Today was our trip to Wales. We didn't have any real plans because we don't have a Welsh guidebook. We had two fantastic books for London and Bath which helped immensely in planning our days. I got online before we left home to look at Wales but still didn't have a ton of information. I wrote down a few potential places to visit but couldn't find that paper today - probably sitting on my desk at home. So, thinking we could just find some info once we hit a city, we headed for Newport, just across the channel from England and not too far from the Welsh capital of Cardiff.
Matilda the GPS, led us to a rather sketchy part of the city and we seemed to have hit a dead end because nowhere that we tried had any kind of tourist information. We were used to the tourist hotspots of London and Bath and Wales is just...well, different. We were about to give up when we wandered into an indoor open market hoping to find some gifts for the boys. We were looking for some rugby apparel and stopped into a small shop where the owner was a very friendly older man who not only fixed us up with the just the right gifts for the boys but also gave a tip to check out Tredegar House nearby, which turned out to be one of our best stops of the whole trip.
There is a different feel in Wales - nothing I could articulate exactly but definitely different. The architecture seemed somewhat darker and heavier than what we had seen in England - more fortress-like, maybe? Also, there seemed less concern with protecting the historic feel of the buildings. It wasn't unusual to see an old stone building with a McDonalds, for instance, tacked on to the side. Of course, we only saw a small part of Southern, coastal Wales and nothing at all of the more rural areas.
Anyway, Tredegar House was a good call. It's a beautiful house - parts built as far back as the 1490's. There is a huge park open to the public and a lake with a walking trail around it. Ducks and swans inhabit the lake. The house belonged to the aristocratic Morgan family from the 1490's to the 1950's. After that it was used as a girls' school for about 30 years. It is now owned by the city of Newport (I think) and is undergoing ongoing restoration and preservation work. A great deal of the house is already open to visitors. They have year round activities that involve the community - Christmas celebrations, educational tours where kids dress in Victorian clothing and learn about life in a large Victorian home, Easter egg hunts and more. They even have a Pirate Day in honor of Captain Morgan (yes, just like the rum - it is named for him) who was a cousin of the Tredegar House Morgans. He was a privateer (read pirate) sentenced by the Crown to hang but redeemed himself by capturing Jamaica of which he was made Governor instead. There are lots of other very interesting members of the Morgan family as well. Evan Morgan especially was, to put it mildly, a character. He was a friend of the infamous Alistair Crowley and apparently a practitioner of black magic himself, but was also a Chamberlain of the Pope. His parents lived apart because his mother flatly refused to live in Wales. There was also a wife of one of the other Morgan men who tried on three occasions to murder her husband, actually running him through with a sword on the third attempt. He survived and she was "put away" - probably in an insane asylum.
Tredegar House is decorated in different areas of the house, as it was during a certain era, so that the house itself shows a progression of history. There are also servants quarters which we hadn't yet seen on this trip and which were really interesting as a comparison to the opulent quarters of the family. We had a fantastic guide who was funny and knowledgeable and gave lots of little details that made the family and the house really memorable. Probably the best tour of our trip.
Two days ago Tim was getting a feel for the roads in England and driving like a crazy native Brit and saying he would actually miss driving on the left side of the road when we got home. Then we went to Wales and he decided that left-side driving is highly overrated. Matilda the GPS, has become like a third person in the car - a necessary but highly irritating third person. She got a bit cheeky the other day and Tim threatened to put her back in the box. She knew it was an idle threat though - she's got all the directions.
We don't have any set plans for tomorrow which is nice. All this vacationing is tiring! I kept nodding off in the car on the way home from Wales when I was supposed to be helping to navigate (Matilda requires supervision). Back at the hotel we could barely drag our sore feet up to the room. We have walked and walked and walked this week and gone up and down more flight of steps than I could even guess at. So maybe we'll just hang out and enjoy the grounds here.
Another interesting thing about Wales: In Wales all the signs are in both English and Welsh. Welsh is a completely indecipherable language, by the way. "Cardiff" in Welsh is Caerdydd, which is so bad but "Wales" in Welsh is "Cymru". Say what?
Speaking of Wales, here's another story about Evan Morgan of Tredegar House. He had a portrait painted of him wearing his Chamberlain's robes (he was a Chamberlain of the Pope, remember) with an angel depicted at his shoulder. When he was informed that only the Pope himself should have an angel at his shoulder in a picture, Evan responded, "Well, then, I'll be the Pope of Wales." Given his involvement with the occult, his Roman Catholic religion seemed the worst kind of farce but, interestingly, when he died his will stated his desire to be buried at a holy place (an abbey, I think) and he left money to have mass said on his behalf monthly for several years following his death. Clearly he was searching for something.