Cardiff Review - Cardiff Will Surprise You

Cardiff Castle

My husband had been in Cardiff for two weeks when I arrived. On my first day, he lead me on a 40 minute walk to his office, a route with many contrasts and surprises. We went along the road lined with Victorian row houses and then past an athletic facility to Bute Park, through the Sophia Gardens, over the bridge crossing the Taff River along Queen Street past the medieval Cardiff Castle, through the mall which doesn't allow cars that is lined with up to date shops carrying the latest in fashion, under the railroad tracks and finally into his office at Cardiff University. Walking could get you a long way. Later, I found Cardiff Castle to be a helpful landmark.

Sophia Gardens in Bute Park

Cardiff's story begins in 55AD when a Roman fort was established. The Vikings came and then the Normans and in 1091 Robert Fitzhamon began work on Cardiff Castle. In 1870, the 3rd Marquis of Bute who was Scottish rebuilt Cardiff Castle. In 1905 Cardiff was the biggest coal exporting port in the world, so Edward VII granted Cardiff, city status. Its last coal shipment was in 1964. In 2005, Cardiff had a double birthday, one hundred years as a city and fifty years as the capital of Wales.

Embankment at Cardiff Bay

To learn more about Cardiff, I took the hop on-hop off open-air city sightseeing bus. Starting at the Castle, driver told us all about the city, its history and architecture. It stops at ten major city sights, including the new Millennium Stadium, where major sporting activities take place. Many people come to a sporting event and find Cardiff so appealing, they return. Many visitors also come for musical events at the Wales National Arena. I got off at Cardiff Bay and went to the Millennium Centre, a starkly modern performing arts center, where I was surprised to find a free afternoon concert in progress. It was a thrill to be here, to see this dramatic building, and hear the beautiful concert.

A surprise free afternoon performance, lobby of Millennium Centre

Cardiff's has been plagued with a flooding problems for many years resulting from its three rivers and a sea that has the second largest tidal range in the world. In an effort to manage the flooding problem, Cardiff began a major civil engineering project in 1989 that resulted in a major embankment, which protects Cardiff from the sea swell. The bay now has a freshwater lake for sailing and water-sports, multiple restaurants serving cuisines from around the world, the Millennium Centre, home to the Welsh National Opera, a major hotel and spa, and brand new condominium developments by the water and an area of wetlands.

Millennium Centre

I had a surprising time when I went to St. Fagans National History Museum and shared the experience with a family I met waiting for the bus. This Museum of Welsh Life presents a view of life in Wales over the last 500 years and contains reassembled buildings and exquisite gardens.

One of St. Fagan's Gardens

The National Museum Cardiff was an easy walk and the staff was very helpful. At the end of my explorations, I found myself in a space where there was one of the finest collections of Impressionist paintings outside Paris and more Rodin statues than I've seen anywhere outside the Rodin Museum in Paris. I was nearly alone in these rooms, and awed.

"Midsummer Night's Dream", Cardiff Castle grounds

One evening we toured Cardiff Castle and delighted in its grandeur. A unique performance of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' on the Castle grounds by 'The Lord Chamberlain's Men', who offer performances as they would have been in Elizabethan days, including historically accurate costuming and music with an all male cast. It was a wonderful performance and we were fortunate to be there on one of the four days of this production.

Restaurants at Cardiff Bay

We saw a play at the New Theatre, which dates to 1906. We had dinner at Bhosphorus, a wonderful Turkish restaurant which sits on it own pier in Cardiff Bay and it serves a stuffed apricot dessert which was delicious and different from anything I have ever tasted. Friends took us to a 400- year old pub and we tried many other pubs and restaurants finding the food consistently flavorful and wholesome. We were surprised coming home from Cardiff Bay one Saturday night. Our bus stopped before going into the city center. The entire center was blocked to traffic, so that people can move around safely when they party. And party, they do.

The four hundred year old pub

The Tourist Bureau, became my second home because I had so many questions and they were friendly and very helpful, especially Keith Barrett. The library was so helpful in signing me up to use their computers for an hour at a time. Wherever I went, people were helpful and friendly. Waiting for buses, I developed friendships. I can't think of anywhere else I have been where people have been more pleasant, helpful and interested in where I am from and what I am doing. Cardiff's blend of very old and very new is at once comforting and exciting. When tourists come to Wales and don't come to Cardiff, I think they are missing a wonderful surprise.

Penarth, Alexandria Park, Windsor Gardens

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