Thursday, 16 April 2015

Cardiff: City of Curios

Some people don't know where Cardiff is, most people don't particularly care about going there. Wales. Really? Tiny. Sidelined next to the big ones. England. Scotland. What's there to do in Wales but see sheep? A lot of sheep?

And stone circles. Lots. Also sacrificial stones. This is a park.

Well, yes, there are sheep. But then again, trek anywhere outside of city walls in the entirety of the United Kingdom (or the green isle of Ireland) and you are going to see sheep. Triple the usual amount too, seeing as it is lamb season.

The other thing people identify Cardiff with is it's position as the base of operations and general action for anything relating to that snazzy and ever-popular network known as the BBC. Everything from little period dramas like Society at Cranford, to series which got far bigger than first imagined like Poldark. Add in more modern suspects like Luther and Misfits and drop the flagship series of Doctor Who, and well, there's few people in the world who don't know what you're talking about.

As such, the city of Cardiff and the country of Wales itself, is a candy store for any afficiando of any BBC drama. Every corner has ended up on a show at least once, if not been used multiple times over for everything from a standard mystery to a supernatural spree.

Except that is not Cardiff. Not really. Or rather, Cardiff is a million more little things than that. Truly, Cardiff is a giant curiousity shop.

On the surface it is just any other town, but peel back the layers, like you might an onion and you see the underbelly that has been germinating thanks to years upon years of countless creative individuals descending upon the town for months at a time to funnel their imaginations into sense, suspense and success for audience satisfaction (and absolute obsession).

Start by wandering down to Cardiff Bay. Make the stop into the fabulous and fantastic Doctor Who Experience (just get it out of your system), spy the TARDIS perched on a rock in the harbour, not far from the Norwegian church where the famous Roald Dahl was baptised as a baby.

Then, beyond you'll spy a great silver building with Welsh words wrapping in block cut-out letters at the front. The Millenium Centre. The words translate to "in these stones horizons sing" and oh do the stones of Wales sing. Stories after stories await in all the corners of Cardiff, whether you believe Captain Jack Harkness is going to saunter up from the Torchwood base below the centre, his miltary coat swinging and witty grin quirked (see wiki if you don't know this awesome character) or you wonder who the people are who pass in and out the doors or along the street. What they do. Who they are. What they have done.

The Millenium Centre (under which sits the Torchwood base of course)

Meander your way back up to Cardiff and you'll probably pass under a bridge stamped with "brains or brawn." If you're me, you'll snort and think, "obvious. Brains are far more superior." The reality is a little bit less interesting as it's just a play on the Welsh branded beer 'Brains.' Once you've hit the city make a beeline for Cardiff castle. It's impressive. Grand walls and a huge grass courtyard lead up to a looming hill on which is perched the central tower. A medieval masterpiece.

It's Brains you want!

The reality? It's a mix-matched revitalised Gothic style with Victorian period flair on the inside and is more of a flagship for the secret curio side of Cardiff than any medieval history might be. Each room is more elaborate than the last, as the Victorian owner, Lord Bute was more focused on updating (and generally bulldozing over (in the metaphorical sense) old Roman and medieval remains into something resembling an overgrown Victorian country house. Excessive is an understatement. But that was the point. Besides, you might say the BBC are a bit excessive with some of their shows so humanity hasn't exactly grown out of the desire to show off stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. Crammed into architectural corners and wooden cupboards.

Back side of Cardiff Castle seen from Bute Park.

None of those are the best bits though. It's finding the corners and corridoors which run in, out, around and between the streets and straight lines of buildings. Known as the arcades these are where the curiousities of Cardiff shine. Quaint tea rooms, old-fashioned barber shops, a bespoke tailor, a boardgame merchant, book shop, camera store and a shop selling more buttons than you coud ever imagine, not to mention the usual vintage clothing and shoe shops. Cardiff also has a ridiculous number of joke and costume shops (possibly an aftershock of it being a centre for crazy creatives who have day jobs prentending to be different people or making characters get into unfortunate situations).

Seating at a cafe down one arcade.

There is even an ice cream parlour, known as Science Cream, which, in front of your eyes, has lab equipped and dressed employees mix up your ice cream using the special ingredient of liquid nitrogen to do so.

Best ice cream ever. And I'm not a big ice cream fan.
 The usual town marketplace, though one of the rare covered ones (as most towns have open air these days) pales in comparision, though it too is a fun romp of two stories full of fresh fruits, veggies, meats, fish, breads, desserts, cafes, fabrics, DIY bits and other such things.

Even the hostels are quirky. The Bunk House is especially so with it's dark main entrance illuminated by lightbulbs in vintage birdcages and a ceiling covered in a rainbow of paper cranes, hot air balloons and faerie lights. The seating is made up of old leather couches, picnic tables with lit up umbrellas and vintage beds with metal or wood headboards and covered in colourful quilts, throws and pillows.

All in all, it makes you wonder at times where the creativity started. Was it Cardiff? With it's blocks of houses called Silurian Place (which happens to be an alien species featured in Doctor Who) or was it just the thousands of creative people and their minds leaking their imaginations across the pavement?

Either way, don't go to Cardiff with the off-chance hope of knocking elbows with actors, writers and directors of your favourite shows, or for fan-cheering the famous locations. Well, you can do that, but also go to Cardiff to explore the corners and quirks.

Who knows, if you sit and think hard enough, some of your brilliant imagination might leave a splash of paint which will be picked up and used in your favourite show later on.


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