Cardiff Review of the RHS flower show

Crowds queuing to enter the show ~RHS cardiff

 

A visit to the RHS flower show in Cardiff.

This weekend we visited Cardiff, the capital of Wales. It is a short hop across the Severn bridge from Bristol and we were able to catch a bus from Bristol to Newport and change for Cardiff.

We wanted to go to the RHS flower show which is held annually in Bute Park next to Cardiff Castle. The Royal Horticultural Society is a charity  which was set up to encourage an interest in gardening.  Cardiff flower show is the first show of the season and is held in April  This means that you have a chance to buy plants in time for the summer. It is smaller and less crowded than the more famous shows like Chelsea.

Cardiff 2019

I was disappointed that there was only room for a couple of show gardens. There were lots of trade stands and a wide variety of stalls selling different types of food. As there was not enough seating  we bought fish and chips and had a picnic on the grass. Luckily the weather was warm and sunny.

Children’s competition

A happy gardener with a collection of plants.
My favourite. The gardener looks so happy.

 

The children have built a boat inside the wheel barrow.
Another of the school entries

 

Each year the RHS holds a competition to encourage  the next generation of gardeners. Local schools have the chance to design a garden in a wheelbarrow and we were able to vote for our favourites.   This year the theme was discovery.  There  was also a children’s trail based on the book “the very hungry caterpillar” by Eric Carle.

We spent a long time in the flower marquees enjoying the scents and vibrant colours of the displays.  Keen gardeners could ask RHS experts questions as well as listen to talks by experts.

A display of succulents
The winning entry in the floral marquee

I especially liked the winning displays, The overall winner was a beautifully arranged display of succulents and the winning nursery displayed a  vast collection  of different types of daffodils.  The daffodil being the national flower of Wales. I resisted buying any thing but many people had very full shopping carts.  At the end of the show on Sunday growers sell plants more cheaply.

A dragon in the middle of a rockery
As we are in Wales you must expect a dragon or two

Cardiff for tourists

Cardiff  attracts a lot of tourists.   Bute park, where the show is held is right in the centre. From there you can catch the ferry  along the river Taff to Cardiff bay and see the Doctor Who exhibition or catch the red hop on hop off tourist bus and see sights like the Welsh assembly or the millennium stadium home to Cardiff city football club.

Visitors walking around the grounds of Cardiff castle
The Norman keep at Cardiff castle complete with dragon.

The enormous Cardiff castle is by the side of the park. It is well worth a visit but we did not have time on Saturday. Entry to the souvenir shop is free so I was able to take a quick picture of the keep. If you want to find out more click here Cardiff castle

The Museum

After admiring the displays in the flower show we went for coffee and a chance to sit down in the nearby Cardiff Museum and art gallery. Until the 6th of May they have a collection of Leonardo Da Vinci  Drawings owned by the Queen and loaned from her own collection. 144 drawings are on display at twelve venues round the country including Bristol museum. However as my husband had already seen them we opted to look at their collection of French impressionist paintings including this impressive Renoir. Entry to the museum is free but they encourage donations and there is a small charge for special exhibitions like the Leonardo drawings.

A smart Parisien lady wearing a blue gown
Lady in Blue by Renoir

If you liked this, you might enjoy another Welsh post Visiting the Royal Mint at Llantrisant

This post will be added to link parties for blogging grandparents. As always if you have any tips for visitors to Cardiff or questions please add them in the comments below.

 

 

Visiting Bletchley Park

A local college offers free study weekends for the “young at heart” over fifties.  I am not sure we qualify as young at heart but I liked the sound of one of the activities on offer a functional Mathematics study day and a visit to Bletchley park home of the wartime code breakers.

I very much enjoyed the film “the imitation game” particularly Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Alan Turing and was keen to see the place where it was set. It is over fifty years since I studied mathematics at school so I thought a refresher course would be good and might even  get the grey cells working.

The Discover weekend

We arrived at the college on Saturday and I was surprised to see how many over fifties were prepared to give it a go.  In England the retirement age for women has gone up to 65 and for both men and women it will soon be 66.  Many participants were women in their fifties who were keen to add a qualification to their C.V. There were also a good smattering of people like us who have already retired. I think my husband at 78 was one of the oldest.

One of the morning activities was planning a party for 50 people and bringing it in on budget which was quite good fun and certainly tested our basic maths skills. We had to estimate the amount of flooring and length of fairy lights needed for a marquee. As well as plan the type and quantity of food we would need.

The college provided us with a tasty lunch of cottage pie and fruit crumble .  Then in the afternoon we took a short test. They will send it away to be marked and if we pass we will get our certificates in a few weeks. The day finished with tea or coffee and lemon drizzle cake.

