Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cardiff Part 1: Centenary Walk and Other Wanderings

Yesterday, I spent my day in Cardiff, Wales, exploring the sites and dodging raindrops. Upon arriving I stopped at the Visitor's Center to see if they had a map and a guide to the Centenary Walk. I had read about the walk online, but unfortunately not soon enough to have access to a printer to print out the guide.

The walk is 2.3 miles long and contains 41 landmarks as well as 20 other sites of interest to see. It is 'marked' by golden circles in the ground that point to the object of interest.

The one above is from the first stop at the Old Library, which has been converted into a visitor center. Luckily the guide also gave you a map, as I think I only saw a total of six of the big circles while following the map's path. Occasionally I would see one of the little circles with an arrow (like to the top right of the big circle above) but you really had to search to find them.

In short, the path takes you to see:
  • 8 historic or 'famous' sites
  • 5 arcades/markets
  • 5 things related to the castle or city walls
  • 5 famous streets
  • 5 modern city places
  • 4 places dealing with Cardiff University
  • 4 statues or memorials
  • 3 churches
  • 2 gardens
These are of course my categorizations, not anything official. Sometimes I found that the other points of interest were more exciting than some of the main forty-one sites, but I guess that's why they mention both of them!

Of the famous and historic sites, I was surprised how many buildings were not being used for anything close to their original purpose. Like I said earlier, the first stop, the Old Library, was made into a visitor center, and most of the other places were made into shops or department stores. One old townhouse known as the 'Park House' was made into a little restaurant.

The Park House was originally made for the engineer who designed the Docks in Cardiff, and is said to have revolutionized and had great influence on the architecture and styles of many other buildings in the city.

When I said that there were five arcades or markets on the journey, I don't mean arcade like we traditionally think of arcade (or I traditionally think, perhaps I shouldn't generalize). Instead of being a room full or ridiculous games and  such, an arcade is an enclosed alleyway of shops.

The market, however was exactly what I would have expected, as it was very much like Camden Market or Covent Garden.

Cardiff Castle was by far the best part of my journey, and was where I spent the majority of my day, so I think that will deserve a its own post. However, several of the old city walls and gates were marked along the journey, and I particularly enjoyed the animal wall next to the castle:

Much of the sidewalk next to it was under construction, but the animals ranged from seals, to monkeys, to bears!

The famous streets I often found a bit uninteresting, or not overly spectacular, however some of the things along the streets were pretty neat. On Womanby Street, the guide book instructs you to 'Go up the street a little bit and look through the archway on your right'. It took me about three times wandering the length of this tiny street before I figured out where I was supposed to look.

The 'arch' was an entrance to a car park, and there was only one little spot along the covered gate that you could peer through, but those buildings are what make up Jones Court. Built as workers' cottages, they are the last of 50 or more from their time. Apparently the lack of hygiene in these little two room apartments with no drainage or water are part of the reason that nearly 400 people died of cholera around 1849.

When I group things together into modern city places, I don't mean to say that the buildings themselves were all that modern. I was meaning things like City Hall and the Courts of Justice, which both have beautiful buildings:

Though, a much more modern structure along the route was the Millennium Stadium which was originally built to host the 1999 Rugby World Cup. However, it hosts many other things now, with its massive amounts of seating and retractable roof.

I also stopped in the National Museum of Wales, however did not wander through much of it. Nothing that I saw was that extraordinary, but I also didn't go very far into the museum.

Cardiff University was pretty, however I've seen lots of college buildings before, so was not overly impressed with what I saw of the University. However the Glamorgan building had some neat statues out front.

From places that were specifically stops to see statues or memorials, I saw Aneurin Bevan who implemented the National Health Services program, a memorial to the Falklands Campaign, the Welsh War Memorial and a Dock Feeder from the area which used to be a canal.

The Falklands memorial (above) was one of the sites that made me feel like I was on a scavenger hunt instead of a guided walk, but playing hide and go seek with monuments can be great fun!

St. John's Church, St. David's Cathedral, and the Tabernacle Chapel were the main listed churches to see. These make up the oldest church in Cardiff, a place bombed during WW II, and a church which once hosted a one-eyed preacher. Each was very different in architectural style, however I found Ebeneser Chapel which is across the street from St. David's to be the most beautiful.

The stones on the face of Ebeneser are from all over the world. Apparently RG Thomas wrote to every head of state in the world asking for a stone. He wanted every nation represented to show God's universal power.

Following the path, it points out two specific gardens: the Friary Gardens and Gorsedd Gardens. However while walking on the path you pass through Alexandra Gardens and by Brute Park as well. Like I said, some of the things that were not the main 41 sites were just as exciting, if not more. I saw a building John Wesley preached in, the old Institute of Engineers, a few more statues and some neat architecture.

I still had some time after following the path and visiting the castle before I would have to catch my bus back to London, so I did a bit of wandering elsewhere on my own. That's where I came across my favorite statue from Cardiff:

I dunno why it's my favorite, I just thought it was really neat. I also loved some of the random graffiti:

It's also very hard not laugh when you step off a bus and the first thing you see is a large pillar with the word 'BRAINS' sprawled down the side:

I later saw an advertisement and found out that 'Brains' is Cardiff's brewery and brand of beer, which made the pillar a little less random and funny, but it was great thinking for a minute that I had found the zombie headquarters.

While I had packed my lunch, I ate dinner out and tried a place called Wok to Walk. Basically you could pick whatever you wanted stirfried and whatever sauces you wanted and they would cook it, shove it in a box, and hand you a pair of chopsticks. It was really really yummy.

It poured off and on all day, so when it started pouring even harder less than an hour before my bus came, I decided to finish out my day in a local coffee shop, where I treated myself to a latte, curled up in a big leather chair, and read a few chapters of a book I had brought for the bus ride.

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