Cardiff comes of age
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.emirates.com/au. 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.seewales.com. A new series of set in Cardiff, starts on ABC2 on September 18, 8.30pm. www.visitbritain.com.au www.visitwales.com