In autumn 2007, Betty Belanus, the Smithsonian-based curator of the upcoming 2009 Wales Smithsonian Cymru program, lived in Cardiff, Wales with her family. During this time, she worked on preliminary research for the program. Part of Festival research is getting a real sense of the landscape and people of a featured area. Curators seldom have the luxury of an extended stay in a country, discovering the rhythm of everyday life and visiting cultural sites and events over the course of several months. The experience of Betty Belanus and her family serves as an introduction to some aspects of the Welsh culture as seen through the eyes of an American family.
All photos by Betty J. Belanus unless otherwise noted.
Special Places on the Welsh Landscape
Cardiff is a wonderful city, but many people from outside Cardiff say that you have to get out of town to "experience the real Wales." There are countless beautiful landscapes and significant sites around the country. So, during most weekends, the Belanus-Francis family planned trips to various points of interest. Three of their favorite places were Mwnt on the west coast of Wales; the Dee Valley around Llangollen in the northeast; and Tintern Abbey in the southeast. All very different, but equally lovely.
Museums and Cultural Sites
Families living in or visiting Wales can obtain a very reasonable season's pass to Cadw (cad-oo, the organization overseeing the care and maintenance of ancient monuments and some associated museums in Wales). National museums in Wales, which are located across the country, have free admission. So, for a small monetary investment families can get a big return in Welsh culture. Here are some of the places visited by the Belanus-Francis family during the autumn of 2007.
Our limited budget did not allow for sampling too many gourmet restaurants in Wales, but with a bit of ingenuity and a love of ethnic food, we ate well. My husband found delicious day old store baked bread for sandwiches, and we learned to cook lentils and other Indian delights from our friend Aparna Sharma. Take out is an affordable option, and we especially enjoyed kabobs from small storefront shops run by Turkish immigrants. Food festivals are popular in Wales, and Aparna and I visited the annual Abergavenny Food Festival in mid-Wales in September.
In and Around Cardiff
Finally, as it was our home base, we grew to love Cardiff. We lived in the Llandaff North area, and our little row house was called Talcon Taff (Edge of the Taff) as it was only about a block and a half to the River Taff. We visited and enjoyed many other parts of Cardiff, including the Bay, as well as nearby sites like Castle Coch (the Red Castle) and the bucolic Vale of Glamorgan. We had a wonderful autumn, and miss our home and friends in Cardiff!
Immigration and an international perspective have enriched Welsh culture for generations, while the strength of the Welsh language, which stems from the sixth century, continues to underpin the nation's identity. Visitors will be able to practice Welsh phrases and learn about the history of the language. In addition to the Festival, Wales' presence will be extended through ancillary programs that will begin in March 2009, presented in collaboration with partner organizations in Washington, D.C. These activities and events will include a wide range of contemporary arts and a focus on sustainable living and climate change.