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Family Travel Ink
Europe: Cardiff, Wales: The Best-Kept Family Secret in Britain
If you have a child who bursts into song for no reason, then consider a perfectly appropriate family holiday destination —Wales, the Land of Song. For this small country on Britain’s western border is filled with singing people. It’s not just the famous such as 15-year-old Charlotte Church (the voice of an angel) or the renowned male Welsh choirs. Taxi drivers will ask if you’d like to hear their latest choir CD’s. Songs even echo from strollers and prams as families stroll along. “Does everybody sing?” I asked one Welsh woman. “Well, even if they can’t sing,” she answered, “they think they can.”
This was just one surprise that greeted me in this whimsical country that seemed so filled with the kind of myth and magic that kids love. It was in Wales that author Lewis Carroll met the young Alice who inspired Alice in Wonderland. And it’s no surprise that Harry Potter’s creator, J.K. Rowling, grew up in Wales or that Roald Dahl, the imaginative perpetrator of such classics as the Big Friendly Giant and James and the Giant Peach, was born and baptized in Cardiff, Wales’s capital city. Add the tales of King Arthur and his magician Merlin (new research locates them positively in Wales), more castles per square mile than any other country on earth, world-class sporting arenas, the United Kingdom’s leading science centre and the only interactive art gallery for young people, a vibrant clubbing scene for teens, and you’ll have lots to keep the kids busy between impromptu singing sessions. Here’s what not to miss:
CARDIFF CASTLE: Many attractions in the lively Capital (sometimes called the Welsh Washington) are located within a single kilometer around the imposing Cardiff Castle. You’ll be close when you pass the fantastic Animal Wall bordering the castle with its carved sculptures of anteater, sea lion, raccoon and vulture jutting out from the stone. Once inside the grounds, you can tour the part-fortress, part Casa-Loma-like fantasy mansion (where the nursery is decorated with fairy tale scenes). But more fun for kids is to chase the peacocks or climb to the very top of the Keep, the tall Norman tower that housed the King’s arms, where they can truly yell out over the acres “I’m the King of the Castle.”
CENTRE FOR VISUAL ARTS: Just down the street is Britain’s only interactive gallery for young people. Kids can participate with art materials as soon as they step through the doors. The hands-on Fantasmic space with its mirrors and Morphing Machine, the Family Art Trail quest, and the Dream Factory area where kids can make their own postcards are all fun for parents too. Visit www.cva.org.uk.
MILLENNIUM STADIUM: Take one of the daily tours of the UK’s only retractable stadium to see the Rugby Hall of Fame museum or better yet, attend a rugby or soccer game where you’ll definitely hear singing among the 72,000 fans. The stadium hosted the 1999 Rugby Union World Cup Final and will likely host the FA Cup Final each May until Wembley Stadium is renovated.
TECHNIQUEST: This mini Ontario Science Centre, situated in the renewed port area of Cardiff Bay, lets kids see their shadows, launch a hot-air balloon, or discover centrifugal force in a Gyrochair. With 160 interactive exhibits, a Planetarium, and Science Theatre, this is the UK’s leading family science discovery centre. Afterward, indulge in fish ‘n chips at the famous Harry Ramsden’s around the corner.
MUSEUM OF WELSH LIFE, ST FAGANS: Time travel from a 2000-year-old Celtic village to a modern miner’s cottage at one of Europe’s largest open-air living history exhibitions, also voted the country’s best-loved museum. Located in the shadow of the Rapunzel-type St. Fagan’s Castle, this collection of original reconstructed dwellings includes a circular stone pigsty, thatched cottages, tearooms, a workers’ Institute, and tannery. The 100 acres are often peopled with costumed folk who will be happy to teach the kids how to say “Good Afternoon” in Welsh (Dydd Da) and explain a bit of history. During the summer, theatre performances of such tales as Sleeping Beauty, craft activities, storytelling, and a Children’s Festival entertain the kids. Free for kids and teens under 19.
FESTIVALS: Annual celebrations such as the International Festival of Street Entertainment or the Tesco Children’s Festival at Cardiff Castle in July, and the new International Festival of Musical Theatre in October keep the kids entertained.
NOTE: It’s an easy under two-hour train journey from London to action central in Cardiff. Call BritRail 1-877-625-4000 or visit www.britainsecrets.com. When you arrive, ask at the Visitor Centre about the Cardiff Card that gives local bus and train transportation, discounts at restaurants, bus tours, and 48 hours of free entry into 15 attractions including Cardiff Castle, Techniquest, and the Millennium Stadium. At about $30 for adults and $15 for kids over five, it’s a deal.
Foot and Mouth Disease is not a major problem in Wales; the countryside is still relatively unscathed. But visit www.maff.gov.uk/animalh/diseases/fmd/default/htm for up-to-date info from the Ministry of Agriculture. For family-friendly Cardiff hotels (of which there are many) and other information, call the British Tourist Authority at 1-888-847-4885. Or visit www.visitbritain.com/ca, www.nmgw.ac.uk (for young people) or www. tourism.wales.gov.uk. Then let your kids sing their hearts out!
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