Last Thursday was my sister-in-law’s 60th birthday. John, her husband, had arranged a surprise party for her and managed to break precedent by keeping something from her for the first time in 30 years! My partner Ann had not been to Cardiff before, so on Saturday we set off to remedy the situation. Wales were playing Argentina at the Milennium Stadium, so we were advised to go to Cardiff Bay and avoid the city centre. ‘It’ll be absolutely heaving in the centre,’ said John and he was right.
The weather which had been poor, deteriorated rapidly and by the time we reached Cardiff Bay, it was absolutely teaming down. It was very windy too and we dashed into the nearby Visitors Centre to find out where we could go on a day like that. Having visited the Norwegian Church, now a cafe and art gallery, full of their excellent coffee and welsh cakes, we headed for the Millennium Centre nearby.
We arrived just in time to take one of the regular guided tours. I’d recommend it to anyone. Especially the Welsh, who I was told tend to take the centre a little for granted, being on their doorstep. The concert hall is magnificent and the acoustics amazing. They have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure the acoustics are right for every type of event. For opera, the auditorium uses totally natural acoustics – no amplification. Because human bodies absorb sound, to ensure the acoustics stay the same, the unoccupied upturned seats have holes underneath. The sound goes through to be absorbed by the foam seat, imitating the amount absorbed if the seat was occupied.
The tour continued backstage and we began to appreciate the sheer scale of the place. It’s enormous. The dressing rooms were next on the list and our guide explained all the nuances of the way the lighting helped to get the artists stage makeup right. She also showed us a halter neckline, sequined dress to be worn by one of the performers. It was amazingly heavy. Ann commented she would have difficulty walking in it let alone perform opera!
To complete our tour, our guide explained how the designers came up with the very distinctive shape. It’s designed to follow the typical sweep of the Welsh hills. In fact the whole design is a celebration of Welshness. Very impressive.
Due to the barrage that was erected, the enclosed Cardiff bay is now a fresh water lake. The architects have gone to great lengths to show their green credentials, in the Millennium Centre and the Sennedd Building where the Welsh assembly meets. They have solar panels to generate electricity; heat pumps removing heat from the air; collected rainwater for flushing toilets, very green indeed. They even collect debris that comes into the bay from the River Taff, with a special boat. About 700 tons a year comes down, 7o% of which is wood. This is chipped and used as biomass for the boilers.
Finally our tour was at an end and with the rain still persisting, we headed for the village of Saint Fagans, north of Cardiff and our overnight accommodation. See next post.