My first “international” trip within Europe was to Cardiff (Caerdydd), capital city of Wales (Cymru). Although part of the United Kingdom, Wales retains a distinctive cultural identity (see Ali G’s take on Wales)… and it’s only a 2 hours away from London by train! And so it was that I found myself aboard a First Great Western InterCity 125 diesel train making the journey between London Paddington and Cardiff Central (Caerdydd Canolog) via the Great Western Main Line. It was a pleasant journey, though I was a little disappointed at not getting to see the Severn Estuary due to the Severn railway crossing being a seven-kilometre tunnel underneath the river. Photo highlights from Cardiff available on my Flickr photostream.
Welsh / Cymraeg
Prior to this trip I’d never really encountered the Welsh culture/language (a little ironic given that I live in a place named “New South Wales”) besides the curious adoption of “eisteddfod” into the Australian vernacular. The Welsh and English languages are remarkably different considering the geographical proximity (although the reasons for the Celtic vs Germanic/Romance origins are fairly self-evident from British history). For example, this typical specimen of Welsh: Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith i’w gyfieithu. (translation)
Cardiff Bay / Bae Caerdydd
Cardiff Bay is perhaps the best example of the city’s urban renewal since the 1990s. Recent developments around the picturesque bay area include: the Wales Millennium Centre (Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru), the National Assembly of Wales Senedd, Roald Dahl Plass, Mermaid Quay precinct, &c.
Roald Dahl Plass, The Water Tower, and Wales Millennium Centre; Cardiff Bay
Then, of course, there’s the Doctor Who Up-Close Exhibition in the Red Dragon Centre, Cardiff Bay. The current series of Doctor Who (2005– ) is filmed and produced in Cardiff and so it’s only fitting that there’s a permanent Doctor Who exhibition located there.
Although the humble leek is a national symbol of Wales, there’s a whole lot more to Welsh cuisine (plus I don’t really like leeks). Two traditional Welsh dishes I tried for the first time whilst I was there were Welsh cakes and Welsh rarebit…
Welsh cakes (picau ar y maen)
Welsh cakes are kind of like a cross between scones and pikelets, usually containing sultanas. The best ones that I tried were freshly made at Fabulous Welshcakes (Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay). I also bought a pack from one of the stalls at the Riverside Market for the train ride back to London, which were also rather good and left me with a craving for Welsh cakes when I got back to to the capital. Back in London, however, it proved surprisingly difficult to find Welsh food – I eventually managed to find some hidden away in the baked goods section at Waitrose, an upmarket supermarket chain.
Welsh rarebit is essentially glorified cheese on toast… usually with beer (ale) mixed into the cheese! The rather odd name, a corruption of the original “Welsh rabbit”, for a dish that doesn’t actually contain rabbit apparently originates from the days when rabbit was the poor man’s meat in Britain – the Welsh were reputedly so poor that they couldn’t even afford rabbit and had to make-do with cheese. I tried a rather posh variant of Welsh rarebit at Mimosa Kitchen & Bar (Mermaid Quay, Cardiff Bay), which incorporated mushroom and pancetta into the cheese with a very tasty result!
I didn’t get the chance to try any cawl unfortunately, although given how much I enjoyed scouse in Liverpool it’ll be high on my to-do list next time I visit the UK.
Looking for something to do in the evening, I went to see Robin Hood: The Pantomime Adventure starring John Barrowman (of Doctor Who and Torchwood fame) at New Theatre. Pantomimes are a type of musical-comedy theatrical production and a Christmas/New Year tradition in Britain. It was another interesting new experience as I’d never been to a panto before. Some of the highlights included: the way audience participation was integrated into the performance, the innuendo (particularly around Barrowman’s orientation), numerous Welsh/British in-jokes and the Doctor Who references. It turned out to be a very entertaining night!
Programme cover from Robin Hood, New Theatre, Cardiff