In These Stones Horizons Sing

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
Trip End Aug 21, 2011

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Flag of United Kingdom  , Wales,
Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A friend of mine from America stopped in to visit and, in addition to touring London, we took a day trip over to Cardiff, the de facto capital of Wales. Wales is a bit sparsely populated and Cardiff is the largest city in the country with a population hovering around 330,000.

We arrived in Cardiff to realize (realise) that the city center had been completely revitalized recently.  Amidst the old buildings that looked as if they belonged in a small town were new two huge mall complexes that contained every high-end store (in British, "high street shop") imaginable.  Cardiff is also known as the City of Arcades due to the large amount of arcades winding through the city.  These are the video game arcades that I most associate the word “arcade” with, but the type of narrow covered streets that contain many specialty and unique shops, usually catering to many niche markets (like a store devoted solely to driving gloves). In addition to exploring the very modern but also very old fashioned “downtown” (British people don't seem to know what a downtown is), we headed up towards another famous Cardiff sight, Cardiff Castle. 

The sight of Cardiff Castle, in the first century, was the home of a Roman fort, though nothing much remains of that time.  The castle today is a complex of a Norman Castle (being constructed around the 1000s) and a Victorian mansion (built in the middle of the 19th century, though it is Victorian Gothic revival) incorporated into the castle wall.  What remains of the Norman Castle is the shell of the castle sitting atop a man-made hill with a  moat below to aid in fortifications.  We were able to access what remained of the castle and get a spectacular view of Cardiff from the top.  A thick wall filled with stones ran from the entrance to the castle to the opposite side of the castle walls dividing the property in half.  This was to provide a bit of privacy to the higher-ups on one side and the commoners on the other side.  Today this wall has been knocked down to open up the space, but a much shorter version of the wall remains to demonstrate the wall’s thickness.

The Victorian add-on was the idea of the limitlessly wealthy John Criton-Stuart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute.  He commissioned the grand mansion and did not want to skip on the details.  The inside of the mansion is pure fantasy, with wood carvings adorning the walls and delicately painted ceilings and furnishings.  The most impressive part of the mansion is the large extravagant Clock Tower, intended to be a sort of bachelor pad for the Marquees.  Much of the rooms were not accessible to the public due to the fact that it is still a place of residence.

At this point, Michael and I caught a train north to the town of Caerphilly to visit Caerphilly Castle, but I’ll cover that in the next blog.  When we returned from the castle, we spent the rest of our time on the waterfront of Cardiff Bay, like the city center, this too had been revitalized recently.  There is a bit of dead space between the waterfront and city center, and it appears that their goal is to slowly merge to the two areas with new modern buildings and apartments one day in the future.  One of the newest and most popular buildings on the waterfront is the Wales Millennium Center which hosts numerous types of concerts and ballets.  There was also a large entertainment and shopping complex where we got dinner on the waterfront before heading back to the train station. 

One of the things that surprised us about Cardiff was that we heard almost no Welsh (or Cymry in Welsh) but rather an incomprehensible dialect of English.  I imagined it would be quite bilingual with most of the signs and menus in both English and Welsh, but, in fact, most everything was simply in English.  In addition, a friend of mine at school told me that he has many Welsh individuals in his family and there is only one who speaks Welsh (who learned it later in life because she wanted to, not as a child).  Perhaps Cardiff is too close to the English border and English has permeated its convenient way through, or maybe the Welsh minority is just giving up!

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