Blog Archives for the ‘U.K.’ Category
FALKIRK, Scotland — There was a time, a couple of centuries ago, when the best way to move people and freight across the land was on canals.
Scotland, surrounded by water on three sides, became the first nation in the world to dig intersecting cross-country canals. They connected the North Sea, near Edinburgh on the east, with the Atlantic Ocean, a few miles to the west of Glasgow.
That was in 1790, and the trip took most of a day, including the 6-10 hours to move through 11 locks needed to raise or lower the boats 115 feet.
But in the next century, an enhanced steam engine greatly cut the transit time — and also opened other routes, on land and sea. The railroad further reduced the need for canals.
Finally, widespread use of the internal combustion engine meant trucks and cars could take people and cargo much faster than could boats.
What had been a busy canal system was largely abandoned in 1933. In the 1960s, it was closed when two major highways were constructed through the canals.
But everything old is new again, and then some.
The national government spent the equivalent of $124-million to eliminate the need for the original 11 locks by creating the world’s first “rotating boat lift.” Opened in May 2002, it is named the Falkirk Wheel, after the middle-of-the-nation town where it was constructed.
The structure is futuristic in appearance, yet it uses an ancient law of physics to operate. Basically, a huge wheel is fixed to an axis, and on either side of the wheel are two boxes that hold water. Each box, called a gondola, is 70 feet long by 21 feet wide.
This is when Archimedes’ Principle comes into use. This states that an item placed in water displaces its own weight; thus one or more boats push out of the gondola an amount of water equivalent in weight to the boat’s weight.
The opposing gondola has the same weight, whether it is water only or also boats. A number of electric motors turn a cleverly designed series of gears that rotate both the large wheel and lesser gears that keep the gondolas level while the big wheel turns.
The gondola on the bottom is filled with water from a basin, and boats glide in before a water-tight door is closed behind them. The gondola at top opens onto an aqueduct that connects through a tunnel to the original, higher canal.
When both gondolas are closed, the wheel rotates — eerily quiet, considering the size of the structure. What was below goes up and what was up comes down.
When the big wheel’s half-rotation is complete, the water doors are opened and the boats glide out, to continue their canal journey in either direction. The cross country canal is about 68 miles long.
Since it opened, thousands of pleasure craft and more than 1-million visitors have come through the gates to watch it happen, with many of them booking rides on the 40-passenger tour boats kept in the basin.
The half-rotation takes about 15 minutes; the tour boats going up send their boats into the 330-foot-long aqueduct, which leads to a 475-foot-long tunnel beneath an ancient Roman wall. From there the tour boats enter a small lake, turn around and come back.
If you go
GETTING THERE: Several trains a day from Edinburgh and Glasgow stop in Falkirk; the ride takes little more than a half-hour. Phone your departure train station for the schedule.
The Falkirk Wheel is on a bus route from Falkirk’s Grahamston and High train stations. The No. 3 Red Line Bus, operated by First Bus, runs about every 15 minutes from stops near both stations to the Wheel site. Or, cabs can be hired at the stations.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Go to
Even from the back seat of a tow truck, England’s Lake District is lovely.
Gentle slopes give way to steep hills, often faced with granite. Lush green meadows are stitched by stone walls, to corral the livestock. On a chill fall morning, horses wear blankets, sheep wear their sweaters-to-be, but cows don’t even wear bells.
What seems like a baker’s thousand of tiny villages blossoms along narrow lanes like so many spilled M&M’s. This bag was loaded with colors of slate gray, whitewash and ocher, but among them were occasional splashes of royal blue, crimson, emerald, lemon.
Village names are pastoral: Ambleside, Waterhead, Grasmere, Hawkshead, Windemere, Penny Bridge.
Window boxes, hanging baskets and trellises overflow with the richest palette of neon blooms. Stands of birch, oak and pine provide the curtains through which country mansions or an occasional castle turret peek.
