Day 9, Jul 4: Cardiff, Wales



We both slept about 8 hours, waking up at 7am, definitely sleeping in for us. We went down for breakfast and figured out how to approach the day. In terms of things being open – typically 10-5, 9-6 if you’re extremely lucky – you’re really limited to about 3 or 4 things at the most. So we focused on things that we wouldn’t really be able to do anywhere else and would help us get to know the area a bit. We had walked around last night around an hour and were surprised that so much of the town had shut down already, this was about 7:30pm. We’re staying close to a central shopping district and most of the retail was closed already. Today, not having paid close enough attention to planning this morning, two of the things we’d hoped to do quick hits on were closed by 3pm (St. John’s church) and 4pm (Cardiff Museum). It’s definitely an early city. Oh well.

We were happy with what we picked and actually decided to skip the castle. Surprising decision for a castle-hop trip, eh? The reviews were mixed and there were other things we wanted to focus on. We left about 9:15am.

Here’s a little summary of “bits and bobs” we learned throughout the day to orient you to where you are. Cardiff is the capital of Wales, which has been part of the United Kingdom since 1536. Wales is on the west side of the island, bordered on the west by the Irish Sea. It’s population is around 3million, and it’s people speak Welsh and English. The UK tried to essentially outlaw Welsh in the 1900’s; that has both been very effective and not gone over so well. Today only about 500k people speak Welsh, but Wales has plans in place to get that up to 1million by 2050. Welsh sounds something like Gaelic. We ran into a lot of school children at one museum and the teachers were speaking to them in Welsh, but they could switch to English on a dime. Wales as a population is poorer than England; a majority of its residents voted for Brexit.

Cardiff is the capital and the largest city in Wales, population around 350k. It was only made a city in 1905, and the capital in 1955. But it’s been around a long time. It’s believed to have gotten it’s name from a Roman settlement, Caer Dyf which is essentially Welsh for Fort Taf.

First stop was the LLandaff Cathedral, and Anglican Church dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. Some of it dating back to the 1100’s, it’s been damaged by various wars over the centuries, including WWII, and is somehow still standing. The church was tucked away in a sort of valley; it was difficult to get good pictures of the outside. 

 These steps led from the parking lot down to the church. We never did figure out who the dean was.
 Just so you could see the Welsh language.
 This door cracked me up; it’s practically a Hobbit door.
 The nave and, below, a shot closer to the altar.

 

 Ceiling above the altar.
 You get a sense of the valley here.
 WWI and WWII War Memorial.
Next we went to St. Fagan’s National Museum. From the description we thought this would be similar to something we did in Helsinki, Finland, in 2015, but this was actually better. It’s an open-air museum that recreates a significant timeline in Wales’s history. The Earl of Plymouth used to own all this land; the family manor – St. Fagan’s Castle – is still here and where the museum gets it’s name. It’s been in operation since 1946 when he donated it to build this kind of exhibit. This was the #1 thing to do in Cardiff on TripAdvisor, and it was free. Just had to pay 5 pounds to park.
It’s very smartly done. Everything here was either recreated based on archaeological or historical records, or literally moved here from wherever it was, with touches added to replicate items as necessary upon arrival. Each stop provides a timeline for when and where it originated, a little map of Wales showing where it was, details about original owners, etc,. where available, and information about what like was like then. Each stop was staffed with a docent, most of them teenagers or young adults, and all of the ones we talked to were incredibly informed. One of them had actually visited Davis before!
The insides of everything were pretty dark, and much of the land was under lots of trees so, between that and the clouds, we didn’t take that many photos. But you’ll get the idea.
 Houses from the Iron Age.

 

This was a church that dates back to 1100 and had only stopped being used in 1973. St. Telio was named after a 6th century Welsh saint. It was deconstructed piece by piece from it’s home new Pontarddulais, about 50 miles away, and took over 20 years to get rebuilt here.

 

 The painting on the inside was all done using medieval techniques.
 There was a whole section separate from all the reconstructed things that had the gardens and castle of St. Fagan’s. It’s not really a castle but an Elizabethan manor built in 1580. There was a Norman castle built on this same spot in 1091 and the name just stuck.

 

 

 Not much to look at from the outside, and it was closed to touring today. Oh well.
 The gardens were undergoing weed control treatment so there were big empty beds.
We were there over 2 hours and enjoyed it. It was about 4 miles out of the city center so we moved back in that direction. As I said earlier, St. Fagan’s was #1 on TripAdvisor. Numbers 2 and 3 were sports and entertainment venues (which we found odd) which we had no interest in. #4 was Cardiff Bay, and that’s where we headed for lunch. This area used to be quite industrial. We learned while we were down there that Wales was the largest coal exporting country in the world for a long while. (And as an aside, if you’ve never seen the movie Pride, we highly recommend it.) The docks here fell into dis-use in the 90’s and for the last 10 years or so they’ve been trying to transform this area into something different, and it shows.

