Bath Experiences: Roman Baths and a Sally Lunn dinner

It goes without saying that every visitor to the city of Bath, a world heritage site, needs to visit the Roman Baths, that gave the city its name. The springs have been an attraction of the city for centuries, with the first shrine on the site said to have been built by the Celts in honour of Goddess Sulis. When the Romans arrived in the town they called Aquae Sulis during the 1st century, they built the temple for Minerva and the Bath complex. Since the Romans, the Baths have gone through a series of redevelopment efforts, the latest being the £ 5.5 million project in 2011 to preserve the Baths for the next 100 years.

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View of Bath Abbey from the Terrace

Visitors to the Roman Baths museum are given an audio guide, which lets one go through the museum at one’s own pace and the choice of selecting what details one wants to hear more about. From the entrance and ticket area, I walked on to the terrace of the Roman Baths, with the 19th century statues of Roman emperors and governors of Britain lining it, and had my first glimpse of the Great Bath.

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The Great Bath

Before descending the stairs to the different museum exhibits, a glance through a window gives a glimpse of the sacred spring. According to a poster at the museum, the hot water in the spring rises at a rate of 1,170,000 litres each day at 46°C. This natural phenomenon was attributed to the Goddess Sulis Minerva during the Roman times and there was a temple next to the spring, dedicated to the Goddess.

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the Sacred Spring

The exhibit area of the museum starts with the ‘Meet the Romans’ section, which had models of how the Baths would have looked during the Roman times. I enjoyed the film projections on how daily life at the Baths would have looked like then.

I next walked to the area with the temple pediment, where one can sit in the small amphitheater style seating area and listen to the audio guide explain the features of the surviving front of the temple in front of you.

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Temple pediment

The floor below leads to different interesting sections of the Roman Baths that have survived. It is amazing that the plumbing and drainage system installed during the Roman period is still largely in place and continues to direct the spring overflow to the original drain and onto River Avon.

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Sacred Spring

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Spring overflow

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Roman Drain

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Plunge Pool

The various artifacts showcasing life during the Roman times is very intriguing, particularly the numerous curse tablets that have been unearthed. The curse tablets had been thrown into the pool by visitors and most curses were against thieves who had stolen the clothes or other personal belongings of the bathers while they were in the pool.

The most atmospheric area of the museum is the Great Bath area, which is enhanced by the costumed characters, based on real people who lived and worked at Aquae Sulis 2000 years ago, strolling around the pool.

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Great Bath

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Emerging from the Roman Baths museum, one comes across the famous Pump room.

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Pump Room

Quite hungry after spending the afternoon enjoying my exploration of the Roman Baths museum, I made my way over to North Parade to Sally Lunn’s historic eating house and museum.

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I decided to try out the mushroom toast trencher, with half a Sally Lunn bun topped with herb mushrooms and their historic mushroom ketchup/gravy. The trencher meal was served on a plate fortunately, instead of the trencher bread serving as a plate as it would have centuries ago.

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After my delicious and filling dinner, I made my way down to the basement where the Sally Lunn’s kitchen museum is.

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According to the museum’s website, this is the original kitchen that Solange Lyon, aka Sally Lunn,  a Huguenot refugee worked in when she came to Bath in 1680. She made her brioche buns in this kitchen and sold them, around the neighbourhood, in a basket.

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The menu of the old eating house is now focused on meals and snacks with the famous Sally Lunn bun and is certainly a place worth visiting and having a meal.

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Disclaimer: The Bath Tourism Office kindly gave me a complimentary pass to Bath and regional attractions, for the purpose of this post. This pass allowed me free entry to the Roman Baths. All opinions are my own and I only recommend experiences I have enjoyed.

[I am linking this post to The Weekly Postcard and Cultured Kids January 2017]

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Bath Experiences: A visit to Bath Christmas Market

It was the day that the Bath Christmas market opened, that I visited Bath city. So, after dropping off my bags, I made my way over to the market meandering along the way to explore Parade Gardens.

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statue of legendary King of Bath at Parade Gardens

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View of Pulteney Bridge from Parade Gardens

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Another view of Pulteney Bridge

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bronze statue of young Mozart, as commissioned in memory of Mark Purnell by his mother

The area around the Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths was bustling with the market goers and there was a very festive atmosphere, as I browsed through some of the 173 stalls at the market this year.

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Hope you enjoyed a lovely Christmas with your family!

[I am linking this post to Weekend Travel Inspiration]

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Birmingham City Centre Highlights

The highlights of my brief visit to Birmingham, during my recent travel to the UK, was visiting the Birmingham museum and art gallery and the Frankfurt Christmas market.

