Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lots of links to Aust.

Ahh - breakfast this morning at the Castle and Ball is wonderful. A tantalising selection of cereals, pastries ad fresh fruit and then the cooked menu! Michael has Traditional Eggs Benedict (lightly toasted flour bap topped with slices of hand cut Norfolk ham, poached eggs and a rich hollandaise sauce) while I opt for the lighter Smoked Scottish Salmon and scrambled eggs with a wedge of lemon. They were both truly delicious and a lovely way to start our day. The staff, like those on duty last night are friendly and chatty. The bed was amazingly comfortable and the power shower great for waking you up! Really, a lovely place to stay (even if there is a bit of road noise).

Today is bright and warm again. Michael takes a whole heap of parcels over to the Post Office and posts the important birthday presents home - even though they are late. Sorry boys - and dad has posted them surface mail, so they might take a little while to get to you :(
We leave Marlborough without even having ventured around to take a look at what looks like a neat and tidy town, bustling on a major road network intersection. The hotel dates back to before the Spanish Armada in 1588 and some of the beams are still original! The current name is thought to be a balls up of the Castle and Bull - both of which appear on the Borough Coat of Arms.

We are headed for Cardiff - yep, back to Wales. This south-east area is the only part of Wales that we did not get to see on our earlier visit (but we knew we would be close enough to come across at this point). Our trip was all the way on the motorway - this was only because it saves an hour off the journey and we are keen to spend a bit of time here. They are still moving those tanks - we pass another three on low loaders today and in the skies overhead there is a Hercules doing training manoeuvres - can't believe that Michael did not want to get a single photo!!! We do however get a photo of the billboard advertising a Charity Polo match between England and Australia on 21st June - more Aussies coming over.

Cardiff is only one and a half hours (via the motorways) from Marlborough so we are here just after 12. Cardiff is surprising - from the wonderfully fresh looking Second Severn River Crossing Bridge that is painted a light greeny blue colour. It shines on the horizon as you come towards Wales and makes an excellent reference marker. The tide is out as we cross and all we see at this point are the estuary mud flats with a few small islets that stand proudly over their lowly bed mates. It is amazing to see just how wide the estuary is here, just before the river empties its waters into the Bristol Channel at the crossing point of Aust! On the west (Wales) side of the bridge we encounter one of the few tolls in the British Isles - £5.40, quite a whopper!

Cardiff presents as a clean and green city as you drive towards the centre. The architecture is grand in the civic buildings and there is street parking all around this area - however, I think the fairy must be out getting some sun as there is not a single spot to be found. We don't want to waste such a beautiful afternoon just searching, so we head out to Cardiff Bay only 5 kms away.

Like many other seaside cities in Europe, Cardiff is undergoing an enormous amount of re-development after years of previously industrial land lying vacant with the collapse of major engineering or manufacturing activities. Wales' first 5 star hotel has opened here following the construction of a barrage that has effectively dammed the Taff and Ely Rivers resulting in a large freshwater lake. Parking is somewhat easier at the Bay and the fee is pretty good too - £1.50 for three hours. A walk around the promenade brings us to the boat moorings and there is a small open boat - The Daffodil - about to do a 45 minute round trip of the bay for a mere £5 per person. Think African Queen and you get the idea, although the Daffodil is much smaller without a covered cabin! So we jump aboard with another 9 people and off we set. (Michael jumps off and gets ice creams from the Cadwalader Ice Creamery - Chocolate and Dragon's Breath (Chocolate with chili) for him and Strawberry and Vanilla for me. Man, that Strawberry was the best I have ever tasted!

Our captain is full of little bits of information - some useful and some trivial! There is a local couple with their visiting Australian sister and husband, and another couple with their daughter from Newhaven in south east England. We are shown close up the former dry docks and the new sea gates that open to let yachts in and out - where the salt water (being heavier than fresh water) sinks to the bottom and is sucked out of the bay, the salmon ladders and the created wetlands to cater for the birds who previously inhabited the mudflats. In fact there is a great variety and volume of bird life on the water today.