Bletchley Park

The large red brick mansion at Bletchley Park.
The rather grand mansion at Bletchley Park now houses a restaurant where you can enjoy lunch or afternoon tea.

On Sunday we got up early and my husband drove us to the college where a coach was waiting to take us to Bletchley Park. The journey took about two and a half hours and on the way we watched “The imitation game”  so that we could understand some of the background to the work done at Bletchley Park.

Bletchley Park is a beautiful mansion  near Milton Keynes which was bought by M16 the top secret government department   responsible for spying.  We learnt that a network of code breakers had been built up during the Spanish Civil war and when the Second world war was declared they received a message “aunt Flo is ill”. This was instruction to go to Bletchley Park.

Eventually almost seven thousand people worked at Bletchley Park. They were a strange mixture of university educated mathematicians, linguists, typists and amateur radio hams. I was surprised to learn that more women were employed there than men.

A plaque on the wall at Blechley Park
A plaque inside the manor with a fitting Shakespearean quote.

The big prize was cracking the German Enigma code.  The German code was thought to be unbreakable and it changed very day. Alan Turing and his team were able to build a machine to crack this and from about 1942 we were able to read the German messages. They were helped in this by the earlier work of Polish mathematicians.  Staff at Bletchley Park  had to keep this secret and were not able to act on many of the messages they deciphered.  It is thought that their work saved many thousands of lives. A particular success was ensuring that U boats did not attack the D day landing ships.

Churchill, the Prime minister was a big supporter of Bletchley Park and made sure they had sufficient funds to carry out their work. He also made sure they had leisure facilities including a tennis court.

As well as cracking the enigma code teams worked on deciphering Morse code messages and deciphering codes in other languages including Japanese.

I found the exhibitions extremely interesting. The displays included a lot of  fascinating quotations from the ordinary people who had worked there.

As we walked around the grounds we heard sound effects such as a spitfire flying overhead or an old lorry backfiring which added realism.  We were able to enter some of the huts where the decoding took place and see a replica bombe machine which was built to crack the Enigma code. There was also a very interesting exhibition on the part played by homing pigeons as messengers.

Part of the bombe machine used to crack the enigma code.
Replica bombe machine (stock image)

The practicalities

The Bletchley Park site  has a restaurant and two cafes. To add authenticity our drinks were served in wartime tin mugs. There is a playpark but I think younger children would be bored.  It is open everyday except for a few days at Christmas.   You need to allow three or four hours to see everything and real enthusiasts might need longer. Every where is accessible for wheelchair users or pushchairs but some of the paths are gravel. In the summer you can picnic by the lake. Entrance costs from £18.00 and  tickets are valid for a year. You can book a free guided tour with a volunteer guide or pick up a free audio guide. There is also a well stocked souvenir shop.

A wartime office recreated inside Bletchley Park
This office inside the mansion has been lovingly recreated.

Discover courses

If you live in or near South Gloucestershire and are over fifty. You may want to see what other Discover courses are available. You can do one English and one Mathematics course  which are held at the Wise campus in Stoke Gifford. Other coach trips this year include The Tate Gallery, London  and Stratford on Avon (English) and Exeter, food and Wine fayre (Maths). I thoroughly recommend it for a weekend with a difference.

This post has been added to link parties for blogging grandmothers and I would be interested to learn if other colleges offer similar opportunities.

An old Chad Valley teddy bear wearing checked shorts.
Alan Turing’s teddy bear on display

Cruising the Dutch Waterways and a visit to the Keukenhof bulb gardens.

Two chocolate Easter bunnies were on top of the cheeses

 

My garden is beginning to show signs of Spring.  I have purple crocuses, white snowdrops and yellow winter jasmine adding  touches of colour.  But  I am reminded of the old song “when it is Spring again, I’ll bring again tulips from Amsterdam”.  Before I met my husband I went on a barge holiday along the Dutch canals and I think Bill must be bored of my tales of visiting an Edam cheese farm, a Delft tile factory and several quirky museums. I also remembered the strange smells from the many small workshops along the canals.

The canal going through the town
Canals are very much a part of Dutch cities

Three years ago at about this time of year I was indulging in one of my favourite winter activities. I was looking through travel brochures and I spotted an advertisement for a cruise on the Dutch waterways including the canals, part of the river Rhine and even across the Zuidersee.  When I read that the boat would be my namesake “the Lady Anne” and that the trip included coach travel from Bristol, I was sold. Luckily my husband was easily persuaded to join me.

The Trip

We caught the coach to Arnham sailing on the cross channel ferry between Dover and Calais. My heart always lifts when I say goodbye to the white cliffs of Dover. We boarded the Lady Anne, an old canal barge  in Arnham and found our very small cabin.  There was time to view the very sobering Arnham world war museum and hear the story of the disastrous “market garden” expedition where so many young lives were lost.