Victoria Square was the venue of both highlights. The public square had been originally called Council House Square, when the Council House had been built in 1870, but was renamed Victoria Square in 1901.

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The 19th century Town Hall also overlooks the square and has been hosting music events since it was built. It had also hosted political meetings till the Council House had been built.

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Walking past the Town Hall, I entered the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery where a friendly staff handed me a map of the layout of the museum. I decided to focus on the history of Birmingham exhibition on the top floor of the museum. The interactive museum gave an insight into how the area evolved over time and especially how the region became a prosperous commercial center, once Peter de Birmingham purchased a market charter in 1166.

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I liked how the exhibition presented information in a humorous manner. For example, there was a section titled “the Stranger’s Guide to Birmingham 1700 – 1830” which presented information and artefacts from that period in the form of a guide to a visiting traveler with suggestions of places to stay, sights to see etc. I particularly liked the footage of actors dressed in period costume and acting out different roles of people who would have lived in or visited Birmingham.

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The Bullring redevelopment section had an old painting of the Bullring area, with England’s first statue of Admiral Lord Nelson and the church of St. Martin in the Bullring.

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It was lovely to see the originals later. The statue of Nelson in the centre of the bullring had been unveiled in 1809.

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The church of St Martin in the Bull Ring has been long at the site but the current church building was built in 1873.

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Upeksha of Diary of a Tourist had recommended the Frankfurt Christmas market, when she learnt that I would be visiting Birmingham in early December. Since I was staying in the neighbourhood of the Christmas market during my visit, I did try out some of the different stalls, especially the crepes and pretzel stalls for several of my meals.

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I enjoyed my brief stay in Birmingham, particularly the food at the Christmas market and learning about the history of Birmingham exhibition at the museum. I would have liked to have also gone on a boat trip along the Birmingham canals but could not fit it on this visit.

Have you visited or would you like to visit the Frankfurt Christmas Market in Birmingham or the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery? 

[I am linking this post to Weekend Travel InspirationThe Weekly Postcard and City Tripping #63]

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Special Six: Cardiff Bay Highlights

I had to choose between an afternoon at Cardiff Bay or St. Fagan’s, during my recent trip to Cardiff, and I chose the bay area. Having taken the boat from Bute park to Cardiff Bay, I stepped onto the pier trying to decide which direction I should start my exploration. My eyes were drawn to the beautiful red building right in front of me. So, I started my exploration with a visit to the Pierhead.

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I found that parts of the building was open to the public so I decided to explore it. On the ground floor, adjacent to the reception area, was a small gallery with posters and information on the background to the building and the post 1800 history of Cardiff. I learnt that the Pierhead had been built as offices for the Bute Docks company, during the peak of the coal trade in Cardiff in 1897. Soon after in 1905, Cardiff was granted city status.

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My favourite corner of the building was the assistant dockmaster’s office, which had a great view of the bay and pier. There were two pieces in the former office that stood out – the grand post box and the table with the phones, which one could dial and listen to a recording by a current resident of the Bay area, about her or his favourite spots or memories of living in the area.

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The Pierhead is now part of the National Assembly estate and is located next to the Senedd, or Parliament in English, also part of the estate.

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Walking towards the Norwegian Church centre, I passed a statue and the clothing on the statue holding a torch made me go closer to read the plaque next to it. I found that the statue of Sri Chinmoy was a gift of the World Harmony Run organization (or the Sri Chinmoy Oneness) to Cardiff during its visit in 2012. The Peace Statue invites the onlooker to hold the torch and make a prayer for peace.

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A few steps from the peace statue is the little Norwegian Church Arts Centre, which was founded in 1868 and was a haven for Scandinavian seamen, not only as a place of religion but also as a place to relax and read newspapers and magazines from home or write letters.

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The building is open to the public and there is a coffee shop on the ground floor adjacent to the little chapel. This chapel was where the writer, Roald Dahl, was christened. On the first floor, there is an exhibition on the history of the church centre as well as its connection to Roald Dahl.

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Walking back to the Pierhead and beyond, I came across the Roald Dahl Plass and the Water Tower. The public space is an oval shaped square surrounded by pillars with the water tower, at one end, which has a constant stream of water running down it.

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Just across the square is the Millennium Centre, another iconic landmark of Cardiff, which is an arts centre with two theatres – the Donald Gordon theatre and the Weston Studio theatre. The Glanfa stage in the foyer, at the centre, hosts free performances during the day. The centre is also home to nine arts organizations.