As there is such a small group it does not take long for us all to get chatting. Turns out, the Newhaven couple have a number of relations who have moved to the Sydney environs and they have visited Australia 5 times. Their daughter tells us she is leaving for a year in Australia in August. I give her a card and tell her to look us up if she gets anywhere near us. When she asks when we will be back, we reply early in 2010, but I add that Gen is at home and would gladly make a bed available. "Gen", she says, "I am Gen too!" At which point I say "Our daughter is Genevieve" (thinking that she is probably a Jenny) when she shrieks "Oh my god, I am Genevieve too!" Now, AIN'T the world a small place!! So look out Gen, she has our home contacts so ... if a British sounding Gen phones - you make sure you give her a real Aussie welcome.

Back on shore and it is time to have some lunch. There are a plethora of eateries around the promenade - from Silver Service restaurants to fast food outlets and all manner in between. We wander aimlessly for a little while, reading the menus that are posted outside (this is a European practice I really like). Finally we get to Strada - an Italian restaurant that seems well patronized and has an interesting menu range. The staff are busy but very friendly and find us a table in the open air, but shaded from the now raging midday sun. We are again amazed at how many people turn their chairs to face the sun and strip off as many clothes as decently possible - gosh, there is even one woman very badly burnt (probably yesterday) out again, all exposed with the reddest, angriest back - gosh, why is it that they don't get the skin cancer message?

We take a little while to decide on lunch, starting with a Pinot Grigio and sparkling water plus Cesto di Pane Misto (Ideal for sharing, ciabatta, grissini, walnut bread, tomato foccacia & Sardinian crisp bread with extra virgin olive oil & balsamic vinegar) and Green Castelvetrano olives. God that walnut bread and the home made grissini, and the sardinian crisp bread and the foccacia were wonderful. And it was fantastic to taste some good balsamic again, and not the white or even malted vinegar the English favour.

Michael then had the Risotto ai Frutti di Mare (Classic southern Italian risotto of squid, mussels, prawns and clams, finished with chili, tomato, garlic and extra virgin olive oil) while I feasted upon Formaggio di Capra Pizza (Goats cheese, balsamic onions, walnuts, mozzarella and tomato, finished with parsley). How that chef loves walnuts - and what wonderful ways he uses them! We pass on the desserts as we began with them on the boat ;)

As Michael pays one of the waiters at the till, we learn he is from Randwick - my old stomping ground! So you can get the drift of today's blog title by now I hope.

We leave the promenade and take a quick look at Roald Dahl Plass (Plaza) which is just, a space, and then the Millennium Centre. It is closed but is a visually stunning building capped by copper that gleams on land and out into the bay. I go back to the car as the parking ticket is about to expire while Michael goes over to have a look at a huge ship moored a short distance away - the Logos Hope. Turns out that it has been decommissioned and is now the worlds largest floating bookstore - an Evangelical Bookstore at that too. He doesn't stay long! On the way back to the car he takes photos of the Helwick, a former lighthouse ship, lots of public art in the area and finally a stunningly beautiful mosaic memorial to (Robert Falcon) Scott of the Antarctic who sailed from this dock on his last and fatal voyage - a very brave man.

We are feeling a little tired - a combination of too many late nights and a day in the warm and glorious sun, so we head for Tesco for more water (we are going through heaps), a new face washer (took us six months to leave it behind Mum - that's a record!) and new sunglasses for me and Michael lost my other ones in a wind one day earlier in our trip. Then it is over to the City Centre and the Churchills Hotel where we find a ground floor suite with a sitting room awaiting us and the birds chirping away in the gardens. Michael gets me a Bulmers Pear Cider and I play Scrabble while I do the blog. Tomorrow morning we will do the red bus tour here before we head back to Bath.

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