Small Town in a Big City
Cardiff is an amazing place. It’s the capital of Wales, yet only about 325,000 people live here. They have the Millennium Stadium, which holds 75k sports fans and has hosted some of the biggest sporting events and concerts in the area. They have a superbly developed waterfront district and some really major work has gone into making Cardiff Bay a wonderful place to relax. Their shopping streets are clean, busy, and full of big-name retailers. But the people are as kind and generous as you’d meet in any small town. It’s a wonderful mixture!
Since I wrote last, we’ve moved beds. We are currently staying with our second CouchSurf host Roo at his flat. He works offshore with the Petroleum and Gas Industry and has plentiful time between jobs; he’s shown us quite a lot of the area. Our first day we went for a walk down to the Bay and Roo filled us in on the history of Cardiff. Cardiff was once the busiest port in the world due to the coal mining operations in Wales and the first million pound check was written here. The beautiful bay was nothing more than simple mud flats less than ten years ago, but the city decided to develop the area and built the Barrage. The Barrage is this stretch of land that seals off the bay from the rest of the sea. They built a few locks into it so the lesser traffic could still pass through, then flooded the Bay to get rid of the mud flat issue. The Millennium Centre was built, as well as the famous water tower featured in Torchwood, the restaurants, etc.
Indi opted for some quiet writing time at a café while Roo and I trekked out over the Barrage and beyond. It contains a wonderful grassy park area, playground, and walking trails. Many people were out with their children and dogs, as the sun was shining bright. We walked over the locks and then rock hopped around the beach. There’s a suburb of Cardiff just at the end of the bay, Penarth, with a quaint old Victorian pier and streets of mansions from the turn of the 20th century. It also stretches up the cliffs. After a short (grueling) walk, Roo and I found ourselves atop the rise and overlooking Cardiff with a spectacular view of the city. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect and Roo provided nuggets of information and experience of his sixteen years in Cardiff. Truly remarkable.
Yesterday we went for a walk in Bute Park (a gigantic park in the middle of Cardiff) and around Cardiff Castle. It was another uncommonly nice sunny day here, and we took advantage of it in full. We walked down the Taff River and around more football parks than I could count. The trees were all old and regal; Roo told us it used to be hunting grounds for the gentleman who built the castle. It was sure big enough. It felt like we were in the center of the countryside. Once we’d walked the park (half of it, anyway) we went into the shopping district for a look. I found some Reese’s Cups (om nom nom) and we walked into Spiller’s Records, the oldest record shop in the world (1894). We settled down for a delicious Chinese lunch and returned to Roo’s flat for a bit of a rest and watched some Six Nations Rugby. (England v Wales! But Wales lost…)
Our final destination for the day was a visit to Roo’s buddy Keith, who was having a bachelor party (called a ‘Stag Do’ here) in Cardiff with twenty of his mates from Scotland. It’s a little different here: the focal point of the party is to embarrass the groom to be, and it’s often made into a weekend-long (or, in some cases, WEEK long) binge of partying and drinking. Roo had shown us pictures of Keith dressed like a football cheerleader as he went through the airport on arrival. We taxied to the bar the Scots were at and were met with an even more ridiculous looking Keith (he had to put on a new random accessory on every thirty minutes, and among other things he was tied to a barstool, had on Groucho classes, and had an inflatable sheep handcuffed to his wrist). Pints and good times were had as we all barhopped across the bay.
It was a long day, but a good day. I think today is going to be one of our famous rest days as we contemplate our final days in Cardiff.