Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cardiff (a few days late)

I’m late in posting our trip to Cardiff last week. It’sthe middle of our term and things are getting a bit exciting, even in paradise.

Sharon and I last visited Wales in 1972 on our first trip abroad after having been married. We were in the northeern part of the country, which has always been more rural and more Celtic. We have never been in the sourh part, Cardiff, Swansea, Newport. I’m guessing we will return in May when our term is over and we have five weeks to tour.

As a result we had no prior expectations of Cardiff, unlike Bristol or Dublin. It’s an interesting city that appears to my eye to have been built almost entirely in the late 19th and/or early 20th Century. I know there must have been a city here before, apart from the castle, but I did not see much of it. My curiosity is whetted to know more.

Our trip began Friday morning with a quick and relatively easy train trip. We managed to navigate our way to the hotel, the Beaufort Guest House on Cathedral Street with relative ease. We were stunned by the hotel itself, much more luxurious than we would have thought for the money. Anyone planning to visit Cardiff would be well advised to stay there.

We needed lunch afterward and were pointed toward a pub, The Conway, which offered us one of the best meals (yeah I know I keep saying that) we have had thus far. Sharon’s fan fried (more a sauté) cod was perfectly cooked and presented as was my ox cheeks with mashed potatoes. Though we should not have done we both indulged in desserts, a warmed Perlwen cheese for her, apple crumble for me. We were told that The Conway offered good pub food. This was much more than that.

Fortunately, our next destination, the National History Museum and St. Fagan’s Castle, was a bit away and the buses infrequent, so we got a bit of a walk before the number 32 bus caught us up.

St. Fagan’s castle, formerly the seat of the Earl of Plymouth, was worth the visit by itself. But the site also houses an outdoor museum made up of traditional buildings moved here. Now as a preservationist (in a previous life), I prefer to see historic buildings in context, but as tourists we were enthralled by the old woolen mill, the Kennixton House (which I inexplicably failed to photograph in all its red glory) and by a number of buildings both native to the site and moved there.

Saturday took us to the Cardiff Castle, a site that traces back to Roman times. The Black Tower was erected during the Norman period, but for the most part the site as it stands today is the work of the 3rd Marquess of Bute, who began working on it before he was 18 years old, and his “pet” architect William Burges and has to be seen to be believed. My comment to Sharon as we toured was “so this is what Hearst was trying to do.” The photos hardly do the thing justice.

The weather was not with us later in the day, so we saw less of the city than we might have, and the same was true on Sunday. I did, however, manage to score three pens, a Parker 17, a black chased celluloid Mentmore button filler, and a later Aurora 88 (a P, I think). Nothing exciting, but a pen fix for the pen freak in me.

Even though Sunday’s weather was not the best, the morning offered us an unanticipated treat, a veteran’s day parade led by the Castle’s Welch Regiment and their goat. The parade was most moving to see not just the regimental band (one of whose tunes was The American Patrol!) but the remaining World War II veterans drilled by their sargeant who observed that they might have formed up more smartly had they not visited the pub beforehand. We thought hey did quite well. The Lady Mayor reviewed them and off they went toward city hall. Our intention was to go down to the harbour, but the weather forced us indoors to the very nice Welsh National Museum with its Welsh and other paintings and a wide range of exhibits and some nice interpretation.

More than enough words here. On to the images:

Sharon at the entrance of St. Fagan's Castle, dating from the late 16th century. The unprepossessing exterior hides a lovely and rather original manor house. Unfortunately they do not allow interior photography of any kind. (And, in truth, they are right not to do so from a preservation standpoint.)

An early tower on the grounds
This is the woolen mill, which, if I recall correctly, is original to the grounds.

A stone, wattle and thatch barn
The recreated village.
This unprepossessing row of five ironworkers' cottages encompasses one of the best pieces of museum interpretation I have ever seen, each of the cottages is presented as they would have been furnished in 1800, 1850, 1900, 1950 and 1985. Just brilliant!
The next day, Saturday, in Cardiff, Sharon and Rosa decided to stop at The Black Pig for a pint. Fortunately they were closed at 9:30 in the morning. Shocking!
The west wall of Cardiff Castle. The Castle and the rest of downtown turned out to be just a short walk through Bute Park, from the Beaufort House. We only used transit buses to enter and depart, everything else was walkable.

The red Welsh dragon at the entry of the Castle.
This is the Norman Castle keep.

The national flag atop the castle.And this the 19th century castle in all its neo-Gothic glory.

Guided tours of the interior are available, well done and most informative. This is the children's room.
Various images from the interior.

Rosa and the 3rd Marquess.
A neo-Gothic spire atop the castle.
After the castle and some touring on the hop-on, hop-off bus, we made our way to Jacob's market, what Americans would call an antiques mall. Jimmy the con man had three good pens for me at a great price.

Back in the day, the railways operated hotels and pubs for travelers, this is the Great Western in Cardiff, made from stone from all over the world that found its way to Cardiff via the harbour as ship's ballast.
Walking back from Jacob's market in off and on rain, we just stumbled across this market. Crdiff's city centre is laced with these indoor arcades housing everything from jewellers to fast food.

The "animal wall" designed by Burges, though built after his death, included a Pelikan among its sometimes fanciful beasts. Of course I had to snap it.
Sunday morning, rainy still, as the Welch Regiment readies itself for the veterans' parade.
The veterans

The goat. And before you e-mail to ask, no I have no idea why a goat.
The Lady Mayor arrives to review.
Thomas Jones' iconic image of the Bard, based on Edward I's slaughter of the Welsh bards, an early attempt to suppress Celtic nationalism.
Sharon's favourite, here photographed badly, a work in metal, wood and gesso by Edward Bourne-Jones, one of the leading pre-Raphaelites.
A final image of Cardiff, the red dragon device on a plinth in front of city hall.


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