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While these six were the highlights of my afternoon visit to Cardiff Bay, there are other interesting places in its vicinity such as the Mermaid Quay shopping centre and the Doctor Who experience centre, for those familiar with the TV series. Fabulous Welsh Cakes at Mermaid Quay was highly recommended for their Welshcakes but having just finished a food tour with Welshcakes earlier that day, I decided to skip a visit to the shop.

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Which of these Cardiff Bay highlights have you enjoyed or would like to visit?

[I am linking this post to Weekend Travel Inspiration , The Weekly Postcard and Wanderful Wednesday]

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Loving Welsh Food Tour

I was interested in trying out some traditional Welsh food and was searching for food tours in Cardiff when I came across Sian Roberts’ Loving Welsh Food  tasting tour. The tasting tour turned out to be the best introduction to Welsh food and Cardiff.

I met Sian at Cardiff castle, where she gave me a brief introduction to the history of the castle. She mentioned that after the castle had been gifted, by the Bute family, to the people of Cardiff in 1947, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (formerly the Cardiff College of Music) had functioned at the castle for 25 years.

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William Burges’ clock tower

We walked past the animal wall where I tried to spot which animals were the original and the relatively newly sculptured animals. We stopped at Pettigrew tea rooms, which was the former gate house of the castle.

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There, we had a lovely Welsh tea with a slice of Bara brith and a Welsh cake. Bara brith is a mix between a bread and a spiced fruit cake, where the dried fruit is soaked in tea and then mixed into the bread dough together with the spices.  I enjoyed my slice of Bara brith with a little butter, which was a perfect accompaniment to a hot cup of tea.

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I also tried out a little of the Welsh cake, which is cooked over a griddle or flat pan. I found the sweet Welsh cake very filling and quite a meal in itself.

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While enjoying our tea at Pettigrew tea rooms, Sian and I discussed our walking route and agreed that we would skip parts of it to make it easier for my legs. So we next made our way to the Castle Arcades, part of the Castle Quarter arcades opened in the late 19th century, which houses shops and restaurants and Sian pointed out some interesting cafes and shops, like the Science Cream shop which is the first liquid nitrogen ice cream parlour in Wales.

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We walked along the Hayes, one of Cardiff’s historic shopping streets and where the Cardiff story museum is located at the old library. I did revisit the museum at the end of the food tour and found that it was an interactive, little museum mostly geared towards children.

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Old Library entrance to the Cardiff Story museum

Our next stop was at Wally’s located in the Royal arcade, which runs from The Hayes to St. Mary’s Street. I was treated to a tasting of continental charcuterie and Welsh cheeses, together with a brief history of the deli. The deli had been started by Walter (Wally) Salamon in 1981. Wally was the son of an Austrian immigrant, who had opened up a delicatessen on Bridge street in 1947, and which Wally and his brother ran till they sold the place. Wally then opened up Wally’s at the Royal Arcades and the deli is now owned by his son.

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From Wally’s we walked back to St. Mary’s street and to The Cottage, one of the oldest pubs in Wales built in 18th century, now owned by Brains, a regional brewery started in 1882 by S.A. Brain with the financial backing of his uncle, J.B. Brain.

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I don’t like beer generally but I quite liked Bragging Rights, an ancient Welsh style brew which has honey, nutmeg, coriander, cinnamon, cloves etc. blended in and a festive taste appropriate for the Christmas season.

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From The Cottage, we made our way to Cardiff market, a Victorian indoor market opened in 1891.

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Our first stop at the market was at Ashton’s Fishmongers, which is one of the oldest limited companies in Cardiff and which has changed hands only twice in 200 years.

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Sian prepared a delicious snack with oatmeal biscuits slathered with laverbread and topped with cockles. Laverbread has nothing to do with bread as suggested by its name but is a Welsh delicacy made of boiled seaweed. It was a Welsh breakfast staple in the 19th century and served with cockles but is more of a delicacy now.

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From Ashton’s, we made our way to the Market Deli owned by Andrew Griffiths and Geoff Beer.

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As I was not adventurous enough to try the traditional Welsh faggots, Andrew offered me a choice of chicken curry rice. I tried out their Chicken bhoona, which was well spiced.

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Our last stop of the tasting tour was at Bar 44, a tapas bar owned by brothers Tom and Owen Morgan. The delicious cava with handmade chocolate truffles was a delightful end to the lovely Welsh food tasting tour.

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What I enjoyed most about Sian’s Welsh food tasting tour, in addition to the opportunity of trying out traditional Welsh food and learning about its origins, is the showcasing of local, independently run businesses.

Sian Roberts, the host of Loving Welsh Food TV series on Made in Cardiff, also runs the Cardiff Gourmet Safari, Welshcakes and Wine and Castles and Cuisine food tours.

Diolch yn fawr, Sian, for the wonderful food tasting tour and the Welsh recipe DVDs!

