January 23, 2007
A couple of weeks ago I was in Cardiff, the capital of Wales.
The packed train down the valley from Taffs Wells to Cardiff Central was being re-routed alongside the flooded River Taff, due to repairs on the usual line. The charmingly friendly young conductor made sure we all knew about the detour, yelling at the top of his voice in his inimitable, jerky Welsh lilt: “IF you’re off to CAR-diff to go SHOP-ping, or fer the FOOT-ball, I STRONG-ly recommend you stay on the train and get off at CAR-diff CEN-tral. If you’re goin’ somewhere ELSE now, get off YERE!”
He made me feel nostalgic for the days when I was working as a high school teacher in these parts, as did the four teenage boys across the aisle, boasting manfully to one another about their growing beards. “I got a little OUT-break just yere…” said one, pointing at his chin.
Cardiff now boasts its own National Assembly: a circular parliament to be found underneath what appears to be a giant mushroom made of polished hardwood. The brochures refer to the structure as a funnel, but it can’t help reminding me of Alice in Wonderland, all the same. I like it. The funnel or mushroom is surrounded by glass windows through which you can peer, as you can through the glass floor above the Senedd into the debating chamber, this transparency symbolic of open government. On the steps outside the building vertical sheets of glass are supposed to stand like sentinels, though on the day I was there, they’d been removed to protect them from the recent gales.
Due to a huge influx of money from the EU, the Senedd wouldn’t be the only edifice to catch your eye in Cardiff Bay (Tiger Bay, as was). The Millenium Hall stands alongside, with a grand inscription in Welsh and English on its facade:
IN THESE STONES HORIZONS SING
illuminated after dark. This must be Cardiff’s answer to the Sydney Opera House! In fact the whole bay now begins to resemble Sydney Harbour, although of course colder and greyer. There’s no big Harbour Bridge here; the Bay has a barrage instead, across which you can walk to Penarth on the other side.
A row of Georgian town houses, floodlit in the evenings, stand opposite the Millenium Hall. A large, modern hotel dominates the western end of the waterfront and a light-ship, now used as a “home to the churches of Wales”, is docked behind the Bay’s new tourist info centre… which looks like a squashed tube, overlooking the 19th century Pierhead building. On the wharf, a little Norwegian church for seafarers now serves the purpose of an art gallery. I was reminded of Halifax Harbour too, in Nova Scotia. Like Halifax, Cardiff used to be a great exporter of coal.
A whole day could be spent here, with a science and technology centre to visit, as well as the exhibitions in “The Tube”. You don’t need a car by the way, as a very modern, comfortable bus, complete with TV, travels regularly between Cardiff Station and the Bay, down Cardiff’s new boulevard, Lloyd George Avenue.