Cardiff Bay

"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” ~Roald Dahl

I was really excited about going to Cardiff, because that’s where two of my favorite shows are made: Doctor Who and Torchwood. In Doctor Who, there is a rift in space and time in Cardiff, which occasionally influences the Doctor's adventures. Torchwood is a spin-off show of Doctor Who in which a team deals with the everyday problems that are caused by the rift, usually involving aliens and that sort of thing. Because all of the episodes of the Torchwood episodes take place in Cardiff, I recognized a lot of the locations while I was visiting. Specifically Cardiff Bay.

This is about a mile or two south of the city centre, and it’s where a lot of the performing arts things are. The weird-looking building is the Millennium Centre (called the “armadillo” by the locals—you can see why!), which is the performing arts centre of Cardiff. The words on it are two lines from a Welsh poem: “Creu Gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen” and then the English translation: “Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration.”

The plaza in front of the centre where the reflective water tower and pillars are is called Roald Dahl Plass, named after the Cardiff-born author of classics such as James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Fantastic Mr Fox. This is where the Rift is. The Doctor refuels his police-box-shaped space ship (the TARDIS) here—see photo below—and there is an invisible lift on one of the pavement stones that descends to the Torchwood headquarters.

Cardiff Rift

Sometimes it can be really amazing to see something in real life even after you’ve seen it countless times in pictures, shows, and movies. A lot of London was like this for me, where I couldn’t believe I was finally seeing the London Eye and listening to Big Ben chime, and Cardiff Bay was definitely like this as well.

Love, Elizabeth

Cardiff, Wales Cardiff is the Welsh capital and also the largest city in Wales (10th largest city in the UK), but its population is only slightly larger than Cincinnati’s.

My hostel was right in the middle of the city centre and when I walked outside, I could see Cardiff Castle just at the end of the street. This castle started out as a Roman fort in 55 AD, and it was beautiful and impressive. I didn’t have a chance to go inside, but just seeing it from outside was incredible.

Right next to the castle was Bute Park. I went inside to have a wander. It was beautifully green. Even though most of the trees had lost their leaves, everything looked so alive. I walked quite a bit of the Taff Trail, which follows the River Taff for 55 miles, but not before stumbling upon a neat looking stone circle in the park.

It was no Stonehenge, but I still fancied that it might be ancient and cryptic. I was disappointed when I discovered that they were just constructed in 1978. However, when I did a little more research, I discovered that they have a very neat story. They’re called the Gorsedd stones, and they were built for the National Eisteddfod of Wales. This is described as the most important of several eisteddfodau that happen each year. These are simply festivals of literature, music and performance, dating back to at least the 12th century.

Still with me? Good, because it gets even more complicated. There is something called a gorsedd (Welsh for “throne”), which is a community or coming together of modern-day bards. Gorseddau were founded in 1792, and their rituals were based on the ancient Celtic Druids. This is where the stones come into play. They are important in completing the ritual; the Archdderwydd (Archdruid) stands on the flat one in the middle, called the Logan Stone. There are tons of rules about how the stones must be arranged and the direction the Archdruid must face when he is conducting the ceremony.

Okay. So because the purpose of the gorseddau is to promote literary scholarship and the creation of poetry and music, it eventually merged with the eisteddfodau so that the gorseddritual occurs at the eisteddfod festival. If you’re interested in becoming a member of the Gorsedd of Bards, you can make arrangements here to take the Welsh examination. You even get to wear crazy cool robes like these people:

Gorsedd Bards

Love, Elizabeth

The trip to Wales
My trip got off to an awful start. I had bought £20 bus tickets to get to Cardiff, but the website I used told me to go to the wrong bus stop. So I got to the stop thirty minutes early (hadn’t been there before and wanted to make sure I got there on time), and waited until all of a sudden my bus flew past me. The real bus stop had been just up the road. I was really frustrated and considering calling off the trip, but I’d already booked my hostel, so I rushed to the train station and had to pay £35 more for a rail ticket.
I usually try to be optimistic, but I was so frustrated. After about an hour on the train, however, the beautiful scenery outside my window made me feel much better. Over the flat green fields, I could see hills, which in some places became mountains and disappeared into the low clouds. For part of the trip, we rode next to a river whose waters were a deep purple from the storm clouds it reflected. (I just looked it up, and it’s the River Severn, which leads into the Bristol Channel, which leads into the Celtic Sea, which leads to the Atlantic Ocean.)
As we got into Wales, I noticed that the signs at our stops were written in Welsh first, and then English underneath. It’s the first time my English-speaking-ness has ever made me a minority (clearly I need to travel more!). I think it’s really interesting that things are done this way. Throughout Cardiff, it’s the same. Signs are written in Welsh and English. When I stopped at the bank, they announced “Please come to Counter 2” in Welsh first before announcing it in English; as I was at the front of the line, I was a little nervous during the Welsh bit, but then relieved when it was repeated in English.
There are some establishments (typically smaller, local pubs) that cater only to Welsh-speakers, and I’ve heard there are some towns that use only Welsh in order to discourage the English from coming. Every person who speaks Welsh also speaks English, so the reason for all of the Welsh signs everywhere is pretty much just political; they’re asserting their Welsh-ness. Many children are still being taught Welsh as their first language and English as their second. Stephen Fry made a documentary series about language, and in one episode, he went to a school of Welsh children, who told him that they speak Welsh when they’re being familiar with each other, and English is more of a formal way of speaking.
Anyway, when I got to Cardiff, it was snowing a little bit—the first snow I’ve seen this winter! It was absolutely beautiful, and all of my frustration from earlier had dissolved. I was so happy to finally be visiting Wales, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect! After finding about five map signs in Welsh, I finally found one in English. I got my orientation and found the street my hostel was on. It was still pretty warm, so the snow and ice on the ground melted into slush by the time I got to my hostel. I checked in, dropped off my backpack at my bed, and went out to explore!
love, elizabeth

The trip to Wales

My trip got off to an awful start. I had bought £20 bus tickets to get to Cardiff, but the website I used told me to go to the wrong bus stop. So I got to the stop thirty minutes early (hadn’t been there before and wanted to make sure I got there on time), and waited until all of a sudden my bus flew past me. The real bus stop had been just up the road. I was really frustrated and considering calling off the trip, but I’d already booked my hostel, so I rushed to the train station and had to pay £35 more for a rail ticket.

I usually try to be optimistic, but I was so frustrated. After about an hour on the train, however, the beautiful scenery outside my window made me feel much better. Over the flat green fields, I could see hills, which in some places became mountains and disappeared into the low clouds. For part of the trip, we rode next to a river whose waters were a deep purple from the storm clouds it reflected. (I just looked it up, and it’s the River Severn, which leads into the Bristol Channel, which leads into the Celtic Sea, which leads to the Atlantic Ocean.)

As we got into Wales, I noticed that the signs at our stops were written in Welsh first, and then English underneath. It’s the first time my English-speaking-ness has ever made me a minority (clearly I need to travel more!). I think it’s really interesting that things are done this way. Throughout Cardiff, it’s the same. Signs are written in Welsh and English. When I stopped at the bank, they announced “Please come to Counter 2” in Welsh first before announcing it in English; as I was at the front of the line, I was a little nervous during the Welsh bit, but then relieved when it was repeated in English.

There are some establishments (typically smaller, local pubs) that cater only to Welsh-speakers, and I’ve heard there are some towns that use only Welsh in order to discourage the English from coming. Every person who speaks Welsh also speaks English, so the reason for all of the Welsh signs everywhere is pretty much just political; they’re asserting their Welsh-ness. Many children are still being taught Welsh as their first language and English as their second. Stephen Fry made a documentary series about language, and in one episode, he went to a school of Welsh children, who told him that they speak Welsh when they’re being familiar with each other, and English is more of a formal way of speaking.

Anyway, when I got to Cardiff, it was snowing a little bit—the first snow I’ve seen this winter! It was absolutely beautiful, and all of my frustration from earlier had dissolved. I was so happy to finally be visiting Wales, and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect! After finding about five map signs in Welsh, I finally found one in English. I got my orientation and found the street my hostel was on. It was still pretty warm, so the snow and ice on the ground melted into slush by the time I got to my hostel. I checked in, dropped off my backpack at my bed, and went out to explore!

love, elizabeth