Tonight is my last night in Cardiff. Boo! I like this city, and Wales in general. I’m definitely coming back. Tomorrow, I go back to London and from there, hop on the Caledonian Sleeper to Scotland.
I’m resting my feet, which have decided to go rogue on me (tendinitis, etc.). I can’t go out and walk around tonight, so I shall sit here and tell you of my adventures of the last two days instead. Ready? Here we go.
All photos in this section © Elizabeth West except where otherwise indicated
This is where I had lunch today.
After a very nice (too short) coffee shop visit with an online friend from my chat room (who just happens to live in Penarth!), I decided that today would be the day I knocked another item off the bucket list. The coffee shop we met at was right next to the train station, so I bought a ticket to Chepstow.
The remains of this Cistercian abbey still stand, beneath a beautiful hill that is just beginning to show its autumn colors. You reach it via train to Chepstow, and then you get to walk up the hill (another one–though not as steep as the headland to Penarth) and catch the number 69 bus, which lets you off across the road from the abbey. When you come round that curve and catch your first glimpse….
I had a much nicer day for my visit here. It was warm and sunny, with barely a cloud in the sky. A pensioner (senior citizen) I spoke to on the bus said it had been one of the warmest and driest Septembers they could remember.
The abbey is basically walls, no roof, and low-walled bits of leftover ruins that mark where the monks lived, ate, slept, and worshiped. It’s much bigger than just the church building itself. You need at least a couple of hours to see it properly. I’ll try to post some of the highlights here.
Inside the presbytery–the main part of the church–I walked around on paths that delineated where walls once stood. The abbey is built in a cruciform shape, with north and south transepts. In between the paths, the grass has obviously been treated–there are no weeds, though the green, carpet-like swaths are studded with small daisies this time of year. It almost makes the church seem more churchlike than a surviving stone floor would have.
In Chepstow, I had bought a sandwich and a Welsh cake at Coffee #1 and brought it with me, intending to sit on the grounds and have my lunch. But I had beat most of the tourists. I had the abbey to myself, so I sat down on the low ledge that ran down the wall of the presbytery and had my lunch there, looking at the view that opened this post.
For the rest of my life, I will remember where I was when I had my very first Welsh cake. It was the most delicious one I think I will ever have. The sweet moistness of the fresh scone, along with the cool air inside the abbey and the peaceful quiet, made me feel perfectly content, a state I rarely find myself in. This will be my happy place if I ever need it. If the ghost of a monk had come along at that moment, I would have simply offered him a bite.
Today is my last day in Cardiff, so I went back to the National Museum Wales (Amgueddfa Cymru in Welsh). It was open today (ha!).
Upstairs, they had an impressive collection of ceramics and porcelain. I know nothing about china and pottery, but I looked through the collection anyway. I did recognize the Blue Willow pattern on some of the dishes, and I know Flow Blue when I see it, though they didn’t have any. That’s the extent of my knowledge in this area.
Walking down to the art section, I found to my delight that they had a Richard Wilson exhibit on. This famous Welsh landscape artist influenced many other artists, including J.M.W. Turner. There is a Turner exhibit in London that I plan to see, so this was a fabulous precursor to it.
In another gallery, the museum had showcased an exhibit called The Great War: Britain’s Efforts and Ideals. World War I artists were commissioned to produce propaganda-like works to boost the war effort. They drew soldiers, sailors, aircraft and ship building, and women who worked back home while their husbands were at the front lines. Since 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I, it is a historically important exhibit. You can view the works at the link.
The museum houses one of the most impressive collections of Impressionist art outside Europe proper, and this was what I had come to see. And there it was–Gallery 16. Here are some of the works I saw:
On the first wall, I saw it! A VAN GOGH!
I didn’t know they had it. Standing right on top of it gave me a thrill. When you are up that close, you can see how heavy-handed Vincent was with his short brush strokes compared to Monet’s swirly blending. The paint is very thick, and the rain is streaks over the top of it, as though he painted the scene first and let it dry, then scraped the brush along the top of the paint to make the paths of the raindrops. He made the strokes in the building roofs at left very smooth, and they almost appear wet.
It’s not a stormy rain; perhaps it was only a gentle shower or summer cloudburst that inspired this work. You get the sense that it didn’t last long, and when the sun came back out, the fields would smell damp and earthy and the air fresh.
When you step back, as with many Impressionist paintings, it all sort of clicks together. Being so close and breathing the air in front of this painting (the existence of which, until today, I was unaware) made me feel close to him somehow. Art is what we have instead of a time machine.
Downstairs, the museum had a really neat little science thing called The Evolution of Wales, about the geographical and biological development of Wales. It went from the Big Bang all the way through to when the first humans appeared. Along the way, they had volcanic rocks, a moon rock (yeah!), lots of fossils, and a few dinosaur skeletons.
I spent the rest of the day shopping in the City Centre. It was cloudy and cool and misty/rainy today–much as I had expected Wales to be. The mist was so light, however, that I could sit beside the church downtown and eat my Greggs egg salad sandwich and Jammy Heart biscuit (shut uuup, I had orange juice with it) under a thick tree and not even get wet. I barely needed my brolly (umbrella), and by the time I got out of Primark, after trying on four pairs of jeans, the sun was out again.
Thus endeth my journey to Wales. I loved it here and I want to come back. Next time, I plan to visit the following:
Snowdonia and North Wales
And especially the Pembrokeshire coast
Don’t go anywhere, Wales–I’ll be back to see you soon, I promise. Rwy’n dy garu di.