When I booked my trip and decided to arrive in Cardiff in the evening of the 29th of February, I did not even know that the 1st of March was the national holiday. It was only when we prepared a VT meeting that Sean mentioned it and I learned about the significance of the date. So it happened that my first day in Wales was full of celebrations - it was very special.
In the morning, when I walked around the city centre and Civic Centre, I already saw the preparations going on, and after lunch I witnessed the end of the big parade, with school children, groups of people in traditional costume, and music bands.
I then visited the castle, but when I walked back to my hostel in the later afternoon, I again saw some bands performing on the street.
I had a brand new camera (the old one had just broken in Scotland), so for the first time I was able to take videos, and this was of course the perfect occasion to try it out for the first time!
I took two, one of the singing of the National Anthem in the end of the main festivities, and one when I walked home and stopped to listen to a band of bagpipe players and other instruments.
St David's Day is held on the 1st of March because legend has it that on this day the Patron Saint of Wales, St David (in Welsh Dewi Sant, died. He was a celtic saint who lived in the 6th century and founded a monastery in Pembrokeshire. According to legend, he was a strict ascetic and also went to Jerusalem where he was made Archbishop. He became a very popular figure during the resistance against the Normans. St David's Day has been a national day since the 18th century, but was only declared a public holiday in the year 2000.
Apart from the festivities all around the city, there were also decorations of daffodils, one of the national flowers. Many people were wearing daffodils on their clothing, for example on the collar or lapel.
"It's Brains you want" was once the slogan for Brains beers. S.A. Brain & Co. have brewed beer in Cardiff for 120 years and, if you like beer at all, you must try some Brains while you are here. Many of the pubs in Cardiff have Brains beers available.
Traditionally beer is pumped by handle direct from the cask. In my view this is the best beer to drink. Brains Smooth was introduced several years back, which is pleasant, creamier and colder, poured from a tap (so not so authentic).
Brains Bitter , or ‘light’ has a very mild, pleasant taste. It is only 3.7% proof, so is quite a civilised pint!
Brains SA (nicknamed “Skull Attack”) tastes far stronger than it actually is. Personally, it gived me a dreadful hangover, but is worth it! By far the best pub in Cardiff for Brains SA is the Royal Oak, on Newport Road. They keep their barrels of SA behind the bar and pour the drink directly from the tap attached to the cask. It tastes like nectar!!
Brains Dark is well spoken of by beer experts. It is very malty like the old fashioned ‘stout’. And it sounds great pronounced with a thick Cardiff accent (Daaaaaaaarrrk!!).
A recent addition to the portfolio is Reverend James. This is not an original Brains beer – "Buckley’s" bought Brains Brewery recently and Reverend James is a Buckley’s recipe. All the same, it is even stronger than SA and an extremely tasty rich flavour.
Brains old brewery on St Mary Street was closed, redeveloped and became the new, trendy “Brewery ¼” in 2003. Brains moved to Buckley’s brewery next to the river. You will see the chimney there.
One very important thing that defines Wales is its own language - Welsh/Cymraeg - which has increased massively in popularity over recent decades. Not that you will hear it spoken much in Cardiff, where the massive English speaking population dwarfs the Welsh speaking minority. You have to head West or North to find the real Welsh speaking heartlands.
However, there is a Welsh TV Channel, S4C, and the Welsh Language Act requires many things to be translated into Welsh. Cardiff is a big media city - if you want to hear Welsh spoken then head for some of the pubs off Cathedral Road, which is near to the BBC/S4C studios! The Y-Mochyn-Du has regular Welsh speaking nights advertised.
A lot of staff at the tourist attractions (such as the Museum of Welsh Life, or Castell Coch) will be required to speak the language. If you feel adventurous, the Welsh for thankyou is Diolch (pronounced 'dyolk').
Iechydd Da ('yekid ah') is the equivalent of Cheers/Santé/Prost and literally means 'Good Health'.
