Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Croeso i Gaerdydd! (Welcome to Cardiff)

Got into Cardiff this morning bright and early, and went straight to the TIC. The Cardiff TIC have a £2 charge for booking a room (most TICs will book you in for free), but they don't charge if they don't make the booking. As they don't do bookings for hostels, I get a free referral to a place called Nos Da. I am not sure whether or not I want to know what that means in English!

Nos Da started life as a two star hotel - they are now trying to reinvent themselves as a five star hostel. They should be on a winner, they are directly opposite the Millenium Stadium (the Welsh answer to the Telstra Dome). Luckily, not too many people are aware of them yet and it looks like I have a four-bed dorm to myself! Hooray!!

On balance, I think that the private hostels have it all over the YHAs. The Bakewell YHA had a fully functioning shower the size of a phone box and two loos for all the female residents - Cambridge had an ensuite, but no hot water and the toilet didn't work - the toilets in Bristol YHA worked, but again no hot water and the shower was one room - all very well until you realised there was nowhere to put your shower things so that they didn't get showered with you!! On the other hand, both the private hostels where I've stayed have had comfortable ensuites, everything has worked and I've managed to get a room on my own both times. So I reckon I'm on a winner.

Once I'd dropped my things off, I went out to see Cardiff. My first stop was Cardiff Castle (http://www.cardiffcastle.com/). This has been tastefully redecorated in the Neo Gothic (or Victorian Hallucenogenic) style, every surface that could be painted was painted - the artist was not afraid of colour or of excess. The smoking room has painted birds on the green and red walls (delightful), stained glass windows showing the Norse gods and goddesses that the days of the week are named after (nice touch), the zodiac painted on the ceiling (maybe a little excessive?), sculptures of the God of Day and Goddess of Night in the corners (a touch over the top) and a massive granite fireplace carved and painted with scenes of love and an appropriate Latin motto about love conquering all (this is becoming silly!). The ladies (non-smokers all) had the Arab Room to repair to - all I'll say about that is it cost £4 million to do it up back in 1800-whenever and much of the money appears to have been spent on gold leaf. Gold leaf features prominently in most of the rooms - it is a relief to get to the Georgian sitting room. This is tastefully done in white and pale green with two cute little carved monkeys over the doors. The monkeys date back to the Middle Ages when the room was a monks' scriptorium. Someone brought back a couple of monkeys to the monastery as a thank you for a safe journey. Seems an odd thing to inflict as a present! But the monks were obviously impressed and had these carvings done.

Outside there is an owl and falconry barn (no gold leaf) - half a dozen birds sit quietly on their perches. One has a sign next to him - apparently his family is on pest control duty at the Millenium Stadium. Next door, there is an old Norman castle or most of a castle - it has excellent views over the city, but not a lot in the way of walls or rooms.

Cardiff has lots of little Victorian arcades with cool shops - I finally find some interesting souvenirs, which is a pity because I've already bought quite a bit of rubbish in absolute despair of finding anything worthwhile (hint: don't anyone buy any teatowels until after you see me).

I go down to Cardiff Bay via Bute Street (http://www.cardiffbay.co.uk/). According to the Lonely Planet, Bute St used to be quite rough, but the whole area has been cleaned up and is now undergoing a bit of a renaissance - sort of like St Kilda. Bute St still doesn't look anything much to me. I don't know what the UK equivalent of the Housing Commission is, but the loving traces of their jackboots are all along the street. To make things worse, someone has tried to liven the place up by putting colourful tiles in the pavement using 'ethnic motifs' (e.g. hands with henna paintings). I suspect that pictures of syringes, broken bottles and red lights might have more resonance for the locals. It is one mile from Cardiff CBD to the Bay, and it's amazing how many cheap, depressing, crappy houses you can fit into a mile if you put your mind to it. There are also a lot of young men who appear to be at a loss for an occupation. Luckily they don't see me as filling that need, although I notice after a while that the other women on the street are mostly:

(a) wearing headscarves
(b) walking quickly
(c) all of the above.

They'r also somewhat darker-complected than myself, so maybe that makes a difference. I catch a bus back to the station to avoid having to walk through the area again - I'd say it is safe enough in daylight if you keep an eye on your bag or wallet, but I'd never go down there of an evening.

Cardiff Bay is like a small Southbank. It's quite pretty, so I stroll around for a while looking at the shops. I'm tempted to eat there, but then think of the trip back - that's when I head for the nearest bus stop. Dinner this evening was sausages and mash at a place called the Goat Major. I don't have the full story yet, but it seems that the local army regiment has a billy goat as their mascot and the Goat Major is responsible for the care and feeding thereof. I don't know what it says about the regiment. We are a bunch of smelly, anti-social buggers who will eat anything that isn't nailed down, perhaps?

Tomorrow's agenda is a quick stop at the Museum (I really want to get the dope on this goat business! I think I know someone who would be a dab hand at looking after regimental goats) and on to Swansea for a day's sightseeing and a trip on the Heart of Wales train line.


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