13.06.2010 - 13.06.2010
The second day in Wales was not as successful as the first. We had been warned about Cardiff by our Welsh boss who when asked about the city just shrugged and said, "I like Swansea better." Therefore, with only two days to cover southern Wales we woke up early on Sunday and headed out to Swansea which is about 1.5 hours north west of Cardiff. Swansea is the third largest city in Wales (pop: 230,000) and a former copper town. Like all respectable villages in the UK it hosts a ruined castle, this one was built in 1106:
I'm a sucker for castles but this one was pretty small and not that well preserved. But beyond the quaint little center town which is largely being run over by big box shopping centers anyway there is the derelict side of Swansea. So many buildings were boarded up with flora liberating itself from windows and rooftops:
Tennessee Fried Chicken, really?
Our boss had also advised us to locate some laver cakes which he pronounced as lava cake, something entirely different. Thus, while I pictured a chocolate cake oozing liquid chocolate he was talking about a traditional Welsh breakfast treat of seaweed, oatmeal and lard (yum?). He told us we could get them at the Swansea market so we went but were struck by the sad reality that, like the English, the Welsh take their Sundays very seriously and EVERYTHING was closed. So, no laver cakes.
Our last stop was Mumbles and by the time we reached the small town the wind and greyness had moved in. Nonetheless, we ate our lunch by the water and walked along the coast. As you can see the tide had pulled all the way out, leaving the boats stranded for now:
Around the other side of the pier there were kids hunting crabs in the small pools of water and an 18th century lighthouse that looked back towards Swansea. There was a rough rocky hill that I climbed up to take this picture:
As I was descending the rock it began to rain so we took refuge in a coffee shop drinking warm beverages and eating local treats before getting on the bus back to Swansea and then the train back to Brighton.
What can I say about Wales? I loved being on the top of the mountain under the warm sun and I am obsessed with going to Rhossili Bay (which is farther out then Mumbles) but the southern cities of Cardiff and Swansea were disappointing. They were dull and lacked character, largely overrun by chain stores like Zara and H & M. I had the distinct feeling that they could be any mediocre city anywhere in the West.
I've heard some English people say that the Welsh have lost their culture but the Welsh have been fighting back. A big part of this has been the reclamation of their language which is featured on every sign. As a foreigner it appears as an incomprehensible jumble of unfriendly consonants and rarely placed (or non-existent) vowels (e.g. We went to what the town that the English call Mumbles but is written Mwmbwls in Welsh. How would you even pronounce that?). In the south, where we were, it was very bilingual though I have heard it is much less so in the north.
I'm still interested in Wales and A. and I are considering a return in early August. If I had more time I would spend a week driving around the north, from little village to little village and camping in the national parks. I think it would be beautiful and a way to see Wales as it should be.
Now it's back to work for the week and then Ireland next weekend!