And for toilets, 'Dynion' is the Men, whilst 'Merched' is Ladies!!
If you want to pronounce the double-L sound (as in Llandaff, or Llanelli), its a bit like the English 'cl' (as in clown) but with your tongue firmly placed behind your top front two teeth!!
Cardiff Council obviously have a good arrangement with a pyrotechnics company. Every major event in the city is accompanied by a massive display of FIREWORKS. I am sure Cardiff is not the only city to do this well. But the displays are always spectacular. They take place at New Year and Bonfire Night, after every major sports final, after music festivals, at the opening of new buildings (like the Opera House in November 2004).
Often they last for 20-30 minutes!! I know I shouldn't complain, we are very lucky. But sometimes Cardiff can fell like downtown Bagdad, or Palestine :-))
The New Year events are usually spectacular with a big fairground , ice rink and fireworks in the city centre.
In the first week of November, usually Saturday, each year 'Cardiff Round Table' hold a massive firework display in Coopers Field, behind Cardiff Castle. There is an admission charge but the display is very well done, there is an enormous fire, music and food stalls.
There are other regular events which are excellent entertainment, especially the Cardiff Big Weekend of music and fairground rides, the first weekend of August.
Check out Cardiff Council's List of Events.
I came to Cardiff after I had spent ten days in Scotland, and I was surprised how present the Welsh language was in Cardiff, as opposed to the Gaelic language in Edinburgh.
Almost all of the public signs in Cardiff (and the other places I visited) are in both languages, in English and in Welsh. Of course that means that many signs are rather big :-)
I just loved this because it always, always reminded me that I was in Wales now. I also love the looks of the language, I think the words just look so beautiful, even if you don't have any idea of how to pronounce them or of what they mean.
I later talked to some people about it and learned this:
"dd" is pronounced like the English th
"w" is a vowel and is pronounced like u
"ll" is pronounced similar to the German sound ch (the soft version, like in weich)
"f" is pronounced like v (as in volunteer), while "ff" is pronounced like English f
"y" is pronounced differently depending on the position in the word, but most often it is the ə (schwa sound), just an unstressed, neutral sound.
Of course I can't vouch for this, and it is utterly simplified, but it is just what I learned as a total beginner when I asked some people about Welsh pronunciation. Quite complicated, but after I learned these rules I always tried to pronounce things I read on public signs - good that nobody listened to my efforts! ;-)
As I said, I was very surprised that it was so present everywhere, and I was happy when I even heard people talking Welsh on the bus to Brecon, and on the train from Abergavenny to Cardiff. I thought that this would only happen in the north of Wales, but apparently some people even use it in these parts of the country.
If you now feel like hearing some Welsh, here is a funny video: How you doin'
The daffodil has become the national flower or emblem of Wales. I noticed this right away - my first day in Cardiff was St David's Day, the national day, and there were daffodils all over the place. The lampposts were decorated with huge daffodils, people were wearing small daffodils on their lapels, backpacks or t-shirts, and you could even buy big inflatable daffodils!
I wondered why the daffodil was so important and assumed that there must be a story behind it, but although I asked several people about it, I did not really get an answer.
Originally leek was the national flower. It was worn by Welsh soldiers presumably already when they fought the Saxons, and is also mentioned by Shakespeare in Henry V. As I was told, it is still a custom to eat a raw leek on St David's Day - or to force somebody else to do it ;-)
My tour guide told me that the daffodil was adopted simply because it is prettier, but I could not really believe that this was the only reason. Doing some research at home I read that the words for leek and for daffodil are the same in Welsh (ceninen or cenhinen), so this might indeed be the reason - but if it is the only one seems obscure.
When visiting Cardiff and other places in Wales I did see many, many daffodils - I don't know if they really grow everywhere naturally or if they were deliberately planted because of their status as national emblem, but they certainly looked beautiful and created an atmosphere of spring :-)
The most popular local beers in South Wales are the ales of Brains, which are brewed in Cardiff.
