Sunday, 16 September 2012

Cardiff - A travelling cyclists perspective

Last month I travelled to Cardiff for a few days, to see someone and acquaint myself with Wales vibrant and modern Capital city. Apart from a brief caravan holiday at Ty Mawr in North Wales when I was six months old, back in the dim and distant summer months of 1987 (I myself can't remember much from that period), I can safely say that I have never really experienced Wales in any respect, at least until now.

My visit to Cardiff took place during the Olympics, and I was immediately impressed by the general feel of the city, exceptionally clean and presentable, and naturally bursting with colour, with Olympic flags all over the place and general merriment in the air that made this city by the Bay both appealing and welcoming. I hadn't known what to expect from my trip to Wales, or more specifically Cardiff, but what I found was a very pleasant surprise. Like any Capital city, Cardiff seems to be bursting with culture, not simply the usual mix of music, arts and entertainment, but culture with a distinct Welsh edge.

Welsh can be seen (and heard) in various places around Cardiff, something the first time visitor may not expect, especially those from other parts of the UK, and I refer specifically to my own country of origin, England. I don't know if it is the same for other parts of Europe and the UK, but many where I am from are highly unaware of the extensive presence of the Welsh language and it's long history, or of the attractive nature of Cardiff, and undoubtedly other parts of Wales itself. Cardiff is full of interesting shops and museums, with wide, grand open streets and boulevards and majestic buildings in the heart of, or very close to, the City centre. The National Museum of Wales in particular was made even more impressive by the presence of the mighty Olympic rings in Cathays Park.

Not only that, but the magnificent Castle right in the heart of the city gives Cardiff a unique and historical feel, without compromising its integrity as a modern city with all the conveniences both travellers and locals might need. Perhaps the most pleasant element of Cardiff, however, is the wonder of Bute Park. Again, very close to the Centre, the park is almost like a miniature National Park, easily accessible by residents, locals etc.

In a blog such as this, mention must also inevitably be given to Cardiff as a cycling city. Unfortunately, I did not get chance to cycle in the city, and thus cannot write from the perspective of a cyclist, but from what little I saw, Cardiff is making impressive attempts to make cycling a pleasant and enjoyable experience. The major road around the Castle in particular appears to have reasonable provision for cyclists, and the magnificent riverside trail running through Bute Park and to the north makes cycling a safe and attractive proposition for many who live in the areas surrounding it. I hope that at some point in the not-too-distant future, I will get to test out Cardiff from a cyclist's perspective.

Last, but by no means least, due mention must also be given to the efforts by the Welsh Government and Cardiff City Council in making full use of the Welsh language on road signs and buildings. From my limited time there, Cardiff feels like a bilingual city, where Welsh has equal status with English, and it would be a missed opportunity if any who came to live in the City from outside (something by no means unthinkable, given the pleasant nature of the city) did not at least consider taking up Welsh on some level - Cardiff certainly seems like a good place for newcomers to begin any adventure with Wales, as it provides a nice gentle introduction to Wales, whilst gradually easing you in to the specifically Welsh aspects of the country that can undoubtedly be explorer further in more rural parts of the country. I certainly feel that my own Welsh adventure has not ended here.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Cycling in Dublin

Well, I've been in Dublin just over a week now, and have been doing some cycling more or less every day, principally to and from the City, and in and around Churchtown/Dundrum, the area where I'm currently staying. My commute to the city takes in Churchtown Road Lower, Milltown Road, Sandford Road, Ranelagh Road and over the Charlemont Bridge down Camden Street, ending up in Drury Street cycle parking facility. On the return I take a similar route but going back up Dundrum Road so as to call at the shopping centre on the way home.

In general, I'm quite happy with cycling in Dublin - cycling on Dundrum, Sandford and Ranelagh Roads is relatively smooth and comfortable compared to roads I've ridden on in other places I've lived, with wide cycle lanes and no real obstacles to going at a constant speed into the city. When doing it early morning there's a tendency to find delivery vehicles parked in the cycle lane, along with a few taxis and other vehicles, the same is true in late afternoon, but getting round them doesn't appear to be too much of a problem, although it would inevitably be better if they didn't. Milltown Road could do with some resurfacing, as it's quite bumpy and not a comfortable ride, particularly on a road bike, and the same is true of Dundrum's Main Street - rather bumpy and not much room for cyclists, really, though as it's one of the shorter, less busy roads in the city I can just about bear it.

One thing I've found interesting in this city is that the traffic lights go straight from red to green, with no orange light in-between - very different to the UK, but something I've adapted to quickly. To say my commute is 4/5 miles each way, it only seems to take 25-30 minutes max, and doesn't feel like a drag, which is impressive considering I've previously only had to travel 2-2.5 miles in the past. The only issue I have is that the commute to the city is all downhill, whilst on the way back it's all uphill - the climb isn't particularly strenuous, but requires a bit more effort at the end of the day! As for cycling in the city, I consciously avoid streets such as O'Connell and Westmoreland, and the quays if possible, as I simply don't feel comfortable cycling on them. My wish is for cycling to be a pleasure, not a chore, and I find those streets simply too busy and uncomfortable for my liking - they simply don't suit cyclists. For now though, I shall be maintaining my current cycle commute, and probably alternating it with taking the Luas once the money starts rolling more freely.