Cardiff – Story – The Friendly Pubs

Cardiff building front

Cardiff January 2012 Pubs

Cardiff seems to have a rather strong pub culture, with lots of great venues of various different themes and vibes from iconic traditional to modern gastronomic high-design flagships. I know I was attracted to the pub culture during my long week in this city, and no doubt drinking would take a considerable role in my life were I to actually live there. The role of alcohol to one’s enjoyment of Cardiff probably cannot be overstated.

_________________________Cardiff pub start of crawl_____

Not in a rush, I wait patiently at the bar while others are served. I don’t really care how quickly I’m served to join my party of one. A number of patrons cut ahead of me, I do stand out being taller than this crowd and a bit differently dressed, I am noticed but ignored. One could not look up and say, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you there, four inches taller than me and wearing a black fedora.” But I don’t mind the queue-jumping as long as I do eventually get a drink.

The barmaid does finally notice my permanent residence directly in front of her and addresses her known-answer question to me and a young woman to my left. “Who’s next then?” As I step forward the young lady, who had just walked up, makes a face and scornfully mutters, “He is,” shooting me an absolute look of death.

Am I inside some sad angry prison? Where have I come that people are so sour? Social interactions in this city are starting to feel like punishments.

_______________________Cardiff's Oldest Pub.________

A gentleman in his 50’s starts to sing-along with muted music, much to the dismay of his formally-dressed wife. A posh group of two couples, they are clearly having a full night on the town as I stand at a nearby counter, jotting down notes from the day. “At least he has a nice singing voice,” I console, I am standing directly next to the two women. Their attention turns to me.

“Are you a writer?” they inquire. “What are you writing about?”


“Oh!” they lighten, “so what do you think?”

These seem like nice people. Probably not from Cardiff. I have to pause to be diplomatic after 6 days of wandering this town. “Well, last month in New York City I had 30 great days. One week here I’ve had one pleasant evening. So I couldn’t call it a smashing success.” (My pleasant evening was with two girls I met who were visiting Cardiff from a nearby town, Pontypridd.)

“Don’t you feel like we Welsh welcome you with arms wide open?” the man who was singing suggests while he gestures a big open hug.

“Nnnooooo,” I offer tentatively, “I’ve been surprised that the people here have been shockingly harsh.” I feel badly saying this to the nice people, but it’s true.

“Oh, you’ve met the wrong people then, ” posh woman number two states, who lived 3 years in Montreal with her husband.

“Yes, I certainly have.”

At the Duke of Wellington I meet a homeless alcoholic who talks about his plans to soon visit Ireland. “Where will you stay?” I ask. “I don’t need anywhere to say,” he replies.
Oh right, of course.


My flat rental came with an unexpected flat owner who assumed I wouldn’t mind if he stayed on the couch. If I had rented a flat-share it would have been far cheaper, less than half the amount I paid for an entire flat rental. Additionally, he didn’t tell me of his changed plans and that he would be staying. After giving me an introduction and showing me around, he just didn’t leave. So a couple days later I finally moved to a far more conveniently-located accommodation, a hotel which cost less money and gave me privacy. For some reason, the 5 minute walk to the city centre kept taking 25 minutes and this misrepresentation of the property I also found annoying. The agency refunded my money because they agreed, flat rentals are meant to come vacant, even if the owner does have time-off from his work which usually takes him out-of-town. “But I bought you fish and chips,” the deluded man argued after I’d left.

Anyway, one day while I was still staying there I decided to grab lunch at the neighbourhood pub near the flat. After finding a nice, amicable seat where I’m able to interact with others at the bar I discover that food is not on today. Since I’m here now, I decide, I might as well have a pint anyway, chat with the locals, maybe do a bit of writing and find lunch afterwards.

Before taking a sip of my just-paid-for pint I am shooed-away. Despite there being no drink, no coat, nothing to suggest this seat was already claimed, I am sent away brusquely as the trespasser I apparently am. There’s nowhere else to go but to a segregated table section that’s entirely empty. I take the nearest seat for a few moments and take another sip. This is pointless, I think, I didn’t want the drink, I wanted the experience of the drink. I walk-out leaving my full pint on the table.


A social meet-up, four of us made RSVPs indicating our intention to attend a decent little spot in Cardiff’s impressive shopping district. I arrive on-time and find myself alone. I take a table for 4 and contrive a meet-up sign using my tablet, since I am here ahead of the organiser.

A little more than minutes later, a friendly man about my own age appears. A dweller of the countryside not too far outside of Cardiff, he attends organised meet-ups regularly as he enjoys social situations. He may enjoy them but he is not good at them. Socially gifted, he is not.

