EU 2008: Cardiff, Wales

In my quest to visit everywhere in the EU I need to visit Britain, now I could be cheap and just claim Edinburgh as counting. Or I could write up one of the places I’ve visited in the past, somewhere in the highlands, London, or even Blackpool. But I figured I’d go somewhere new, and so I’m find myself on a tiny city hopper plane on a cheap flight to Cardiff.

It was almost no flight to Cardiff, as I only just managed to make the check-in time due to a combination of traffic, complex bus routes and the delays due to all of Edinburgh being dug up at the same time. It’s only a matter of time until I miss a flight on one of my jaunts. But not this time.

Millennium StadiumThe airport is almost an hours bus drive away from the city, the buses are regular and pleasant enough but it’s interesting how remote British airports tend to feel compared to the ones I’ve seen on the continent where you’re generally no more than a twenty minute train connection away. I don’t know if those airports are just closer or if they just have better connections. As soon as you get to the city itself you find it’s dominated by the new Millennium Stadium, it’s massive and right in the centre of the city, which is pretty handy as my hotel is across the river from it. It’s impressive but I don’t think it’s exactly pretty, I really wonder what the skyline looked like before it was there.

There’s a fair amount to do and see in Cardiff during the day. To start off I headed to Cardiff Bay. The Bay has been redeveloped and turned into a ‘destination’, the sort of thing I suspect they’d like to do the area around the Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh. The problem is that the whole thing feels a bit like a giant open air shopping mall, with the shops, cafes, bars, and gallerias dotted around. There are a few things to see in the Bay, like the Norwegian Church and the Light Boat but all of them have a cafe and a gallery crammed in and very little information about their history. It’s a nice place to spend a few hours but it’s a bit soulless and it’s lost some of the character that I imagine it had when it was just a bay.

Cardiff Bay

The Welsh Assembly is there, it’s a impressively grand modern looking building that managed to resist looking too modern or odd (unlike the Scottish Parliament, which I quite like but you can’t argue that it fits in with the area,) Alongside is the Millennium Centre, which is just a big venue / conference centre and slightly further along is the Red Dragon centre which is a ‘entertainment complex’ as if they whole bay wasn’t already.

The Red Dragon centre also has the Dr. Who exhibition which, as a Sci Fi geek, I couldn’t pass up. Meh, just Meh. It’s all ‘new Who’ stuff, apart from some video of the previous doctors. The most annoying thing is that you get video and blurb about all the previous doctors regenerations (some of which I’ve never seen before) but not the current ones — I’m assuming they couldn’t get the rights to show those bits. The only other item that produced a flicker of interest was Kylie’s costume from the Christmas Special (she must be tiny.)

In the centre of Cardiff there are a few museums which were mostly free but didn’t have anything that really grabbed me. It was also stupidly hot the weekend I was there so I opted to spend time outdoors at the other big sight, Cardiff Castle. Keep I was lucky because there was a medieval theme ‘thing’ going on with events like sword demonstrations and such. Otherwise the place would be just a castle, the inside (guided tours only) is interesting but castles tend to look the same after you’ve seen a few. I did like the brief history of Cardiff that the guide gave us. Wandering around the grounds gives some excellent views of the city and shows you just how massive the Millennium Stadium is in comparison to everything else.

I tried to search out Welsh food but the first restaurant I was directed to (Mimosa) uses Welsh ingredients but doesn’t really do ‘Welsh food’. It was still excellent. The next day I found what I was looking for, with a heavily touristed slant, at a Welsh banquet at the castle. Full of tourists (mostly Australians on a 21 day tour of Britain, all very friendly), and completely over-the-top with singing, dancing and audience participation. Still it was an excellent night out, surprisingly good value for money and great fun. Despite being made to bark like a dog on stage. To be fair it generally doesn’t take much to encourage me to do that. 

The nightlife is pretty similar to Edinburgh, a selection of pubs and clubs with assorted people wandering between them. There’s a comedy club in Cardiff Bay that put on a decent the night I was there, and an assortment of other bars to keep people happy and boozed up. 

The only place that stood out was Minsky’s — a drag revue bar. It was interesting, I’ve not seen a lot of drag shows so I’ve nothing really to compare it too but it was entertaining and a decent way to pass a couple of hours. Apart from being cajoled into doing the timewarp with the rest of the audience. God, I hate that song.

Wales Millennium Centre

I can’t really say I’d not go back to Cardiff, it’s so close and so easy to get to. I imagine you could have a really good day and night out there if a group of you headed down over a weekend. There’s nothing in particular that would draw me back, but the city as a whole just about wins me over.

One Response to “EU 2008: Cardiff, Wales”

  1. Marc Says:

    If you do decide to get to Blackpool, the Dr Who exhibition there is excellent and has a good blend of ‘classic’ and ‘new Who’.