Cardiff, United Kingdom
Many months ago, when we booked the accommodation, we discovered our days in Cardiff coincided with the Rugby World Cup also being in Cardiff. It sure helped explain why accommodation was so hard to come by, but we always knew things could get a little hectic while we are here.
To be on the safe side, we left Bristol at the relatively bright and early time of about 8:30, to hopefully avoid the worst of the traffic. The GPS threw us a curveball straight out of the carpark – but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. All around Queens Square in Bristol, was some kind of meet up for classic car enthusiasts. So we ended going around the block seeing tons of beautiful old cards – Ford Capri’s, Cortinas, TVRs, a Lotus or two, old Porsches, Caterham 7’s … tons of cool stuff. As an extra bonus the road surrounding Queen’s Square is all paved with cobblestone, so I had no choice but to drive slowly and admire the view.
Fortunately the rest of Bristol was sensibly not on the roads, so it was a pretty smooth trip. Driving over the Severn bridges was so beautiful (maybe even moreso due a slight fog giving the whole thing a slightly ethereal feel), but not exactly cheap at £6.50. The traffic became thicker the closer we drove to Cardiff, but before too long we found our carpark near our Services Apartment. It was one of the ‘park and ride’ locations for the Rugby so the first attendant at the carpark thought the whole thing was booked out and we couldn’t use it (eek!) but his boss quickly set him straight and we were parked and good to go. Now all we had to do was while away about 5 hours until we were able to get in to the the apartment.
Cardiff Bay, where we are staying, is a relatively new thing. Until the late 80s / early 90s, the whole thing was a wasteland of disused docks, no longer needed after the end of Wales’ cool exporting boom in earlier years. Fortunately it has since been revitalised, most successfully I reckon. The new Welsh Millennium Centre Opera House is such an impressive building. Despite the captain of our boat (more on that later) calling it “That big copper armadillo over there”, it’s a huge, imposing, serious and wonderful bit of architecture. Unlike Stonehenge, it looks much much larger in real life than it does on the telly, towering over you with its massive, wordy facade. In English it says “In these stones horizons sings” and according to Wikipedia the welsh text translates to “Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration”. Nice!
Of course I can’t go on without mentioning Doctor Who – which has used this building, and the adjacent Roald Dahl Plass numerous times, especially early in the new series, as the production is based in Wales. It’s been the site of a time/space rift or something like that, plus the home of the Dr Who spin-off, Torchwood, located under the Water Tower. Apparently the whole Plass is also a bit of a flood mitigation device, the sunken ‘basin’ can apparently fill with water on extreme high tides. So in short the whole area is full of monument, dressed to impress, and sure does a good job of it.
To help kill a few of the hours we had to wait, we jumped on the Hop On Hop Off bus (yep it seems every city has one, they’re proving to be very handy) to get a quick overview of the city. Due to ongoing Rugby-ness, many streets were closed so we were lucky to get the final bus, as they couldn’t continue on after 12:30 in the afternoon. But we did get our brief overview of town, and pretty much everywhere you looked there was a sea of red – football fans absolutely everywhere in preparation for the today’s games. We also got a good look as the bus drove past the ‘Doctor Who Experience’ – which of course we’re visiting first thing tomorrow, and also of course I’m a wee bit excited about it, having read about Dr Who exhibitions in England ever since I was a young kid.
Lunch at Pizza Express (yay, more of their famous ‘dough balls’!) helped another bunch of minutes pass by, until 2:30 (it was meant to be 2pm) finally rolled by and we were ready and waiting to be checked in and shown around. This is a serviced apartment, basically in a block of residential flats, so there’s no hotel reception or anything like that, you have to meet somebody out the front who lets you in and tells you everything you need to know. One way to set a less than stellar first impression is to first deer you until 2:30, then turn up nearly half an hour late. Still, he did have a lot of people to ‘check in’ and it looks very much like he was a solo operator today. And it’s not like we were caught in the rain or anything, having to spend bit more time in Roald Dahl Plass and the Millennium Centre isn’t exactly a horrid le thing to have to endure. Our little studio apartment is nice, and will do a good job for the next few days. And it has the traveller’s best friend – a washing machine and dryer, in use as I type.
We took a little boat ride in the afternoon – it basically just went from one end of the bay to the another, there was no official commentary but the captain was chatting to a Welsh local sitting nearby, so we learnt a little bit here and there about the history. And also the part that is the Dragon breeding ground, and a whole bunch of other tall tales. I don’t know why he doesn’t do that as a proper commentary, but maybe the signs saying “boat and business for sale” could give a bit of a hint.
Next stop after returning to Cardiff Bay was the “Ianto Jones Shrine”. Torchwood, the Dr Who spinoff, was very much based in Wales, and Ianto was one of the popular characters, who was killed off in 2009. Apparently when this happened a few people went and left flowers down at a particular spot in the docks, where the fictional Torchwood office was. That soon grew into the ‘Shrine’ wall we saw today.
After a delicious dinner at Gourmet Burger Kitchen (best. milkshakes. ever!) I took a few night photos, the Millennium Centre was all lit up in pink, nice! Other than that,, time for an early night, gotta be at the Dr Who thing tomorrow by 10. Night!