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Four Days in Cardiff

This is the first part of a narrative of a vacation trip that my wife Frances and I took to Wales and southeast England, September 1-16, 2019. We stayed in Cardiff, Bath, and Bristol, visiting a few outlying locations during a daytrip from Bath. This was an independent trip, not a package tour. We are in our mid-60s, in good health, and live in Alexandria, Virginia. We are experienced travelers, having taken annual trips to Europe for more than ten years. We prefer to travel by foot and public transportation whenever possible. This was our third trip to Britain, although we had never been in this part before.

Sunday, September 1, 2019 (Alexandria to Dublin)

We were packed and ready early in the afternoon. Our cat Gene had been dropped off at the vet clinic for boarding on the previous day. The house was prepared for our absence. The SuperShuttle van to Dulles Airport arrived a few minutes early. There were already two passengers. The air conditioning was blasting away, and the radio was on. It was a long ride. As usual, the driver was fiddling with the GPS and a couple of phones the whole way. We stopped at a hotel complex to pick up one more passenger and were amused to observe an Indian wedding reception in progress: lots of women in saris, people posing for group photos, etc.

Once at Dulles, we had a little trouble locating the Aer Lingus counter, as it was around the corner from the major airlines. They put baggage tags on our carry-on luggage as well as our check-ins—apparently some kind of new security measure. Security and passport control went as well as they could. I was wearing loafers so that I could take them off quickly, and I had on a web belt with a plastic buckle (such precautions seem so routine now!). We took the people mover to Concourse B. It is a principle of airport topology that your gate is always at the end of the concourse, and so it was in this case.

We settled in to wait for the plane, which arrived on time. After the rich people exercised their “pre-boarding” privilege, the airline loaded us in steerage from back to front rows (for a change). That helped us out, as we were pretty far back.

The plane sorted itself out and took off in the usual way. This was my first flight with Aer Lingus. The cabin staff didn’t seem as well organized or alert as most airlines. It wasn’t anything major, just the small things that one notices when you have so little to do. The meal was pretty good, with shepherd’s pie and a caramel pudding. I supplemented that with some snack bars I had brought, trying to eat something every couple of hours. I drank orange juice and water to prevent dehydration. Unlike, say, Air France or Brussels Airlines, Aer Lingus does not offer free beer and wine with the meal—just as well that I wasn’t tempted.

I put on my noise-cancelling headphones and spent most of the flight reading a book about the development of clipper ships. I tried to sleep when I could, which wasn’t much. The book gave me a little perspective. The clipper Flying Cloud set a record time for the New York to San Francisco run that stood for 130 years (for sailing ships). That time was 89 days, 8 hours. Compared with that, having to sit in an uncomfortable chair for seven hours while crossing the Atlantic doesn’t seem so bad.

Walking miles: 0.8

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Monday, September 2, 2019 (Dublin to Cardiff)

Somewhere over the ocean, Monday turned into Tuesday. The airline served a snack of blueberry muffins. The muffin part was good, but I don’t understand the appeal of blueberries.

We arrived at Dublin and went through the usual twisty passages, following the signs for connecting flight passengers. There were automatic gates where we had to scan our boarding cards. Our flight to Cardiff was on a budget airline called Flybe. We followed the signs towards the gate. It was like going through a time tunnel. The structure got older and older, as the services got less and less. We finally found ourselves in what must have been the oldest part of the terminal. It seemed like something out of Agatha Christie. It consisted of a large circular room filled with rows of chairs. The gates were simply glass doors spaced around the circumference of the room, leading directly onto the tarmac.

We had three hours to wait. Given that we had left all traces of a snack bar behind us, we turned around and walked back to the modern part of the terminal and its food court. We sat down to a nice breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, and coffee. Then we schlepped back to our gate. As we waited, the seats in our vicinity began to fill up with blokes: Big athletic young guys in t-shirts. They seemed to know one another and were pretty raucous. Fran said that she thought they were all part of the same sports team, but I didn’t pick up on that. I used my phone to check my email while we sat there, and I found a message from See Wales Tours telling us that the “Roman Britain” daytrip that we had booked for Wednesday was cancelled because not enough people had signed up for it. They offered to put us in a tour emphasizing nature spots, to take place a day later. We took the path of least resistance and agreed.

