Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cardiff calling

When I woke up on Thursday morning it was pouring with rain. I hadn't decided what I was going to do for the day but the weather made hopping on a train to Cardiff seem like a good idea (little did I know of Wales' reputation for rain). All I can say is, thank you the rain of Bath.


I have to admit, I was already positively predisposed to Wales thanks to the brilliant TV series Gavin & Stacey which I watched on DVD last year. The main female character and her family are Welsh and live in Barry; they are all great characters with the best accents. This was where I got the idea of going to Wales in the first place, and after realising how close it was to Bath it had been in the back of my mind as something to do before returning to London.

I knew I wouldn't really end up having very long there, because even though it's only just over an hour from Bath, I had already bought my return ticket to London so I had to go back to Bath and then on to London that evening. I started to wonder whether I'd made the right choice as we got closer to Cardiff and the rain got even heavier, but as soon as I saw signs in Welsh and English I was too excited to care about the weather. It might have been raining, but it was raining in WALES.

I got off the train, grabbed a map (which in the end I never used), and followed the sign to the city centre. I fulfilled a request for a child's All Black jersey as they're apparently much cheaper over here and the woman who served me had a Welsh accent. It was very exciting.

I wandered through a market and when I came out the other side I saw a little sign for 'St John's Tea Rooms'; I had a feeling I knew what it would be like so I went in. I was not disappointed. There were slices of cake for 40p on china plates, a cup of tea cost 60p, and there was a little menu with the sandwiches you could order.

I got a ham sandwich which came with a 'side of crisps' and a piece of orange. I sat in the tea rooms for about 45 minutes, had a second cup of tea, and listened to all the people's accents around me. I could have gone home then and been happy.

When I left the tea rooms it had magically stopped raining. I wandered along and came to the castle, but first I went into a little arcade opposite it.

(This can count as part of the 'Me in a Mirror' series, I'm in the second square from the right, down the bottom)

There were so many cool shops in the arcade. A button shop!

And a second-hand clothes shop you could hardly move in it was so packed with stuff. Great name too.

It was then over to the castle, where I walked along inside the exterior walls which were used as air raid shelters during WWII (it was pretty dim and a bit unnerving in there), climbed the 'keep' which was built on a 'motte', and had a look inside the mansion (which I initially thought was a church because the exterior is all gothic with a spire).

Inside the mansion was crazy, it was full of gold. The first room you see was where guests sometimes stayed...imagine sleeping in a room like that! Surely all that gold on the ceiling would keep you awake. Permanent sunlight.

The rest of the rooms were just as extreme.

Although the dining table is original and it seems pretty tame, the hole you can see in the middle is for a live grape vine, so maybe not so tame really.

After the castle I went and sent postcards proclaiming my love for Cardiff to various people, then visited the new little Cardiff musuem, housed in the old library. It was yet another very interactive museum so I really enjoyed it. My favourite thing was a doll's house that spun around and you could see into a different level on each side. Each level had two rooms illustrating a period of time, they showed how the interior of the house might have looked and what the occupants might have been doing in their time period. You could push a button for each level and the little wooden puppet dolls moved. In the late 1800s for example, the family were eating in the dining room while the maid was cleaning and the cook was rolling out pastry.

My favorite was the 1970s where big houses were divided into flats and more women began to live on their own. And what does a woman living on her own do? Hula hoop of course.

This model showed the docks of Cardiff. Around the edge of the model were pictures of and information about some of the important or interesting buildings, when you pushed a button next to each picture, the location of the building in the model lit up.

When I went to see if there was a comments book in the museum so I could write a note saying how great the museum was (because anyone who has ever applied for funding for anything knows that these things help and the museum seems very new with lots of potential), I found a beautifully tiled corridor. A sign said that back when the building that now houses the museum had first been erected it was Cardiff's first public library and a competition was held for designs to decorate the entrance hallway. The detailed tiles are the result of the winning entry.

However, Cardiff's population soon outgrew the library and when it was extended, the hallway fell into disuse so hardly anyone ever saw all the tile work. Sad.

While at the museum I watched part of a video about the history of some long standing local Cardiff businesses, one was Clarke's Pies. On my way out of the museum I asked where their shop was, apparently they don't have their own shop anymore, but they do supply to the indoor market. So I went back through the market on the hunt for a Clarke's pie. The man who served me when I bought one was so lovely, he told me all these things I should do and see in Cardiff...I had to admit that I unfortunately had to leave again in about an hour, but that I'd be back!

The pie was...interesting. The filling was yum (beef in a beer gravy) but the pastry was really thick and flakey. That's obviously their thing, but I don't know if it was mine.

I took my time on the way back to the train station, mainly because I was delaying leaving. I stopped at a jewellers in a lovely old corner shop in another arcade and bought a wee silver dragon necklace I'd seen on my way past the first time. It was a bit more expensive than some of more tacky looking ones in the Castle shop but I got such amazing service my choice was vindicated. I made friends with the assistant in the shop and we talked about the Edinburgh Fringe while the guy serving me cleaned the necklace, put it in a case, and then put it in a flash bag and tied it with a gold bow. All for 26 pounds. A bargain I tell you...I walked through the rest of the arcade and stopped for hot chocolate before finally dragging myself back to the train station.

I think I may have found one of the best hot chocolates in Cardiff. This is going to be very handy to know when I move there.

I can't quite say why I loved Cardiff so much, the accents were definitely a major factor. But also that it seems pretty unpretentious. There are really old buildings sandwiched in next to some quite ugly not so new ones (in the part I saw anyway), so it's not exactly the prettiest of cities, but the people I spoke to were the friendliest yet, there were lots of great little shops tucked away, it was busy but not crowded, and it's only two and a half hours from London.

I seriously considered buying a Welsh rugby jersey and lapsing my dislike of rugby just so I can come home and support Wales in the World Cup...think how many people that would annoy! The Welsh bar is just across the road from BATS Theatre in Wellington. It would be perfect.

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