We ate at a restaurant called The Dock. There were lots to chose from, but this looked the most interesting and also had the least expense 3 course set menu option. We are very glad we took the chance. It’s likely going to be the most interesting meal we’ve had on the trip. Dan took the above shot from where we were sitting. It was a great place to people watch as we were sitting.

First course. Dan’s above, fried squid with a nice hot sauce. The squid was perfectly cooked. Mine is below, a hen’s egg deep fried in a batter with bacon pieces in it. We had no idea what it would look like but when they set it down, we assumed that would be a hard boiled egg. Next photo please.

 

So imagine our surprise when I cut it open to find a perfectly cooked soft-boiled egg. We were like “how the heck did they do that?” It’s got to be very tricky to peel a soft-boiled egg then deep fry it without overcooking it. We asked the waitress who had no clue. She went back and asked and reported that, yes, it’s very tricky. And it was delicious to boot.

Dan’s main course was a hamburger, with a deep fried pickle!, and a nice hot sauce for the superb fries. Mine was boneless buttermilk fried chicken with sweet potato fries. the fries weren’t that great, but the catchup was more like a cocktail sauce so that worked, and the chicken was excellent. The batter was light and very peppery. And the slaw: you bit into it thinking it’s going to be red cabbage, but it’s mostly red onions instead. I loved it.

 

Both desserts were great. Dan’s was pineapple in a pina colada liqueur on some kind of warm pancake to soak it up, and vanilla ice cream. Mine was called chocolate crème brulee. The sugar crust was the hardest I’ve ever had, and that’s not a bad thing in this case, it worked. The chocolate was really a pudding, not custardy like a brulee would be, and that’s not a bad thing either. The big surprise was the caramel once you got to the bottom. If that was in the description on the menu I didn’t remember it. And the shortbread cookies to cut all that sugar at the end were perfect 🙂

 

We did some general walking around after lunch just checking out the area. The building below was built in the 1890s, used to the administration offices for dock management when things were really rocking here. In 1897 it was the world’s largest port in export-tonnage, with coal it’s #1 product. This building, the Pierhead, is now a visitors, events and conference center.

Below is the National Assembly building, essentially next door to the building above on the bay, completed in 2006.

The Assembly itself has only been in existence since 1999 and met at the Pierhead prior to this being built. Prior to 1999, the Welsh had no mechanism for making local decisions outside of the UK governing system. Below, you can see some of the Assembly meeting from the 3rd floor. It’s open to the public, and you can go listen at any time.

 

 A panoramic taken from the steps of the Assembly.
From there we dropped the car off at the hotel, and walked over to City Hall and the National Museum across the street.
 City Hall
The National Museum, also free. We went in to see if there was anything related to Welsh history, but it was all natural history and art, so we only stayed a few minutes. Instead we went back to the area we were in last night. It was much more lively with people out and about. For several blocks behind our hotel, the area is mostly closed to vehicles so it makes it easy to walk around.
 

We went by the Cardiff Museum which was focused on history of the city, but it had closed at 4 and it was now 4:30. We went into the Cardiff Market which was right next door, but many of the stalls there were also in the process of closing. Just like we experienced yesterday, this city shuts down early.

 This is St. John the Baptist, essentially in the same block as the two mentioned above; it closed at 3pm. What the heck?

 

 A pretty carousel in the middle of everything.
Since nothing was cooperating with us, we decided it must be time to go back to the hotel. So that’s what we did. We hung out in the lounge for a bit and nibbled for dinner when they brought food out at 6pm. From the 7th floor window, you got a pretty good view of Cardiff Castle across the street. I’m not sure these photos show it properly but it will have to do for now 🙂

 

 

 

That’s all we were able to do in Cardiff. Tomorrow we leave for Oxford. And since we had an early day, it’s only 9pm. Time to make it to the hot tub downstairs before they close at 10pm…

PS: I’m not sure why but I really love that there’s a dragon on the Wales flag. (Maybe a little GoT-ish? Daenerys Targaryen anyone?) And they are everywhere – the Welsh are proud of their country and not afraid to show it. I kept trying to get a good shot of one today but the wind wouldn’t cooperate. You can sort of see it in the 3rd photo from the end atop the castle.

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