Disclaimer: Sian Roberts kindly gave me a complimentary private tour of the Loving Welsh Food tasting tour, for the purpose of this post. All opinions expressed are my own and I only recommend experiences which I have enjoyed. 

[I am linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #11]
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Suitcases and Sandcastles

Special Six: Cardiff Experiences

It was dark and cold when I arrived in Cardiff for the first time. I was quite tired after a long flight from Colombo to Birmingham followed by a coach trip from Birmingham to Cardiff. The last hour of the coach trip was caught in a slow moving traffic so it was with relief that I got off the coach at Sophia Gardens. I saw that the November rains had freshly washed the city that day as I made my way along the footpath to my hotel on Cathedral road. I had chosen to stay in quieter Pontcanna rather than the busy St. Mary’s street in the heart of Cardiff. However, as I walked along the dark, tree-lined street hardly seeing anyone on the road, I was questioning my choice especially as the late 19th century houses that I passed by seemed dark and empty.

The next morning, Pontcanna looked lovely in the light of the day as I walked along Cathedral road and I was glad I had chosen this part of Cardiff as my base. Here are my special six experiences, which I would recommend to the first time visitor to Cardiff.

(1) Visiting Llandaff Cathedral

I started my exploration of Cardiff, not with a visit to the heart of the city but to the adjacent ancient city of Llandaff, now a suburb of Cardiff, where the 12th century Llandaff Cathedral stands. The local Cardiff bus is the quickest way to get to the cathedral and it took around 10 – 15 mins, so is quite walk-able for those who prefer a long morning walk.

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Old Bishop’s palace

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View of the cathedral, from the cathedral green

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(2) Walking around Bute Park:

The park was once part of the private property of the Bute family, who had inherited the land in 1766 and begun the development of the grounds. The Bute family gifted the castle and its park to the people of Cardiff following the death of the 4th Marquess of Bute in 1947. The park was named Bute park in 1948. I only had a short walk around the beautiful park but the 56 hectare park is one of the largest in Wales and is a beautiful part of historic Cardiff.

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the “bridge” in Cowbridge road

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a model of Blackfriars friary, which once stood at this site

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19th century ornamental garden, commissioned by the 4th Marquess of Bute, depicting the medieval friary

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(3) Cardiff Castle

The castle is an iconic heritage site of Cardiff. The site of a 5th century Roman fort was where the Normans built their castle and keep in the 11th century. After being the heart of the Marcher lord territory of Glamorgan for several centuries, its significance declined after Marcher powers was abolished in the 16th century. The castle and grounds eventually passed into the hands of the Bute family in the 18th century. The 1st Marquess of Bute employed Capability Brown, the famous English landscape architect, and Henry Holland, who was Brown’s son-in-law and business partner, to convert the lodgings into a Georgian mansion and to landscape the castle grounds. The 3rd Marquess of Bute restored the Roman walls and undertook a major transformation of the Castle lodgings and park, as he was passionate about Gothic revivalism. He employed William Burges for the transformation of the castle lodgings and Andrew Pettigrew for landscaping the southern part of the park.

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the Norman keep

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Castle lodgings

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Nicholls’ 1890 sculpture of a lioness with William Burges’ clock tower in the background

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Carrick’s 1931 sculpture of a leopard

I particularly liked the animal wall, which was designed by William Burges but completed after his death. There are a total of fifteen animals on the wall, nine of which were sculpted by Thomas Nicholls in the 19th century and six were sculpted by Alexander Carrick in the 20th century.

(4) Loving Welsh Food Tour

I felt my first visit to Cardiff should include an introduction to Welsh food and after searching online, found the Loving Welsh Food tours. After communicating with its founder, Sian Roberts, I was treated to a complimentary tasting tour during my visit. The walking tour was a delightful experience that I have shared it as a separate post.

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(5) Cardiff Boat trip

My boat fix on this trip was going on the Cardiff boat from Bute Park to Cardiff Bay. The 20 minute trip over River Taff, with an audio commentary, took me past Principality Stadium and Brains Brewery.

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Principality Stadium

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Princess Katharine, a covered boat, was great for winter though I would have certainly preferred an open boat if I had taken the trip during summer.

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(6) Cardiff Bay Visit

Cardiff Bay played an important role during the industrial revolution as Cardiff became an important port city for its coal trade. The sun had come out of hiding during the afternoon of my trip so it was a lovely few hours when I explored a few of the landmarks around the bay area. I will share the highlights of my bay visit in a separate Special Six post.

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Have you visited Cardiff? What was your favourite part of your visit?

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #57 and The Weekly Postcard]

Wander Mum
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