The plane arrived. It was a small jet, with two seats on each side of the aisle. We had the aisle seats in row 3. As we walked out the “gate” to the plane, we noticed that the stairs were set at the rear door. Thus, we had to walk all the way to the front. Each of our window seats was filled by a bloke. We thought it was going to be a rowdy flight, but they all fell asleep as soon as the doors closed. Maybe they had a rough night in Dublin! It being only a half-hour flight, there was no meal service. The flight attendants walked up and down offering snacks for sale.

We landed in Cardiff in due course, again trundling down the stairs onto the pavement. The terminal is old and small. It reminded me of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which I used to fly in and out of in the 1970s. We recovered our checked bags, walked through the doorway marked “nothing to declare,” and started to look for the bus. After a bit of confusion when we tried to buy tickets from what turned out to be the parking fee machine, we realized that the shelter was out in the parking lot. A group of people was already standing there. When the bus arrived, we hung back so that the people who knew what they were doing could board first. We boarded, paying cash, “Two singles to city center” (singles—not “one way”). There was no luggage rack. We took our roller bags and backpacks all the way to the seats that lined the back of the bus and hoped it wouldn’t get too crowded.

Off we went through the countryside. This was a regular bus, not an airport express. It made stops to pick up and drop off passengers along the side of the road and in the towns we passed through. The electronic sign that announced the next stop was out of order. To ease my anxiety about missing our stop, I took out my phone so that I could monitor our progress using Waze. I needn’t have bothered, because when we got into central Cardiff everyone got off at the same stop.

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Monday, September 2, 2019 (Cardiff)

We piled onto the sidewalk and went through the usual period where we weren’t sure where we were or what direction we were facing. All we had to go on were a printed Google map with directions and the little map in the guidebook. We got ourselves sorted and in a few turns were on St. Mary’s, the street of the hotel. It wasn’t quite smooth sailing, however. British street signs are posted on the sides of buildings. A given corner may or may not have a sign for the street you are on or the cross street. It’s hard to tell whether you have gone far enough or too far. This uncertainty is compounded by the fact that most buildings do not display a street number. I was fatigued at this point, because of the journey and the time zone, and I found it difficult to deal with the confusion. Fortunately, Fran noticed some landmarks from the maps and realized that we were just about there.

The Sandringham Hotel is in an older building. There is no elevator. The main desk is on the first (not ground) floor. Thus, we had to carry our luggage up one flight of stairs as soon as we walked in. There were two women to greet us at the desk. Naturally, it was too early for check-in time. We were expecting this. All we wanted to do was drop off our luggage before looking around the town. In the process of doing this we learned that one woman was Estonian and the other was French. The Estonian’s boyfriend had recently had trouble with airport security when he couldn’t unlock his carry-on (yes, they were chatty).

We picked up a tourist map, pulled our cameras and raincoats out of our backpacks, and went to have our first look at the town.

This is a good point to discuss the weather that followed us around for most of our stay in Cardiff. The temperature was in the 50s and 60s. It was generally cloudy. However, that “generally” covered a lot of variation. It would change from cloudy to a fine rain, back to cloudy, to sunny, and then to cloudy again—all, literally, within a span of a few minutes. Our whole trip was characterized by cool, wet weather, although there were some fine sunny days.

Our first action in any new city is to try to find the tourist information center (TI), in the hopes of finding a better map and, perhaps learning about sights or events that we had overlooked. TIs are almost always hard to find, tucked away in some little niche and not well marked (excuse me; I’m beginning to rant). We went around a corner from the hotel and paused to look at the map. Someone stopped to ask if we needed help. He didn’t know where the TI was, but he thought it would be in the direction we were going. We found ourselves in The Hayes, a pedestrianized street lined with shops. The map said that the TI was right there, but where was it? We walked up and down in both directions without success. Finally, we gave it a miss. We decided to head for Cardiff Castle. We went around a corner and saw a sign that said that the entrance to the TI was on the other side of a building—the one that we had just circled around. We retraced our steps and looked very carefully. Sure enough, we spotted the blue “I” logo in a concave corner. Inside, we found the usual collection of souvenirs, guidebooks, pamphlets, and one guy sitting at a desk. The free maps were just the same as the ones we had from the hotel. We picked up some flyers that looked interesting and went on our way.

