Photo tour of a morning walk around Oxford

Last December, during my visit to England, my best friend and I decided to celebrate her daughter’s birthday by taking her on a weekend trip to Blenheim palace. To maximize our time at the palace, we decided to leave London on friday evening and spend the night in Oxford, before traveling onto Woodstock early the next morning. Though we hardly had much time to explore the city, we did manage to go on a couple of walks on saturday morning. The skies were cloudy that day and it felt like it was going to rain any minute so the city looked quite gloomy. However, I am glad my friend’s daughter did not seem put off by the weather, and the walk seemed to reinforce her fascination with Oxford university, where she wants to study when she eventually finishes secondary school in a few years.

This post is a photo tour of some of the highlights we passed by during our walk.

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Ashmolean museum

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The Martyrs’ memorial and St. Giles

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The church of St Mary Magdalen

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Faculty of History

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The back of Oxford Castle

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Nuffield College

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Start of Broad Street

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Anna’s hand carved wooden spoons stall at the corner of Broad street

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Arts and Crafts market

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Radcliffe Camera

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Old Bodleian library quadrangle

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Another view of the Bodleian library

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Radcliffe square

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Hertford bridge, also referred to as the bridge of sighs

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Weston library

What was the highlight of your visit to Oxford? What would you like to explore on your first/ next visit to the city?

[Linking this post to The Weekly Postcard, Weekend Travel Inspiration and City Tripping #72]

Travel Notes & Beyond
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MummyTravels

Special Six: Colombo Cafes

I am more of a fan of cosy cafes, than fine dining restaurants, especially if they are independent ones and not part of a chain. In Colombo, there is a tendency for cafes and restaurants to mushroom and then close after a couple of years of poor business choices or tough regulations. However, there are some that have established themselves firmly over time. Here are my favourite six in Colombo, some of which I have been a regular customer for over a decade, and others which I like from the newly opened offerings around the city.

  1. Barefoot Garden Cafe

Ever since I first stepped into Barefoot Garden back in 2003, it has been my favourite cafe in Colombo. Aesthetically pleasing, the outdoor cafe adjacent to Barefoot gallery, which hosts art exhibitions and music performances among others, serves great food, has a good tea menu and a better wine selection. The customer service can vary but I usually go to Barefoot when I plan to spend a couple of hours there catching up with friends so I don’t mind the sometimes long waits for food to arrive. It also used to be my preferred place of work, during my consultant years, as the atmosphere on weekdays prior to the lunch hour is conducive for working on a report.

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Broccoli and mushroom quiche with salad

Barefoot cafe is at the back of Barefoot, the shopping outlet of the cotton handloom company started by Barbara Sansoni in 1964. The company engages rural handweavers and has continued to be the best in the Sri Lankan handloom industry over the years, yet to be matched by other handloom companies for its vibrant colours, quality and choice of products.

While I enjoy the ambience of Barefoot, I prefer to go to Barefoot during weekdays than weekends, despite its live jazz on sundays, as it is too crowded then for my liking and you are conscious of people waiting for tables to leisurely enjoy your own meal.

2. Commons Coffee House

Commons, the first of Harpo Gooneratne’s ventures, was opened in 2004. From his DJing career, Harpo shifted to the hospitality industry and worked as an entertainment manager at 5 star hotels. With the start of his own Harpo Productions company, he has launched a series of cafes and restaurants with different concepts. While I like several of his cafe/ restaurant ventures, I like his first the most.

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Stringhoppers with fish curry, kiri hodhi and sambol

Commons at Flower Road, Colombo 3 has continued to be a place I have enjoyed meeting up with friends. It has a relaxed atmosphere, friendly service, good food, particularly their Sri Lankan menu – my particular favourite is the rotti cart, with the selection of rotti with fillings.