Velvet hillsides lead to placid lakes that gave this region of northwest England its moniker.
Slanting sunbeams and gusts of wind make those waters glitter brighter than faceted diamonds in a display case. Gliding along, sailboats, kayaks, skiffs and sightseeing two-deckers offer panoramas of shoreside hotels, livestock and, always, the hills.
From the harsh, the smooth
The Lake District is England’s most mountainous area. It was carved by glaciers that retreated 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.
The region is compact, measuring less than 35 miles by 35 miles. Yet it is rugged enough that most roads are merely paved country lanes. A motorist can’t glance at a map to casually calculate driving time based on distance.
But then, no one comes to the Lake District to be in a hurry.
This region so entranced William Wordsworth that the poet waxed lyrical about nature’s calming ways in many of his works, including the poem Daffodils.
This was during the Industrial Revolution, which was financing Great Britain’s 19th-century imperial reach. But Wordsworth and other writers convinced those who could escape the smoke and smell of London, Liverpool and Manchester to come north and take comfort from the landscape.
That led to the northward extension of railroads for passengers. Before, trains merely carted raw cotton, returning with about two-thirds of the world’s finished textiles, bound for the great ports.
Also nearly 150 years ago, the tourism infrastructure grew: Inns became hotels, taverns became restaurants. Earthen stagecoach routes were covered by pavement.
About that tow truck …
When mist scuds down the hills on an overcast morning, the landscape turns somber but still beckons. It holds out the promise of at least a history lesson — Vikings first worked this land — and a chance to find the perfect tea shop or warm fireplace in a pub, to escape the chill and meet the villagers.
Following a convention of travel writers in Manchester, to the south, I and two colleagues were touring the Lake District in a rented minivan. The rental agent had neglected to say that this Chrysler ran on diesel fuel.
Unfortunately, one member of our group did not see the diesel label on the inside of the flap cover of the gas tank. He pumped 13.5 gallons of unleaded gas – at $8 a gallon – into the tank.
We were barely a mile down the road when the engine sputtered, then stopped. By the time we hoofed back to the petrol station, we understood our mistake: Diesel engines can’t run on gasoline.
After several phone calls, the local Chrysler dealer told us that we had not killed the minivan, only its fuel filter. The dealer would make the repairs as soon as the flatbed wrecker he was displatching could reach his garage, 25 miles away.
Once the minivan had been winched up onto the wrecker, the three of us piled into its cab. Those hilly roads had never seemed so narrow, but the views, well, they were still charming.
If you go
GETTING THERE: There are direct flights to Manchester, about 80 miles south of the Lake District, from U.S. gateways.
STAYING THERE: The Lake District has a range of accommodations, though you’ll get a true flavor of the area if you book into a B&B, small hotel or pub. Most include breakfast in the rate.
We spent two nights in Hawkshead, near Lake Windemere. My companions stayed at the Red Lion Inn, dating to the 15th century, and I stayed in its sister lodging, the two-centuries newer Sun Inn.
My room was up 24 steps on seven turns of the staircase. My sloped-ceiling room could serve as the Keebler Elves Bridal Suite: The windows came only to my knees, and a beam crossed the bathroom just above the toilet. I’d stay there again.
Sun Inn Hawkshead, eight rooms; www.suninn.co.uk.
Red Lion Inn, 12 rooms; www. redlionhawkshead.co.uk.
I also stayed at the modern, upscale, 41-room Waterhead Hotel in Ambleside, on Lake Windemere; www.elh.co.uk.
For a full range of choices and event information, go to www.golakes.co.uk.
WHAT TO DO THERE: Plan at least three days to meander, enjoy the views, walk the trails and take in these attractions:
/ Poet William Wordsworth’s final years were spent at Dove Cottage. On the property is the two-room bakery/sales room of the acclaimed Grasmere Gingerbread Shop. It has used the same recipe to bake a spectacularly good treat since 1854. It ships around the world; www.grasmeregingerbread.co.uk.
