Cardiff city trip (19th to 22nd December 2009)
Cardiff is the capital of Wales and has a population estimated at three million. Wales (Cymru) itself is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and is officially bilingual with English and the indigenous Welsh language, both having equal status.
My trip there started with a long bus trip from Cambridge to London Victoria bus station, almost missing my 8am bus and barely forgoing locking my bike due to a frozen/jammed lock. It was a trip to remember, yet one where Murphy law seem to rear it’s ugly head even before my journey started. The transit from London Victoria to Cardiff bus station was as smooth as silk, with plenty of time to spare in between the stop. Hung around the station’s upper crust store where I got to talk to some of the locals and a hobo who resides there. At all times being vigilant, it’s interesting to chat and hook up with locals in the area to know the inner workings around town.My journey there lasted about 3 hours, including the 2 hour trip to London, it took about 5 hours top via National express bus. You just got to get into the habit of sitting out long bus journeys, which is a reasonable way to travel discounted without a railcard. I arrived at the Cardiff bus station with a whole afternoon to spare. There is plenty to see and do.
Cardiff is also Wales’ chief commercial centre and the largest city and most populous county of Wales. Met up with my travel buddies from Imperial college at the inn we are staying for the trip. It’s location is surprising smacked right in the middle of town along St. Mary’s Street, which is not too far off Queen’s Street too. The hotel is called Sandringham spanned over 2 blocks across the road, with the reception and restaurant (free wi-fi) in one of them.
The rooms are surprisingly decent, with the exception of the narrow stairwells typical of these rowed English houses which proved to be quite a challenge going up with large backpacks. We got a roof loft which provided great night views, surprisingly we are unable to get any internet mobile coverage in the room at all. After a short integration and lunch, we started off with a bus towards Cardiff Bay, one the main sea viewing sites of the capital.
On arrival, you will be greeted by the Wales Millennium Centre (Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru). It is essentially an arts centre located in the Cardiff Bay area spanning a total area of about 2 hectares. It was opened in 2 phases on November 2004 and January 2009 respectively, honored with an inaugural concert. It seats 1897 and mainly hosted arts performances of opera, ballet, dance, comedy and musicals. It’s also home to the national opera, dance, theatre and literature companies of Wales, as well as the national orchestra. Les Misérables was a musical on for the night on the day we visited.
It internally comprises of one large theater and two smaller halls and also includes shops, bars and restaurants. It has a hallway lined with the center gift shop as well as several “cart” stores selling specialized Welsh handmade gifts. Being a tourist spot, the prices of the items sold here are usually marked up higher than what you get from traditional street stores. Without a doubt, the Millennium Centre also has a local nickname “Armadillo”.
Just off the Millennium Centre center is the seaside bay. The Roald Dahl Plass are a series of tall cylindrical towers spanning over 5 meters tall arranged in an oval just by the bay area near the iconic Pierhead Building. The bay area and Mermaid quay offers a nice quiet sea view with few scattered fishing boats over a horizon, but is not buzzing much with activity in the winter. Generally winter is a period where most outdoor activities die down, particularly when the sun sets awfully early too. It was about 4pm where the place is as dark at the peak of the night, but most of the shops, pubs and restaurants are still open till late. The restaurants in the area are of upper class, serving more of a finer cuisine of food, particularly seafood as well, the place is generally popular with evening dinners looking for quality food.
Various attractions around the Bay also include Techniquest- a children’s play and learning science center as well as the Dr Who exhibition at the Red Dragon Centre off Hemingway Road. We were fortunate to have the hospitality of a small family restaurant back in town, serving awesome Welsh steaks. We all loaded up before hitting the shopping arcades for a night of window shopping, exploring and checking out various shopping centers the place is renowned for, particularly Queen’s street and the new St David’s. We ended up purchasing quite a lot more stuff than we’ve expected.
We were up early the next morning to check out most of the local sights within town itself. The Cardiff Central Market is no exception either, buzzing much with activity, this 2 floored traditional Victorian indoor market is a mini spectacle and sight to behold itself, both inside and outside. The upper stores sells dry good and textiles while the lower floors houses mostly stores selling daily-fresh produce. The market was designed by the Borough Surveyor, William Harpur, and opened in May 1891. You can view a panorama I’ve taken of it as follows.
Cardiff Market Exterior Panorama.
The market is smacked right in town as well, feeling quite abit out of place with all the modern shopping arcades around it. It’s surprising how many of Cardiff attractions are situated all within a short walking distance from each other, a short walk from St Mary’s and crossing few underpasses will bring you to our next attraction, the Cardiff National Museum, it is right next to City Hall and the law courts.
