Visiting the Welsh Capital
26.06.2009 - 29.06.2009 24 °C
I am trying to do at least one weekend away every month while I am living here in London, at least while being abroad is still a new and exciting thing. Eventually the novelty will wear off and I will spend my time shut in my flat bemoaning the weather and the state of the trains, like most Brits. For now I’m taking advantage of living in Europe and getting to see the place.
Originally when I was envisioning these weekend city breaks, I pictured myself jetting off to exotic locations in Europe like Riga, Copenhagen or Bratislava. Due to the rather unfortunate state of the British Pound as compared to other currencies nowadays, I’ve readjusted my sites to include more local destinations as well. Given that I’ve just returned last month from Monaco, which was the most expensive trip I ever took, at least on a cost per day basis, this month I decided on a short stint away in pound-friendly Cardiff, Wales.
Cardiff is the capital of Wales, which is one of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Wales, or Cyrmu in the Welsh language, is on the western side of the island of Great Britain. Cardiff is in the south of Wales on the Bristol Channel which separates Wales from South-West England. The symbol of Wales is a big, red dragon, and as I wandered around Cardiff I saw red dragons everywhere.
The city is quite cosmopolitan. It used to be quite the coal mining town, but now you are more likely to find artists and actors in Cardiff than miners. Wales has a history of song and singers, and The Wales Millennium Centre, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff International Arena and St. David’s Hall all provide places for local and visiting acts to play. It is also home to a few television broadcasters, including BBC Wales who produce both Doctor Who and Torchwood at their Cardiff studios.
I took a Cross-Country train from Birmingham to Cardiff on Friday night. Cross-Country is the name of the brand, not just a description of the route of the train, by the way. Speaking of the state of the trains in Britain (which I was, four paragraphs ago), I think Cross-Country must have the most cramped train carriages I’ve been on since arriving here. My knees were pressed firmly against the back of seat in front of me, and I’m not exactly a giant among men. I arrived in Cardiff after two hours of sitting with my knees banging off the hard plastic seatback, and I was ready for a drink. Luckily the sun was out and the patios were open.
After my drink, I did a quick tour around the area of the town hall called Cathay’s Park.
The next day, I headed down to the shore of Cardiff Bay. The area has been redeveloped in recent years, turning what used to be a working dock into a centre of leisure and shopping.
It’s also home to the Welsh Assembly, known as the Senedd, pronounced sen-eth. The dd in Welsh is pronounced like the English th sound, but it seems to me a little softer and run on. It is also sometimes represented as ff in English. Cardiff in Welsh is Caerdydd – Car-dith. Welsh words are often long, and because of the use of what are constants in the English language to represent vowels and other sounds, it often looks like they have randomly drawn letters to put on the signs. W is the most used vowel, making an “oo” sound. Bus in Welsh is bws, said “boos” like it rhymes with moose. I would make a joke about the Welsh language here, but Mark Twain is a much better writer than I am, so I’ll let him do it. “Names are not always what they seem. The common Welsh name BZJXXLLWCP is pronounced Jackson.”
The Senedd building is beautiful. The mostly glass building is open for visitors, so I took a tour around. There weren’t many tourists there that day, just myself and a woman from Australia who now lives in Sheffield. Because of the low number of visitors, one of the women working at the information desk actually took us around the building on a guided tour, including going down into the debating chamber, known as the Siambr.
The building is meant to be as open as possible to give the public the ability to view the assembly at work. It is also very environmentally friendly, with geothermic heating and cooling and lots of natural light. There is a giant mirror that hangs above the debating chamber, filtering light down into the chamber from three stories above.
Most of the chamber is made with local wood and stone, but the roof is made of Canadian wood, both because it is easier to mould into the swooping shape and also because the amount of wood required was quite significant.
After visiting the Assembly Building, I grabbed some lunch. First I tried Subway Sandwiches, but halfway through the creation of my six-inch BMT on wheat, the fire alarm rang, and we were evacuated. I abandoned my sandwich and instead bought a prawn-mayo sandwich at Tescos.
After lunch, I headed around the bay. There is a famous church on the shore of the bay called the Norwegian Church. As a popular and busy port, Cardiff always had lots of international visitors. The Norwegian merchant fleet was quite large, and used Cardiff as a base of operations.
Norwegians still visit, as can be evidenced by this video of a Norwegian marching band. They were there to serenade the church with the popular Norwegian song about a New York disco club named after a beach in Brazil.
At the Copa… Copacabana! The hottest club north of Havana.
The bay is now enclosed by a dam and causeway. Boats entering the bay have to go through a lock to get from the level of the Bristol Channel up to the level of Cardiff Bay.
The other side of the bay is a place called Penarth. It’s nice near the bay...