/ Cruise on a lake. There are several options; for instance, you can get a 30-minutes-each-way trip between Ambleside and Bowness villages, then stroll.
/ If you love dogs — or sheep — head northwest to Cockermouth and the Lakeland Sheep & Wool Visitors Centre. Watch a border collie herd a small flock of geese (the dirt-floor arena is too small to move many sheep) and watch a New Zealand dog, a huntaway, race over the backs of some sheep, as it would do to reach the other side of a herd.
MANCHESTER, England — Situated among gently rolling hills about 185 miles northwest of London, Manchester was one of the outposts for Rome’s legions in the late First Century A.D. They stayed about three centuries, to be followed by Vikings, Scots and other Europeans.
It’s fair to say none of them would recognize the place now.
The development really started in the 17th century, when forward thinkers decided to import cotton from the New World to build Manchester’s textile business, according to docents in the city’s Museum of Science & Industry.
When the Industrial Revolution arrived in the 1700s, and steam power replaced water wheels, Manchester was launched.
A canal was built to bring the cotton from the docks of mighty Liverpool, 38 miles away. Manchester’s population roughly tripled between 1770 and 1800. Among the newcomers: mechanics and inventors, who understood Manchester could offer them work and pay for experimenting.
They developed machines to speed the processing of the raw cotton; it arrived in bales that still contained leaves and twigs from the ground of America’s South. The machines refined the cotton thread, then strengthened it before it was used in looms to create cloth. The museum docents demonstrate the processes on clattering machinery left from Manchester’s heyday.
The world’s first train dedicated to hauling both freight and passengers arrived here in 1830; that station, in rebuilt form, is one of the museum’s buildings.
Manchester became the de facto mechanical laboratory for the Industrial Revolution.
The bustling city’s roughly 100 companies turned out millions of square yards of cloth – an estimated 70 percent of all the world’s textiles. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli nicknamed it Cottonopolis.
To host the visiting monied crowd, huge hotels went up in the most ornate Victorian and Edwardian styles. City Hall, created by Venetian craftsmen and occupying a city block, opened in 1877 and is still in use.
There would be eventual decline — the city hasn’t produced a significant amount of cloth for more than a quarter-century. But oddly, it was a huge truck bomb, detonated by the Irish Republican Army in 1996, that led to the rejuvenation or rehabilitation of the city core:
The blast, which injured about 200, angered enough people with money that they decided to invest in Manchester’s future.
Now the lively town is home to an estimated 85,000 college students, Great Britain’s largest Chinese community after London’s, a bubbling cauldron of pop music creativity (everyone from Herman’s Hermits to Morissey and the Smiths), an acclaimed symphony orchestra, and a vibrant arts scene.
And then there’s world-famed Manchester United, the soccer team that lost David Beckham, and its arch-rival, Manchester City.
If you’re coming to take in England’s glorious Lake District, a couple of hours’ drive north, you can fly nonstop from the U.S. to Manchester. Spend a couple of days here, to get a feel for this great-again city.
For all the starting advice you’ll need, including help with reservations, go to the city’s official tourism site, .
GREENWICH, England — Kings and queens vacationed here for nearly five centuries. The world sets its watches from here. Sailors successfully navigate using a device on display in this town. All of it is a half-hour’s narrated boat ride down the Thames from the Tower of London.
And vivid history lessons about science and exploration await visitors who walk a few blocks up from the river.
One of the first buildings is the handsome Royal Naval College, originally designed by famed architect Christopher Wren to be a hospital and retirement home for sailors. The building known as the Painted Hall has a ceiling mural so vast that carts with mirrored surfaces are placed in the room so visitors can look down to view the paintings, rather than crane their necks and arch their backs.
Beyond the college and the twin wings of the Queen’s House, originally built in 1638, later enlarged and now an art gallery, is a statue of William IV, at the edge of the vast lawn that is Greenwich Park.