We were all  disappointed to learn that we would not be able to cross the Zuiderzee as promised due to high winds. The Zuiderzee is a large lake which was left when the Dutch drained  part of the Iselmeer to make more farm land.  The captain decided instead  to sail to Enkuheizen  and moor by the Zuiderzee museum 

The open air museum contains a large number of old Dutch houses which have been rebuilt and furnished to show a vanished way of life and is very popular with children.  We were also taken on a coach trip to see one of the new towns that was built on the reclaimed land. There is a saying “God made the world but the Dutch made Holland”. It was very difficult to imagine that the land we were walking on was under the sea fifty years ago. Enkuheizen itself had been a fishing village and there were a lot of remains of the sea fishing industry.

We also had coach trips to Delft and the Het Loo royal palace. The Het Loo royal palace was the home of the Dutch Royal family until it was given to the state on the death of Queen Wilhelmena

A peacock is showing off his feathers #Het Loo palace
A peacock displaying in the stables of the Het Loo palace

 

Luckily the Lady Anne was able to travel through the canals and down the Rhine to Amsterdam.  It was very pleasant to sit on deck and watch the Dutch people go about their business. We noticed how neat and clean everywhere looked. There were also a lot of ducks and other water birds. We had a chance to explore some of the Amsterdam canals before we returned by coach to Bristol

Amsterdam deserves its own blog post but we had come to see the Spring flowers.

The Keukenhof Gardens

Smelling the tulips
Smelling the tulips

The highlight of our trip was undoubtedly a visit to the Keukenhof Gardens.

The Keukenhof gardens which are opened between March and May claim to be the best Spring garden in Europe. They were established seventy years ago as a showcase for Dutch bulb growers. For 2019 it is estimated that  seven million bulbs have been planted in over 79 acres. The Netherlands are the world’s largest exporter of Spring bulbs and over one hundred growers plan their displays in Autumn. The grounds are immaculately landscaped in a variety of styles and there is even a windmill you can climb to get a panoramic view of the whole park. Growers   also display their latest wares in a series of large pavilions and you can of course buy bulbs to take home.  We were able to spend a long time ambling through the park admiring the bulbs and also enjoyed a good lunch in one of the restaurants.

The countryside around also looks very colourful with a patch work of tulip fields where flowers are grown for market.

 

 

A bed of yellow daffodils beside the lake.
Daffodil beds along the lake
I found this you tube video of
The Keukenhof gardens by Drone

 

Visiting the Royal Mint at Llantrisant

Croeso I Cymru  Welcome to Wales

This week Bill and I went on a coach trip to the royal  mint at Llantrisant which is near Cardiff in Wales.  I have been a coin collector for a number of years and was keen to learn a little more about how they were made.  The visitor experience centre was opened in 2016 and cost nine million pounds so we were hoping for an interesting visit.

History of the Mint

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The first British coin

Coins have been minted in England for over a thousand years. The earliest coin found with a London mark has the head of King Alfred.  From about 1100 A.D. coins were minted inside the tower of London and  until 1970 coins were still minted in London at a site close to the tower.  However the government decided to introduce decimalisation. In 1971,  pounds, shillings and pence were replaced by 100 new pence to the pound  and  a larger site was needed to produce the new currency.

The site chosen was  in  South Wales. It may not have been a coincidence that James Callaghan the chancellor of the exchequer was M.P. for the nearby city of Cardiff. The new mint at LLantrisant was opened 50 years ago in 1968  and over 200 million coins were struck in preparation for D day.  At the time I was at university at Bangor in North Wales and I remember the excitement of getting the new coins. Predictably people were less impressed when they found that prices tended to go up.

Visiting the mint

Gromit covered with new pence.
Still on the Gromit trail. This one has been covered with new pence.

The royal mint is on a 35 acre site and is the largest in Western Europe.  It has an interesting visitor centre which is open every day from 9.30 A.M. to 17.30 P.M.  Tickets cost  a rather hefty  £13.50 for adults and £11.00 for children and  a family ticket for two adults and two children costs £40.00.  Concessions and group rates are also available.  There is free parking and a small café.  It is four miles from junction 34 of the M4.  For more details click here:  The Royal mint visitor experience

Part of the energy used is generated by a wind turbine painted to resemble a daffodil, the Welsh national flower and named Delilah in honour of Sir Tom Jones who was born nearby.

Our visit

After a security check we saw a short film which introduced the new range of coins for this year.  New coins depict Paddington bear and James Cook as well as a series of 10p pieces with letters of the alphabet. There will also be a commemorative coin with “New Pence” like the original decimal coins.

