Cardiff comes of age

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

From Page 1 sta­dium with a re­tractable roof has a ca­pac­ity of 74,600 and its enor­mous scale adds to Cardiff’s sense of oc­ca­sion. Dur­ing the 2012 Olympics, eight foot­ball matches will be played here.

At­tract­ing more than one mil­lion vis­i­tors a year, al­most half from out­side Wales, the sta­dium hosts the Six Na­tions rugby tour­na­ment, con­certs by rock and pop giants (vis­it­ing acts have ranged from U2 and Bruce Spring­steen to Oa­sis and Madonna) as well as speed­way, rugby league, ral­ly­ing and mon­ster truck racing.

‘‘There is some­thing about this sta­dium that makes peo­ple who would never sing find voices they didn’t know they had,’’ Har­ris says of the sta­dium’s fa­mous rugby games and their choral dis­plays.

Ini­tially Mil­len­nium Sta­dium had its doubters, as was the case with so many of the plans for the new Cardiff. Many be­lieved the money could have been bet­ter spent on fix­ing run-down es­tates, ris­ing drug use and so­cial dis­lo­ca­tion. Some cur­mud­geons just hated the fu­tur­is­tic de­sign of spars, masts and ten­sion sys­tems that loom over Cardiff’s city cen­tre, throw­ing mul­ti­ple spires at pre­car­i­ous an­gles into the skies.

Vis­i­ble from al­most ev­ery precinct, de­pend­ing where you stand the sta­dium looks like a gi­ant cruise ship set­ting sail or an aban­doned space­craft from

wait­ing to be dis­man­tled by the art depart­ment. I men­tion to Har­ris that it all seems strangely fa­mil­iar and he re­minds me the sta­dium ap­pears reg­u­larly in the tele­vi­sion se­ries about that in­domitable in­ter­ga­lac­tic time trav­eller and its spinoff

Both are filmed in Cardiff and scruffily dressed BBC film crews are a fa­mil­iar sight; drinkers in the city cen­tre have wit­nessed squads of Cy­ber­men march­ing past their pubs. In fact, Cardiff’s alien in­va­sions, time ma­chines and sonic screw­drivers have made it the sci­ence fic­tion cap­i­tal of Europe, cel­e­brated for its so-called tourism.

Cardiff’s pop­u­lar­ity as a sci-fi des­ti­na­tion has even prompted the ho­tel where I am stay­ing, the four-star Park Plaza, to of­fer a spe­cial pack­age that in­cludes tick­ets to the phe­nom­e­nally pop­u­lar

ex­hi­bi­tion at Cardiff Bay and a re­mote-con­trolled Dalek toy in your room.

But for all the fu­tur­is­tic ex­cite­ment and the at­trac­tion of big sport­ing and cul­tural events, Cardiff is still recog­nis­ably a his­to­ried city. It cel­e­brates its lay­ers and tex­tures, laneways and dif­fer­ent cul­tural precincts, and is laced with or­nately glass-roofed Vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian ar­cades that lead off High Street and St Mary Street. Its sense of self does not re­side in any one build­ing but in the lovely ro­man­tic mix. Wan­der­ing around is ab­sorb­ing, like be­ing in­side a long ro­man­tic his­tor­i­cal novel. Ev­ery­where I walk are memo­ri­als, plaques, pieces of the past: crum­bling Ro­man walls, me­dieval gates, Ge­or­gian sculp­ture, in­dus­trial clocks and pieces of em­bank­ment chipped back to re­veal clean Vic­to­rian stone.

Har­ris and I traipse around Cardiff Cen­tral Mar­ket, where the old city jail once stood. It’s a Vic­to­rian glass-roofed hall where old-time butch­ers and fish­mon­gers in white coats and fruiter­ers in vaude­ville-style hats and aprons are in­ter­spersed with stalls of fruit pre­serves, lemon curd and homely knitwear.

He takes me to Spillers, an unas­sum­ing, vinyl­dom­i­nated record shop in the nearby Hayes shop­ping area. Spillers is the old­est mu­sic em­po­rium in the world, opened in 1894 by Henry Spiller when a gramo­phone player cost about a year’s wages.

In the street out­side we are el­bowed aside by a pass­ing gang of brick­lay­ers and their piled-up wheel­bar­rows, and dodge a Nis­san truck over­loaded with ce­ment bags; this part of the city is prime real es­tate.

Af­ter a vast re­de­vel­op­ment sched­uled to fin­ish by the end of the year, Cardiff will sport the big­gest shop­ping cen­tre in Bri­tain, a £675 mil­lion ($1.3 bil­lion) de­vel­op­ment called St David’s 2 that will in­clude shops, restau­rants, cafes and the Hayes Apart­ments, 304 homes with rooftop court­yards that will pro­vide green space in the heart of the city.

The sym­bol­ism of the new ris­ing out of the old, scruffy and un­tidy though it seems at the mo­ment, is po­tent in a city with such a strong sense of its own his­tory.

Thomas wrote, in a pref­ace to his of a shep­herd who, when asked why he made, from within fairy rings, rit­ual ob­ser­vances to the moon to pro­tect his flocks, replied: ‘‘I’d be a damn fool if I didn’t!’’ And wher­ever you go in Cardiff peo­ple seem to be say­ing the same thing about how much they love the re­gen­er­a­tion of their city. Graeme Blundell was a guest of Emi­rates and Visit Bri­tain.


Emi­rates op­er­ates dou­ble daily ser­vices be­tween Syd­ney, Bris­bane and Perth and Dubai and thricedaily ser­vices be­tween Mel­bourne and Dubai. One ser­vice daily from Syd­ney op­er­ates via Bangkok; one ser­vice daily from Mel­bourne and Bris­bane op­er­ates via Sin­ga­pore. Emi­rates of­fers five daily ser­vices be­tween Dubai and Lon­don Heathrow, and three daily ser­vices be­tween Dubai and Lon­don Gatwick. Emi­rates also has good con­nec­tions from Dubai to Manch­ester, New­cas­tle, Birm­ing­ham and Glasgow. Fares ex Syd­ney from $1975, taxes in­cluded. More: 1300 303 777; www.emi­ Paul Har­ris’s A Wel­come to Wales day tour costs £45 a per­son or £100 for a fam­ily of up to five, in­clud­ing lunch and ad­mis­sions. More: www.see­ A new se­ries of set in Cardiff, starts on ABC2 on Septem­ber 18, 8.30pm. www.visitbri­ www.vis­it­

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