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Rotti with tandoori chicken filling

3. Heladiv Tea Club

Heladiv Tea Club is an initiative of one of Sri Lanka’s largest tea exporting companies. They started the Tea Club at the old Dutch hospital precincts at Colombo Fort in 2011, after the site went through a massive renovation and restoration project. While I enjoy their tea offerings and their limited food selection is good, my particular favourite here is the soursop iced tea soda.

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Soursop iced tea and peach iced tea

4. Whight & Co

While Sri Lanka is well-known for its tea, it’s coffee is hardly known. It is surprising therefore that for a few decades in mid 19th century, Sri Lanka was one of the top global producers of coffee. In fact, according to the website of Whight and Co, one of my favourite coffee places in Colombo, the Dutch introduced coffee beans from Mocha in Yemen to Sri Lanka in early 17th century and the British subsequently expanded coffee cultivation. It was the coffee blight of 1869 that resulted in the switch to tea plantations.

James Whight, the owner, had tested coffee plants in regions where they had once grown coffee and found that the sample from Mathurata region in Uva province were from the descendants from an Ethiopian coffee bean mother plant. This coffee is now available as the Ruby Harvest coffee and is served at Whight and Co on Marine Drive, Colombo 3.

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Cold brewing in progress

I have tried a few of their coffees and my favourite is their cold brew, which is only sold in two coffee shops in Colombo that I know of. The upstairs space is lovely, if you need to work on your laptop for a couple of hours, read or simply enjoy the view of the Indian ocean while you appreciate your coffee.

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Cold brew coffee

5. Cafe Kumbuk 

A cafe that opened up a year or so ago, I like the way they have decorated their space at the Prana Lounge premises at 60, Horton Place, Colombo 7. It is an inviting, cosy cafe serving delicious meals. I love their french toast specials, which they seem to change seasonally. The couple, who run the cafe, have lived in London for several years and had been inspired by the food scene in East London and opened up this organic cafe. They have opened up another outlet, called Kumbuk kitchen, next to Good market on Reid avenue.

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Pistachio French toast

6. Kopi Kade

I visited this newly opened coffee shop on Stratford avenue, Colombo 6, last month and I immediately added it to one of my favourite coffee places in Colombo.

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Nimesh Namasivayam, the owner and barista of the coffee shop, has come up with a lovely menu of small plates and bites of Sri Lankan food with a twist.

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Roti crisps with a choice of accompaniments

My favourite part of the coffee place was of course the coffee, which Nimesh sources directly from organic coffee producers around the world. The delicious cup of coffee that I tried out recently was a blend of Ethiopian and Indonesian coffee beans.

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Have you visited any of these six special places during your visit to Colombo? Which ones would you be interested in trying out?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #71 and Faraway Files]

Wander Mum

Special Six: National Museum Gallery Highlights

The national museum of Colombo is the largest in the country and its founder, Sir William Henry Gregory, who was the British governor at that time declared it open on January 1st, 1877. When I visited the museum a dozen or so years ago, I was not impressed with the quite dilapidated building and presentation of exhibits, especially the lack of information about exhibits. Having learnt that the national museum had reopened after major renovations, I decided that it was time for me to revisit the museum this week and hoped that this visit would be more interesting. I was not disappointed as the building itself seems to have undergone a face lift and looked beautiful.

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In this post, I would like to share the six galleries that interested me the most of the different galleries at the museum.

  • Prehistoric gallery

The earliest evidence of the pre-historic period in Sri Lanka is 250,000 years ago in Minihagalkanda, Hambantota and the latest around 2,800 BC in Manthai, Mannar.

This gallery’s focus was primarily on burial techniques. I came across two different burial methods. One was an urn burial that was excavated from Pomparippu from around 800 – 700 BC. The pot was used to place human ash and offerings and covered with the circular stone slab, similar to the stone enclosure on display, which had been found near Galewela.

The other form of burial on display was the earthen canoe burial, where a pit built with clay was used for burning the corpse together with offerings and then filled and covered with a layer of burnt clay lumps. The one on display had been found in Kegalle district and was dated to 360 BC.