King, yes, but none then to the irreverent as Silly Billy or Sailor Bill. Those nicknames referred to his legendary drinking and womanizing — his mistress bore him 10 children, his wife bore none who lived — and his obvious lack of maritime skills.
Visitors who climb the hill through the lovely green park past the picnickers and scampering children reach the Royal Observatory. From the hilltop, you can look back to London and see the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, six miles upstream.
In the late 1600s, Greenwich was already a desirable location for London’s well-to-do, easily reachable via the Thames yet clear of the smoke and crowds of the working class.
It was King Charles II who decreed that his Royal Observatory be situated on the hilltop. Who else but Wren, himself an astronomer, would be chosen to design a home and work space for the royal astronomer, John Flamsteed?
More than 325 years later, Flamsteed House is still lovely to look at and intriguing to tour, because it is a museum that chronicles mankind’s effort to chart time, the heavens and our place anywhere on this globe.
This last chore was largely accomplished over 40 years by a nonscientist, the clockmaker John Harrison.
On display are the “sea clocks” Harrison fashioned. He wanted moving parts that would neither freeze nor shrink in the extreme conditions through which Britain’s military and merchant ships sailed.
The clocks finally allowed navigators to determine their position east and west. The clocks’ accuracy led to drawing the lines of longitude and, in the 1770s, won Harrison a prize of 20,000 pounds, a fortune then.
The continued study of measuring time is told in other exhibits, including a version of an atomic clock judged to be accurate within 1 second over the passage of 15-million years.
Outside the observatory, many visitors pose for a gag photo, with one foot in the western hemisphere and one in the eastern. They can do this because first British and then international authorities decreed that the prime meridian, the line of zero degrees longitude, would pass through the observatory grounds.
The nearby National Maritime Museum, which chronicles the history of the greatest seafaring nation ever, is not only imaginative but fascinating. You can easily spend an afternoon learning not only why Great Britain established the empire “upon which the sun never set” but also how it was created — often through invasion and slavery.
From the 2-million-plus items in its collection, the museum displays ship’s models, figureheads, ancient navigational aids and maps.
One gallery displays maritime paintings and even clips from a color documentary on vacation cruising from a half-century ago.
Another gallery is a fascinating discussion of exploration. This is highlighted by remarkable film of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated 1914-16 voyage to the Antarctic. His ship Endurance was locked in the ice for about nine months in 1915. Viewers watch its demise: as ice floes come together, the vessel is crushed and sinks.
Shackleton and the 27-member crew made it to an uninhabited island. He and five others then went for help. Not until August of the next year were all of them rescued.
Yet another gallery is devoted to the empire’s greatest naval hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson.
Surely millions of tourists to London have passed Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square without understanding why it was erected. The answers are in this gallery.
In October 1805, off the coast of Cadiz, Spain, the 47-year-old Nelson led an armada of 33 ships against a force of equal size from the Spanish and French navies. In about two hours, the British sank or disabled 18 enemy vessels, killing or wounding 6,000 of the enemy.
The British lost no ships, though some were no longer worthy as fighting ships, and suffered casualties of 1,700.
Among those killed was Nelson, shot through the shoulder and spine by a sniper perched in the mast of the French ship that Nelson’s Victory was battling.
On display is his uniform; you can see the bullet hole below his left shoulder.
Consider the following qualities attributed to Nelson: decisive, courageous, a leader from the front, unconventional in his attack plans, adaptable.
The admiral, who had previously lost his right arm and the sight in one eye during various battles in which he captured at least 26 vessels, once wrote:
“Difficulties and dangers do but increase my desire of attempting them.”
If you go
GETTING THERE: From London, you can reach Greenwich the slow, picturesque way, by a narrated cruise down the Thames, or the fast and impersonal way, connecting with the Docklands Light Railway, an elevated commuter train, from the Bank Tube stop near the Tower of London.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Go the Web site, ; each of the museums has a link from this page.