The locals call it Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Caerdydd, otherwise known as National Museum Cardiff. It houses collections of archaeology, botany, fine and applied art, geology and zoology, essentially it being a museum and art gallery in Cardiff. It is part of the wider network of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. Like most museums in the UK, entry is kept free by a grant from the Welsh Assembly Government.
Designed by architects Arnold Dunbar Smith and Cecil Brewer, the museum have a typical British architecture- a large front lobby with a high ceiling topped with a domed top. There are lines of displays located on the multiple floors of the museum accessible on both ends of the long lobby. The current standing building is just what is left of the structure first founded in 1907, when it inherited the collection of the Cardiff Museum, which shared the building of Cardiff Central Library. The museum started construction in 1912 as a civic complex of Cathays Park, but only opened to the public after the First World War in 1927.
A walk further north away the museum will bring you pass the buildings of Cardiff University itself. Known as Prifysgol Caerdydd inWelsh, the university is located in the Cathays Park area of the city and is consistently recognised as providing the best university education in Wales. The campus grounds spots a rather interesting mix of olden university buildings and modern blocks built alongside it to supplement the building needs of the modern university today. You can see the obvious change of architecture with the times. The university received its Royal charter in 1883 and is a member of the Russell Group of Universities.
The university buildings are built all around Cathays Park, which is also home to the Welsh National War Memorial. Cathays park itself is situated not too far off the heart of the city, just off the popular Queen’s street Cathays Park or Cardiff Civic Centre (Parc Cathays). You can access it past the law courts and resides just behind the City hall and Cardiff museum, within walking distance from the north road (A470).
Cathays Park, Cardiff Wales, Welsh National War Memorial panorama.
Surprisingly smacked right in winter, the park (Alexandra Gardens) still retains much of it’s lush greenery, the green is nicely manicured and the trees all neatly pruned. Prominently placed in the center of the park is the Welsh National War Memorial, designed by Sir Ninian Comper and unveiled in June 1928 by the Prince of Wales. The memorial commemorates the servicemen who died during the First and Second World Wars. The park is also is a civic centre area in the city centre of Cardiff and offers a large fairground area for most national cultural and sporting institutions, such as the Welsh national media, and the seat of the National Assembly for Wales.
One of the best ways to enjoy the Welsh lifestyle is to visit their regular weekend farmers market along the River Taff. Such markets are known to have existed at the site since the 1700s. You can find authentic Welsh food and souvenirs.
It’s setup almost like a typical night market in Singapore, with make shift tented stalled lined along the banks of the river. Delicacies include traditional ones such as Welsh roast lamb served from the slab and Laverbread. There are ample seating areas by the river side with music played by the road sides. Many people simply just enjoy sitting by the curb side enjoying the breeze and atmosphere. If it ever gets too cold, simply just head into any of the nearby inns for a cup of hot chocolate.
Further down the River Taff will bring you right to the iconic Millennium Stadium. Also known as the Stadiwm y Mileniwm (Welsh) it is a large multipurpose stadium able to host a variety of events such rugby, football and boxing, considering it being the home of the Wales national rugby union team and the Wales national football team.
I never thought it will even be possible to convert the sport grounds into a Grand Prix track, after learning that the vast stadium is also used to host to many other special non-conventional large scale events such as the Super Special Stage of Wales Rally Great Britain, Speedway Grand Prix of Great Britain. Besides being the national stadium of Wales, it’s also a performance hub and many music concerts, including Tina Turner, Madonna, The Rolling Stones, U2, Stereophonics and the Tsunami Relief concert.
The Millenium Stadium panorama.
The Millennium Stadium costed £121 million to build and is owned by Millennium Stadium plc which is a subsidiary company of the Welsh Rugby Union. It was designed by Lobb Sport Architecture and built by WS Atkins and Laing. It was completed in time for Cardiff to host the 1999 Rugby World Cup and in time for the new Millennium too.
It is not the views of the stadium from across the River Taff where you can fully appreciate it’s size.
It is the second largest stadium in the world with a fully retractable roof, with it only being the second stadium in Europe to have this unique roof design which allows opening and closing based on ambient needs, ventilation or lighting. It is the third largest stadium in the Six Nations Championship with the Stade de France being the largest.
This ends the first part of my Cardiff trip, my next post will see us through more traditional places such as castles, including those out of the city.
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