  • Anuradhapura period gallery

The museum has missed out on the period between prehistoric and Anuradhapura period, where there was an influx of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, which contributed to the decimation of the indigenous population and establishment of the Sinhalese and Tamil settlements in the country. The information plaque at the entrance of the gallery mentions that Anuradhagama was founded in 5 BC by Anuradha, a minister of the legendary ruler Vijaya. The city of Anuradhapura was then established in 4 BC by King Pandukabhaya, and became the first capital of Sri Lanka.

Two images under this period caught my attention. One was the 8th century image of Buddha found in Toluvila, which actually is displayed at the entrance of the museum and not within the Anuradhapura gallery. Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka in 3 BC, through the missionary activities of Emperor Asoka of India.

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The other image that fascinated me was that of Goddess Durga from 9 – 10th century, found in Mihintale. The image had no similarity to contemporary images of the Goddess in the country. The information board in the gallery mentions that “the presence of Tamil rulers in Sri Lanka from pre-Christian times indicates the practice of Brahminical or Hindu faith” and it mentions the 7th century poetry of Tirujnanasambandar, praising the Hindu shrine at Tiruketisvaram in Mantai.

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I was also intrigued by the surgical instruments found from this period. On display was a scalpel and a scissor from the 8th century, as well as a grinding stone for herbal medicine.

  • Polonnaruwa period gallery

During the heydays of Anuradhapura, Kandavurunuwara, which was considered to be the legendary ancient city of Pulastipura from Ravana’s time, became a strategic city midway between the Anuradhapura kingdom and the southern kingdom of Mahagama. It was this city that became the capital of the Chola empire of India when they re-conquered Anuradhapura in the 10th century. The city was renamed Janathamangalam and became the second capital of the country. It was when Vijayabahu I defeated the Cholas and took over the city that it was named Polonnaruwa. Irrigation tanks was a major contribution of the Polonnaruwa reign and the major ones are still in use.

In this section of the gallery, what attracted my attention immediately was the images of the Hindu gods, Siva  (12 – 13th century) and Ganesha (12th century). These images looked more like contemporary images, than the ones from the Anuradhapura period.

Of interest again was the medical instruments of the time, which was similar to the ones found in Anuradhapura.

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Another object that fascinated me was the time and day calculator. While the water ladle in the center of this glass display is beautiful, the time calculator was the polished coconut bowl with holes in it through which water seeped into another bowl. When the bowl was filled, it indicated that an hour had passed.

  • Transitional Period Gallery

With the decline of Polonnaruwa in early 13th century, there was a transitional period across the country where there were frequent struggles for power between kingdoms and one kingdom would emerge powerful within a region (s) for a few decades. This transition period was till the end of the 16th century, when Kandy emerged as the capital of the country. It was towards the end of this period that the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lanka and took over the coastal areas.

I would have liked to see more local artefacts from this period, especially details from the Kingdoms of Dambadeniya, Gampola, Jaffna and Kotte. From the exhibits in this gallery, the one that fascinated me most was the trilingual inscription, carved in Nanjing, and brought to the country by the Chinese navigator Zheng He in 14th century. The stone was installed in Galle. The Chinese writing on the stone invokes Buddha and offers alms to the Buddhist shrine at Samanalakanda, alternatively known as Sivanoli Pada malai and Adam’s peak, the Tamil writing invokes blessings of Hindu gods and particularly of God Vishnu, the Persian writing invokes the ‘light of Islam’. The placement of the inscription in the gallery was poorly done as it has been placed by a glass door, so the strong light at the back of the stone reduces the visibility of the inscription in addition to not allowing a good photograph to be taken.

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  • Kandyan Period Gallery

By the end of the 15th century, the Kandyan kingdom emerged as a powerful force, despite the turbulence experienced in the rest of the country due to the inter-Kingdom wars, the Portuguese colonization of the coastal areas followed by the Dutch colonization efforts. The capital finally fell to the British in 1815, due to internal power struggles between the King and his Prime Minister, which divided the people.

