Why in the world
would you want to visit Cardiff, if you are no rugby fan?
There are several good reasons to justify your choice.
First, Cardiff is the capital of Wales, in the South-Western
part of the U.K. The Welsh of Celtic origins are probably
one of the oldest populations of Europe, related to the
Scots, the Irish and the Bretons of France. Over the centuries,
they have developed and fiercely preserved their own personality.
Don't be surprised if the road signs read in Celtic as
well as in English. Once the bridge over the Severn is
crossed, you are in Wales, not England. After years of
neglectif not contemptthe Welsh culture is
born again and there's now an almost tangible buzz in
the air about this renaissance. Wales is not a province,
it is a nation and, for that matter, one of the oldest
of Europe, proud of itself, marching with energy into
the new millennium. The days of steel and coal (Cardiff
was once the world's largest coal shipping harbor) with
its trail of pain and misery are gone with the wind of
a new era.
apartments are now planted on the former docks; the St.
David hotel and spa, an audacious and original architectural
structure, rivals the Millennium Stadium with its
retractable roof, the largest in the world. But a few
yards away a restored medieval castle reminds you of its
colorful history. The hundreds of Roman and Celtic monuments,
castles and temples that still dot the land tell another
tale. Not much imagination is required to see the Knights
of the Round Table riding their horses across the bewitched
forests. More contemporarily, in the newly elected National
Assembly, Welsh representatives debate with a certain
degree of independence vis-à-vis the London government
over the future of their nation. They wish to see it,
with its ancient roots, well integrated in the European
Union as an active part of it.
for us, the highlight of the Wales rediscovered will remain
one of its best-kept secrets: the National Museum and
Gallery of Cardiff. Founded in 1907 and nestled in the
impressive civic center it is a real gem. While famous museums
such as Le Louvre can be daunting with their size and vast
wealth, this one, with its human proportions, is easily
accessible and painlessly "digested." A few hours in the
Gallery will help to understand the evolution of Wales-once
inhabited (can you believe it?) by dinosaurs and crocodiles.
what is believed to be the beginning of the world 4,600
million years ago to last week, the history of the planet
is told with its successive layers of lava and ice, deserts
and oceans. Let us be modest: Compared to the Big Bang and
the geological chaos, which our planet and particularly
this region have been through, the human invasions and resulting
wars, devastation by the Celts, the Romans, the Saxons,
the English, the Scandinavians and the Normans appear as
a mere tick of the clock. The Museum puts it all in perspective.
world of our ancestors was brutal. But what about today,
what about the harsh life of the coalminers until the middle
of this century as it is illustrated in the Museum of Welsh
Life in St. Fagans?
on the first floor shines the absolute splendor of the
Museum: a fabulous collection of French impressionists
and Flemish , Italian and French masterpieces of previous
centuries. Admiring the Rubens,
the Claude Lorrains, the Cézannes and the Van Goghs you
may wonder why such treasures could be found there? Thanks
to the industrial revolution of the 19th century, self-taught
David Davies made a fortune and a few children. He would
be forgotten today if it were not for his two granddaughters
Gwendoline and Margaret. Early in the century, with grandpa's
money, they started to buy old masters as Turner as well
as new artists like Monet, Renoir,
Rodin, Van Gogh. The 260 worksthe largest collection
of Impressionists of Great Britainthey accumulated
during their lifetime were reunited in a bequest to the
Museum. Thank you Gwendoline, your exquisite taste has
put Cardiff on the map.
lovely story is that of the Gwydir Castle in the Conwy
Valley. The 16th century monument had been abandoned and
deteriorated badly. The content of the house was sold
to American newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst including
the delicate oak paneling of the dining room. After a
long investigation, the new owners of the castle finally
retrieved the beautifully maintained oak panels in the
basement of the Metropolitan Museum of New York. The panel
is back and the castle open to the public. Ironically
enough, without this American escapade the panel would
have been lost forever, because in the meantime the castle
caught fire and all its remaining contents were destroyed.
sometimes carries a blessing!
Hilton Cardiff: Kingsway, Cardiff, Tel. 44
(0) 29 20 646300, Fax 44 (0) 29 20 646350 www.1hilton.com
Overlooking the Cardiff Castle and parks and
gardens. Near shopping pedestrian street.
David's Hotel and Spa, Havannah Street, Cardiff Bay,
Cardiff. Tel: 44 (0) 29 20 454045, Fax: 44(0)29 20 487056, www.rfhotels.com
A modern landmark on the waterfront.
Celtic Manor Resort: Coldra Woods, Newport, South
Wales NP6 27A. Tel: 44 (0) 1633 413 000 Fax: 44(0) 1633
412 910, www.celtic-manor.com
A convention resort on 1400 acres of parkland, three golf
Buffs Restaurant (Modern Welsh ), 8 Mount Stuart
Square, Cardiff Bay. Telephone 029 20 46462
Ar Cymru (Welsh), 48 Crwys Rd., Cardiff. Telephone
029 20 382132
Gallois 5Y Cymro (Franco-Welsh) , 6-8 Romilly Crescent
Canton, Cardiff. Telephone: O2920 341264
Brunel House 2
Fitzalan Road Cardiff CF24 0UY
Tel: 44(0) 29 220 49 9909
Fax: 44(0) 2920 47 5321
helpful web sites:
Atlantic operates many flights from the U.S. to London
Heahtrow (Two hours by train from Cardiff) with state of
the art aircrafts Boeing 747/400 and Airbus 340. If you
travel in Upper Class you will enjoy a new very comfortable
seat and a massage. A limo will pick you up promptly at
destination. Phone: 800-862-8621.
the Atlantic in Relaxed Style
A myriad of flights and airlines go between the U.S. and
the U.K. Although we are frequent flyers with "traditional"
carriers, this time we picked Virgin Atlantic, which like
all Virgin brand products wants to reflect its own personality
and originality. But is it conceivable for an airline
to have a character of its own other than in the ads?
Is there a way to alleviate the pain and hassle of reaching
congested airports and crammed aircrafts, other than flying
with Air Force One or your private jet? Are not all these
planes, stewardesses, food platters and seats the common
fate of today's travelers?
Virgin Atlantic does its best to offer a reasonable alternative:
In Upper Class, for the price of business class, they
give you first-class treatment. In 21 U.S. states, Virgin
Atlantic at no charge will transport you via limousine
to the airport and whisk you into town upon your arrival.
Prior to that, in many cities you can step into the clubhouse
and take a shower, relax with a beauty treatment, or exercise
on a ski simulator.
When departing from London, your chauffeur does the check-in
for you while driving you from your hotel to Heathrow
or Gatwick. All you have to do is walk to their lounge
with your boarding pass and sip a drink until departure
Once on board, relax at the bar, select the dishes that
will be served at the time of your choice, watch a movie
on one of the 20 video channels, and sleep in a duvet
in a complimentary sleep-suit, resting on a reclining
sleeper seat with adjustable leg-rests. In the future,
additional amenities will include power for laptops, video-on-demand,
and, yes, Internet access (in 2002).
Tired of working on your computer? Here is the cherry
on the Virgin cake: an in-flight therapist will give you
a relaxing massage that might work better than melatonin
to overcome jet lag and the bore of a long, long flight.
Gayot enjoying his Virgin massage
(Updated: 06/20/08 HC)