As much as I love words, I will keep them to a minimum in this entry and rather let the pictures give you an impression. But to start you off...
...just some facts:
Name: Cardiff / Caerdydd
Location: South-Walian coast, at the Taff estuary on the former site of a Roman fort (how could it be otherwise?)
Other: formerly the world's largest coal-exporting port, bombed in WWII, Welsh capital since 1955, birth-town of Roald Dahl
... maybe this is a hint to the effects on the cerebrum that excessive consumption of its alcoholic namesake might have...
We spent a nice long weekend in this city, staying in a lovely, modern little hostel at the river Taff, facing the huge Millennium Stadium, too big to be overlooked, almost casting shade onto the neighbouring castle. The stadium disrupts Cardiff's skyline and parts of it can be seen from almost everywhere in and around the city.
After dropping our bags we immediately took a stroll along the sunny banks of the Taff down to Cardiff Bay, dominated by the looming and slightly daunting Wales Millennium Centre - a performance space for musicals, theatre etc.
In big letters the windows tell the passer-by "In these stones, horizons sing - Creating truth like glass, from the furnace of inspiration". A beautiful, poetic combination of the two national languages. At nighttime it is even more impressive:
Another curiosity that makes the Millennium Centre an interesting piece of architecture is the usage of typically Welsh building materials for inner and outer decoration: Different kinds of slate, stone and wood (oak, ash, beech and other native trees) offer a bit of information about Wales and its past in an unusual way.
In the afternoon we paraded the shopping streets and finally sat down in front of Cardiff Castle to rest. The admission fee of almost £9 put us off visiting and we never got to see it from the inside, but the outside also captured our attention for a while.
(The flags of several other countries come after that. AFTER Austria! Wow.)
Stingy students that we are, we headed for the next attraction free of charge: the National Museum and Gallery. Besides an art gallery it houses an exhibition about the Evolution of Wales (dinosaurs included) and a highly informative archaeological section that I could not refrain from visiting. I was surprised by the variety and selection of items on display and would gladly have spent more time in there, but I did not want to let the others wait too long.
In the evening Cardiff bay saw us again: we went to the cinema to watch Alice in Wonderland in 3D (and I quickly nipped to the shop of the Dr. Who exhibition to buy some postcards).
The next day took us to Swansea /Abertawe, another important coastal town about 50 km west of Cardiff, but of minor appeal. There is hardly anything to see in Swansea: Of the castle only the front wall is left, the town itself is rather ugly and uneventful, though bustling with life (probably because it was Saturday and everyone had time to go shopping). After walking around for a while and ascertaining that there was indeed not much to see, I led the others to the Dylan Thomas Centre. Dylan, the most famous poet Wales has produced, was born in Swansea and is, according to the exhibition, the most quoted author besides Shakespeare. Moreover, he inspired Robert Zimmermann to change his name to Bob Dylan. This alone makes him interesting enough to learn more. I had come across Dylan Thomas in my literature class and he is one of the most fascinating poets I have encountered so far (maybe because I find it hard to understand his poetry and to unwrap the meaning that lies hidden beneath so many references and brilliantly sonourous word games). Came, learned, bought a book.
Next point of interest was Swansea's market: the biggest indoor market in Wales and therefore definitiely worth a visit. The warm, freshly baked Welsh cakes certainly did make an impression on all of us and I (FINALLY!) found this:
Laver bread: My most honoured guide-book had informed me of this traditional Welsh dish made of seaweed. It is a component of a typical fry-up a.k.a. English breakfast (although the usage of this term in Wales is not recommended) and as I am curious by nature I had wanted to try it ever since I had read of its existence. It seems to be restricted to the South, though, as I could not find it anywhere near Bangor and none of my flatmates had ever heard of it before.
Verdict: tastes really nice (the rest of the group agreed, in case any reader might question the functioning of my taste buds) with some bread... maybe not for breakfast, though.
I will stay with food for the moment, because on the evening of the same day I continued my be-brave-and-try-new-things-phase and, besides trying a new cider - or Perry*, in this case - ordered Cawl: a typical Welsh soup, or stew, or mixture of both:
Made with lamb and a choice of different vegetables (incl. the unavoidable leek) it is nourishing and was probably brought to existence by some housewife trying to make all the week's left-overs into something tasty. (Please note that this is my interpretation of things and I do not claim any authority on that matter.)
Verdict: warm, filling, and surprisingly delicious (with the odd unchewable chunk of meat).
*Perry = pear cider ... I really should start jotting down all these new experiences with fermented fruit in a notebook, or I will forget which ones are worth remembering and which should be avoided in future (like Kopparberg's - never ever choose that unless you need a drastic sugar rush.)
Before leaving Swansea again we went to Plantasia, a pyramidal glasshouse, home to a variety of tropical plants, birds, reptiles and fish and definitely worth a visit, be it only to brush up on specific vocabulary. Rebecca's detailed knowledge of many of Nature's treasures displayed made it all the more enjoyable!
On Sunday we went to Castell Coch (= Red Castel), a neat, little medieval castle that fell into disrepair and was reconstructed at the end of the 19th century by the 3rd Marquess of Bute (a man with too much money, due to the Butes' ownership and control over many coalmines, a lot of land and Cardiff's port) and William Burges, his architect. Together they succeded in transforming the ruins in the wood into a place fit for a fairy-tale.
The 3 Fates - a classical trinity that is rather atypical for a castle:
Clotho spins the thread of life, Lachesis holds and maintains it and Atropos severs it at the end.
The richly painted walls in the drawing room do not seem different from the average aristocratic room at first sight, heavily laden with images, but when you take a closer look you will find that the illustrations are based on Aesop's fables. Here: The fox and the crane
We lazed away the rest of the day in a coffeeshop sharing my newspaper and, after enjoying the pleasures of a flat-screen TV in the hostel's living room, went to bed early - our train back would leave at 07:20, so it could not hurt to get some sleep. And so another fine, sunny weekend of fun and sight-seeing ended with a long train-journey.