LONDON — Career paths, marriage or divorce choices, perhaps even whether to continue with life itself … surely all of these issues are contemplated time and again in the spring sunshine that caresses London’s glorious St. James’s Park.
One end of the park’s 93 acres cushions such government buildings as the Foreign Office and the Admiralty. The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey are just a couple of blocks away. The lawns, lake, shade trees and flower beds in between have soothed bureaucrats and politicians – and everyone else from romantic couples to overworked merchants — for more than three centuries.
But how many tourists would interrupt their schedule to sit on a bench and watch the ducks and pelicans? After all, this is one of the world’s most cultured cities, where history is on view most everywhere.
Well, visitors should take time to sit here, and stroll here. St. James’s almost forces calmness on you — the perfect tonic to hectic sightseeing. And while you’re relaxing here, double-check your itinerary to make sure it includes these places:
The Banqueting House: Both historically important and, on the inside, glorious. Designer Inigo Jones built this half-block-long palace for James I in 1622. Jones, having just returned from Italy, eschewed the prevalent ornate architecture for the symmetrical simplicity of Italy’s Palladian style.
But the reason to enter is to marvel at the series of paintings on the ceiling of the upstairs grand hall, which is 110 feet long. James’ son, Charles I, commissioned Peter Paul Rubens to glorify his father in those paintings, 55 feet above the floor. Ironically, Charles practiced few of the virtues alluded to in the ceiling murals, and in 1649 he was executed for treason — on a scaffold erected outside these second-story windows.
The entrance fee includes a helpful audio guide. Located on Whitehall, at Horseguards Avenue.
Westminster Abbey: Central to the history of England, as both a place of coronation and burial. The British empire’s greatest naval hero, Horatio Nelson, used to rally his men during battle by shouting, “It’s Westminster Abbey or victory!” Admiral Nelson, however, was not buried here.
Every coronation since 1066 has taken place in the Abbey, which is still a functioning church. Visitors can almost touch the Coronation Chair, created in 1308.
There is so much here to see — and it becomes crowded with tour groups – that it is well worth paying the for the Abbey’s own narrated, 90-minute tours or audio guides.
The Abbey is immediately behind the Houses of Parliament, but the main entrance is off Broad Sanctuary, a continuation of Victoria Street.
The Wallace Collection: An engrossing collection of European porcelain, paintings, furniture, clocks and armor. The family gave the nearly 5,500 pieces, gathered by four generations, to the government with the proviso that it never be divided.
The items are displayed in 25 rooms of what had been the family mansion, more than a little off the beaten path. But here, the paintings alone include works by Rembrandt, Titian, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Watteau, Fragonard and Canaletto.
Entrance is free, though donations are suggested.
In Hertford House, on Manchester Square; from Selfridge’s department store on Oxford Street, go north on Duke Street for six short blocks.
Other worthy stops in London:
/ Speakers’ Corner, Hyde Park
/ St. Paul’s Cathedral
/ British Airways London Eye
/ Victoria and Albert Museum
/ National Portrait Gallery
/ Tate Modern
/ Highgate Cemetary (by tour ony)
/ Central Criminal Courts
And if you want to learn about the city from street level — and sometimes from observation points a few floors above — be sure to book one of the charming narrated tours offered by THE specialist, London Walks.
Farm land forms the horizon at this hole on the Ryder Cuyp's Twenty Ten Course.
Newport, Wales – The hills that define the Usk Valley are not so tall, nor are they so steep. Instead, soothing to the eye, they are covered with a quilt in shades of green. The patches define farms producing maize, barley, rapeseed and the grazing grasses for dairy cattle and sheep.
This, then, is the lush background for two dozen of the world’s finest golfers as they compete during the first three days of October in the Ryder Cup. That every-other-year tournament pits a team of Americans against a team of Europeans.
And this year, for the first time in its 83-year history, the matches will be played on a course built just for this competition: the 3-year old Twenty Ten Course, at the Celtic Manor Resort.