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Monday, September 2, 2019 (continued)

We walked north from the hotel and caught sight of Cardiff Castle down the street. Its outer walls run around the street, and the keep is visible on a high hill in the background. As we walked past the gate, we noticed a man dressed as a late 19th Century soldier wearing tropical kit: khaki, puttees, pith helmet, and rifle. Skirting around the wall to the west, we came across a section featuring statues of animals. These had been installed by William Burgess when he remodeled the castle in the late 19th Century. Passing the edge of the wall, we entered Bute Park, a large area stretching north from the castle.

Bute Park is quite large; it has formal gardens, tennis courts, playing fields, art installations, food vendors, paths to wander, and benches to sit on. As we entered the park, we noted a sign pointing towards the dock for the water bus to Cardiff Bay. Part of the grounds are taken up by a set of paths and plantings that trace the ground plan of the Black Friars Priory, which stood near the castle in the middle ages, until the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.

This was our first encounter with a phenomenon we were to see all through our trip: dogs. Dogs are everywhere. They are pet dogs with their owners. Sometimes they are on leash, sometimes not. In a park such as Bute, they were allowed to run around. We saw one very old dog having a great time dashing madly around in the bushes. In almost all cases, the dogs are well behaved. They stay near their owners and mind their commands. The seldom get close to other people or even pay any attention to them. Owners will pull the dogs out of the way and apologize if the dogs get too close to you. We witnessed very few dog vs dog confrontations. Dogs are allowed in pubs and some restaurants. We would see them under or beside tables. Smallish ones might be sitting inside a backpack, with just the head peeking out.

After exploring Bute Park for a while, we stopped at The Secret Garden, a little café in the park. Each table featured a glass vase containing a wooden spoon. The table number was written on the spoon. You ordered at the counter, supplying the number. They brought you the order when it was ready. We ordered ham and cheese “toasties” (toasted sandwiches) with cappuccino. We watched the people (and their dogs) flitting in and out: mothers with children, elderly men and women, people in business clothes, joggers. There didn’t appear to be anyone else who was clearly a tourist.

By this time, it was past 2:00, and so we returned to the hotel so that we could finish checking in. The room was on the second floor. In older buildings, you never know what that really means; we had to carry our bags up more than one set of stairs before we reached our destination. The room was a bit on the small side. We had to coordinate our movements to keep from getting in each other’s way. There wasn’t any view to speak of, just the next building across the street. None of that was important to us. We use our hotel rooms as a place to sleep and store our stuff. We spend very little waking time there. We unpacked what we would need for the four days we would be staying in Cardiff. Then we sat down for a minute—and both of us fell asleep. It seems that the trip and the time change finally caught up with us. We napped for an hour or so.

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Monday, September 2, 2019 (continued)

Central Cardiff has many arcades: covered passageways through buildings flanked by shops on either side. We decided to take a late afternoon walk and explore these. While some of the shops are aimed at tourists, most are not. Food features heavily, with fruit, bakery, butchers, and take-aways of all kinds. There are high-end jewelry and clothing boutiques but also consignment shops and newsstands. We saw toy stores and art studios—snooty galleries and little craft stands. Another dimension of this is the Cardiff Market, a large open building with lanes of booths. Most of these feature food or clothing, but, as with the arcades, there was a little of everything: electronics, comic books, music (CDs and vinyl), baby supplies, and on. While we were browsing with open minds, we didn’t actually buy anything. Closing time is apparently 4PM. Many of the establishments were shutting up for the day as we passed.

We went back to the hotel briefly to check our lists and guidebooks for somewhere to have dinner. We hit upon Zero Degrees, a modern pub/restaurant on Westgate, one street west of us. The dining area was large and open. We were seated near the street, a good location to watch the mix of commuters and tourists going by. This was when we really started to notice the bus traffic in Cardiff. Every city has busses, of course. However, in Cardiff we were always in sight of several at a time. There were many city busses. There were long-distance intercity busses. There were tour busses. It was quite the phenomenon, which we have never before seen in our travels.

