Journalist for Life

Cardiff gentrifies an ugly duckling

The spectacular Wales Millennium Center dominates the revamped Cardiff Bay cityscape. Poet Gwyneth Lewis wrote, in Welsh, "Creating truth like glass, from the furnace of inspiration,'' and in English, "In these stones, horizons sing.'' The metal facade is stainless steel, tinted with bronze oxide.
The spectacular Wales Millennium Center dominates the revamped Cardiff Bay cityscape. Poet Gwyneth Lewis wrote, in Welsh, "Creating truth like glass, from the furnace of inspiration,'' and in English, "In these stones, horizons sing.'' The metal facade is stainless steel, tinted with bronze oxide.
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.

The carousel is a touch of whimsy amid the modern architecture in renovated Cardiff Bay. In Welsh, the banner advises, "Enjoy the spring in Mermaid Quay' -- the name of the restaurant and entertainment complex.
The carousel is a touch of whimsy amid the modern architecture in renovated Cardiff Bay. In Welsh, the banner advises, 'Enjoy the spring in Mermaid Quay' -- the name of the restaurant and entertainment complex.
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.

Reclaimed from its days as a derelict warehouse and shipping district, Cardiff Bay now boasts, from left, the Wales Millennium Center, the renovated Pierhead Building (constructed in 1896) and the National Assembly for Wales. A water bus runs people between Cardiff Bay and the center of the city.
Reclaimed from its days as a derelict warehouse and shipping district, Cardiff Bay now boasts, from left, the Wales Millennium Center, the renovated Pierhead Building (constructed in 1896) and the National Assembly for Wales. A water bus runs people between Cardiff Bay and the center of the city.
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.

End Bag, the new book from Bob Jenkins, collects his best stories from 19 years as travel editor. Available now on Amazon.com. View a sample at Smashwords.com. Read more about End Bag here.



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