I am embarrassed to be with him as he holds service staff hostage to his endless pointless ramblings. The staff are fantastically patient. After twenty minutes pouring over the cake menu he still requires lengthy assistance before his final selection can be made. Deciding on the right sweet is a momentous commitment to this fellow, it is not a decision he takes lightly. Imagine going for dinner with him, I couldn’t abide it. Would I fake an emergency phone call and run out the door, leaving cash on the table in excess of my bill? Fake going to the washroom, pay and sneak away? The kind of man who just will not stop talking and does not pick-up on any social cues, it seems like I may end-up going through the payment process and finding myself awkwardly walking away from him still bantering on. I fantasise about escaping, ending this interaction, while he goes on and on and on.

The two other attendees never show and with portable internet I can see that they also never cancelled. Somehow it is 2 hours before I escape this man’s company. I nearly run as we part ways, early in the evening. He suggests he’d be happy to continue on somewhere else. I will continue on somewhere else, but only after he’s out of my line of vision and out of ear-shot. Whatever way he’s going, I go opposite, and in a hurry. “Which way are you going? . . . .Oh, I’m going this way, bye.” “But I thought you said you stayed . . . .” his voice trailing off in the distance as I round a corner and continue on to reclaim my happy-place anywhere he is not.

(Note: I am a nice person, not generally judgemental and I play well with others. He was simply exceptional, as was my landlord who I should have met briefly and never have seen again, according to my rental contract. Actually, thinking about it, there may be quite a few exceptional people in Cardiff.)

_____________________________Cardiff Sign

Cardiff is not Wales. When I have fully recovered from my stay in Cardiff I may try to visit other places in that nation to see if I can find the warm, friendly, down-to-earth Wales I had imagined.

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Cardiff – Story – Welcome to Cardiff

Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle

“Welcome to Cardiff”

It’s always a shame when travelling to happen upon folks who rub you the wrong way. She hands me some brochures while telling me about the local sights. I open one as she continues speaking, waiting to ask a question about St.Fagans. “If you’d rather read the pamphlets than listen to me then I don’t need to help you, do I,” she blurts in an overly-sharp tone. “Sorry,” I say meekly, making eye contact again. She continues her regular spiel regarding all the various sights that are of no interest to me whatsoever before I get to ask my questions. I have done some research, I already know what sights are of interest to me. I am not the ignorant North American she has pegged me to be.

“I’m going to the Big Pit tomorrow, and I’d like to take a general Cardiff Tour as well as visit St.Fagans.”

“You could do the hop-on-hop-off tour tomorrow and go to the Big Pit on Monday,” she suggests.

“But the Pit is only open on Saturdays now, so I have to do that tomorrow or not at all.”

“Oh yes, that is true.” So helpful she was. That would have been really fun making my way out of the city to a closed coal mine made tourist experience. It’s a big attraction, she had to know that it’s only open one day a week this season. Perhaps she wanted to punish me for being a poor listener to her dribble that she didn’t even sound interested in herself.

My next stop is “The Wales Centre” across from the Castle entrance where one books walking tours. Also I am desperate for a loo so I have in mind to ask for that as well.

The gruff man at the first counter to the right of the main entry is defensive about the walking tours. I have shown no frustration or shortness whatsoever regarding their apparent disappearance when he informs me that there are no tours happening at the moment. Not his fault. He hasn’t heard anything from the guides that work out of this location. This he reiterates three times before answering his now-ringing phone.

Still needing the washroom and him being on the phone, I make a move to the counter around the corner where I ask a younger staff member where I might find a WC. The older man puts his hand over the phone receiver and yells over aggressively, “He won’t know any better than I!” Judged by another tourism representative, this time as being someone who would not believe him, so pushy that I would not accept no for an answer and would try his junior for the same information. I am finding Cardiff defensive and harsh.

“Buy your bus tour ticket before you go into the castle so that you can get a discount by showing the ticket” I am told so that I purchase my ticket in advance of needing it. “Sorry, I can only discount after you have taken the bus tour, ” I am told at the Castle Admissions Desk, “they will exchange your original ticket for a different ticket after you board. That other ticket is the one that can get you a discount.” For some reason, the original purchased ticket, a different piece of paper for the very same thing, is not adequate. I sense a fondness of red tape. And the tourism rep outside who convinced me to buy my ticket early so that I could use it for discount now, has he never heard of this rule?

Cardiff Castle 2Cardiff Castle me_______________________________

Set inside the original library of Cardiff built in 1882, the Cardiff Story is an “abbreviated interactive display’ of Cardiff’s long history. Sharing the building with the Tourist Information Centre where I was so happy to leave, I put off going to this exhibit until a few days later. Basically it was after I had completely run out of other things to do.