Zero Degree’s cuisine is mostly Italian. They have a good selection of craft beers. I had spaghetti carbonara, which is a favorite of mine. Everything went fine until we were finished with our main course. Then, nothing happened, for quite a long time. We were left sitting there. The staff was setting up for a large group. They were running around at the far end of the room. We couldn’t signal for attention, as they didn’t even look in our direction. Finally, someone asked if we would like to see the dessert menu. I said that we would. After another long wait, they brought the menus. We made our choices in a minute or two, after which we were again in limbo until the waiter returned to take our order. Then another long pause until it was delivered. Another long wait to get the bill. I had intended to pay by card, but I didn’t want to wait again to be noticed and again for the staff to bring the card reader. Instead, I counted out cash, to the penny, and put it on the table. It was a shame that a meal that had started out so well ended so unsatisfactorily.

That was the end of our first day in Cardiff. We returned to the hotel and settled in for the night, with a little reading before sleep.

Walking miles: 10.7.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The next morning, we got up at 8:00 and went down to breakfast. Although the hotel has a restaurant, breakfast is served in their event room, which they rent out for parties and receptions. There was a cold buffet with bread, fruit, and cereal. Cooked food is made to order from a menu. You can get all the components of a full English breakfast, in whatever combination or quantity you want. This is a good system, as some dishes such as fried eggs suffer when kept on a steam table in a buffet. For me it added a bit of restraint, as I usually go overboard when I can load my plate and then go back for more.

Our main destination for the day was Cardiff Castle. The castle was built and rebuilt many times. There were Roman fortifications on the site. Much later, the Normans built a wooden motte-and-bailey castle, which was later replaced by a stone version. As the Normans became English, the castle was enlarged and improved as one of their outposts in Wales. The castle came into the possession of the Bute family. The Marquesses of Bute made the transition from medieval lords to coal magnates and became very wealthy. In the 18th Century, the grounds were remodeled by the leading landscape architect of the day, Lancelot “Capability” Brown. Still later, the grounds and residence were rebuilt under the direction of William Burges. The Bute family gave the complex (along with Bute Park) to the City of Cardiff.

The components of the site now consist of a visitors’ center, the enclosed grounds, the keep, the residence, the clock tower, and the walls. The tower is accessible by guided tour only. The schedule for the tours didn’t fit well with our visit, and so we skipped that part.
The visitors’ center includes a small exhibit on the history of the castle and about Welsh regiments from the time they were first raised to the present. It also has an underground gallery that exposes some of the Roman fortifications. The opposite side of the gallery is covered by wooden carvings depicting the Roman occupation of Wales, ending with an elaborate street scene.

The castle enclosure is mostly open space. There are a couple of modern 17-pounder artillery pieces on exhibit and a wooden trebuchet. The information signs include the URL of a video of the trebuchet in action, which we watched on my phone. There was once a walled passage running from the gatehouse to the keep, which split the enclosure in two. Its foundations are still visible. We noticed reenactors in 18th Century redcoat garb chatting and posing with the visitors.

Befitting its motte-and-baily origins, the keep is on a high hill surrounded by a moat. You enter the keep by means of a series of stairs that take you over the moat and through the gate. Another characteristic that reflects the keep’s origin is that it is a “shell keep:” essentially a tall circular wall with an open space inside. When the keep was inhabited, the space would have been occupied by wooden buildings, but these are long gone. There are walkways along the inside of the wall so that soldiers could man the battlements, but these are now accessible only to pigeons. However, one can climb a spiral staircase in the gatehouse to a high platform that gives a good view of the area.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019 (continued)

After leaving the castle, we decided it was time for lunch. We wandered through the city center until we came to a likely-looking pub, the Queen’s Vaults. We ordered fish & chips with a couple of pints and settled into armchairs, our food placed on a coffee table in front of us. The clientele seemed to be locals. Most of them were old guys drinking beer in the afternoon. We watched the foot traffic through the window and tried to eavesdrop on the conversations around us. They talked about work, dogs, and Brexit. Most of them were in favor of that last.