There is no prize money at stake; rather the tourney is about national pride. A place on one of the 12-man teams is ranked just below winning one of golf’s four majors. The Americans won the Cup in 2008, in Kentucky, but the Europeans had won five of the six contests before that.
In a bit of irony, when the Europeans won in 2006, it was Wales’ greatest golfer, Ian Woosnam, who was team captain – the non-playing leader and strategist.
This year when the Cup is contested in Wales for the first time, the European captain is Scotsman Colin Montgomerie – undefeated in head-to-head play in his eight Ryder Cup appearances. And Montgomerie has tried to boost the home-course advantage:
“Monty came by some time ago,’’ confides Matt Barnaby, golf operations manager at Celtic Manor. “He walked the course and decided the fairways were too wide. He had them narrowed, to favor the European players’ style of play.’’
Was American captain Corey Pavin allowed similar input? “No,’’ Barnaby told me recently, “this is our course.’’
A visual treat
The 18th green slopes back toward the approach; an approach shot hit too short is likely to roll into a pond.
Watched by those holding 45,000 spectators’ tickets, plus millions on TV, the competitors will face a course that plays 7,493 yards from the back tees. Par is 71, with water on nine holes.
“The course sits on what was largely marshland,’’ explained Butler, as he steered us carefully in a cart – none are allowed on the course lest they damage the fairways.
“The land was built up to avoid flooding, and there are pipes under the fairways, and sand under the greens’’ to promote drainage after Wales’ frequent rains.
Even after the course was designed, it had to be re-shaped a reported dozen times when archaeological ruins dating to the Roman occupation were uncovered.
“It took a couple of years to actually build the course,’’ continued Barnaby as he snaked the cart this way and that. Since being finished in 2007, “The greens have firmed up, trees have continued to grow … though there are not so many trees in the field of play.’’
Several do line the right side of the dogleg, 377-yard, 15th hole, blocking the view of the green from the tee. The average golfer has to drive it far and straight on this par 4. “But we had the Welsh championship here in 2009,’’ said Barnaby, “and most of them just shot over the trees.’’
After that challenge, the par-4 16th is 508 yards fairly straight to the hole, but it has a narrow fairway that slopes to one side and has deep bunkers on either side of the fairway and guarding the green. The par-3 17th is a straight 211 yards, but it is followed by one of the Twenty Ten’s true challenges:
No easy holes
A monstrous 613 yards, the par-5 18th is a slight dogleg to the left, but it’s the approach to the green that will test the world’s best. The relatively small green is elevated above, and slopes toward, the fairway. Just off the fringe, that downward slope angles steeply into a pond. Hitting the ball short, or even to the wrong place on the green, could mean having to take a drop.
Yet Barnaby, who had never played a round of golf when he got to Celtic Manor after graduating college 6 years ago, said he believes hole No. 5 may be the most difficult.
Measuring 457 yards and a par 4, it is a right-to-left dogleg. Golfers must clear trees and bunkers with their tee shot but not hit into a further bunker at the far edge before that dogleg. Then the approach to the green is down a tree-lined fairway, with a stream on one side and deep sand traps fronting the green.
Whether the Europeans will be aided by the narrower fairways, they have a slight advantage off the course: In the 2 ½-year-old clubhouse behind the 18th green, they will relax and hold meetings in the clubby, purpose-built members’ lounge, which has a long bar and a large fireplace.
The Yanks, just a few yards away, will have to make do in what is now the clubhouse dining room: Lots of floor-to-ceiling window views of the course, but no wood-paneled walls, no fireplace, no bar.
One floor below, the carpeted locker room will be split down the middle by temporary partitions. The nameplates of the 170 current members (£3,000 pounds, or about $4,330 to join, plus £3,000 for yearly dues) will be removed from the doors of the polished wood lockers.
The adjacent shower room will also be partitioned. And lest the players forget why they are here, the frosted glass doors on the red-tiled shower stalls read, in script, the Twenty Ten.
