There were moments laced with lightning (literally), where I thought I was never going to get to Wales. We took off in severe thunderstorms, after camping out on the tarmac for 90 minutes. I missed my first train to Cardiff and had to rebook at full price (a whopping 40£ or $60). Finally on the train, the English countryside rolled by and I did that awkward forward nod whiplash sleep thing a few times before we pulled into Cardiff. Now, cue the rain.
Despite my (mis)adventures en route to Cardiff, I did have a wonderful time exploring this small city in Wales. This also completes my circuit of the four countries in the United Kingdom: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. While we’re checking off the boxes here, this is also my 20th country! Life is good.
Upon arrival, like a fool, I camped out in my room and arranged my belongings and rested my weary head / legs / life until about 5:30 p.m. I’ll go for a stroll! Sure, you will. Will anything be open? Not likely. Many of the shops in the arcades had shut down, but luckily Crepe Affaire shone like a beacon in the night and I helped myself to a crepe for dinner. In an effort to stay in motion, I stumbled into St. David’s shopping center – both an architectural wonderland and an overwhelming experience. BUT: open late.
On Friday, I toured the Cardiff campus of University of South Wales, which was beautiful. The ATRiUM campus is full of fashion, set design, radio, television and all sorts of fabulous production courses. Phil and Mary paraded me around town, heralding the way into City Hall with “I’ve an American here … ” which continually opened doors. We had strong and fragrant coffee at The Plan Café, and wound through the arcades and into the central market. Mary further proved to be one of my kind of people when she purchased a row of Welsh teacakes, wrapped in white paper. We had lunch at the beautiful Chapel 1877, and I enjoyed my first taste of Welsh rarebit. No rabbit, just cheese, toast and a really sassy mayonnaise. My stomach growls now just thinking about it.
I made my way down to the bay, with an eye on the sky as it appeared the storms had followed me to the UK. With a view to the water and a built up boardwalk area, there were many cafes, restaurants and the iconic Wales Millennium Centre. Although I didn’t see a show, I did look up the meaning of the words on the facade. A blend of Welsh and English: Creu Gwir In These Stones fel gwydr Horizons o ffwrnais awen Sing “Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration.”
At no time in Cardiff did I go hungry. On Friday night I landed at Dorothy’s chipper on Caroline Street, where I not only had a gigantic slab of fish with chips and curry, but also a 5 minute conversation with the owner about the 5 pence charge for a plastic bag. I said, “it’s wonderful!” and he said, “No, it’s not,” and proceeded to fill me in on the history of the mandate, how sad it is, and how he wishes it weren’t so. Here I thought we were doing the environment a favor. Conversely, he’s unhappy he has to charge his customers more than they may have anticipated. Bulmer’s cider washed down the convo and the massive meal.
St. Mary’s Street is not the quietest place, and though I think I slept while lodged at the Sandringham, I may have lain awake for a lot longer than I thought. The nap I had on Friday had me face-planting, fully clothed, for 2 hours. Jet lag or not, it was serious. Post nap and trailing through bookshops and the central market, I ditched one paperback and picked up another. Ok, two. I lunched at beautiful Pettigrew Tea, as recommended on the CardiffGirl blog. Lavender Earl Grey, a generous ploughman’s lunch and a thick slab of coconut raspberry cake was bliss on several plates. The tiny tea room bustled with families, tourists and locals, at the gateway to Bute Park.
There was a fayre on at the castle, dedicated to the Welsh language, which pleased my linguist’s heart. I’ll be damned if I understood anything I heard, read, or saw at Tafwyl but it was lovely. Thanks to Twitter friend @Cardiffrinj, I received the following instructions on pronunciation: “Say “Ta v Yule” as quick as you can x 10 and it won’t be far off.” (go ahead, try it).
This also ended with me chowing down on one of the best burgers of my life from the Got Beef Co food truck, parked on the castle grounds. What is this, mecca? Food trucks AND castles. Hello! Also noticeably present, and directly related to the noise on the high street, was the Stag and Hen contingent. The what? The bachelor and bachelorette parties. I picked out the ladies in their bright pink tees and a 6 ft tall inflatable penis. Too easy.
Crepe Affaire – A UK brand with various locations, this one sits just outside St. David’s
The Plan Café – Morgan Arcade – two stories of seating and glorious coffee
Chapel 1877 Restaurant – Churchill Way – a perfectly divine (old chapel) pub
Pettigrew Tea Room – West Lodge, Bute Park. I also really enjoy David’s story about how the tea room came to life.
Dorothy’s fish & chips – Caroline street. Ask for a side of curry for dipping!
Got Beef Co – food truck near you! I had the Soprano burger. A premonition?
Cardiff Castle – City center. Hard to miss ..
Troutman’s Books – Castle Arcade – will swap secondhand, or point you in the right direction
Central Market – enter from St. Mary’s Street or Trinity Street
Tafwyl festival – in support of the Welsh language
Sandringham Hotel – cheap is operative word here. Breakfast was hot (and free), shower was hot, bed was comfortable. All other things negotiable, including epic street noise and semi-clean room.