Thursday, August 2, 2018

Thar She Blows

Wales, get it, "Thar she blows...Wales"? Get it? Get it?

After a shortish bus trip from Bath I stepped of the bus into a cold, drizzly and dark Welsh day. It was an odd rain that started as a walk-able drizzle. The drizzle intensified but the drops remained the intense drizzle if that makes any sense. As I posted on FB, sometimes the travel gods see your plight and throw you a bone. Today they had mercy on me as I was getting more and more soaked. I stumbled along the downtown walking mall and as I wobbled through a bend it appeared before me like a beacon of civility, Tim Hortons. What the F**? It was not a Chinese knock off or an English clone. It was a fully branded Timmies right there in Cardiff in the middle of a drizzle storm. I went to it like a moth to a zapper light, but without the horrifying death. I must have been a bit starry eyed because as I went to the counter to order my coffee, the smiling server calmly said to me "Canadian sir?" "I asked is it that obvious?". "Oh yes, we can see you Canadians coming from a mile away". So began my stay in Cardiff, Wales. Thar she blows!

The jewel in the crown for Cardiff is the Cardiff Castle. On the day I was there a large yellow banner hung over the entrance. It was a congratulations for Geraint Thomas for winning the 2018 Tour De France. My English castle experience is not huge so my comparisons are limited. The Cardiff Castle was impressive but it did not overwhelm me. Historically interesting and aesthetically eerily beautiful as these types of places usually are. The stained glass was exquisite and colorful.  Considering this place was built in 55AD and is 1963 years old who am I to judge? It deserves all the praise it gets.

Ancient history aside, it was the tribute/remembrance to the WWII that put me into focus. As I said, Cardiff was hammered by the Nazi's during the Cardiff Blitz of WWII. The old walls and tunnels were used to protect the citizens of Cardiff from the Blitz. Incredible real posters of the time hung on the walls bringing attention to gas masks, black outs, water usage, food waste and supporting the home front. There were also real examples of living quarters during the time. As I trudge around England and see firsthand reminders of the various bombing and blitzes on English cities from over 70 years ago I tell myself to be kinder to that generation. Those who I may see on a bus, in a market or crossing the street even if they are a bit grumpy, they have deserved the right to be whatever they want. We have no real idea regardless of how many museums we visit and historical sites we explore.

Not so long ago Cardiff, being a port town, was considerably rougher than it is today. Downtown the walking malls are filled with happy crowds that are shopping, drinking coffee and going to Timmies (Obviously!!). The streets are clean and everyone I encountered was friendly and helpful.

When I arrived, I walked to my guest house which took about 40 minutes with my packs. Using the GPS on my phone, I left the downtown and entered classic Welsh residential districts. Streets lined on both sides with terrace housing that were actually quite pretty. They were designed for a medium density population and would be considered town houses in Canada, without the small front lawn. I walked through various neighborhoods and it was obvious that some were safer than others. I never once felt any fear as the streets were crowded with people from all walks of life. I did have a gut feeling that a few places were not "tourist walking friendly" after sundown.

I was at the Willows Guest House and it was fantastic. Without my bags downtown was a 25 minute walk or bus number 61 came by every 15 minutes. However the main street leading into the street I needed to turn onto was called Splott Street, a perfect name really. It was obvious that this street had some history. The landlady regaled me with stories of its more colorful past. There were pubs on every corner and with that came drugs and prostitutes. The speed bumps were put into place to slow down that cars that were stolen and the thieves would speed up and down Splott Street. There wasn't a police presence at all. That changed about 25 years ago and now there are only 4 pubs in the entire neighborhood. The drugs are mostly gone and gentrification has begun. It was a highlight to sit in a Costas coffee shop and just watch the colorful people who lived in the neighborhood go about their business. Colorful is the perfect word because I have never seen so many kids with hair that has been dyed every colour of the rainbow heading off to school.

I took a boat ride to the Cardiff Docks that have gone through a bit of revitalization. There is some brilliant history here based on coal and at one time these docklands were the largest and busiest in the world. This was one of the primary reasons that the Nazi's focused bombing attacks here which became known at the Cardiff Blitz. The coal industry in Cardiff has collapsed to nothing and these docklands were very dangerous not so long ago. It was quite a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

With the revitalization effort there are some interesting museums and historical buildings. There is a walking trail that follows the harbor. The tide was low but it still provided nice views out into Cardiff Bay. There was a silly carnival, I guess it's there for the kid factor, but it was lame and empty. There were many bored and glassy eyed carnies hanging about sipping from aluminum canteens. I would suspect the coffee had a bit of a bite to it.

I had an early bus to Liverpool and that meant up extra early to have one more Timmies to savor. It's really odd because Tim Hortons coffee really is not that good. However it's Canada and sometimes a little reminder of home is good for the spirit. Now all I can hope to do is stumble across the English Moosehead Brewery

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