The area that makes-up modern day Cardiff has known history dating from 2300 BC. The first Roman settlement built here was in 55 AD. In 1081 the Normans occupied Cardiff and by 1307 the population stood at 2000 people.

Some other notable dates and facts include:
-In 1884, The first International Rugby match was held at Cardiff Arms Park, a legacy that continues today with Rugby matches bringing in loads of tourism pounds.
-In 1886, The Cardiff Coal and Shipping Exchanged Opened, which was the beginning of Cardiff’s main industry.
-In 1905, Cardiff became a city.

Cardiff’s inherent success peaked in 1913, that year saw their highest coal exports. Cardiff was the greatest exporter of coal in the world, mined in the Welsh valleys. The first cheque ever written for £1m was written here in 1901 as payment for a 2500 tonne coal shipment to France.

Eventually the price of coal fell below the cost of local production. In 1926 workers faced a pay-cut and additional hours to keep the industry viable. This did not sit well with the unions and strikes ensued. Decades later, the industry entirely collapsed leaving Wales in very poor shape with very little secondary resources to draw upon. Miners were not highly-educated folk and neither were those in the shipping trades adequately prepared to face new careers.

Wales became a dependent of the UK. From 2007 and 2013 Cardiff was very fortunate when buckets of EU money came their way salvaging the city with mega improvements allowing it to become a new centre for shopping and tourism. (Wales received 1,900,000,000 Euros during this period, that’s 950€ per capita.)

Today, Cardiff has the 5th major shopping zone in the UK set in a very small city of only 340,000 residents. This is a very unusual situation given that being the 21st most populous city, nature would suggest it having the 21st largest shopping zone. It is highly international and it’s also a university town, with 42,000 students in 2012, that’s more than 1 in 9 people in Cardiff. With such a plethora of students as well as a vibrant pub culture, Cardiff is definitely a place to come to party. Several streets close to vehicles on weekends for the safety of stumbling revellers and great crews of cleaners descend on the city in the wee hours of the morning to clean-up the night’s mess.

An amusing section of the Cardiff Story to me was a wall display titled, “Cardiff: A view from the Valleys”. Here’s a very brief summary: Unless they love shopping, they don’t like Cardiff. I am unsurprised, Cardiff is nothing like what I expected and I hope to eventually discover that it shares little in common with the rest of Wales when it comes to the feeling on the street. I have met many lovely Welsh people during my travels, but very few in Cardiff.

A series of 6 slideshows with voice-overs provide six perspectives of the city. I press the English and Welsh language buttons for each story, in not one case is the voice the same in both languages. Only 20% of Welsh people can speak the Welsh language, and fewer still use the language for primary communication. This is definitely a subject of contention, do not suggest that signage need not be in Welsh due to the fact that the very few Welsh speakers mostly speak English. This is not a subject that they want broached, their language is a source of pride and many Welsh people seem to feel guilty for not knowing their “native” tongue or they take courses hoping to some day be able to speak it, needed or not. It is fortunate that they can afford the bilingualism that they do enjoy with regards to public services and such. It’s nice that the money needed to support such language protection is not needed for other social services that would benefit Welsh society, I mean that would benefit the more than 80% who don’t benefit from language protection of a language they don’t know.

I wrote down the narration of one of the 6 slideshows, verbatim:

I go to Cardiff on the train. I don’t go a lot ’cause I don’t really like it, it’s so busy. And it’s just not my type of place really. It’s a bit annoying. It’s tiring going to Cardiff. It’s a bit much to travel down there all the time on the train. You get there and it’s just hustle everywhere. You can’t move. There are too many people about. I usually go there with my girlfriend who wants to go clothes shopping as most girls do. We end up going to all the big clothes stores. It’s fun for her because it’s what she wants to do but I end up getting dragged around and I don’t enjoy myself. There’s nothing for me to do. When I go back on the train I have to catch a bus to where I live. I just feel a lot better when I get off the train, feel like I’m home home again, it’s weird.

Cardiff its just not my type of place really

Well good for Cardiff for having such honest opinions given in their “interactive” displays. (Interactive meaning that you push a button, and the display does what it does.) I understood the young man who told us his story, I felt the same way when I left Cardiff. I felt a lot better myself when I went to friendly London before setting out on my next adventure. After a week in Cardiff, London felt warmer and friendlier than it ever had before to this Canadian globe trotter.


This photo shows the scene often shown in the tv program "Torchwood".  You can see it in Netflix, I really liked it and that show put Cardiff on my radar of places to visit.

This photo shows the scene often shown in the tv program “Torchwood”. You can see it in Netflix, I really liked it and that show put Cardiff on my radar of places to visit.

