When I was born we lived in a small terraced house about twenty minutes walk from the centre of the city, but as I was just a baby and couldn’t walk this fact wasn’t that important to me. I remember it was near a railway line and I vaguely remember that some of the doors in the house had stained glass, and I loved the colours. Maybe that is why I enjoy art and am passionate about the beauty of colour.
When I was five we moved to another house, a semi-detached in the suburbs, about 45 minutes walk from the city centre in a neighbourhood called Whitchurch. Now this walk I do remember as when I was a teenager I occasionally missed the last bus home, and having spent all my money down the pub with my mates I had to walk home. The word occasionally in the last sentence could be considered a euphemism for, and replaced by, any of the following; more often than not, frequently, without fail, almost always, usually, regularly or habitually.
What’s Cardiff like? Let me attempt to give you a description based on my recollections and some historical facts.
Firstly, the city is on the coast, there are beaches about twenty minutes by car from the city and the mountains to the north are about forty-five minutes by car. When I say mountains, I don’t want those of you here in Colombia to think of your mountains, imagine something much smaller but no less beautiful. The city has many parks and open spaces and is not very congested. There are three rivers that run through the city, the Taff which runs through the centre, the Ely and the Rhymney.
In the very centre of the city is the castle, Cardiff Castle. Very original name for a castle in Cardiff, don’t you think? There was an old roman fort on the site where the castle is today which dates back to the 3rd century. In the eleventh century, the Norman invaders built a motte and bailey castle on top of the fort. The castle has had many changes over the years commissioned by its various owners. It is open to the public and is well worth visiting if you are ever in Cardiff. Behind the castle there are extensive grounds where you can walk and relax. Follow this link to read about the History of Cardiff Castle.
The city now has various shopping centres which didn’t exist when I was a kid, but still retains the old arcades which I love. Cardiff is known as the city of arcades as it has more than any other city in Britain. An arcade is a covered passageway with shops, stalls and cafés on either side. The old arcades in Cardiff are from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I remember in one of the arcades there used to be a small café that sold sarsaparilla, which is a soft drink similar to root beer. The original café I remember stopped selling it, but I think the café has changed hands and is now selling it again.
Here you can read about the arcades and see some pictures of them.
Another place I remember well is the central market, which is still there and hasn’t changed much. It has two floors, on the ground floor there are stalls that sell cheeses, meat, sweets, bread, fish, cakes, olives, souvenirs and many other items. Here you will find some typical Welsh foods, such as Bara Brith, Welshcakes and Laverbread. Check out my recipe for mock laverbread here. On the first floor, which for people in many countries is the second floor, there are some cheap cafés, stalls selling animal food, second hand records and electrical goods. The second hand record stall, Kelly’s, has been there since I was a kid. I bought many second hand albums there when I was in my teens.
The local beer, which has been brewed in the city since 1882, is called Brains, named after the founder, Samuel Arthur Brain. The brewery is still owned by the family as far as I know, the current owner being Chris Brain. I spent countless hours with my friends on weekends, sampling the delights of the various Brains pubs in and around Cardiff. If you are ever in Cardiff, don’t leave without trying a pint of Brains Dark and a pint of SA. The SA is a bit stronger than Brains Dark and the flavours are very different. The SA is colloquially known in Cardiff and the surrounding area as Skull Attack, due to the hangover it produces the next day if you drink too much. I miss the pubs in Cardiff, as a large part of my youth was spent in them. Some have disappeared, some have changed, but some remain the same and it’s great to go back to them and reminisce with an old friend when possible.
The dock area of Cardiff is one area that has seen a huge change over the years. I remember going down to the docks sometimes with my father to see the ships that were docked there. Sometimes there were ships with a cargo of oranges and the dockers in the hold helping to unload the cargo would throw us some of the oranges that had come out of the crates during the journey. At its peak the port at Cardiff was one of the largest dock systems in the world, and grew mainly due to the need to export the coal mined in the Cynon, Rhondda and Merthyr valleys outside Cardiff. The coal mining industry has all but disappeared now and the dock area has been converted into a fashionable area called Cardiff Bay, with hotels, restaurants, bars, exclusive flats and the Cardiff Opera house. Cardiff Bay is a great place to go and eat, meet with friends or just go for a stroll. In the bay area you can also see the Norwegian church and The Pierhead building.
When I was a kid, the rugby stadium was called The Arms Park and that’s where we would go to watch Wales play in the Five Nations rugby tournament, which changed its name to the Six Nations when Italy started to take part. The Arms Park is no longer there and has been replaced by a more modern stadium with a larger capacity called the Millennium Stadium, which has a retractable roof in case of inclement weather. It is not only used for Rugby, but also International football matches and concerts. It was also used as the venue for the FA cup on a few occasions while Wembley was being modernised. Guided tours of the stadium are available.
There is much more I could tell you about Cardiff and over the coming months I probably will tell you more, but for now, that’s my city in a nutshell.
Don’t just sit there, go and visit it!!!