Friday, March 25, 2011

swansea bay

Take that, Cardiff

Last week I had another rough week at work (after nearly six months I still cannot clean the rooms in the time expected and they cut hours due to a slow time), a higher-than expected utility bill, and the TV Licensing folk finally found me, adding another bill of 12 pounds a month on the pile. (In the U.K. one has to pay to have a TV-viewing device in your home. Ostensibly it is to pay for the very fine and excellent BBC. I was told by the Harris' when I came to Wales that the licensing people would contact me, but it took them awhile and I wasn't about to call them. Time to pay the piper though.)

So, time for a little treat. I looked at the rail and bus schedules to see where I could go on a day trip for 10 pounds. There are actually many places I can go north, east and west, but I wanted to be by the sea and had passed through Swansea on one of SeeWales tours of the Gower Peninsula, but only briefly.

So, off I went on my adventure to Swansea, the so-called 'second city' of Wales. I was hoping I could visit the seaside community of Mumbles, which I knew was west of Swansea, but didn't know if it was within walking distance.

Swansea, as it's famous son the poet Dylan Thomas wrote, is a 'ugly, lovely town.' It also has played second fiddle to the capital Cardiff for years. The owner of my favourite local cafe says the animosity between Swanseans and 'Diffians can be unpleasant.  He himself is from the Swansea area, but 'You don't  want to let them know you're from Cardiff, as I found out the hard way,' he said, turning serious and fading away from details.

'It probably should have been the capital of Wales, but it suffered terrible bombing during the War and was never properly rebuilt.'

What I didn't remember or realize was that the length of Swansea Bay from Swansea to Mumbles is flanked by an amazing pedestrian/cycling path. I was able to walk to Mumbles (a very hearty 2 hour walk followed by a seaside lunch and another hearty 2 hour return trek). I liked what I saw and think Swansea Bay is going to be a favourite getaway.

There must be something in the water there. Besides the poet Thomas, the area has been home to some excellent internationally known performers, among them Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bonnie Tyler (Mumbles), and the great actors Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and, my personal favourite, Michael Sheen (all from heavily industrial Port Talbot.)

And just on the far side of the Bay begin the breathtakingly beautiful beaches of the Gower Peninsula.

In Swansea: 'a host, of golden daffodils' -- William Wordsworth
Seaside village of Mumbles
Mumbles Pier
Mumbles Lighthouse

not-so-grave walk to roath park

In the conservation area of Cathays Cemetery

I often find old cemeteries peaceful places. In Toronto, one of the most serene spots in that city is the old Necropolis Cemetery near Riverview Farm, not far from where I lived.

Here, not far from where I live is Cathays Cemetery, much larger than the Necropolis and equally contemplative. When it was developed in Victorian times it was the custom to use it as a public park. Today, part of the oldest section is treated as a conservation area. Partly to cut costs, but also to return those parts to their original look of wildflowers and meadlowland before lawn cutting, the area is cut back by hand in fall and allowed to go 'wild' the rest of the year.

(Also, in the winter it is a good place to nab some errant holly.)

Roath Park Lake

I've been to nearby Roath Park twice and each time have taken the circuitous trip through the cemetery. It's not my favourite city park though. It's lovely and popular with the locals, but it's a long, narrow structured strip dissected by roads with the sound of traffic present all the time. It feels as if it is in a big city, and Cardiff is not a big city like Toronto or New York. I prefer Bute Gardens in the City Centre, which is more open and quieter -- but sometimes you want the bustle and greenery at the same time.


Roath Park brook

March of the daffodils

on my doorstep

The blossoming tree at the end of my street

Since early March, when I step out of my flat in the morning, there have been sprinklings of small, pink petals on my doorstep. There was no tree in sight, but a few weeks ago I found the source a couple of blocks away. This week I noticed that the tree to the left is afloat in white petals.

Every day now there are new flowers in the parks. One of the wonderous results of the U.K. weather is that flowering plants that usually only bloom a few days or weeks in Canada may blossom for months here. When I was in Cardiff a few years ago in late September there were dandelions present: suspended spring.

In the evening on my doorstep, beginning a few weeks ago, I have been able to hear a marvelous songbird. I wasn't able to spot it until recently, and then only as a silhoutte in the distance. I like to think it is a nightingale, which I have never heard nor seen, because its fluid singing is beautiful, however I'm not certain it is from the description online.

Morning and evening graces.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

blogging and hawking at the cardiff library

Off again, on again since mid-January -- and mostly off -- the sign-in service for Google Blogger is currently working at the Cardiff Library. A couple of weeks ago, after talking to three different library assistants about the ongoing situation, a woman wrote a letter to the library's information technology team for me. On the weekend, a gentleman called and told me what I had been hearing since January, which was that the problem was being worked on.

It was good to hear from someone affected by the situation as he too is a blogger and understood my frustration, unlike quite a few of the staff, who disturbingly sad to say -- especially for a library -- seem unaware of blogging.

I wasn't planning on posting today, but as I am able to sign in, I thought it was a good time to give the Cardiff Library some better press than I have been giving it.

The central library's new building, which only opened two years ago -- almost to the day -- has won several architectural awards and is physically striking. It has an environmentally-friendly green roof with a resident falconer and falcons protecting it. From work I can often see a person huddled in winter gear on the roof. The falconer sits like a lone shepherd, spending his/her day in the elements with the birds of prey keeping nuisance birds away from the sky turf. Who would think that falconers could find such ready work? This is a fascinating and quite a unique employment situation. See this site for more ways to use birds of prey:

I commend the architectural awards, but can't believe that last spring the Sunday Times Travel magazine called the Cardiff library one of the six best in the world. This is simply incredulous. The Toronto Reference Library spins hoops around Cardiff's as do several university libraries I have been in.

Alas, I'm spinning away from my good press intentions. I will continue my love/hate relationship with the library here and be kinder to it as we take a high arc along a learning curve and be more grateful for the use of their computers.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

the winds of march

A co-worker the other day told me they have a saying in Wales, possibly all of the U.K., for March:

March winds bring April showers

What -- more rain? What was all that wet stuff in February?

I like our saying much better:

April showers bring May flowers

Here in Cardiff though the daffodils, crocus and forsynthia have been blooming for several weeks, so the flowers are preceding the winds. The rhododendron and azalia are beginning to bloom as are some flowering trees. For the last few mornings I have had tiny pink petals on my sidewalk, but there isn't a tree in sight.

Today the winds are blowing. From inside the hotel it sounds like a gale, but it isn't so bad on the street. Fortunately it isn't raining, as an umbrella would hold no ground against such 'blustery' weather.

So fresh.