...but quickly becomes suburbs. I have nothing against suburbs; they just aren’t very interesting to visit as a tourist. I did find this place though.
Frankly I always thought a royal court would be more glamorous.
There was a few more things I took photos of along the way.
Arriving back in the town centre of Cardiff, I went to check out the castle. The castle’s keep dates back to 1091, but has had lots of work over the years. The interior of the outer walls includes a few other buildings, including a Victorian mansion but with a medieval theme.
The Norman Keep:
The Victorian Mansion:
From the Grounds:
Saturday evening was the FIM British Speedway Grand Prix, which is a dirt bike racing event. The event was held at Millennium Stadium, so I thought about going just to see the inside of the stadium in action, but decided against it upon learning that the cheapest tickets were £29. The event was very popular, though, especially with Polish people. Walking around on Saturday afternoon and early evening, the Polish flag was more often displayed than the Welsh banner or the Union Jack.
Millennium Stadium is nice, and was right by my hotel.
It was a long walk right round the bay, and I was tired from the walk, the sun and frankly the beer the night before, so I decided to grab a quick dinner and call it an early night. About 10 o’clock I was in my hotel room watching the BBC when the fire alarm in the building went off. I had to evacuate a building for the second time in one day.
After having been out in the sun all day, I will admit that my skin was pretty red and putting my head on it, I could still feel it radiating heat back to me. I wondered if perhaps the heat radiating off my sun burn might be the cause of the multiple fire alarms I had experienced, but didn’t bring it up with the fire fighters just in case they decided to arrest me for being too hot.
After spending 30 minutes outside with my fellow Holiday Inn guests, it was determined that there was no fire and we were let back in.
After my massive walk on Saturday, I decided to take it easy on Sunday. I found out on line that there was a Canadian Consulate in Cardiff, so I wanted to see it. I’m always interested in seeing the embassies and consulates of Canada to see if they are impressive or not.
Cardiff’s was a first, in that I actually couldn’t find the consulate at all. I went to the address listed on the Department for Foreign Affairs website, but all I found was a industrial park which was home to a flooring company.
I decided to continue walking along the road I was on, hoping that it would wind back around towards Cardiff Bay.
It didn’t, and I wound up having to turn around and retrace my steps after walking for a couple of miles. So much for taking it easy. I did, however, check out this somewhat desolate looking beach, made up of large boulders, a strange black substance that looks like dried molten metal and tiny black disks. Hopefully the beaches materials weren’t radioactive or carcinogenic.
The weather had been glorious Friday night, all day Saturday and Sunday morning, so I can’t complain that Sunday afternoon clouded over and we had bursts of rain. I bought a book and grabbed a seat inside a local pub, sipping a pint and reading. I grabbed a quick dinner and headed back to the hotel for the 8PM showing of Top Gear, one of my favourite TV programs over here in the UK.
About 20 minutes after the show had started, the announcers were drowned out by the sounds of claxons. Another fire alarm, and I had to evacuate again. This time round the fire department was quicker to determine there was no fire and let us back in, so I only missed about 20 minutes of the show. I’m just glad that the alarms went off in the early evening and not at 3 in the morning.
Despite not getting woken up by a fire alarm at 3 in the morning, Monday morning came around too quickly, and I was back on the train to Birmingham bright and early. After walking to the train station in the rain, I grabbed a First Great Western train to Bristol Parkway before transferring to a Cross-Country train up to Birmingham. The First Great Western train had such comfy and roomy seats compared to the Cross-Country train, I was concerned that I had perhaps accidently sat down in First Class, but I hadn’t. Cross-Country is just really cramped. It is the Ryan Air of train travel, I suppose, though they don’t charge you to use the loo.
I enjoyed my visit to Cardiff. This weak pound thing really isn’t so bad, actually. I’m getting to see a lot more of the UK so far than I probably would have otherwise, and there is still a lot of it to see. I mean, I haven’t been down to Cornwall yet or up to Scotland. Manchester is still unvisited, and I haven’t ventured over the water to see Northern Ireland. Then there are all those islands to see – Isle of Mann, Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey.
Don’t get me wrong. I still want to visit Riga, Copenhagen and Bratislava, but I also want to make sure I don’t neglect visiting the country in which I’ve chosen to live. After all, the weather is great and the trains sure are comfy and fast. At least, that’s how I feel about them now… for the most part.
I must admit that Cross-Country’s seats sure our close together. Not to mention that we were five minutes late arriving into Bristol Parkway on that First Great Western service. And the price! £39 to go from Cardiff to Birmingham? Outrageous. Why, when I was in Italy, I paid €4.40 for a similar length train journey. Finally, that rain sure was heavy on Monday morning, was it not?
I’ll make a good Brit some day. Now I just need to figure out how to complain intelligently about the luggage handling at Heathrow.