After lunch, we went to the “Story of Cardiff” museum, which is in the same building as the TI. It’s not large, but it does give a good account of the coal, shipping, and other industries that shaped the city. A highlight of the visit was a series of short videos about specific artifacts, as told by the people who used them. I’m not big on watching videos in museums, but these were well worth sitting for. We breezed through the shop attached to the TI, but, as I recall, we didn’t buy anything.

After wandering around for a little while, just looking at the city, we went into Wally’s Delicatessen & Kaffeehuis, in one of the arcades, for cappuccino. It was getting towards 4:00, and the food service had already closed, but they were still serving beverages. They have a lot of variations on coffee drinks on their menu, some featuring liqueurs and syrups. We weren’t the only ones enjoying a late afternoon break. Before leaving the establishment, we browsed through the delicatessen. There was an amazing variety of food there, both fresh and packaged. We didn’t buy anything, but it would be a nice place to shop if we lived there.

We went back to the hotel to reorganize and think about dinner. I made a list from our guidebooks, and we set out to find a restaurant called Chapel 1877, which occupies a converted church. On the way we stumbled across an anti-Brexit rally in Queen Street. There were quite a lot of people there, filling the street for a block or two. They were waving EU and Welsh flags, carrying printed and homemade signs, wearing t-shirts with slogans, and so on. There was a program of people making speeches through bullhorns. A few policemen and policewomen stood on the edges, but they didn’t seem concerned. Somebody gave us a “citizen of Europe” stickers to wear. A woman with a DSLR asked to take our picture. There were a lot of people waving phones in the air. It took some pictures and video with my pocket camera. It was fun.

After a while we squeezed out of the crowd to continue our quest for dinner. We found the restaurant, but it looked too high falutin’ for our taste (and budget). Instead, we found another eatery on our list, the Cambrian Pub. It is a comfortable pub, more modern than the Queen’s Vaults, but still friendly. It has stacks of board games on the windowsills in case the customers want to combine “Battleship” with their pints. (There could be a drinking game in that.) We were happy to discover that the bar offered flights, which reduced our agony of indecision with so many beers to choose. We ducked the issue even further by asking the bartender to choose varieties that would go well with our meat pies (mine was beef & stilton).

After dinner we went back to the hotel to settle in for the night. However, our bedtime reading was disturbed by the sound of water dripping from the ceiling into our bathtub. As leaks go, that wasn’t the worst place to have one. Even so, we had to notify the management. So, we changed out of our PJs and went down to the desk. They were disturbed by the news. They said that they were fully booked but could move us to another room the next day. We declined the offer, as the dripping had stopped, not likely to disturb our sleep. Having notified the hotel, we settled down again and spent a peaceful night.

Walking miles: 4.6.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Today’s main goal was to visit the National Museum of Wales, which is to the east of Cardiff Castle. Our walk took us past imposing public buildings, including the law courts and city hall. The museum itself is divided between art and natural history. We concentrated on the art and spent a long morning viewing paintings from all periods. The gift shop reflects the division of the museum’s collection. Much of the stock is aimed at children who visit the natural history part. However, I did find some books on Welsh soldiers in British India and the First World War.

After leaving the museum, we decided that we wanted to makes sure we knew the route to the railway station. Although we wouldn’t be leaving until Friday, we had that bus tour scheduled for Thursday. This seemed like a good time to check out the station. After that, we trekked back towards Bute Park to catch the water bus to Cardiff Bay, as this would be our only opportunity. Before going to the dock, we stopped for lunch at Secret Garden, where we had vegetarian “sausage rolls.”

When we reached the water bus dock, we found that we had a half-hour to wait. We walked over to Castle Street and took pictures of the animal sculptures on the castle wall. Returning to the water bus, we still had a bit of a wait. I pulled out my phone to check my email—and I learned that tomorrow’s tour had been cancelled, again because of insufficient bookings.

