, Doug and I spent nearly every Thanksgiving weekend in London. It was a quick trip during which we'd go out to eat at our favorite restaurants and go to a lot of theatre, and do a little bit of Christmas shopping, if we had time. The last time we went was when I was pregnant with Carter, and I basically haven't been to the UK since. When we realized that we could organize the trip so that we could be in London over Thanksgiving, we decided it would be a lot of fun to continue that tradition.

We spent two weeks in the UK and Ireland: We started in Cardiff, Wales (and took a side trip from there to see Stonehenge), then headed to Edinburgh, Scotland. After that we went on to Dublin, Ireland, and then to London, England.

Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff is a few hours from London by train, but it was a city I've never been to. The main attraction in Cardiff is its castle, which dates to the 11th century. The castle is in the center of the city.

Inside the castle wall is a large green area, with a defensive "keep" on an artificial mound and a palace.

The keep is surrounded by a moat.

The palace is beautifully decorated with lots of differently-themed rooms.

There was a lot of beautiful stained glass everywhere.

This library was filled with books that looked like compilations of local government records.

I'm always amazed by suits of armour. Somehow it doesn't seem real that people actually wore this stuff.

We visited the castle's gift shop, and what Carter wanted to buy was a toy snake and bug! 

We spent the afternoon wandering around central Cardiff and admiring the Christmas decorations. I thought this was a great name for a pub.

We eventually found a Jamie Oliver restaurant to have lunch in, which was a lot of fun. After our late lunch, it was already starting to get dark - the sun sets very early at this time of year. We walked back to our hotel through Cardiff's Christmas market. 

On our second day, we took a day trip to Stonehenge. We took a train to Salisbury, England, and then caught a bus out to Stonehenge.

It started with a lovely tour through Salisbury.

The countryside was very green and beautiful. Considering how far north Great Britain is, it's amazing that the grass is so green and the trees have leaves at this time of year.

Stonehenge is, oddly enough, just off of a freeway. The structure looks just like you might expect, though maybe larger and more imposing.

This is about as close as you can get to it.

It's interesting that it's in the middle of a farm, and there are sheep grazing on all sides.

It's an ancient site, dating back to as early as 3000 BC. Archaeological excavations have shown that there may have been structures made of giant wooden posts on the site 10,000 years ago. It was used as a burial ground as early as 5000 years ago, and though its precise purpose has been lost to time, most theories about its meaning suggest that it was a site of religious significance. By the time the Romans arrived in Britain, the site was already an ancient ruin, its meaning lost to time.

The "Heel" stone marks the spot where the sun rises on the morning of the summer solstice, as seen from a position at the center of the ruin.

It was dark by the time we made it back to Cardiff. The days are so short this time of year! The following morning, we flew even farther north, to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Though we flew over a few snowy mountains, the view was of green fields and forests most of the way.

We arrived at our hotel to find that we had a beautiful view of Edinburgh's castle.

It was beautiful at night, too. And night came very early, around 3:30 pm!

The days were short, so we spent a good part of our daylight during one of them exploring the castle.

There has been a castle on this site since the 12th century, though the buildings there now date to the 16th and 17th centuries.

The castle's position on the top of a steep and rocky hill meant it was highly defensible.

And the view from the top is quite amazing.

There are many structures inside the castle walls.

This chapel is the back of the Scottish War Memorial, which honors those who have died in battle.

And this is the front.

This building houses the Scottish crown jewels and a museum showing how the royals of the past (including Queen Mary) lived.

In another building, we visited the Great Hall of the castle. It has an impressive display of weaponry!

This ledge is a dog cemetery for the soldiers' dogs.

We had afternoon tea in the castle, and then walked down the hill along a shopping street. It was only 2:30 pm when the photo was taken, but our shadows were already incredibly long!

It was bitterly cold in Edinburgh while we were there, as cold as nearly any other place we've been this year. We intended to do more walking around and exploring the city, but once the sun went down, we wanted to stay indoors! We went out for some fantastic Indian food one night and to the Hard Rock cafe on another night.

 We also decided on a whim to take Carter to see The Lion King, even though we already had tickets to see it in London a week later. It's a movie he loves, so we thought he'd enjoy having the chance to see it more than once. It was also his first real musical theatre experience!

Edinburgh was also decorated for Christmas!

We meant to do more while we were there, but it was just so cold that we couldn't do much. I think that we need to return to Scotland in the summertime, when the days will be long and we can spend a lot of time exploring the beautiful countryside.

In the next post, I'll describe our time in Dublin and London. As I write this, we're in New York with only a few days left in our around-the-world adventure It's amazing to think that we'll soon be home.

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