Diane & Paul Return to the UK Day 4, Cardiff Wales

DAY 4 - We Take Off for the Land of Welsh Cakes and Doctor Who

We head to Paddington Station, early as always, and so have time to track down Paddington Bear and talk to a Chinese family in London for the first time. The parents have come from China to meet their son, who is studying in upstate New York, and he translates me for them. They ask if
 there is anything famous they can take a photo of but nearby as they don’t have much time, and when I tell them about Paddington Bear, they are thrilled and head off. I go and snap a photo of the big-bellied bronze bear myself.

They only post the platforms at the last minute, and so I stood waiting and watching till they posted “Track 12,” at the far end. We hurried for it, to arrive at the barriers where the guard looked at our tickets and said, “Track 3.” I looked in disbelief and said, “No, they posted track 12,” and he said “Track 3,” and I said, “Are you sure?” (I mean, do I trust my eyes or the voice of someone I can barely understand, who is purportedly speaking English? He is pronouncing slowly, as though to an idiot, “Cardiff, track 3.” (Days later, an English woman in Wales told me they sometimes post the track, then change it.)

Now we REELY really had to run for it, and then had to find our car, D, at the end, and then the luggage racks were full, but we juggled them all with four youngish tall Asian men (speaking Chinese? Tibetan?)  traveling together, looking on, clearly having fun, and they sat across from us. At our station of four seats sat a young blond woman, laptop open like me, typing like me but looking too at a lot of edited paperwork. We learned she had been an English major nine years before, now working in marketing for “the building trades,” and clearly doing a lot of Tech Writing. We asked if she did the writing or edited others’, and she said, “Both, but I’d rather do all the writing myself. They write so badly.”  Paul smiled ruefully as he’d  spent the previous week “Writing by Committee.” It was like meeting up with one of our 1990s UF students now on the job.

We arrived at Cardiff Station and caught a taxi for the .8 mile to our hotel, The Premier, a “B” level sort of change, I imagined like Ibis, where we often stay (but it was full), more expensive than “The Big Sleep,” which was booked but I read on TripAdvisor had gotten groaty. Our first night was 79 pounds (about $120) but much more on the weekend nights. So all in all, one of the posher hotels we’ve stayed at. Color scheme purple. Toilets with two button to flush, depending on, uh, what one is flushing. Honey-colored wood, lots of hot water, and a relatively strong hair dryer (yay!) Twinings tea and Starbucks instant with the pot.

And with nothing till a concert in the evening, we took off to walk Cardiff, the Hays, which is the downtown area with no cars and all the shops and pub and cafes—oh, and the Castle, though we hadn’t see it yet.

There are many arcades, and Paul had heard of a good record store in the Morgan Arcade, and while he looked through Spillers there, I looked in the vintage clothing Oxfam shop, really a nice one. There we found a café called The Plan, which was wonderful, lots of local food options (Paul had potato and leek soup and I had a salmon salad baguette). At the table across from us was an older couple from Chester, who were in town for the four-day "Cardiff Singer of the World" competition, classical singing which has launched opera careers for many people. ****They said the American woman was a great favorite (and we’ve since learned she won: she’s on the TV in a long red dress singing something translated on the screen). On the elevator in our hotel, we met two couples going to the competition that evening, and I said to one woman, “Do you have a favorite?” “Yes, but I’m not telling,” she smiled.

After lunch, we found the Cardiff Market, which is a lot like Cleveland’s West Side Market, and I bought a Welsh cake, which cost 30p. (about 45 cents). It was wonderful, like a very dense sugar cookie or pancake, and small, about 2.5-3 inches, baked on a griddle instead of in the oven, so both sides are flat and golden brown.

And we went back for a nap. I still hadn’t shifted to time on this side of the pond and was only sleeping 3-4 hours a night and was a bit of a wreck. The hour of snooze I caught with my eye mask transformed me into someone bearable, and we took a taxi to Cardiff Bay, a newly- rebuilt up bay area with retaurants and attractions, only 3 miles from our hotel, but we are taking taxis a lot here to save Paul’s ankle, though unlike the woman from LA, we aren’t usually more taxi than Tube.

There, we roamed a bit. On a Thursday late afternoon/early evening, Cardiff Bay was pretty quiet. We went to Crafts in the Bay, the local crafters studios and store, but it had closed, and stopped to see the architecture of the opera house. Hoards of school children were finishing up their day at the Science Museum (and not, I imagine, at Dr. Who, as they might prefer).

We looked at the many good restaurants and settled on Cote bistro, where we had a plate of olives, a Kir Royale (me) and Meteor, a French beer (Paul) and then the 2-course Prix Fixe: me, ratatouille followed by sole and potatoes and Paul had vichyssoise, served warm with truffle oil and a risotto with asparagus and spinach.

At the table on my right were six young people, four men two women that I am guessing were from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. They had very simple but distinct clothes, the two women with their heads wrapped in kerchiefs, Caribbean Island style, one of the guys with a very ruffled distinctive hairstyle. They talked constantly, all at once, did imitations, and at one point, one of them did such a spot-on version of Tiny Tim singing, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” that I laughed and laughed and wondered where they heard it. The old couple to my left sat and read newspapers.  

We’d seen a very bright, medium-sized carousel with up and down horses with Welsh names (Rhianna, Fion….),
and when we arrived, a mother was riding with her very small son. We caught a ride for 2 pound, and then slipped off to walk to the Norwegian Church.
 It’s a white wood structure built originally for the Norwegian sailors that shipped out of Cardiff and now is an arts center with an excellent café.

We were there to hear Terry Neason, a Scottish singer-song writer and also actress and all-round terrific performer. Paul found her and her listing before we left, and I wasn’t keen on going till I heard her U-Tube, “Whole of the Moon” (The Water Boys) which I loved: Terry Neason sings, "Whole of the Moon". The room was set up cabaret style, and we shared a table with a young man named Anthony, a Scot working in IT in Cardiff. He said the economy was bad and free-lance IT work was not plentiful, but he had a Spanish roommate who was a lawyer just trying to find secretarial work as the economy in Spain is a train wreck just now. Anthony had known Terry since he was a child as she had roomed with his parents, so we were three fans—but from the looks of the audience, everyone was, knew her songs. She began with Jacques Brel, which I have loved since the 1970s show, performed poetry (her own and Yeats and Hegley, the latter being pretty funny, and a very funny poem, “Fuck em if they can’t take a joke”), did a generous first set, with some Piaf, a Dylan we had never heard took a brief break, and then did a very generous second set too, with “Whole of the Moon” and her last song and her encore (can’t recall the order) were Carole King’s “Natural Woman” and Piaf’ “No Regrets.”) She was just incredibly energetic and talented, a winner of the Edinburgh Fringe competitions. If she is performing anywhere in the U.K. (the world!) where you are visiting, check out her act.

Afterward, we met her in the parking lot, and she was still filled with energy and generosity and we commiserated about having to do one’s own self-promotion as performer and poet.

They called a taxi for us, and we had a young driver of Yemeni heritage whose family had been in Newcastle for 50 years. His father was with an Englishwoman, and all went well, but he said after his father died, Newcastle became very racist for him, and he felt he had to get out. He felt Cardiff was not racist, that he was comfortable there and liked it very much. I saw many people of various ethnic makeup and detected no racism, either, tho next morning, an older man seemed upset that four young men passing him might be gay, and he asked me (with a hand motion) if they were. I walked on.

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