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.