Croeso, mwynhewch eich arhosiad!
Last summer, in preparation for journalistic duties in the southern part of England (the Goodwood Festival of Speed), we came up with the idea to take a few days off and spend them in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK – a unique Wales, the homeland of Catherine Zeta-Jones. The first difference you discover inevitably, already at the entrance of this Celtic region, that signposts on the road suddenly become strange and different from the ones you used to see in England. They are bilingual. One is, of course, English, while the other is Welsh. And as much as we tried to read the inscription in Welsh, we could not help but break the tongue in an attempt to pronounce those words. There is no similarity with English, and the first that comes to mind is that these signs were printed by a child, randomly banging on the keyboard. Welsh, also known as the Paradise language, is one of the oldest languages in Europe still in use, and Welsh-speaking communities also are found in Australia, England, the United States, Sweden, and Argentina. Somewhat reminiscent of the north Nordic languages, but in any case, hardly pronounceable if you are not an expert in the basics of Welsh. Well, how would Welsh said: Croeso, mwynhewch eich arhosiad! (Welcome, enjoy your stay!)
We settled in Cardiff, one of the youngest capitals of Europe. It became a city in 1905 and the capital of Wales only in 1955. Cardiff today has a population of around 320,000 and, despite its young history, is continuously changing. We would say for the better, all thanks to significant financial investments in the reconstruction of the coastal area and the development of the new Wales Millennium Center. Also, they invest a lot in education and educational institutions so they can boast of about 60,000 undergraduate, 12,000 postgraduate, and as many as 6,000 international students from over 100 countries. Out of a total of 9,000 academic staff employed, more than 5,000 are focused on education or research. Thanks to these numbers, the University of Cardiff is on the list among the 100 best universities in the world. So, if you need an expert in the business, you know where you can look for it in the future. We had no intention of bothering you with numbers, but they are just impressive. And that they are very successful in sports education is confirmed by the fact that the world-famous football player Ryan Giggs and athlete Colin Jackson were born here, among others.
Perhaps the most attractive part of Cardiff is Cardiff Bay, or about 20 kilometers long coastal area that was once the port with the largest coal exports in the world, and today in a renovated and repurposed edition, a favorite place for going out and relaxing a large number of residents. To experience the beauties of this area, you need to walk along the coast and even a little further. The (previously mentioned) Wales Millennium Center is in the central part of Cardiff Bay. Looking at this attractive building, on the front of which is the sentence – In these stones, horizons sing – it is hard to understand what it is the purpose of the building. The only recognizable and visible at first glance is all surrounded by the glass tourist information center located on the ground floor. But this building hides a lot. Within the modern walls are a theater, cinema, art gallery, cafe, restaurant, hostel (4 stars!), and the well-known television company BBC (a branch). And for those who don’t know, the world-famous BBC series “Doctor Who” was filmed and produced in Cardiff. Next to the Wales Millennium Center is a bus stop where a tourist bus stops whose tour lasts about an hour and which you can visit the most important sights of the city. In front of the center towards the coast stretches Roald Dahl Plass. It is a square where various events and festivals are held, such as the International Food and Beverage Festival (which was just in preparation during our stay in Cardiff, and interestingly, his trademark is a strawberry), carnival, and similar.
From the central part of Cardiff Bay, you can set off to explore the eastern or western part of the coast. The east part is calmer and serves as a promenade. You will first come across the Senedd (the Senate) – the National Assembly for Wales, which was officially opened in 2006 by Queen Elizabeth II. Architect Richard Rogers is responsible for the design of the building, which is optimized to be energy efficient and sustainable using renewable technologies. The building is also open to the public, but due to the high-security measures for entry and sightseeing, you will have to pass controls like those at airports. It is quite understandable since the significant people from the political top meet there. Nearby is the Norwegian Church, which is one of the most distinctive buildings in Cardiff and offers a rich events program. A Norwegian bar with a small terrace has also found its place within it
If you continue further, by crossing the bridge, you will find yourself on the green part of the coast (once industrial), the one intended for a healthy life. There, a lot of people ride bikes, roll, run, or walk. While walking along the trail, you will come across a part of the green area where Adidas, the official partner for sportswear at the London 2012 Olympic Games, had a small fitness center, where you can train on the equipment for free in the open air. Unlike what we see in our public spaces, here, everything is in its place, neat and in function. If this walk and exercise have not yet exhausted you, you can continue your walk towards the dams and canals that let boats and yachts into this interesting (closed) Cardiff Bay. This area is called Cardiff Bay Barrage. Before the installation of the dams, the current bay was mostly muddy soil. After their settings, a freshwater lake was created, which helped the regeneration and revitalization of this area.
