I don’t have much of a grasp on what Wales or even Cardiff is like yet – it’s only my second full day. What I have gotten, though, is that the city feels a bit quaint, which makes it less overwhelming. People are friendlier than I’d expected, and fairly patient when they realize I’m not British. I feel safe walking around by myself, which I did today. I wandered down past the castle, and stumbled across a music shop – I should have known it wouldn’t take me long to find one. Of course I had to go in, to smell the wonderful woody, amber smell that all good music shops have, and gaze at the instruments hanging from the ceiling. Then I discovered a little Christian bookstore nestled in the corner of an old church, where the shopkeeper kindly told me in a thick brogue that I should come back in two weeks for a 20% student discount. I didn’t tell him I doubted they’d carry the course books I’ll need; I’ll probably come back anyway. There’s a huge shopping area near the castle, mostly the kind of stores you’d find in any big European city, but they also have a central market. Maybe a hundred or so “shops” – they’re stalls, really – line the aisles in a giant two-story atrium. You can get almost anything imaginable there, from pastries and fresh meat to pets and books and fabric. It’s like a throwback to the way we used to shop. You tell the shopkeeper, I want a lightbulb, and he says, What kind? and gets it for you. You can even haggle, if you’re good at that sort of thing. The produce is fresh and cheap; in fact, most everything seems cheaper than store value.
I live in a student house with other international postgraduate students, most of whom are from China. The house is old (and not in the cozy way) and smells like dorm, but I have the biggest room, I think, and a huge window I can open to let the fresh air in – and hear the seagulls! I’ve never lived by the sea before. When I arrived, a Welcome box from the school was on my desk, containing junk food and none other than RC Cola from Columbus, Georgia. I didn’t think anybody outside Columbus actually drank RC Cola anymore!
I’m looking forward to when I’m settled in enough to start setting out, instead of just trying to figure my way around. I haven’t gotten lost yet, which I credit to a thorough examination of the area using Google Earth, and a natural sense of direction I seem to be blessed to have. My feet are tired, though, and I want a bike. Everywhere I need to go is close enough to walk to, but a bike would mean farther adventures.