In the next room our guide showed us a display of tools used to mint the coins. She  also pointed out  some of the details we should  look out for when examining our change. For example the two pound coins have an appropriate slogan round the edge. The London underground £2.00 has “Mind the gap”.

Next we glimpsed a little bit of the production process. I was a bit disappointed to learn that no British coins will be struck this week. Demand has dropped considerably with the increased use of debit and credit cards. However the mint produces currency for about 60 other countries and we were able to watch Egyptian pounds being minted. Our party were  suprised to learn that coins are packed in cardboard boxes ready for transport.  For obvious reasons we were not allowed to take photographs of the production area.  You will also never see a lorry with Royal Mint on the side.

After the factory tour we had time to explore the exhibition area.  The mint also produces medals. All the medals for the 2012 London Olympics were made at the mint and copies were on display. There was also a cabinet devoted to the most famous master of the mint Sir Isaac Newton.

The mint has a small shop where you can purchase collector coins and other souvenirs including the largest chocolate money I have ever seen.

Our visit took about two hours including coffee and  rather tasty Welsh cakes in the café.

A famous car

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The Penny lane mini.

In 1967 the Beatles released the single Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields forever. Two minis were covered with old pennies to promote the record and this one has been carefully stored and preserved for 50 years.

Celebrating new year in Linz, Austria

Pastry hearts with a jam filling

Two years ago we celebrated New Year in Linz, Austria. Our daughter who teaches  English as a foreign language had secured a  three month volunteer placement with the Austrian bilingual classroom project (ABC)  and we offered to help with her luggage.  The bilingual classroom project was set up so that village schools could have visits from native English speaking teachers. It gave my daughter  the opportunity to spend three months travelling to village schools throughout upper Austria and she met a large number of Austrian children. She was also able to obtain a CELTA P qualification to teach English to primary school children.

We celebrated Christmas with the rest of our family including a new grandson  in Bristol.  once we had digested the turkey and Christmas pudding we flew from Bristol airport to Frankfurt and then from Frankfurt to Linz. Linz airport  has the rather romantic name of the Blue Danube airport. We rented a flat for a few days in Linz.  I had previously visited the Tyrol and Vienna  in Austria over fifty years ago as a child but although Linz is the third biggest city in Austria. I knew very little about it.

A map of Austria showing Linz on the Danube
Linz is close to the Czech border

It is located in upper Austria close to the Czech border straddling the Danube. It has a distinctly eastern European feel with a well preserved old town. Public transport is very good. We caught the trams which were clean, reasonable and ran on time despite the weather.

A rainy street with christmas lights
Commuters going home through the rain. Note the tramlines and Christmas decorations.  photo Angela Fraser

I was surprised how cold it was. It was raining when we arrived but this soon turned to snow.  In German New year’s eve is known as Silvester Nacht after Saint Sylvester. In Austria, particularly in Vienna there are lots of Sylvester celebrations with balls and concerts.  We did not make it into the centre but we did hear and see a lot of fireworks. I was  also surprised  how many gardens were decorated with gnomes and other Christmas figures.

Sightseeing

The highlight of our trip was  taking the Postlingberg tram up to the top of a snow covered hill.  The Postlingberg Bahn  leaves from the main square and climbs up the Postlingberg  through woodland to give great views over the city. The return fare is a very reasonable 6 Euros 50 and it is used by locals and tourists. At the top is an interesting church and also more unexpectedly a grotto trail with life size gnomes and dwarves.

We also visited the castle museum and had lunch in the restaurant which overlooks the Danube.  The castle museum had a lot of interesting displays about German history and technology though the information was only in German. When we were there they had a special exhibition of Austrian nativity scenes. These can be enormous and depict an entire village.

Life size wooden nativity figures in the snow
A wooden nativity scene photo Angela Fraser

This shows the Danube in the snow
The grey Danube

In 2009 Linz was the European capital of culture and it has a rooftop sculpture trail, a large modern  art gallery and an electric arts museum.

Food and drink

Austria is famous for its coffee shops which also serve delicious cakes. The people of Linz claim that Linzertorte  is one of the oldest cake recipes in Europe. Normally the top has a pastry lattice but at Christmas special shapes are cut. The food in the restaurants had a very Eastern European feel with a lot of meat, root vegetables and dumplings.  Hearty fare ideal for a cold winter.  You can also eat in a large variety of international restaurants.  Austria and Czechia have the highest beer consumption in Europe.

Pastry hearts with a jam filling
Linz hearts

Going home

It  snowed heavily the night before we were due to leave Linz. Luckily our taxi driver got us to the airport in good time but we had to wait for four snow ploughs to clear the runway before our plane could take off. Lufthansa gave all the passengers a bar of chocolate when we got on the plane to thank them for their patience.