I hadn’t been to Cardiff, Wales’ working-man-tough capital, for 10 years. My, what a change.
The formerly defunct dock area around Cardiff Bay began its rejuvenation in 2000 with the opening of the cutting-edge St. David’s Hotel & Spa. But while it glistened, it was a lonely sparkle in the former industrial/warehouse area.
Now, it is outshone by a splendid performing arts building, the Wales Millennium Center, its spectacular facade and interior a thoughtful invocation of Wales’ natural resources: slate, lumber, coal, even the sea.
Adjacent is the surprisingly impressive National Assembly building — in which the circle of 60 members sits beneath a sort of a funnel made of slats of wood. Each legislator’s desk has a large computer monitor so that, as city guide Stephen Griffin notes, no one can try to stall a debate by misrepresenting someone else’s remarks — the specifics can be onscreen in seconds.
In the gallery above the glassed-in legislator’s floor, visitors have the choice to listen to the discussions in English or the increasingly common native language, Welsh.
A few steps from these imaginative buildings is the restautan/boutique district Mermaid Quay. While the cuisine options range from French to Turkish, even the upscale pubs tout locally sourced foods — cheeses, vegetables, seafood and, of course, the lamb that TV-show chefs endorse.
Also on the Quay are a merry go round, a clever rent-it-here/drop-it-there bike center — a precursor to the nearly 5-mile, no-motor-traffic cycling path being completed around the Bay — and the waterbus to the city center. Across the now-enclosed Bay ( oxygen is pumped through it to keep marine life healthy) is a new artificial white-water canoeing course.
Yet not 25 minutes from the rejuvenated Cardiff Bay industrial area is Rhondda Heritage Park, where former miners take you underground to help explain what once made Cardiff the world’s No.1 coal-shipping port.
“You used to be able to ask anyone, what are you in — coal, steel or iron,” recalls Griffin. “Not anymore – none of them is dominant. Now it’s our sheep, and tourism is growing, growing …”
I’ll be reporting further on tourism aspects after my fourth visit to Wales.