Monday, 5 September 2011

Checking In to Check Out Cardiff.

Cardiff - home to such Welsh things as a Norman Castle, the fictional ruins of Torchwood Three (seemingly the 3rd unluckiest world saving task force to monitor a rift in time and space in the Dr Who Universe) and the biggest Greggs vanilla slice I've yet had the pleasure to feast upon. This was my first time in Wales let alone in Cardiff and a new part of the British Isles to explore for the afternoon and morning we were there back in July.

Alliance in Cardiff

The reason behind our visit to Cardiff was to get home from London and back to Belfast. The usual way to get home would be to fly from a London Airport or get the coach and the ferry but thankfully we're not usual people. As we were only able to book the trip at the last minute (due to our trip being dependent on football results) the cost of the flights home from London airports had become a little excessive and we didn't fancy a long haul coach journey. The solution was literally only a few pounds more expensive than a direct flight home (if not including food and drink) but included visiting a city we'd never been to as well as enjoying a 4* Hotel room and complementary Spa. It wasn't a hard choice, as we were going to be paying almost the same money anyway, we might as well live a little.

So there we were heading to Cardiff on our £11.50 (for 2 people + booking fee) National Express coach which took us directly across England, over the Severn Bridge and into Wales. Before we knew it our coach had pulled up at Cardiff bus station and I put away my phone which I had been using to GPS track us on the map most of the way (Yeah, I gave in and got a contract phone for the first time ever – but, I did manage to never have to learn to use predictive texting and skipped straight to a keypad, VICTORY!).

As my legs began to receive an increase in blood flow, I felt my senses awaken as we walked towards our hotel in what was turning out to be quite a bright day, we even saw a bit of sun.

I love being somewhere new, that satisfaction and intrigue of seeing something for yourself and knowing that when you walk around the corner of the street, there in front of you will be something you've never seen before. We were in fact looking for our hotel though and a scan of the map earlier in the day was enough to have us set off walking in the exact direction we needed to walk. It was a fair old walk with a bag on your back but nothing compared to our wandering around London and sadly I didn't take any photos at this point in the day.

Cardiff is quite compact, especially the City Centre and it's hard to really go wrong or get lost walking around it. We made it to our hotel, a little tired but in good time and were soon checked in. Our room was very nice and had a very comfy bed. Sadly I forgot to take photos at this point too but I hear from people at work who have also stayed in Novotel hotels before that if you drop off to sleep in one Novotel hotel room (like the hotel we were in in Cardiff) and someone came along and moved you to another Novotel hotel in any city in the world, you'd wake up and think you were still in the same place until you looked out of the window. After we'd settled in we headed straight back out again to discover what this city had to offer the flying visit tourist.

The first thing we came across was the railway bridge that spans over Bute Street. In big letters was the word Brains. I'd never been to Wales let alone Cardiff before, Brains was new to me and new to Norngirl too. At first we pondered, did they mean Brians? or is it just pronounced in a Welsh accent to make it sound like something other than the organ in you head? Turns out that nope, it's Brains, named after Samuel Brain and his relative Joseph Brain. They must have had to rub their Brains together for that one.

Advertising never works on me *cough*... but in my defence, this time it was the complex notion of filling my mind with Brains. This somewhat zombie themed thirst needed quenching but that would have to wait a while. First we were to find some food and non-alcoholic drinks.

Whilst looking for a suitable source of food and drink, we came across Alliance, a rather tall piece of street sculpture.

Cardiff Street Sculpture - Alliance

At first I was intrigued but I had absolutely no idea what it was except a piece of public art that seems so fashionable in this day and age. In retrospect - aka, after Googling it, it turns out the sculpture is simply just a hoop and an 'arrow' made of stainless steel but more interestingly the hoop rises and lowers in relation to the arrow in accordance to the tide in the bay, oh yeah and it apparently lights up at night. I'm not quite getting the point though, maybe like the sculpture itself, it's way over my head. I mean if you're going with a nautical theme of the tide, surely it should be by the sea. where that sort of information could be useful? If it's not accurate then what's the point, it might as well just bob up and down randomly. On the plus side, glow in the dark seem like a bright idea.

Like some of the more 'abstract' art in Belfast at the moment (like the balls on the falls) it seems a bit like sculpture for sculptures sake with wishy washy explanations for it's conception.

Thankfully, something I do really like was nearby. Greggs. YUM! My favourite fast food shop which sells all the usual unhealthy but delicious things I have a weak spot for. A stake bake, drink and the most gigantic Vanilla Slice in the world I've ever seen later (which were delicious as always, even if it probably added to a gazillion calories), we were making our way up the street towards Cardiff Castle.

Cardiff Castle Walls Panorama

We found the Castle easy enough, it's hard to miss and rather impressive! (more on that in the next post). Knowing that we were very close to the castle, we decided to make use of some of the spare time and found a bar. We decided on one of the chain's that you get in most cities in the UK, Revolution. Why? Because it was open, opposite the Castle but most importantly, it served the Brains we craved.

The Brains were nice and hit the spot but they maybe didn't live up to the hype we'd imagined between seeing the sign and giving it a try. Norngirl's psyche was seemingly infiltrated by the sound of the hen parties living it up with cocktail making at the back end of the bar and got stuck into an interesting Birthday Cake flavoured vodka shot.

It was nice just relaxing with a drink, we sat on stools with a warm breeze blowing in and the sun shining on the castle walls outside and the music being played was great. My favourite band - The Eels - were being played over the bars speakers. The Eels' music usually appears in movies without people realising they've heard their songs (if you've seen Shrek or Yes Man, you've heard the Eels) but rarely on the radio or in a bar, so when it started to play it was like they knew we were coming. Cardiff was really endearing itself to me.

Sufficiently chilled, we headed over the road to explore Cardiff Castle... To be continued.

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