Last autumn, my friend and I decided that we would take a spontaneous day trip to Wales. True to our word, we were off the next morning. To this day, we still can’t quite believe that we had the nerve to do it. Spur-of-the-moment trips like this are a relatively common trope in young adult novels, but to be the instigator of one in real life was something else.
The tale begins at approximately 7pm on a Thursday evening, when my friend and I were innocuously chatting over Whatsapp. But when we noticed that we both had the next day off from work, we began to see an opportunity. We began searching the internet for offbeat ways to occupy our day in London; whether it be a pop-up art installation, or a cafe with a quirky interior.
But we weren’t sure if these places were enough. The places we were looking at were the kind of things that took a few hours at most to see, but this time we had the entire day. We had plenty of time to be a bit more adventurous, and we began to cast our sights outside of central London. Quick as a flash, the original plans to go to a cute cafe morphed into something far more intrepid.
I can’t remember who suggested it first, but eventually one of us brought up, shock horror, leaving the boundaries of the M25, the ring road that encircles London. Passing this milestone felt significant; our Friday plans were now officially a Day Out™. This new development didn’t slow us down down one jot, and we embraced the new opportunities by devouring every Top Ten London Day Trips list that we could lay our hands on.
One of the perks of being in London is how easy it is to escape London, with a wealth of easily accessible day trips that don’t require a car. Cambridge and Oxford came up many times, but we had both been to these cities already. Saint Albans, Canterbury and Rochester were other potential options. But it wasn’t until my friend suggested Wales as a joke that we had an option that truly sang to us.
The idea instantly caught. Although, even though it would be hilarious if we actually went to another country for a day trip, I knew it was totally unrealistic. It would be far too expensive… or would it? Because I am not the kind of person to leave things like that hanging, I decided to actually look at prices. And you know what? It wasn’t actually that much. It would only cost us about £27 or so for a round coach trip, which wasn’t even much more than the tickets to more nearby cities. And hey, go big or go home, right?
Thankfully, my friend is also of a similar disposition to me, and it didn’t take long for us to actually decide to go. We weren’t going to let this rare shared day off go to waste! Besides, I think we almost as excited about the idea of doing a day trip to another country than we were about the day trip itself.
And so, less than 12 hours after we first began planning, we found ourselves at London Victoria coach station, blearily clutching hot drinks from Pret aManger and ready to board a bus to Wales.
There are many accessible day-trips around London, many of which only being an hour or so away on the train. (Un)fortunately for us, Cardiff is not one of these cities. The coach from Victoria Coach Station departed at 7am and arrived no less than four and a half hours later, just in time for lunchtime. But in the end, the timing worked out quite well. By the time we were due for our bus home at 6pm, we were sufficiently exhausted enough to not care about ignoring any places of interest that we might have missed.
Cardiff has always been one of these cities I had been meaning to go to one day. Accessible enough to be vaguely realistic, but far enough out of the way that it was always dismissed to the back of the line. On many accounts, it was reported to be a lovely little city. For me personally, there was also an attraction in that the city played a big part in Doctor Who and Torchwood, both beloved shows of my high school self. Plus, I’m a sucker for a new experience, and what better place to experience that than the Welsh capital?
My friend, being Welsh, had of course been several times before. She was my tour guide! Not that we had a proper plan, really. We just wandered around, stumbling across food markets and strange Harry Potter knick knacks in stores. There’s some gorgeous shopping arcades dotted across the city, and we took great delight in admiring every inch of them!
We found the Ianto Jones shrine, which was a huge throwback to my Torchwood days. It was a little strange seeing a full blown memorial for a fictional character, but hey, what’s a fandom if it doesn’t make you feel things?
Despite Ianto Jones not actually being a real person, I still couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness when I saw how neglected some of the posters were, with years of being left to the elements stripping the colours and curling the corners. Torchwood has been off the air for years now, and there aren’t a lot of new memorials going up these days. At one point, all of these people thought Torchwood important enough to make a pilgrimage to Cardiff, but now Torchwood is no longer a part of their lives, and these people have moved on. I feel old.
We spent quite a lot of time around the harbour front, which alternated between gale-force winds and cool and clear sunshine. At one point we were forced to retreat inside the nearest pub to escape the rain and wind, which was threatening to blind us with its wrath. The pub in question was an ever-dependable Wetherspoons, but it did offer us a lovely view over the harbour! Half an hour later, the sky was blue and the sun was shining. Ah, the joys of British weather.
On a whim, we decided to pop into the interactive science centre, which was actually a lot of fun. We spent a good few hours channelling our inner children and messing around with the exhibits pretending to be airbenders.
After living in London for nearly two years, I had almost forgotten that people are capable of talking to strangers unprompted. Despite having the technical definition of a city, Cardiff really did give off some small town vibes. Everyone was smiling, and I even found my usually shy self chatting to a few people. A young mother with her toddler at the station even offered a ride back to the station if we didn’t want to walk it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you necessarily want every conversation that comes your way. One memorable moment was in a souvenir shop, where we were treated to a conversation with the shopkeeper that rapidly the devolved into a woe-is-me rant about how his wife left him for his boss. But really, even an awkward encounter like that was just something to giggle over later.
One thing I was most excited to see was the bilingual signs, with many places displaying both English and Welsh languages. I myself am a firm advocate of New Zealand doing the same with Māori and English, so I was delighted to see a country, similar to NZ in so many ways, still representing its indigenous language today.
Usually the excitement of booking a trip becomes dulled down after the weeks or months of anticipation, but in the case of this particular trip to Wales, I found that there was no time for this to happen. Because we had so little time to mentally prepare ourselves to go, I actually found myself more excited to go here than I had been for a trip in a long time.
It’s become a fond memory now, and I can still barely believe that I’ve managed to find friends who is equally enthusiastic about spontaneous explorations. Here’s to many more such adventures!