If you found this posting interesting, please share it with your friends. Please note that the experiences here are only my experiences from spending one week in Cardiff and may not be representative of the city or the people thereof. These were simply the experiences I had. Thanks for reading! Cheers! Darren

Cardiff, Wales – Story – Lunch with some History

It wasn’t the weather that I found to be chilly in Cardiff. But with a mammoth shopping zone and some world-class activities for young people, Cardiff is not without its redeeming qualities.

The story I share here is not very representative of my visit, but it was my favourite encounter in Wales’ capital city.

Lunch from a Bygone era

“It’s chilly today,” she said for the second time, even though it was actually unseasonably warm. In fact, today with a high of 17 degrees Celcius, I had been told earlier that now I did not need to come back to experience summer since I already have. Well that is lucky, I nearly spoke aloud. My experience in Cardiff so far had not left me wanting more. (The typical summer high is only 19 degrees Celcius.)

“It is a bit fresh,” I agreed back. She sat having just ordered, with her shopping trolley for company. “Were you doing your shopping today then?” We’re sat side-by-side at single tables facing the the serving area in the middle of a restaurant/coffee shop on St. Mary’s. Clearly a hang-out for the pensioner crowd when downtown on errands, it looked about my pace today. I’ve eaten in enough pubs and sometimes one wants to pass the gastronomic delights of the trendy cafe culture for some simple food.

“I was to see my Doctor, he tells me it will take a month before my lungs clear up,” she declares, a hand just below her neck. “Did he give you any tablets?” “No, he didn’t. He said it will just go away, but he did tell me to take it easy.”

“I have arthritis from here to here,” she shows me. She still has good upper-mobility for an octogenarian, able to put her hand on the back of her neck and the bottom of her spine. “I do have tablets for that, for the pain.”

“Do you remember the flood we had twenty years back?” she asks but doesn’t wait for a response. “It rained solid for twelve straight hours!” “That’s a lot of rain,” I encourage. “I was a cleaner at the bank. I had this really heavy professional vacuum cleaner, you know, those big shiny metal ones they made, but I wasn’t allowed to use the lift. So, I would put my vacuum into the lift, press the button, and then run down the stairs to get it!” she tells me, laughing at the memory and how absurd it seems today. “There was no way I could carry it, it was way too heavy!” “I guess those were the days of upstairs/downstairs,” I suggest. “Aye yes they were. A cleaner woman wouldn’t use the same lift that customers and front staff used, but there was only one lift so we had to use the stairs.” “Things sure have changed,” I comment.

“I had the day off, I was working six days then. I decided to give my own home a real good scrub. I’d been at it all day and didn’t even know it was raining until my son, he came home, didn’t he, when he opened the door water near filled-up my house!”

“It kept coming and at its highest it were up to here!” she shows me on the wall between us. Nearly shoulder height when sitting, the chair rail. ” I couldn’t believe it! I wasted my whole day! You should have seen the mess! I’ve fourteen steps down to my cellar, very deep, and even after it was all over the water only lowered to just below the first stair.”
There’s a pause as she sips her tea and takes a bite of toast. “Do you have family in Cardiff?” I inquire. “Oh yes, too many family. I don’t know how many grandchildren. I tried to buy things for them to share at Christmas, and Julie, she complained that I never bought her nothing! And what did I get? Nothing!”

“Actually, I did get five gift cards, for five pound each, you know, for Boots or somewhere. There was a big sale at the bookstore so I got myself fifteen books! They were three-for-five pounds. I love reading. ”

“My son, he never left, his Dad died when he was twenty-five so he stayed around to take his place, like. He never married. I told him he should marry, but he didn’t”

“You’re lucky to have your family So close. In Canada, I live in a different time-zone than my mother.” “You’re from Canada? I’ve been there! Fifteen odd years ago I took a cruise of Canada.” (Does she mean she took a tour?) “One place, the guide took us to this great French Mansion, I’d never seen anything like it, and he said, ‘This is where you’ll be staying.’ Well, I couldn’t believe it. I can’t put it into words what it was like, but none of us took the tour the next day, we didn’t want to leave the hotel! I can’t remember where is was.” (There are a number of possibilities, the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec or the Fairmont Banff Springs are probably most likely.)

“Did you travel by yourself?” “I did. I always wanted to go and my son, he told me, if you want to do it Mam, then you should.”

The stories continued rolling until she was done her buttered toast and cup of tea, and I my mixed grill. I thanked her for her interesting stories and we parted ways. As I got outside I looked back and saw her just a few steps from our tables with her trolley taking baby steps.

Getting old is hard, I thought, but we all do and she’s had her turn. She made my day and elevated my feeling for Cardiff. So this is a place that may have had a friendly past. I wonder what happened.

January, 2013.