Thursday, October 16, 2014

#TBT: Caernafon Castle, Caernarfon, Gwynedd in north-west Wales

The view in the courtyard
“What do you want with some old castle?” my friends asked me when they heard my plans to visit Caernafon Castle.

“Because,” I would reply, “It’s cool! And it’s where Prince Charles’ investiture as Prince of Wales took Place in 1969!” I lost them after “It’s cool.”

I’m a huge fan of the British Royal Family and anything even slightly related to Their Royal Highnesses gets me really excited. Not only was Prince Charles’ investiture held there in 1969, Prince Charles and Princess Diana (one of my personal heroes) visited there in 1981. So when I found out that our host university, Bangor University (located in beautiful Bangor, Wales), was mere kilometers from Caernafon Castle, I knew I had to go.

Early on in the trip (even while we were still in Ireland before we traveled to Wales), I tried to recruit my friends and classmates to join me. To which they replied as above, or just laughed at me.
Me in my RepliKate

It was only as we were on our way to Wales that our trip-coordinator informed us that we’d be going as a class to Caernafon Castle. Everyone groaned—everyone but me that is. I was way too excited. I even meticulously planned my outfit: a glorious RepliKate: my tangerine jeans with a navy blazer and scarf. I wanted to stand out in pictures against the stone walls of the Castle.

I was bouncing in my bus seat, so excited to be on my way to Caernafon Castle, while everyone else dozed and complained. “It’s just a castle!” someone said to me. But I knew better.

We arrived at the Castle around midday, and were given an amazing tour of the walled village around the Castle. We were walked along the sea and even up onto the actual city walls all while being given an intimate 1,000 year history of the Edward I’s finest castle and the city that its walls fortified.

"My" Cafe!

While we were walking through the city, Liz*, my new friend, nudged me and pointed to storefront sign. I couldn’t believe it. The sign said “Caffi Calley’s Café” as in Calley—my name! I’d never seen it spelled exactly as I did and to find it in Wales of all places! I had my friend Quil snap a picture of me with the sign and the Welsh flag in the background.

The Gatehouse

Soon we were entering the Castle, passing under the vaulted ceilings of its magnificent gatehouse in awe. You could almost hear all the history those walls had seen whispering at you from the stone. All I could think about was all the people that had passed through these walls, King George V and Queen Mary with their son, the future Edward VIII, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip with Prince Charles, Princess Diana. I was seeing what they had seen, passing under the same stone arches that had welcomed them so many years ago—just thinking about it now gives me that same excited feeling I had at the time. 

After you initially enter the Castle, after passing the gift shop (which is amazing, by the way), you’re in a giant courtyard. The courtyard itself is actually two levels, with the higher level being home to a large round dais. This is where Prince Charles’ investiture took place, as well as a ceremony for Charles and Diana during their 1981 visit. 

From the courtyard, you have your choice of endless tunnels, towers and passageways to make your way through. There’s endless gems to be happened upon at Caernafon Castle, and even I didn’t make it to them all. I chose a few narrow staircases to venture up (note: the stairs themselves are extremely narrow—my foot was longer that the actual foothold of the step!) and got to behold the most amazing vistas through the narrow castle windows. I could just imagine being a medieval queen, looking out at the sea (or her courtyard) through her window.

While creeping through the narrow passageways I heard something I didn't expect to hear—music, the Welsh national anthem and the audio from Prince Charles’ investiture. I followed the sound through a stone doorway into one of my favorite (and most unexpected) parts of the Castle: a room dedicated to the investitures of both the future Edward VIII in 1911 and Prince Charles in 1969. In this low-ceilinged, darkly lit room is housed various pieces of memorabilia and exhibits from both historic occasions, as well as banners and displays discussing each one in turn. British royalty buff that I am, I was too excited to get to actually see pieces that had been used in the actual ceremonies. As I stood there, listening to the music and just imagining what that day must have been like for those two young men. It was one of those travel moments I love to have, the ones where you can, just for a minute, feel a part of something that happened so many years ago. The investitures may have happened one hundred and forty years ago, respectively, but just for a minute I could feel the electricity and excitement of that moment. 

After I tore myself away from that display, I found myself at my absolute favorite part of the Castle—the balcony overlooking the city. On this balcony Edward VIII and Prince Charles and their respective parents had stood after their investiture ceremonies. Prince Charles and Princess Diana had stood here in 1981. How many other kings and queens have stood there throughout the ages? I love getting to stand somewhere and see what these people would have seen all those years ago. Now, when I see the pictures of Prince Charles and Princess Diana out on that balcony I can say “I've been there! I know what it looks like from that balcony!” And not many people can say that.
ME on the historic balcony

That is the beauty of traveling, really--getting to have experiences not very many people get to have. And every travel experience is unique. Take this visit, for example. When my friends and I got back to our dorms and started posting our pictures on Facebook, many of them had pictures from rooms inside the Castle that I didn't even know existed! Each one of us had a completely different experience while we were at the same place. For a few minutes or hours or days, we have an experience that is like no one else has ever had, and no one will have again. For that one moment in time we share something special with our destination—a magic that can never be recreated.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed!

Up Next: Five Things to do in Monterey, California
ETA: Monday!

*Names have been changed

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