Penwythnos yng Nghymru :: A Weekend in Wales, Chapter 2

Regan and I began our second day in Wales with a walk along Cardiff Bay. This area of the city is newer than the central portion, and is blossoming with activity.  We were blessed with beautiful weather during our initial walk along the coast, which made my inner amateur photographer quite glad.

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Our first true stop for the day was the Doctor Who Experience. Opened less than a year ago, this nerd-mecca serves as a museum of artifacts from the BBC show’s long history. (This November, Doctor Who will celebrate its 50th anniversary.)

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The first portion of the Doctor Who Experience reminded me of a ride at Disney World. After watching a short film, lots of special-effects magic occurred to transport you into one of the Doctor’s adventures. We got to watch the TARDIS “appear” out of thin air, and venture into its “bigger on the inside” depths. Once there, we even got to help the Doctor “fly” the TARDIS!  The whole experience was definitely aimed at little kids, and was admittedly cheesy at points, but I still enjoyed myself. Regan was elated with the whole experience. :)

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The second portion was more of a museum, presenting items ranging from the very first Doctor’s sonic screwdriver to props from episodes aired less than a month ago. They also had displays where you could see how the Doctor and his nemeses had evolved over the course of the show. It was fairly interesting, especially considering how significantly fashion and special effects have changed over the last fifty years.

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After getting our fill of the TARDIS, Regan and I took a leisurely stroll along a discreet nearby avenue to discover the BBC Wales Drama Village. This nondescript warehouse is where they film shows like Doctor Who and Casualty. (I had never heard of that second show, but apparently it is the world’s longest-running emergency medical drama television series.) One could easily see the tops of tall artificial buildings peeking up from over a wall behind the warehouse, which was kind of exciting.

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Roald Dahl, the renowned author of children’s books, was born in 1916 in Cardiff to a Norwegian family. This Norwegian church on the bay had a few signs commemorating him, as well as the hundreds of Norwegian sailors who also called Cardiff home.

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As I mentioned, the Cardiff Bay area is rather new; besides the Milennium Centre (a huge, beautiful theatre…Wicked is playing there sometime next year), there aren’t a lot of places for tourists to visit on a rainy day. Thus, Regan and I decided to hike back up to central Cardiff.

As we arrived back near Cardiff Castle, we noticed a flurry of activity. As we approached the gate, we learned that we were in the city just in time for a (free!) Welsh festival. The area within the castle walls had been transformed into something vaguely resembling a medieval market day (without the animals or period clothing). Tents had been erected across the lawn and hundreds of people milled about, visiting different booths. A band was performing on the main stage, near the keep, but it wasn’t any sort of traditional music; instead, a teenage metal band was shouting/singing in Welsh. This festival was celebrating modern Wales along with Welsh heritage.

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It was a neat experience. I’ve been to an Irish festival in the States, but that seemed to celebrate Irish tradition, and emphasize heritage and olden times. This festival embraced tradition, but it also seemed to promote thinking in the present.

Unlike the signs within the larger city, most of the vendors' signs did not bother with English words. It was kind of exciting.

Unlike the signs within the larger city, most of the vendors’ signs did not bother with English words. It was kind of exciting.

My favorite part of the Welsh festival was hearing a girls’ choir sing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in Welsh. The girls were so innocent and sweet, and it was so cool to see how they got into the music. It made the experience all the more meaningful in that I knew the English version of what they sang.

After making our rounds and browsing the different vendors, Regan and I made tracks for the National Museum. However, we got sidetracked in the park just across from the museum. This area appeared to be somewhat connected with the Welsh festival, but it focused on wildlife preservation. The group Falconry UK had a booth displaying many of the different birds they use, and a man was giving a talk with some of the BBC presenters about a tawny frogmouth. This bird, both cute and bizarre-looking, originates in Australia, and is somehow related to the owl. I appreciated getting to listen to part of the lecture, and to see animals that are quite uncommon in Iowa.

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Finally, we arrived in the museum. This beautiful (and free!) resource had both a fantastic art section and an enjoyable Natural History area. 

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The Natural History section was definitely aimed at kids, but I was very impressed with its content. They had tons of taxidermied animals, a few dinosaur skeletons, and lots of exciting video presentations about seismic activity and rock formation. However, the aspect I enjoyed the most was that everything was explained in both English and Welsh. :) There’s just something fun about seeing things you know (like the water cycle) explained in a different language. :)

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My favorite part of the museum was the art. Their collection was fantastic, especially considering museum’s small size. They had an extensive contemporary area, including a few works of Picasso, and also an absolutely fantastic impressionism section. Some of my favorite works that we saw were by Monet; three of his Waterlilies paintings, Charing Cross Bridge 1902, and — the very coolest – San Giogrgio Maggiore by Twilight. These paintings had the uncanny ability of tricking one’s eye, especially Monet’s Charing Cross Bridge; when you stood close to the canvas, it looked like a lovely blur of pastel colors with a few vague shapes manifesting themselves deep within the fog. However, as you stepped farther back, the solid forms within the painting began to materialize. It was fantastic!

The museum also had some more realisitic art, like The Parisienne by Renior, The Head of Victor Hugo by Rodin, and The Stronghold of the Seison and the Camp of Kittywale by John Brett. Overall, it was an excellent exhibit, and I was extremely impressed.

After we finished our museum hopping, Regan and I caught an early train back to Cheltenham, arriving home around 7 pm. Although the weekend had been exhausting, we had an amazing time.

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