The brewery was founded in 1882 and in 1997 it acquired Crown Buckley, which is another local leading brewery. The range of traditional ales include: Brains Bitter, Brains Dark and Brains SA.
During our VT meeting I had a few Pints of Brains SA in the Goat Major and I have to admit that it tastes delicious. And no, I didn't have a hang over the next morning ... ;-)
About a quarter of the Welsh population still speak the ancient Celtic language Welsh, which is not an English dialect. To promote the Welsh language, most roadsigns are bilingual in Wales: English and Welsh.
When visiting a foreign country, it is always nice and helpful to speak at least a few words in the local language. So here are a few useful phrases in Welsh:
Cymru = Wales
Shw mae = Hello
Bore da = Good morning
Dydd da = Good day
Hwyl = Bye
Diolch = Thanks
Cardiff is one of those cities that has its own local "VT Welcoming Commitee". Sean (aaaarrgh) was kind enough to offer the organizing logistics as soon as I announced my arrival. He may have had some troubles announcing the news (related to geography ;) but his choice of places in the Cardiff bay was great - from the architecturally interesting bar to culinary interesting Chinese restaurant.
Other members of the local Welcoming Committee were Vicki (Myfanwe), Morgan (Lamb_Chop) and Gwilym (M0B1US) and they all made the evening very pleasant. (They did convince me that I didn't have enough Brains so I had to try to find them, but it seems this is a local custom here.)
Thank you all!
Brains Beer is Brewed just minutes outside of the City Centre, just behind the Central Train Station. If you are arriving in Cardiff by train the Brains Brewery may well be the first thing you see. Their Beer is served widely throughout Wales and the Brewery owns hundreds of pubs selling their finest ales and very good locally produced food.
I didn't know what to think when I noticed on the city map that the building next to the hotel was marked as CIA. First look through the window and it did look like some intelligence agency's headquarters. To make things worse, it seemed they were recruiting new agents on what otherwise seemed as peaceful Saturday afternoon.
After making a semi-official inquiry I realized that the CIA stands for "Cardiff International Arena" and that the crowds were simply waiting for their concert tickets.
I wonder why this arena is the only place in Cardiff where I didn't notice bilingual signs. Simple ARC (Arena Rhyngwladol Caerdydd) would cause less questions ;)
St David ( his name in Welsh is Dewi Sant), is the patron saint of Wales. He was a Celtic monk, bishop and abbot as well as the archbishop of Wales, who lived in the sixth century.
They celebrate St Davids day in the first day of March.
It's customary for the men to wear a leak and the ladies a daffodil.
We walked to the train station to check on schedules to Fishguard and the Irish Sea ferry. The clerk was behind what looked like a bullet-proof window and he couldn't hear what we were saying and we couldn't understand what he was saying, he finally just shoved a copy of the schedule at us through the crack in the glass. A young couple (he was another train employee) in line, kidded with us about our service. We all had a great laugh. Fun and friendly people in Wales.
There's a local brewery in Wales called Brains. One of their slogans in the past was "It's Brains You Want" ... indeed. The brewery was founded by Samuel Arthur Brain. One of their most popular brews is called Brains S.A. which is locally known as "Skull Attack"... for it's strength and effects the next day ! It's only 4.2% however, which is a bit weaker than most Canadian beers which weight in at 5%. Even so, Brains makes a popular range of beers so there's something for everyone
From the WEB:The story of Carreg Cennen Castle is a long one, going back at least to the 13th century. There is archaeological evidence, however, that the Romans and prehistoric peoples occupied the craggy hilltop centuries earlier (a cache of Roman coins and four prehistoric skeletons have been unearthed at the site). Although the Welsh Princes of Deheubarth built the first castle at Carreg Cennen, what remains today dates to King Edward I's momentous period of castle-building in Wales.