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Caerdydd, chapter the third: Vainglory

On Friday, we took another train - this time in search of Castell Coch. (You get the train to Taff’s Well, then stroll to the village of Tongwynlais and up the hill to the castle.) This was the day of our anniversary, so it was befitting that we should save the most romantic of the local castles for the occasion. I had seen it twice before (once on a field trip from University, once with David on our previous visit to Cardiff); seeing it this third time, I was impressed more by its air of melancholy than its romance. The thing is, the 3rd M. of B. (yes, this is yet another of his projects!) had a tendency to lose interest in his buildings once they were completed. The planning, the design, the collaboration with architects, the imagining, the excitement, the construction… all of that was deeply interesting to him, but a finished thing held no allure. How very sad! It put me in mind of those books and films where there is a flourishing finale, THE END, and everything just stops. Many people regard weddings that way - a lot of fuss and planning and show, and THE END. What happens next? If you can manage to appreciate the non-exciting, non-glamorous stuff that happens next, perhaps you’ll do alright.

In fact, without the non-exciting, non-glamorous everyday stuff, the gilt fades, the lustre dims, you are left with an empty memory, gathering dust. The Bute family almost never visited Castell Coch after it was completed. At times, they used it as a quarantine sanatorium when their children were ill. When first I saw this place, I thought it so very beautiful and romantic. But now, walking through uselessly opulent rooms, I felt sorry that it had never been a home. On the few occasions when the castle was used, the family had to bring in servants from Cardiff. I stood in the kitchen and felt annoyed on behalf of the state of the art range: nobody habitually cooked on that thing! It was as redundant as an Aga in a show flat. What a shame - what a shame! And what a relief to know that though our house is nothing special from an architectural point of view, it contains real life; breakfast is eaten there, warm bodies sleep there, laundry is washed there. Upon leaving, somebody locks the door with care, in anticipation of returning very soon. You can get married at Castell Coch, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

(Tons of pictures Here and Here if you would like to see them all.)

It looks totally imaginary, doesn't it? Like a cute, domesticated version of the reckless follies of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. But it's actually built on the ruins of a genuine Medieval castle, and other than the conjectural conical turrets, and the OTT decor, it's quite a faithful recreation.

The lonely kitchen.

The sublime Drawing Room ceiling - birds, butterflies, stars...

Lady Bute's eerie bedroom.

Again with the proliferating detail all over sumptuous ceilings!

Before we left Castell Coch, we bought ourselves a souvenir - a lovespoon. Touristy perhaps, but appropriate to the celebration of anniversaries (especially considering that this apparently was our Wood anniversary).

That afternoon, we had tea in a pleasant tea place in one of Cardiff’s arcades, then took a water taxi to Cardiff Bay.

It was busy there, packed with visitors enjoying the vast selection of restaurants and bars. There were several large ships docked, presumably something to do with NATO; I photographed armed sailors on one of them. There were still heaps of police clogging the place up - some of them seemed to be having an off-duty jolly rather than doing any actual policing. A few, indeed, were being welcomed aboard HMS Duncan. Not sure if that was business or pleasure.

Natty camouflage craft. ("Where?!")

Sailors in cute hats.

I have to say, on disembarking from the water taxi, I rather rolled my eyes at the ‘shrine’ to Ianto of Torchwood fame. Honestly… Not much further away was a statue in honour of Ivor Novello. They’d do much better to leave that gentleman a few flowers, rather than rend their clothes on behalf of some fictional nonentity.

Architecture-wise, the Bay has a fine municipal-Gothic edifice (next to the very expensive Welsh Assembly building) and of course the Millennium Centre, which is very impressive. Inside there was a free performance of jazz (depending on your taste, either the perfect accompaniment to a sit down or the ideal incentive to move along swiftly… it sounded pretty good, but we only went in out of curiosity and in search of the public bathroom!!).