If you go
The 2010 Ryder Cup will take place from Sept. 28-Oct. 3 in Newport, about 90 minutes by car or train from London, a little longer by train from Heathrow and Gatwick airports, about 40 minutes from the Welsh capital of Cardiff. There will be a park-and-ride plan from the nearby city of Newport and about 16,000 temporary seats will be erected throughout much of the course.
Sept. 28-30 are for practice rounds. On the first two days of the Cup, two-man teams from each side compete, under different rules. In fourball, each golfer plays his own shots, and the team whose player has the lowest score on that hole wins the hole. If a players from each team tie for the best score, the hole is halved.
Also during the first two days, the teams will compete in foursomes: two golfers for each team take turns hitting just one ball.
On the last day, there are 12 singles matches, pitting one player from each side against an opponent. A team’s scores over the three days are totaled to see which side of the Atlantic gets to host the Ryder Cup for the next two years.
To learn more, book tickets or accommodations, go to these sites:
Welsh golf packages including accommodations can be booked at sites such as www.rarebits.co.uk and www.golfasitshouldbe.com.
The spectacular Wales Millennium Center dominates the revamped Cardiff Bay cityscape. Poet Gwyneth Lewis wrote, in Welsh, "Creating truth like glass, from the furnace of inspiration,'' and in English, "In these stones, horizons sing.'' The metal facade is stainless steel, tinted with bronze oxide.
I hadn’t been to Cardiff, Wales’ working-man-tough capital, for 10 years. My, what a change.
The formerly defunct dock area around Cardiff Bay began its rejuvenation in 2000 with the opening of the cutting-edge St. David’s Hotel & Spa. But while it glistened, it was a lonely sparkle in the former industrial/warehouse area.
Now, it is outshone by a splendid performing arts building, the Wales Millennium Center, its spectacular facade and interior a thoughtful invocation of Wales’ natural resources: slate, lumber, coal, even the sea.
The carousel is a touch of whimsy amid the modern architecture in renovated Cardiff Bay. In Welsh, the banner advises, 'Enjoy the spring in Mermaid Quay' -- the name of the restaurant and entertainment complex.
Adjacent is the surprisingly impressive National Assembly building — in which the circle of 60 members sits beneath a sort of a funnel made of slats of wood. Each legislator’s desk has a large computer monitor so that, as city guide Stephen Griffin notes, no one can try to stall a debate by misrepresenting someone else’s remarks — the specifics can be onscreen in seconds.
In the gallery above the glassed-in legislator’s floor, visitors have the choice to listen to the discussions in English or the increasingly common native language, Welsh.
A few steps from these imaginative buildings is the restautan/boutique district Mermaid Quay. While the cuisine options range from French to Turkish, even the upscale pubs tout locally sourced foods – cheeses, vegetables, seafood and, of course, the lamb that TV-show chefs endorse.
Reclaimed from its days as a derelict warehouse and shipping district, Cardiff Bay now boasts, from left, the Wales Millennium Center, the renovated Pierhead Building (constructed in 1896) and the National Assembly for Wales. A water bus runs people between Cardiff Bay and the center of the city.
Also on the Quay are a merry go round, a clever rent-it-here/drop-it-there bike center — a precursor to the nearly 5-mile, no-motor-traffic cycling path being completed around the Bay — and the waterbus to the city center. Across the now-enclosed Bay ( oxygen is pumped through it to keep marine life healthy) is a new artificial white-water canoeing course.
Yet not 25 minutes from the rejuvenated Cardiff Bay industrial area is Rhondda Heritage Park, where former miners take you underground to help explain what once made Cardiff the world’s No.1 coal-shipping port.
“You used to be able to ask anyone, what are you in — coal, steel or iron,” recalls Griffin. “Not anymore – none of them is dominant. Now it’s our sheep, and tourism is growing, growing …”
I’ll be reporting further on tourism aspects after my fourth visit to Wales.