Well. With all for the next day now free, there was no need to rush down to Cardiff Bay that afternoon. We decided to do a bit of shopping instead. We went back to Castle Street and browsed through the souvenir shops lining the street opposite to the castle. As one might expect, most of the goods on offer were the usual “stuff” that you see in any souvenir shop anywhere in the world—but with “Wales” or “Cardiff” printed on them. Oddly, quite a few items had “London” on them, a phenomenon that we would observe throughout this trip. We also saw a lot of “branded” merchandise: Harry Potter, Downton Abbey, and Doctor Who. Despite all this, we found zipped hoodies that we liked, and we each bought one. I also bought an inexpensive umbrella, as I had neglected to pack one.

It being about closing time for most shops, we made our way back to the hotel to drop off our purchases and consider our dinner options. As we picked up our key, the staff told us that they were still working on the plumbing problem. It didn’t affect us, but they were keeping us informed.

We had dinner at the Duke of Wellington, which is a pub near the railway station. It is a traditional pub. I had pork faggots (medallions) with mushy peas and beer. After returning to the hotel for a while, we decided that we wanted a bit of dessert. We went to a store down the street that seemed to offer gelato. However, the menu revealed that everything was very elaborate, involving waffles, brownies, cakes, etc. We just wanted a couple of scoops of ice cream. Disappointed, we hit the street again. A short way down, we found a chain “fast casual” place called Pie Minister. They specialized in meat pies (obviously), but they did have sundaes on their menu. We went in and asked if we could get a couple to go. The woman paused a moment and said, “Do you mean take away? Yes, you can.” So, we did that, walking back to the hotel with our little bowls.

Walking miles: 9.0.

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Thursday, September 5, 2019

After breakfast we did a bit of packing in anticipation of tomorrow’s departure. Then we set out for the water bus dock in Bute Park. There were a fair number of people waiting, but I wouldn’t call it crowded. The boat trip took about 30 minutes. Along the way, the staff kept up a commentary about the history of Cardiff, the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay, and what we were seeing on our way down. We disembarked at the other end and had a look around. For a change it was a sunny day, albeit with broken clouds. There was quite a nice view all around the bay. We could see tour groups and bands of school children milling about

We first went into the Norwegian Church, relic of the time when Scandinavian sailors would visit the bustling seaport. It is now a venue to display the works of local artists, in different media.

After leaving the church, we went to one of the area’s newest buildings, the Senedd, which is the seat of the Welsh Parliament. After going through security, we got to wander around a bit. The highlight was going into the visitors’ gallery and looking down into the debating chamber. It was not in use, although a debate on Brexit was scheduled for later in the afternoon. It is a steep-sided amphitheater arranged around the Speaker’s dais. Each MP’s station is equipped with a computer, microphone, and other amenities. There are large display screens around the chamber. Outside the chamber there are exhibits about the state of governance in Wales. There’s also a little shop. When we visited there was a photographic art exhibit on display. As we left the Senedd, we saw that the school groups, in their uniforms, had congregated on the broad steps leading from the building down to the bay. The children were eating box lunches. We guessed that they would be filling the visitors’ gallery for the Brexit debate.

We circled around to the Millennium Center, a large modern entertainment center. At the front of the center is Roal Dahl Plass, named after the author of children’s books, who was born in Cardiff. A prominent feature of the Plass is a fountain called the Water Tower. This marked the entrance to the secret base in the Doctor Who spinoff series Torchwood. As big Doctor Who fans, we were looking forward to taking each other’s pictures standing at this spot. Alas, it was not to be. The area was under repairs, and the Water Tower was fenced off.

We went into the Millennium Center to have a quick look around. It’s pretty, but there isn’t much to see. The capacious lobby is intended to handle the crowds streaming into and out of the auditorium for major events. It does have an extensive gift shop with items that reflect the wide variety of events that take place there. I found some folk music CDs, something that I’m always looking for on our trips.

We left the Millennium Center and backtracked past the Senedd to the Pierhead. This red brick building was once the control center of Cardiff’s working port. It includes exhibits on the history of the port a temporary photographic exhibition. There is also a memorial to the Scott Antarctic Expedition of 1910-1913, which left from Cardiff on its ill-fated voyage. The building itself is very interesting. Its interior makes heavy use of colored glass tiles. Even the bannisters on the staircase are plated with them.