There is even a separate cascade passage through which fish can pass through the dam without hindrance. It is interesting that at a short distance of only about 100 meters, three drawbridges were built, which depending on the needs, arise independently of each other. Passing the dam, you will find the Penarth Marina, which houses smaller or larger yachts. Near the marina, you can enjoy a somewhat more exclusive (and newer) resort with beautifully landscaped private cottages and parks. If you think the sea here is blue, you are mistaken. Due to the mouth of the Taff River and the generally muddy seabed in the vicinity of Cardiff, the sea is a kind of blue-brown color and looks quite dirty. That is the only thing that disappointed us since we come from one of the cleanest seas. For information to those who want to visit Cardiff, near the marina, or Cardiff docks on the River Ely, we found a large grocery store with opening hours up to midnight, while all other grocery stores close no later than 7 p.m., or only some at 8 p.m. Walking around the bay, you will also enjoy the view of the sailboats, which give it a particular liveliness with their colorful sails.
After an exhausting walk, hungry and thirsty, we return to the beginning and are ready to visit the west side of Cardiff Bay, which is teeming with pubs, restaurants, fast-food, patisseries. There are alleys with several fast-food restaurants, restaurant diners, next to each other, so the only smell you can feel in the air is food. Thanks to that, we were not surprised by the fact that it seems 50% of the people you meet on the streets belong to the obese group. In general, there is a variety of food from all over the world, but what is specific is that all the food is quite sharp and spicy, and onions are a must-have addition. As we are not used to spicy food, we decided to find salvation in an Italian restaurant, where we expected a lighter, Mediterranean one on the menu. But this restaurant was no exception. The dishes were full of onions, garlic, and various spicy sauces. If you are used to going to restaurants late at night, you will not have the opportunity to do so here. Although some restaurants have opening hours until midnight, they usually close between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Pubs, which offer food in addition to drinks, work a little longer, but they also close the kitchen earlier. You can walk through this part of the coast in the morning, when it is also very lively, go for cake, tea, or coffee. As for coffee, the offer is diverse, and it is hard to decide which one to drink: plain coffee, cafe latte, macchiato, cappuccino, and on request with various toppings. Although we are not some coffee lovers, we wanted to try it. The decision finally fell on a cappuccino with chocolate. But the coffee was typically English, too weak and watery. Of the cappuccino with lots of foam, creamy flavor, and chocolate, no trace! Of all the above, only the taste remained, which we should forget as soon as possible. A special place where you will forget the strange taste of coffee, and the elapsed time, is undoubtedly the Techniquest – a scientific research center located in Cardiff Bay, not far from the mentioned pubs. The center was founded in 1986 and is a suitable destination for the whole family. The ticket price for an adult is 7 pounds and for children from 4 to 16 years 5 pounds. The center houses an interactive exhibition space, a science theater, a planetarium, and a laboratory, all to bring science closer to people across Wales. There you will be able to get acquainted with the laws of physics, the perception of the world around us, the action of energy, power, light, sound, and much more.
When it comes to nightlife, especially on weekends, you need to head to the city center itself. The most visited clubs and bars are in the streets of St. Mary Street, Greyfriars Road, Charles Street, and Churchill Way. Right in the center, between these streets, was built St. David’s, a large shopping mall divided into two buildings. But that’s not all. St. David’s is connected to the John Lewis shopping center. There you can find a large selection of shops where you will find everything you need. Be prepared for a lot of walking, because the center is located in a pretty large area and is a real paradise for shopaholics. Right next to the center is a large parking building on several levels. An hour of parking will cost you about 2 pounds, which is a little compared to the prices of most other nearby city parking lots, where you will need to set aside up to 5 pounds in an hour. Since this is a pretty large amount of (unnecessarily) spent money in just an hour, we advise you, if you want to visit the city center, to park the vehicle inside the parking lot of the shopping center, and treat yourself with the rest of the money in one of the nearby pubs. Or even better, go shopping and sightseeing in the city by bus.
