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Published: June 14th 2007
Church Town House
June 14, 2007
We’ve now been a few days in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Our first impressions out of the train station were that this was a gritty city full of busy, working people, certainly not the showcase and leisure destination that was Bath. Several of the male students predicted they would like it here and that they would meet people they could relate to. I have yet to hear reports on that. The new and impressive Millennium stadium, home to the Wales rugby team, dominates the downtown skyline, its large supporting arches mixing with the high-rise cranes of construction crews building large new retail complexes. It appears that business is booming in Cardiff, and the city is on an economic upswing.
Our first day here we took a tour of Cardiff Castle, a hard-to-miss landmark in the heart of the city centre, adjoining the large and well-groomed Bute Park. The castle is a crazy mish-mash of styles. The original 12th century Norman keep is in the center of the castle grounds. The medieval section of the castle proper was added to and expanded significantly in the 1800’s by the Marquis of Bute
and it is an almost comical Victorian image of what a medieval castle should look like, like something out of Disneyworld, with its crazy patchwork colors and over-the-top carvings and embellishments. A quote from William Burges (1827-1881), the principle designer of the castle: “A keen sense of the comic is generally found in most superior men.”
The breakfast room at our B & B in Cardiff has an amazing collection of photos and memorabilia about the famous young singer, Charlotte Church. I knew she was Welsh, and at first I thought the owners were just fans, but it turns out her father and uncle own this guest house. And sure enough, the collection of artifacts includes actual framed platinum CD’s as well as family photos and photos of Charlotte with world leaders and celebrities, including Elizabeth I, the Pope, Presidents Clinton and W. Bush, Oprah, David Bowie, and Tom Jones (another Welsh native, who has now earned two different mentions in this blog!)
Church Town House is on Cathedral Road, a long stretch of dozens of nearly identical semi-detached houses, many now guest houses. A few blocks beyond us is the small village center of Pontcanna, not
much to look at at first, but containing most of what you need to get along from day to day. Post office, newsagent, greengrocer, deli, bakery, butcher shop, chemist (pharmacy), hair salon, and realty offices. Nothing showy at all, but practical goods at reasonable prices. I made a lovely lunch one day of a small quiche lorraine from the deli, a raisin scone from the bakery, and a pint of fresh strawberries “from the Vale of Glamorgen.” This reinforces for me my sense that Cardiff is primarily a city for real working people, and has not yet been overly gentrified or “revitalized.” I like it for its honest and practical feel.
On Wednesday we went to St. Fagan’s Welsh Folk Museum, a short bus ride from the city. This is a national museum of Welsh heritage, and one of the finest museums I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. This was actually my third visit, and many new elements had been added since Bob and I visited on our honeymoon in 1988. The galleries have impressive collections of farm equipment, Welsh costumes, and other cultural artifacts, including over 500 examples of carved Welsh lovespoons. These tokens of affection were
traditionally carved by men as a rite of courtship for their sweethearts. Some examples are quite elaborate and intricate. Modern day examples can be purchased in most of the tourist shops in Wales.
The grounds of the folk museum are extensive and over 30 buildings have been brought here or constructed here over the years, including a recreation of a prehistoric Celtic village, medieval peasant dwellings, 19th century slate workers’ houses, shops, working flour and woolen mills, and many varieties of barns and livestock shelters. The Elizabethan manor house of St. Fagans with its extensive rose gardens and fountains sits in a place of prominence at the edge of the grounds. Hours could be spent exploring and talking with the friendly and knowledgeable museum guides about the work and life of the Welsh people over the centuries. Mid-week, it is clearly a favorite destination for school groups and retired folks. We saw many groups of young children with their teachers and chaperones. In one group, the boys all wore red sweatshirts with a yellow sun logo, the girls work red and white gingham jumpers and many of the children sported red baseball-style caps with the yellow sun. They seemed
to be enjoying the wide open spaces of the museum and the chance to have a day out from their usual school routine.
On Thursday, a small group of us took a day trip out to Tenby, a seaside resort town to the west. On a slightly drizzly day in June, it was rather quiet and gray and a little damp. It has a lovely beach and loads of shops selling inflatable rings and balls and rafts, as well as the usual salt water taffy and souvenirs of Wales. Lucy and I had a nice lunch in a pub, the Hope and Anchor, a jacket potato topped with curry chicken for me with a pint of Reverend James ale to accompany. Then we wandered about a bit, enjoyed the views, and bought some postcards and reading material for the train ride back to Cardiff. This was a day off from required field trips for the students and most stayed behind in Cardiff to catch up on their reading and writing assignments. Tomorrow we head out early in the morning (9:00 am is early for college students) and head to Oxford for two days.
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