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Thursday, September 5, 2019 (continued)

After leaving the Pierhead, we passed a sculpture dedicated to the Scott Expedition and then started to walk around the bay. First, though, we stopped for lunch at a very modern-looking pub called the Waterguard. It wasn’t crowded at that time of day. The other customers appeared to be business people. I had bangers and mash with mushy peas, plus beer. Lunch completed, we continued our stroll around the bay. This is a recreation area, and we passed bicycle rentals, sports arenas, playgrounds, and little parks. Off in the bay, all sorts of small craft were plying back and forth. Here and there we would run into little historical exhibits related to Cardiff’s history as a coal port, such as a mining cart loaded with coal.

We finally got to the mouth of the bay, site of the Cardiff Barrage. This is a set of sluice gates and storm surge barriers. The barrage transforms Cardiff Bay from a tidal zone to what is essentially a lake with a constant water level. When we arrived, we were lucky enough to find the drawbridge on its way up. We watched the process as a boat went through the barrage and into the bay. The bridge went down again, and we crossed over. We walked a little distance on the other side. However, we decided that we had better return to the water bus in order to make sure that we could catch the last boat back to central Cardiff. We retraced our steps, arriving at the dock in good time. The boat took us back to Bute Park, and we walked to the hotel.

We decided to have dinner at Pie Minister. When we walked in, the recognized us and asked if we had come for more ice cream. I had a chicken & chorizo pie, not exactly traditional. It came with mushy peas and mashed potatoes. We returned to the hotel, finished all but the last-minute packing, and settled in.

Walking miles: 7.7.

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I had pork faggots (medallions)

For those who may be interested in trying faggots I'd like to clarify for those who are expecting a "medallion" of meat.

A faggot is a ball shaped mixture of (usually) pork heart, liver and fatty belly meat wrapped in caul fat which is the membrane from a pigs abdomen. Quite tasty but for those not keen on offal it may come as a surprise if they were expecting a medallion of meat.

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I haven't been through it in more than 40 years; perhaps it has changed.

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Many thanks for your detailed report. One of the reasons why you saw so many buses on Westgate Street is because the bus station was demolished to make way for the new BBC building that you saw outside the rail station. They are now just starting to build a new bus station east of the BBC building. You will also have noticed that many of the streets in the central area of the city are traffic free. These were once full with vehicles but starting in the 1970’s, a process of pedestrianisation took place. As you can imagine, if everybody drove their cars into the city centre today, the roads would be completely jammed - hence the policy of encouraging people to use buses and trains.

It is disappointing that the local tour company cancelled your trips. However, you could have made some local trips to places of interest quite easily by local transport. Had you caught the Easyway 32A bus from Westgate Street (every 30 minutes usually) to St. Fagans = about 25 minutes away for about £3.50 return, you would have seen:>https://museum.wales/stfagans/buildings/castle/

You also could have caught a bus to Tongwynlais on the northern edge of Cardiff and then walked up the hill for about 15 minutes to this castle:> https://cadw.gov.wales/visit/places-to-visit/castell-coch#overview

You also could have caught a local train for the 20 minute ride north to see the massive medieval castle at Caerphilly:> https://cadw.gov.wales/visit/places-to-visit/caerphilly-castle

Around 2 miles NW of Cardiff Castle:>https://www.llandaffcathedral.org.uk

A 6 mile bus ride west of Cardiff plus a walk of just over 1 mile down a country lane from St.Nicholas:>https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/dyffryn-gardens/features/the-gardens

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James, thanks for clearing up the bus mystery. Thanks also for the additional suggestions. As it was, we certainly didn't run out of things to do! We will try to follow up on your ideas the next time we are able to visit.

Posted by
1832 posts

Pleased to read that you found plenty to do. The places that I mentioned are all within 10 miles of Cardiff city centre & easy to reach via pubic transport. Obviously, many other places are within an hour or so. Had you taken the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead, you could have seen north Wales & then perhaps made your way south.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you for your very detailed account of your four-day visit in Cardiff! My wife and I will be there in early August 2020, and we are doing as much research as we can muster to be somewhat ready for our visit, which will be our very first visit to Europe.

Keep up the good work!

Posted by
486 posts

I'm glad I could be of help.