The city center is attractive in itself because it intertwines old historic buildings with new, modern glass buildings. At a relatively short distance, there is much to arouse your interest, such as a market, theater, cinema, and city library. We place particular emphasis on the library, as it was the only place where we managed to use the WiFi internet connection during our stay in Cardiff. Also, they provide you with free half an hour of internet access on their computers, and if you need to print something, the price is 20 cents per printed page. In the search for the Internet, we found, in fact, many available networks, especially in cafes (as they say at the entrance, free for visitors), but for reasons unknown to us (and it seems to them also) every attempt to connect failed. After a little research, we discovered that unlike us in Croatia, they do not have the habit of surfing in cafes, so their wireless networks are often locked and without publicly available passwords. Walking through the center, in addition to attractive buildings, you will also come across a large number of distinct and different people, from religions to skin colors. Cardiff is a cosmopolitan city with more than 100 ethnic communities, so walking the streets through a colorful mass, you will almost forget that you are actually in the UK.
In the western part of the center, along the river Taff, is the impressive Millennium Stadium, a stadium that can accommodate up to 60,000 spectators. In addition to hosting world football and rugby matches, it is the scene of numerous events, such as the Elton John concert held in June with our world-famous cellos duo Hauser and Šulić. A little bit north of the stadium, inside the greenery of the parks, is the place where 55 AD. began the history of Cardiff. Here the Romans founded a fortress whose original walls are visible in today’s Cardiff Castle. It will take two hours to visit the castle, and the ticket for an adult is £ 11. For that price, you will get costumed guides who will take you through the castle show you where Roman soldiers slept and where noble knights held trials. They will show you the museum, talk about the history and origins of the city. After the tour, you can refresh yourself on the terrace of the cafe, or lie back on the lawn and relax. Very interesting is that all those who live or work in Cardiff can apply to the ticket office and will receive a “key” to Cardiff Castle, which allows them free entry within the castle walls, as well as access to certain special events. East of the green parks is settled the city quarters of Cathays and Roath, dominated by typical old English houses in a row. At first glance, these parts of the city seem a bit neglected because some of the homes require renovation. But they are intended exclusively for rent for students since they are relatively close to the university.
For easy movement around the city, and especially its surroundings, it is good to rent a car. Of course, some with navigation if you do not already own it. If you do decide to use the bus, we must admit they drive often. Almost every station has the LCD where you can find the time remaining until the arrival of the bus, as well as the line on which it runs. And watching them, we made sure that, unlike ours, they are never late. A one-way ticket for an adult is £ 1.50, but if you intend to use several lines, we advise you to buy a day ticket, which costs £ 3 for an adult. If you have any ambiguities, be sure to visit their official and very comprehensive page (www.cardiffbus.com), where you will find everything from a map of bus lines, prices, various news, and even some facts from the history of this means of transport in Cardiff.
In Cardiff, you can have fun for days (three days is not enough), but take some time to visit the quiet, but the well-kept town of Caerphilly, located not far from Cardiff, a 10-minute drive to the north. The city center is dominated by the medieval castle – the largest in Wales and the second largest in the UK. It was built between 1268 and 1271 and had it built by the Welsh prince of Norman origin, Gilbert Red de Clare. The castle is impressive, and the canals around it, ponds, ducks, and swans will make you feel like you have just turned back to distant history with some time machine. The nature that surrounds it provides the right place for relaxation. There are always some stories associated with castles, so this one also has its own. The legend says that the palace is haunted by the spirit of The Green Lady, who is the spirit of Princess Alice. Princess Alice and her husband Lord de Clare lived in the castle, and as he was often absent due to the numerous battles he fought, the princess felt very lonely. So, on one occasion, the princess fell in love with the Welsh prince Tweg Teg. Prince Tweg told his confession of his secret love to a priest, who betrayed him by passing the story on to Lord de Clare himself. After that, the Lord sent his wife Alice to France. Tweg took revenge on the priest for the betrayal, and these two young never met again. The story says that Princess Alice returned to the castle after her death in an eternal search for her lost love.
After everything we have seen, it is not surprising that Cardiff, although it does not have a crystal clear sea like Croatia, attracts about 12 million visitors a year. Its inhabitants themselves consider it one of the best places to live and work in Europe. So let us finish the story in the Welsh spirit, hoping to visit this beautiful area again. Diolch! Hwyl fawr! – Thank you! Goodbye!
TEXT – Robert Blašković & Vesna Džuverović
PHOTO – Robert Blašković