Sunday, April 27, 2014

Europe - Merthyr Tydfil, Wales


I wake up feeling a bit jet lagged still and I sure hope I can maneuver through this side affect of travel quickly.  After a hot shower and breakfast with Bernard’s dad,  I decide to explore a little bit on my own this morning.  I walk a few blocks down the street towards the little downtown area where I come across a monument on the opposite side of the street.  I cross over to take a closer look and find that it commemorates the life of Richard Trevithick who developed the first high-pressure steam engine, and he built the first full-scale working railway steam locomotive.  His locomotive traversed this spot on its initial trip in 1804 and a miniature replica of it stands on top of the memorial today.   After the brief history lesson (there is only a small plaque on the statue itself, I had to gather more information later thanks to wikipedia)  I continue down the paved street past an old abandoned facility covered with  intricate details.   Once manicured gardens spotted with lovely statues surround the historic shell of a building. I look for some identification to tell me what the building was and find the cornerstone which says the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).  One of the town landmark buildings it was built in 1911 as the YMCA, a place for young boys to hang out, exercise and Wales, YMCA Merthyr Tydfil 2learn. It has been derelict for decades and when I got back to the house,  I checked wikipedia and found more about the building and the efforts to demolish and renovate it over the years.  Obviously, none of the efforts have been successful.  It stands so proud on on the top of the hill, once known as the crown of the city.  In writing this post I found a 2014 news article where  a group of folks have announced plans to renovate the building to its premier status.  Hopefully that plan will get the green light and restoration will begin soon.  Now,  on with my travels to the IMG_3560 business district we had walked through yesterday on our way to the farmers market and the day before on my arrival.  Being more observant today,  I notice all the flower baskets hanging on the light poles,  the flower boxes below almost every window and of course once again the abundance of Chinese restaurants.   At the end of the block there is a grand old church and next to that is the old town hall.  A beautiful structure that is currently under renovations with a fence protecting it from intruders, or maybe protecting intruders from it?.  In front of the building is a sign highlighting the fundraising efforts to restore the building which is actually written in two languages.   Welsh and English – I will have to pay attention around town as  I believe I have noticed these  twoIMG_3563languages on many of  the signs, but did not realize one of them was Welsh or even a second  language.  I continue my journey around town for a couple of hours uncovering history in several spots and admiring the quaint details.  Before I head back for the rest of today’s adventure,  I must mention one of those history finds… the Robert and Lucy Thomas Memorial Drinking Fountain which was a gift to the city in 1906.  It commemorates the granting of the town’s charter  and honors Robert and Lucy Thomas who were pioneers in the steam coal trade of southern Wales.  The black structure has a statue on top of a man with one hand on his head  looking down.  The eight iron columns support the canopy which provides some shade from the days sun as guests drink from one of the four projecting arms of the fountain below.  Lion heads, ropes, swans and other birds are just some of the intricate details which decorate the structure.  I spend quite some time exploring and enjoying it but I don’t actually drink the water.  Another reason I come to the conclusion that coal mining and steam engines are a large part of the town’s history and its heyday.
IMG_3568My morning exploring is coming to an end so I head back up the hill around lunch time as Pip has invited me for a traditional Welch lunch.  On my way I stop by the house and take a few minutes to watch a game of boccie ball on the other side of the alley and over the adjacent fence.   I had mentioned in a previous post that there is a prestigious boccie ball club directly behind Bernard’s dads house and there is an international tournament taking place there during my visit.  I understand the concept of the game but not the rules.  I will have to see if  I have time to find out more later but it is time to head up the hill for lunch. Pip serves a traditional meal of peas, cauliflower, potatoes, and beef and it is truly delicious.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Bernard’s dad has made plans for the two of us to take the Breacon Mountain Railway this afternoon.  A tourist railway which runs approximately 5 miles between Pant Station, just outside Merthyr Tydfil, and Pontsticill Station traveling through the Brecon Beacons National Park.  We arrive at the quaint train station and purchase our tickets to board.  Inside the building is a museum of sort filled with historic railway artifacts and a small model train.  Its provides a nice distraction as we wait for our train to arrive.  Soon the large black steam engine appears on the tracks in the distance and steams towards the station.  Passengers exit the train and it is time for us to get on board.  As we sit and wait for the little engine to start down the tracks I day dream of a time not that long ago.  When this form of transportation was part of life and not just a tourist adventure.  I wonder what it would be like and how exciting it must have been for those first adventurers.  My day dream is interrupted by the horn of the train announcing the departure from the train OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAstation and we are off.  Clickety clatch down the old rail line we travel.  Surround by the rolling hills of Wales the scenery is simply spectacular.  Bernard’s dad and I enjoy the landscape and some good conversation with our fellow passengers.  Soon we are at Pontsticill station where we will pause for a bit.  Not enough time to do a lot of exploring but we do get off the train and walk around a bit.  Fortunately it is a the sun peaks through the clouds from time to time and there is no rain.  Ok..let’s learn about the Breacon Mountain Railway — Sometime in the 1970′s a search was started to find the perfect place to operate a steam railway using locomotives collected from around the world.
With its strong railway and iron making history as well as its location on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Merthyr Tydfil seemed to be an ideal location.   This section of the railway was originally constructed in 1859, but was closed and abandoned in 1964.  By 1978  the group of train enthusiast hadOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAeverything they needed to proceed with building the railway again and commenced.  The first section was open in 1980 to passengers again and additional tracks have been added in the years since.  But enough with the history as it is time to board the train again and roll back down the tracks in the direction we came.  This time we sit on the other side of the train so we can have a different perspective of the countryside.  Valley after valley of rolling hills alongside a reservoir we travel.  What a great way to spend the afternoon.   After the train ride we call it a day as Bernard’s dad is leaving early in the morning for a cruise and I have that jet lag to get over still.  Tomorrow the plan is to do some more exploring so better be ready!