Monday, 26 November 2007

Croeso i Gymru

Just back from a hugely successful weekend in my old stomping ground of Cardiff. I went to University there twenty-odd years ago, and have been back only very irregularly since. I think the last time was with Jacqueline, but not long after we'd met. So that would probably put it in the Summer of 1998.

To save time, I took the train directly from London, while Jacqueline and Alice drove up from home. She should have got there an hour or so earlier than me, although as it happened because of the traffic we arrived at the hotel at almost the same time.

We stayed in the Future Inn, which had a few strange traits (they wanted us to pay on arrival, for example, the first hotel I've stayed in where this chas been the case) but was comfortable enough. Plus, it was close to all of the Cardiff Bay facilities, most of which was of course derelict when I last visited Cardiff. Indeed, there appeared to be lots of building going on all over the city.

On Friday, then, off to the Red Dragon Centre for some supper at the Old Orleans restaurant. An excellent meal, plus they were really kind to Alice. The three of us shared this amazing chocolate dessert, complete with ice cream, marshmallow, maltezers and brownies.

Saturday started quite cold, so rather than walking into the city centre we drove, even though it was only a mile or so (indeed, once I'd got my bearings I realised that there was a park and ride bus just opposite the hotel, plus there was a station just a few minutes walk away. But time...

So, into the centre of Cardiff where we had a good old walk around. The place itself was full of people (I hadn't realised that Wales were playing this weekend), and having walked up a couple of the shopping streets we made a detour to avoid all the people and visited the university, so I could show Alice where I used to study. Now, they'd warned me the evening before that they'd gone past a fair on the way to the hotel, and although nothing was immediately apparent, Alice's eyes lit up as we walked across to the university and right in front of us we saw the big wheel. They'd set up in front of the museum, and it was a "Winter Wonderland" theme rather than just a fair.

We weren't ready for the fairground yet, however, and we strode on until we reached the main building of the university. Of course, since it was a Saturday it was very quiet, and I was able to give them a tour of where I used to study. I was quite lucky (although didn't fully appreciate it at the time) to study in such a lovely old environment. It truly is a magnificent building. I rounded off the tour by taking Alice into the library, where she was absolutely aghast at the huge number of books on the shelves. "Daddy, when you studied here did you have to read all of these books?", came the whispered question!

So, a wonderfully refreshing visit, full of memories. In fact, the only major change I noticed from all those years ago is that the theatres and labs in which I studied now form part of the Chemistry department, and the Physics department has now been hived off to a new location altogether. So, if I were to go to university now, I wouldn't even be in that building!

Back to reality, and at last Alice got to visit the Winter Wonderland, and we had a ride on an excellent big wheel, in the cold drizzle I remember so well! Still, Alice was totally unphased by it all. Right next to the big wheel was an outdoor ice rink, which also looked like great fun.

Back into the city centre, where we got sidetracked by Alice wanting to visit a Santa's Grotto. It was a little strange since she was the eldest child queuing, but there again kids generally want to grow up so quickly nowadays that its quite nice to have her enjoy childhood.

Alice by now was very content, and we settled down to strolling some more through the city streets. Cardiff has some beautiful Victorian and Edwardian arcades, which retain their charm largely because the high street stores have left them alone. Very different to your average city centre, although there is a load of construction work going on at the moment so quite how much charm will be left in a couple of years is open to question.
By this time the rugby had started, so many of the bars and had emptied, and we settled down to a somewhat belated lunch, before walking through the arcades once again.

We finally got back to the car just as the rugby was finishing, so avoiding most of the crowds. Both Jacqueline and I had bought hats, while Alice had a new teddy (courtesy of Father Christmas) and some new bottles of fairy dust.

Back to the hotel for 5pm for a couple of hours' rest, then out again, this time to the excellent Doctor Who exhibition in the Red Dragon Centre. There were full size Daleks (which are actually quite scary!), a model of an "old" cyberman (a guy in a grey boiler suit!) and a "new" cyberman. Plus, of course, the Tardis and K9. I'm not very into Doctor Who, though Jac and Alice love it, but it was very impressive. At the end of the exhibition was a shop, and the amount of merchandise of all kinds was incredible. This must make the BBC a lot of money.

Out through the centre - the weather having cleared up somewhat - and we caught our first glimpse of Cardiff Bay. Lovely. Fortunately I'd brought my camera and tripod with me so took some decent photos to boot. They really have smartened the place up well (I visited Butetown once of twice when I lived there, and it was very rough), and clearly it has become a big venue for going out. A lovely stroll. Back through the Red Dragon Centre for supper, to a Thai restaurant which was basically a buffet. Lovely, but I couldn't work out where the chips came in!! Finished off with some fresh pineapple, to wake us up a little.

Back at the hotel, Jacqueline's pedometer said she'd walked 30,000 steps that day, with her normal target being just 10,000. So, that's how far we walked

Sunday turned into a full day also, though at the outset we had little planned. Checking out of the hotel, I treated the family to a drive around Cardiff, showing them where I'd used to live etc. etc. Very little had changed in Roath, and we had time to take a stroll around the lake in Roath Park. On then, back into the centre of Cardiff, where I'd booked for Alice and I to go skating. Initially Alice got very upset because she'd thought it would be easy and it wasn't, but by the end of the hour she was moving a little more fluidly, albeit with one hand still on the rail! Back then across to the bay, where we visited Technoquest - a great entertainment for youngsters. At about 4 o'clock, we finally had some "lunch" at the nearby Harry Ramsden's. As usual, the food was good but the service was disappointing. Topped up with food, however, we then headed for home.

Two hours later, fortunately with very little traffic along the way, we were greeted by the lovely Maisie, whom we had awoken from her slumbers upon our return. Someone was glad we were back...

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