Occupying the pride of place in the Kandyan gallery was the throne, crown and scepter of the King of Kandy.

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The best display in this gallery was the writing instruments though. The stylus pens used to write on palm leaves or gold and brass plates.

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The ground floor of the museum was the most interesting part of the museum for me. I didn’t find the upper floor as fascinating, despite some interesting galleries focusing on art, woodwork and even agriculture.

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I was delighted to know that the cost of the museum ticket for residents and non-residents, while still different, was not too much as in other sights in Sri Lanka. I used to be embarrassed when accompanying visiting friends to places in the Cultural triangle, where they would be forking out a 1000 or 2000 for a entry ticket, while I only had to pay a 100. The national museum ticket on the other hand is LKR 35 for locals and LKR 300 for non-residents, and the photography permit of LKR 250 is the same for both.

The museum has been better organized and presented in the form of different galleries and now conforms to the trilingual policy, that was initiated in 2012. This enhanced the experience of my visit, as each exhibit now had information boards in English, Sinhala and Tamil. I also noticed there were tags on several of the exhibits and asked the museum staff, if there was an audio guide. It seemed most of the current staff in the galleries were newly recruited and were not aware of the guide. It was towards the end of my visit that I met a staff, who was able to explain to me that the audio guide was in the form of a downloadable mobile app and that once downloaded, I could scan the tag of an exhibit and listen to the corresponding audio recording.

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Hope you enjoyed the brief tour of the museum of Colombo! Would you include it in your list of places to visit in Sri Lanka?

[Linking this post to Wanderful Wednesday and Faraway Files #25]
Wanderful Wednesday

Suitcases and Sandcastles

Special Six: Morning at Wells Cathedral

Wells, the second smallest city of England in terms of its population size and geographical area, has been a city since medieval times due to the cathedral. I had been fascinated by Clare’s (Suitcases and Sandcastles) mention of the oldest complete medieval street left in England on her post on Wells city. So, I asked my sister, during my weekend stay with her, whether we could visit Wells. She decided that we would go for the Sunday Holy Communion service at Wells Cathedral.

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When we arrived at the cathedral around 7.30am, the entrance was closed. Someone pointed out a door on its West Front that had been left open for those coming for the service.

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At the end of the hour long service, my sister and I decided that we would meet up on the cathedral green near the entrance in a few hours as I had wanted to wander around. Since it was a Sunday, the daily cathedral tours by volunteers was not available. I asked permission to take a few photos of the Quire area from a church staff preparing for the next service. While I would have loved to explore the rest of the cathedral, especially its chained library, I did appreciate having been part of the morning service which I would not have been able to had I visited on a weekday.

What catches one’s attention as you walk into the cathedral through the west front are the Scissor arches which, according to the cathedral website, had been added in 1338, when a new spire added to the top of the tower threatened to collapse the whole structure.

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The 14th century stained glass windows of the Jesse window was impressive. While the windows narrowly escaped destruction during the English civil war and was protected during the second world war, the windows have been deteriorating over time. A protective glazing has been added to the exterior of the window and conservation work undertaken to preserve the beautiful window.

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The Quire area, where the morning service had been held, is one of the oldest part of the cathedral and is beautiful.

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The present organ was rebuilt in the 1970s, with the original instrument having been built in mid 19th century, with pipework from late 18th century.

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While I had been eager to see the famous 14th century astronomical clock at the cathedral, considered the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain, and its two famous jousting knights and Quarter Jack, I could not see it within the cathedral as I could not wander around. However, there was a clock on the exterior face of the wall, facing the Vicar’s Hall, that was connected to the same mechanism as that of the clock inside.

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I walked further and came upon the Vicar’s close, the medieval street that had intrigued me.