Later we went for our fancy anniversary dinner. We had decided on a rather swish modern Indian restaurant, and it did not disappoint - on the comedy front. What an annoyance it is nowadays, all this molecular gastronomy - it really is quite daft. I blame television. What works on television does not necessarily function on a plate (or a piece of slate… there is always a piece of slate). I haven’t any pictures of our food - those are on David’s phone. I may add them later if I am able to. Anyway, the place was decked out in vivid orange, and absolutely teeming with staff. What they lacked in grace they made up for in enthusiasm - it was the sort of place where your glass is refilled after every three sips. (They probably count them - to be sure, every time you glance up you realise someone is looking at you.) During the evening we were served by about five different people (no exaggeration) and they also did that annoying thing of over-checking whether everything’s fine with your meal. (Gimme a chance to eat it, and I’ll let you know!)

You might think me pedantic in my summary, but any restaurant that makes a corner of the dining room into a shrine for its various awards and makes a big noise over the executive chef’s name and accomplishments is really only asking for detailed scrutiny.

The starters (here I must point a frown at the television again) very definitely ‘told a story’. Mine was called ‘Treasures of the Sea’ and involved, amongst other things, edible sand. David happened to be visiting the bathroom when the food was brought, so the server had to hang about for a while, awaiting his return, in order to… explain the food. When the food needs explaining, I felt like saying, you may be missing the point. David’s array was entitled ‘Einstein in India’ and some of it was covered by a smoke-filled dome. At the other end of the plate (or slate - I can’t quite remember) was a dollop of candy floss. Wowie Zowie. Mine was quite tasty (I enjoyed the soft-shelled crab) but the ‘mango spherification’ was a trifle unnecessary (looking, and unfortunately tasting, like bath beads).

The main courses made the usual error of being far too enormous. I think we both left quite a lot. Food waste is a bad thing, and no intelligent (no award-winning) chef should be allowed to get away with it. The story of the dish I chose involved a duck that had spent slightly too long in a tandoor. You couldn’t really tell it was duck, and it was a bit tough, and there was far too much of it… but on the credit side, the flavours were really delicious. It really needed the little dish of chickpeas that came with it, though, because without that it would have been terribly dry. I think David’s lamb dish was more successful, but again there was too much of it.

I really wanted to try a dessert, so I made sure to leave room (which meant leaving quite a lot of duck unchewed). The thing that stood out on the menu was ‘Hot Ice Cream’. What can that be, I asked myself? I thought it was probably some kind of deep-fried ice cream, or maybe a baked Alaska type thing… I was Wrong. When it came, and it took a while, it turned out to be a mound of Something, sitting in a milk chocolate shell. A lesser-striped chef brought it to me, rather than a server - and it needed explanation, naturally. He brought with him a small jug of hot liquid (it turned out to be ‘a saffron milk’ - the accoutrements of haute cuisine are never without their indefinite article; have you noticed that?) which he poured over the mound. “This is part of our molecular cooking that we do here,” he Explained. (Ah, yes, I thought - because cooking doesn’t normally involve molecules…) “It looks like ice cream, it tastes like ice cream, but it is not ice cream!” Then he withdrew, and I applied a spoon to the matter.

The matter, indeed, turned out to be something rather like crème pâtissière - it had that wobbly, slightly grainy consistency. Today’s flavour was honey and lemon, which did not go well with the milk chocolate (dark chocolate might have been nicer). We bravely sampled it several times, the viscous sludge sitting amidst apologetically-melty chocolate, all of it steeped in the warm milk which shone with dots of grease… I fear this recipe may have been inspired by a serendipitous waste-disposal back-up. I could not blame Davey for rinsing away the taste of it with coffee. When the bill came it was accompanied by a huge wad of candy floss, which did the trick for me.

I hope I am not making it sound as though we did not enjoy our meal - it was hilarious! The starters were pretty good, the main courses too… it’s just that when a restaurant exudes this level of comedy-smugness, it’s hard to resist being extra particular.

We got back to the city centre by taking the little shuttle train - as is our wont, we were heading for sleep at the same time as the rest of the world was heading out on the town. Y’know, I sort of admire people who can support the wearing of brightly-coloured, very uncomfortable-looking clothes, but I could not manage to emulate the achievement.

