Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cardiff: A World-Class City

It’s unofficial, but I rank Cardiff among the top ten cities on the planet. How can you not love a city full of pubs, with a crenellated castle at its centre, where a bizarre language is spoken and with a confusingly large proportion of males named David? Cardiff — population 325,000 — is caught in a tug of war between the urbanity of a large capital city and the friendly casualness of a small rural centre. I love it.

I checked in at the Angel Hotel, my home for the next few days. From the window I ould see the stolid walls and colourful clock-tower of Cardiff Castle. I set out to explore and was pleasantly surprised that Cardiff is designed around pedestrians not cars. And being flat, it’s perfect for cycling and — get this — they provide bicycles for free. The downtown encompasses St. David’s Shopping Centre and broad, open walkways that contrast with the surrounding delightful narrow lanes, arcades and cobbled streets. The Gatekeeper, the City Arms, the Old Arcade, the Owain Glyndwr and numerous other pubs kept interrupting my wandering, luring me in with foaming pints of Brains cask ale, the local brew.

Bilingual signs are everywhere. The Welsh are proud of their language, although I was baffled by its consonant-filled, tongue-twisting words like Cymraeg, wrthgyferbyniadau and Etifeddiaeth.

Next day I toured Cardiff Bay, a beautifully restored former dockland, where the sun sparkled on waves and the tang of salt water drifted in the air. I strolled along large open plazas, rode an old merry-go-round and explored the Wales Millennium Centre, a spectacular huge opera house. It is one of the finest in the world and celebrates the Welsh love of music. Nearby sat the Senedd, the National Assembly of Wales, an ultra-green, new (2006) building featuring Welsh slate and acres of glass. Time flew by as I jostled with crowds who were drawn by boat tours, cafés, art exhibits and, of course, pubs.

On my final day, I embarked on the Cardiff Centenary Walk under another cloudless sky. I meandered through markets rich with the colours and aromas of vegetables, flowers and fresh fish. I passed St. John’s Church from the 12th century, narrow arcades, remnants of the old fortified city walls and Millennium Stadium, the home of the Welsh passion: rugby union. I entered the gate of Cardiff Castle, which dates to Roman times, and toured through lavish apartments and an interior Norman keep. Soon I was at the City Hall in Cathays Park, one of the most impressive civic centres in Britain. The clock tower rises 60 metres with a Welsh dragon roaring at the top. The interior is ornate with a domed council chamber. Next door are the Law Courts and National Museum of Wales.

My tour continued through Alexandra Garden with its War Memorial and bronzed figures of a soldier, sailor and airman. I gazed across the street to the imposing main building of Cardiff University, a reminder that Cardiff is a university city with a boisterous night life.

Back at the Angel, I savoured a pint of Brains and pondered the long history and proud culture of this Welsh capital. Cheers, all you Davids!

If You Go

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