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Built to house the Vicar’s Choral, which is an all male group, it still continues to be inhabited by successive choral groups.

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At the end of the close is the Vicar’s chapel and library.

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Returning to the Cathedral green, I sat on one of the benches overlooking the west front and admired the cathedral while taking a break.

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Have you visited Wells Cathedral? What aspect of the cathedral intrigues you?

[Linking this post to City Tripping #67 and Faraway Files #22]

Wander Mum
Suitcases and Sandcastles

Special Six: Taunton Museum Highlights

During my recent holiday in England, I visited the Museum of Somerset with my sister. The museum, which is located within the 12th century Taunton castle, had a lovely collection of exhibits about life in the Somerset region from prehistoric to present day.

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The castle, designated as an ancient monument, has an interesting history from its 12th century beginnings to its decline in the 16th century, its role in the siege of Taunton in 1644/45 and as the site of the hangings of 144 of Monmouth’s supporters, following the Monmouth rebellion in 1685.

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View from an older section of the castle

The reconstructed castle has several interesting galleries on display. While I enjoyed the different sections in the museum, the following six are the exhibits that I enjoyed most.

(1) The tree of Somerset

The sculpture greets you as you enter the ground floor gallery of the museum. The 175 year old Somerset oak tree on Quantock hills was originally felled to be made into beams. However, it was created into an artwork by Simon O’Rourke, reflecting some of the stories and objects to be found at the Museum of Somerset.

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(2) Plesiosaur fossil

The Plesiosaur fossil is displayed in the Great Hall of the castle museum. Discovered by a Somerset fisherman, this fossil of a Plesiosaur was the first complete skeleton to be found in Britain for more than a century. The marine reptile thrived during the Jurassic period but became extinct about 66 million years ago.

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(3) The Low Ham Mosaic

The floor mosaic was found in the bath block of a 4th century Low Ham Roman villa. The mosaic floor, which tells the story of Vigil’s Dido and Aeneas, is considered to be one of the most famous objects surviving Roman Britain.

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(4) Frome Hoard

The Frome hoard was discovered in 2010 and is the largest hoard of coins ever found in a single container in Britain. The 160 Kg hoard is thought to have been buried in the 3rd century at Witham friary near Frome.

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(5) The Shapwick Canoe:

The canoe was made from an oak tree trunk felled in 350 BC and was found in 1906, preserved in peat.

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(6) Wild Art: Nature Re-Imagined, an exhibition by the Neal brothers

During my visit to the museum, there was a lovely exhibition of photography, sculpture and paintings by the Neal brothers. The brothers’ art career stemmed from their inspiring childhood explorations of the Somerset countryside.

There is much to discover about the history of the region, at the Museum of Somerset.

Have you visited Taunton and its castle museum? What is your favourite exhibit, from your own visit, or from my special six?

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[I am linking this post to City Tripping #62]

MummyTravels

A Cruise on Lake Geneva

It was seven years ago that I visited Lausanne for a couple of days. I particularly remember the cruise I took from Morges to Lausanne, across the picturesque Lake Geneva. Here is a photo tour of the cruise from Quai Lochmann to the Ouchy waterfront.

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Swiss artist Milo Martin’s work “Boy and Girl”, Morges

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Water fountain at Ouchy port lakeside gardens

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Ouchy waterfront

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Lake Geneva is easily one of the most beautiful lakes I have seen to-date.

Which is your favourite lake cruise?

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #61]

Wander Mum

Special Six: Cardiff Experiences

It was dark and cold when I arrived in Cardiff for the first time. I was quite tired after a long flight from Colombo to Birmingham followed by a coach trip from Birmingham to Cardiff. The last hour of the coach trip was caught in a slow moving traffic so it was with relief that I got off the coach at Sophia Gardens. I saw that the November rains had freshly washed the city that day as I made my way along the footpath to my hotel on Cathedral road. I had chosen to stay in quieter Pontcanna rather than the busy St. Mary’s street in the heart of Cardiff. However, as I walked along the dark, tree-lined street hardly seeing anyone on the road, I was questioning my choice especially as the late 19th century houses that I passed by seemed dark and empty.

