It’s hard to believe, but I’ve already been in England for a month! What better way to celebrate then by leaving it? The highlight of the last week was my day trip to Cardiff, Wales on Friday — but let’s take things in chronological order.
- On Wednesday afternoon I went to the National Portrait Gallery, which was excellent. Have you ever looked at a history textbook? Well, if there’s a picture of a historic figure from England, the source is almost certainly a painting that hangs in this Gallery. It’s a fascinating collection of five hundred years of changes in government and, perhaps more importantly, fashion. (Ruffs have gone out of style, I think, which is too bad for Queen Elizabeth I.) I also attended a UCL basketball game in the evening, which is the topic of my Columbia Spectator column today.
The Brits are totally on top of this “Super Bowl.”
- Thursday saw a trip to the “Borough Market” on the recommendation of my Aunt Diane. Located south of the Thames, near the London Bridge and the brand-new Shard tower, the market is a collection of all different types of butchers (dead animals hanging everywhere), bakers, jam-makers (elderflower and gooseberry, anyone?), fresh produce, cookies and candy, wine (incl. chocolate wine which was odd), and much more. I had a lamb-burger and mulled cider for lunch, but really just enjoyed the atmosphere — this is clearly a popular spot among Londoners.
- I rose early on Friday to head to Cardiff, an easy two-hour journey west by train from London’s Paddington Station. It was a beautiful day in Wales, which it must be said looks exactly like England only with marginally more sun. At least, that was my impression of Cardiff. The most jarring difference is that there is a bunch of gibberish written below all of the usual English signs in the town, which I take it is Welsh. Welsh looks like nonsense words and sounds like it also — I didn’t hear anyone speaking it on the street, but some of the videos in museums were bilingual, and Welsh sounded like someone hacking up a lung.
what is this nonsense
- The primary destinations on the day were three museums. The first was the National Museum of Wales, which featured some Welsh painting (underwhelming) and artifacts (fascinating) — there were also some paintings by Monet which were quite beautiful. I visited “The Cardiff Story,” a small museum tracing the history of Cardiff from a relatively small and worthless city to the capital of Wales. Very modern and interactive. But the best was Cardiff Castle (Castell Caerdydd) where I spent over two hours. Audioguides are a great invention — I slowly paced around the grounds, which include walls reconstructed on the site of old Roman fortifications, a Norman “keep” dating back to the 12th century, and a Victorian manor house constructed by one of the rich owners of the property. There was also a museum of the history of the Welsh soldier, where the Welsh guide deduced I was from “the States” and subsequently proudly pointed to a regimental banner the Welsh
stolecaptured during the War of 1812.
Steep hill + moat + archers = this would be difficult to capture, I reckon
- By this point, it was 5:30 and getting dark, and I decided to walk about thirty minutes from the city center to Cardiff Bay. This was a bad idea, as it almost immediately started raining and made me an extremely unhappy camper. I checked out the Senedd (the seat of the Welsh National Assembly), the “Dr. Who” experience (expensive and closed), and the new Millennium Centre concert hall (grand). I walked back to town, rain thankfully completed, and enjoyed a wild boar burger at a British joint called Gourmet Burger Kitchen (like Shake Shack, sort of). I ambled about for a little while longer — lots of people were out and about, as the next day would be the kick-off match of the rugby union “Six Nations” tournament and the streets were filled with pregaming Welsh and Irish. (One bonus point if you can name the other four nations!) I was back in my room in London by 12:30 am, exhausted but glad to have made the effort.
Facade of the Millennium Centre
- The next morning I headed back out to Sutton to get lunch with my Aunt Joan. We were joined by her friend Elizabeth — despite the distinct age gap between me and the rest of the party, it was quite a fun time. We went to a restaurant at Epsom Downs (a racetrack) which I had been to with Joan and my family in 2010. The food remained tasty and I tried a “shandy,” a drink that is about half beer and half carbonated lemonade.
Joan and I
- Following lunch, I went to watch Sutton United F.C. play some
soccerfootball. Sutton plays in the sixth division of the English league system; they are the approximate equivalent of a low-A or fall league baseball team. The pitch was little more than a muddy field — I was told that they had had several games postponed due to the field quality — with a stand on one side and something resembling a long dugout on the other side. The advantage, of course, is that I could hear literally everything going on on the field, and it was interesting to watch a real neighborhood team in action. I bought a yellow-and-brown scarf in the club shop; in the course of the exchange it was again deduced that I was “not from this country” but this and the minor faux pas of wearing an Arsenal hat while talking to a Tottenham supporter did not diminish their hospitality. And despite the cold I stuck it out until the end, Sutton scoring from a penalty kick (42′) and from a corner (85′?) to outlast Eastleigh (who scored a pointless goal in the 90+5′) – 2 to 1.
Sunset over the main stand
That’s more or less all for now. I had my first coursework due today and was up late writing it. Only two more days of class this week and then, somehow, I’m halfway done with my courses here?! I don’t have any class next week for reading week so Wednesday commences an eleven-day break. A good time to explore. I’m thinking of all of you back at home.