Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Down to Caerdydd to dally with Dylan

Cardiff, being the capital of Cymru, cannot remain unvisited when you spend half a year in Wales and we (the same group as always, i.e. Elzelien, Fiepje, Miriam, Rebecca and myself) boarded the train at 6 a.m. last Friday and travelled to the other end of this beautiful country: ~300km in less than 4 hours and a whole day of sightseeing ahead of us.

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?)
Population: ~320.000
Other: formerly the world's largest coal-exporting port, bombed in WWII, Welsh capital since 1955, birth-town of Roald Dahl

Brain's is the local brewery
... 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.

River Taff, Leisure Centre with the stadium right behind

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.

Cardiff bay

War memorial that did not fail to make an impression on me

We enjoyed a few sunny hours outside and I cherished the fact that it was warm enough to take off my jacket. (I think my body finally completed the process of adjusting to the climate: I was so proud to walk around in a T-shirt today while many Brits are still wearing jackets or at least sweaters. Personally, I think they cannot sense hot or cold - it all seems to be the same to them and a difference of 20°C does not affect their choice of clothing at all.)

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.

Look! LOOK! How come the Austrian flag gets to fly immediately next to the Welsh, right above the entrance?
(The flags of several other countries come after that. AFTER Austria! Wow.)

Animal wall at Cardiff Castle: apart from the seal we spotted a lynch, bear, lion, vulture and many other animals that are climbing over the castel's outer walls, trying to escape

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.
: 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!

Another unexpected Austrian element, this time at Costa's

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.

Castell Coch: The red balkonies and window frames underline the name

Red banquetting hall - flooded with light

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

The ceiling of the drawing room is especially of interest for ornitologists: toucans and parrots can be spotted soaring across the sky, side by side with pidgeons, geese and pheasants.

Lady Bute's bedroom: Not lacking in colour, either.

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.


dAnath-alÁvye said...

Oh yeah, that is a beaut city...
You should've taken a boat tour "stick to the yellow boats!" through the bay, you'd have seen a lot from new angles. And as far as i can remember, the castle was not worth nine pounds.

I have to say that i'm one of leek's most devoted detesters, but that stewsoup thingy does look tasty. And you tried perry. A local one? Which one was it and how was it? You're ahead of me here. ;)

I really miss the great time I had over there...

Kristina said...

Funny how everyone asked seems to agree that the castle is just not worth the fee. Reassuring :)

Oh yes, the Perry was absolutely local and called Perry Vale. Mmmmmh. It was good. Dry. Not as sweet as Bulmer's pear cider(I think I prefer perries to ciders...maybe because they are more rare?).

Cawl is awesome! That's definitely something that'll be introduced to my kitchen when I get home. Yum! And I'm sure you could avoid the leek if need be.

Anonymous said...

Note to self: Now she's started nibbling on the potting soil in flower pots. I seriously need to get started on that care package!

Very concerned,

The Plashing Vole said...

Cardiff Castle is an amazing pseudo-medieval place, but Castell Coch is a miniature version of it, so you haven't missed too much.

Dylan called Swansea an 'ugly, lovely city' for its life and heart - the Mumbles is wonderful but the rest is a little tired.

Laverbread - mmm. Good with cockles and mussels. It is a southwestern thing really. You're right about cawl: it's made of the things which grow in Wales's poor soil (leeks, rain and sheep)…

kathi said...

wenn ich mir das so anschau, packt mich ganz arg das reisefieber ; )
ostern kann nicht früh genug kommen!