The next morning, Pontcanna looked lovely in the light of the day as I walked along Cathedral road and I was glad I had chosen this part of Cardiff as my base. Here are my special six experiences, which I would recommend to the first time visitor to Cardiff.

(1) Visiting Llandaff Cathedral

I started my exploration of Cardiff, not with a visit to the heart of the city but to the adjacent ancient city of Llandaff, now a suburb of Cardiff, where the 12th century Llandaff Cathedral stands. The local Cardiff bus is the quickest way to get to the cathedral and it took around 10 – 15 mins, so is quite walk-able for those who prefer a long morning walk.

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Old Bishop’s palace

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View of the cathedral, from the cathedral green

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(2) Walking around Bute Park:

The park was once part of the private property of the Bute family, who had inherited the land in 1766 and begun the development of the grounds. The Bute family gifted the castle and its park to the people of Cardiff following the death of the 4th Marquess of Bute in 1947. The park was named Bute park in 1948. I only had a short walk around the beautiful park but the 56 hectare park is one of the largest in Wales and is a beautiful part of historic Cardiff.

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the “bridge” in Cowbridge road

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a model of Blackfriars friary, which once stood at this site

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19th century ornamental garden, commissioned by the 4th Marquess of Bute, depicting the medieval friary

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(3) Cardiff Castle

The castle is an iconic heritage site of Cardiff. The site of a 5th century Roman fort was where the Normans built their castle and keep in the 11th century. After being the heart of the Marcher lord territory of Glamorgan for several centuries, its significance declined after Marcher powers was abolished in the 16th century. The castle and grounds eventually passed into the hands of the Bute family in the 18th century. The 1st Marquess of Bute employed Capability Brown, the famous English landscape architect, and Henry Holland, who was Brown’s son-in-law and business partner, to convert the lodgings into a Georgian mansion and to landscape the castle grounds. The 3rd Marquess of Bute restored the Roman walls and undertook a major transformation of the Castle lodgings and park, as he was passionate about Gothic revivalism. He employed William Burges for the transformation of the castle lodgings and Andrew Pettigrew for landscaping the southern part of the park.

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the Norman keep

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Castle lodgings

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Nicholls’ 1890 sculpture of a lioness with William Burges’ clock tower in the background

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Carrick’s 1931 sculpture of a leopard

I particularly liked the animal wall, which was designed by William Burges but completed after his death. There are a total of fifteen animals on the wall, nine of which were sculpted by Thomas Nicholls in the 19th century and six were sculpted by Alexander Carrick in the 20th century.

(4) Loving Welsh Food Tour

I felt my first visit to Cardiff should include an introduction to Welsh food and after searching online, found the Loving Welsh Food tours. After communicating with its founder, Sian Roberts, I was treated to a complimentary tasting tour during my visit. The walking tour was a delightful experience that I have shared it as a separate post.

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(5) Cardiff Boat trip

My boat fix on this trip was going on the Cardiff boat from Bute Park to Cardiff Bay. The 20 minute trip over River Taff, with an audio commentary, took me past Principality Stadium and Brains Brewery.

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Principality Stadium

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Princess Katharine, a covered boat, was great for winter though I would have certainly preferred an open boat if I had taken the trip during summer.

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(6) Cardiff Bay Visit

Cardiff Bay played an important role during the industrial revolution as Cardiff became an important port city for its coal trade. The sun had come out of hiding during the afternoon of my trip so it was a lovely few hours when I explored a few of the landmarks around the bay area. I will share the highlights of my bay visit in a separate Special Six post.

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Have you visited Cardiff? What was your favourite part of your visit?

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #57 and The Weekly Postcard]

Wander Mum
Travel Notes & Beyond