The next day, Saturday, we filled the time before our train home with idling around various shops. We had coffee at a nice place in one of the arcades - well, I say it was nice, but it wasn’t quite my kind of nice. Music too loud, coffee strong rather than delicious, rather arch vintage styling (is it only me who dislikes the piling-up of junk shop non sequiturs on high shelves? Old books simply do not go with battered non-functioning lamps and old milk bottles…). Also, though the toast I had with my coffee was very good, it was sliced too thickly (again with the unmanageably large servings!) and came with insufficient marmalade!! How could they?!

There was a good bookshop (Troutmark Books) that held many interesting things: well worth a browse. We also braved the indoor market and found a second hand record shop on the upper floor… along with a rather sad pet shop that was selling kittens. Their cage was not fragrant and contained no mother cat; one of them scratched itself persistently; all looked sleepy and miserable. It is not common (thankfully) to find kittens and puppies in British pet shops these days - I hope the poor little things do not come to a sad end. The lower floor was more cheerful - lots of tasty-looking produce and the usual greasy market café.

There were still lots of barricades and cops around, though some of the barriers were being dismantled and some of the cops were sitting at pavement cafés having drinks.

Not much to say beyond that - we went home, tired from all our exploring and observing, having enjoyed very much this short but castle-filled visit to Cardiff. There is of course more to see there, and I'm sure we'll visit again some day.

If you have managed to digest this gargantuan quantity of verbiage... then I thank you for reading! Or for looking at the pictures, if the words were too many! :-)


( 6 confidences — Confide in me... )
Sep. 22nd, 2014 03:39 pm (UTC)
I just wanted to send you a quick thank you for your wonderful posts today. I look forward to spending some cozy time reading them a bit later with a cup of tea. : )
Sep. 22nd, 2014 03:46 pm (UTC)
You are most kind! :-) You've probably noticed, I haven't done much in the way of commenting for a while - it's taken a while to piece all this waffle (and photos) together, which has made me feel like putting off dealing with livejournal. But today I've had the plumber in all day so that has made me focus at long last. ;-)

Time to catch up now...!
Sep. 22nd, 2014 03:50 pm (UTC)
No problem about the comments. I enjoy reading your posts so much. Your posts are like little treasures, just like when boywhocameback posts, I always love reading because they are extra special. I haven't been posting much that is all that interesting lately anyway. I hope to get back to myself soon as autumn starts to cheer me up. : )
Sep. 23rd, 2014 03:45 pm (UTC)
Taking time this morning to read more deeply. I have been to a couple places where everything was blocked off by velvet ropes and on display. I often wondered about how it was when people actually lived there as well, but it was hard to imagine since it so often looked staged to me. I would still enjoy looking at every detail my eyes could find though in the architecture and interior. I always love the details.

Your meal sounded like quite a performance. I always dream of treating myself to a place that is special or unusual and being served fascinating meals. I'm glad you were both able to enjoy the outing even though some things were a bit out of the ordinary.
Sep. 27th, 2014 01:30 am (UTC)
I think it's sad they didn't actually live there and loved this: "[...] what a relief to know that though our house is nothing special from an architectural point of view, it contains real life [...]" Agreed!

Also, Happy 5th Anniversary! (Is that the wood one? If I'm wrong, either way, Happy Anniversary!)
Oct. 8th, 2014 05:04 pm (UTC)
[argh, I'm so behind in replying to comments... please excuse me!]

Thank you for your kind wishes - yes, it was 5th and wood! :-)
( 6 confidences — Confide in me... )

Eavesdrop, snoop, and sigh with yearning...

This journal is not a private diary, it is more like an occasional, imaginary column. Therefore, much of it is on public display. However, if you want to read my occasional attempts at creative writing, my Caution Elf tells me I should only show that stuff to my friends. You know what to do. :-)

NB: If you add me in an unsolicited fashion, please introduce yourself. Otherwise I will probably ignore you.

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