Discover the UK: Cardiff, Wales

Some spectacular modern buildings came out of the regeneration of Cardiff that took place around the millennium.” The Guardian

I am still playing catch up with my blog from my vacation in the UK so be prepared to be spammed with more of my summer exploits over the next couple of weeks (apologies in advance). We set off on a hot and sticky Thursday afternoon over the Seven Bridge to Wales with good friends for a weekend in Cardiff. Now I had been responsible for booking the hotel and was feeling pretty hesitant after my expectations were lower by a Welsh friend who had said the hotel was past its best these days (bit of a worry as it’s a 5*) but as always the good thing about low expectations is things can only get better, and they did!

IMG_6268St. Davids Hotel & Spa in Cardiff Bay

It started when the receptionist uttered those fabulous words at check-in “You’ve been upgraded!” and with that warm fuzzy upgrade feeling we made our way to the top floor of the St. David’s Hotel and Spa to a fantastically spacious modern well-equipped room with amazing views across Cardiff Bay…………and relax! Bags dropped off, next stop was the outside terrace for drinks with a view and time for the weekend activities to start. Hooray!

IMG_6271Views from our room across Cardiff Bay

IMG_6264

IMG_6267Mermaid Quay on a sunny Cardiff evening (where BBC’s Doctor Who is filmed)

IMG_6270

The primary reason for organising the Cardiff trip, apart from seeing friends of course, was to see the Modfather himself, Paul Weller perform at Cardiff Castle. The crowd was a mixed bag of ages with lots of sideburns (think Bradley Wiggins), mullets and Fred Perry polos in homage to Weller’s distinct style through the decades. The castle was the perfect outdoor venue on a sunny Cardiff evening where Weller sang his way through over three decades of songs from his extensive back catalogue.

DSC09968

DSC09969The boys were so excited to see Paul Weller perform

Now we saw Weller last summer and to be completely honest he was a bit of a grumpy git (man of a certain age and all that), hardly engaging with the crowd  but the other half is a big Weller fan so was just pleased with the no thrills set up and amount of music played with about 30 tracks in total, so I was expecting the same again. I was however pleasantly surprised that this time he was a bit more chatty (engaging would be a stretch) but he still didn’t play my favourite ‘Broken Stones‘ track so thumbs down there Paul!. There was way too much new Weller solo stuff for my liking and not enough songs from The Jam and Style Council days and that seemed to be echoed by the crowd when those songs were better received than the newer solo stuff. ‘My Ever Changing Moods‘ from his Style Council days brought an enthusiastic cheer and even more appreciative noises were made when he played ‘Start‘ from The Jam days. The older solo stuff ‘You Do Something To Me‘ brought on a mass singalong as did ‘The Changingman‘.

DSC09970

I’m guessing with twenty-five years as a solo artist he favours his newer music over the older stuff but judging by the age group of the crowd they were definitely more Jam and Style Council fans! The concert closed with the very popular and well received ‘Town Called Malice‘, one of The Jams best known and well-loved hits that sent the crowd into a frenzied dancing and singing beer fuelled mass. Next stop was the strip of bars/pubs adjacent to the Castle and the sights and sounds of Cardiff nightlife (think an episode of Channel 4’s Bouncers, if you haven’t seen it just think messy). We frequented a nearby local pub where an unofficial Weller after-party was in full swing that featured a great local band playing hits from across the decades.

DSC09976Not a bad outdoor concert venue

DSC09971

DSC09972What About Broken Stones, Mr Weller????

DSC09984Not a bad backdrop to a summer concert

DSC09990The bar was a popular area of the Castle grounds

After a good English hotel breakfast, the men were deposited at Cardiff Golf Course and us ladies set off for a day out in the small market town of Cowbridge, in the Vale of Glamorgan. A beautiful old-fashioned town Cowbridge obviously caters for an affluent crowd with lots of high-end individual shops as well as pubs and cafes and the eclectic Happy Days vintage store that is tucked away down a side street.

DSC09994Quaint Cowbridge High Street

DSC09996

IMG_6293

Happy Days is an emporium of all things vintage and it was like taking a trip back through my childhood with all the pre-loved toys (Noddy characters, Snoopy and Peanuts and even the controversial Robinson’s Jam Golliwogs), books, albums (Crackerjack and Tom & Jerry among others were there), vinyl records and an opportunity for local crafters to sell their wares from jewellery to cards, interiors as well as up cycled clothing and upholstery. We had most delicious heart-shaped Welsh cakes (when in Wales and all that) on mismatched vintage plates in the quaint little tea room at the rear of the store served by friendly chatty staff with sing-song Welsh voices (I love an accent!).

DSC00040Happy Days Vintage Store

IMG_0112Lots of childhood reminders in the vintage store

IMG_6303When in Wales you must eat delicious Welsh cakes especially those shaped as hearts, it’s the law!

We strolled down the side street past old redeveloped beautiful Welsh stone cottages and houses that have obviously been snapped up by the more wealthy (Range Rovers, Porsches and Mercedes were a bit of a give away) and stumbled across the Cowbridge Physic Gardens tucked away at the end of the street.

DSC09999

DSC09997

DSC00001

The Physic Garden (Gardd Berlysiau’r Bont-Faen) was created by Welsh Historic Garden Trust in 2004 and officially opened by Patron Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall in 2008. Now I’m not a huge gardens fan if I’m honest, but this small enclave was unexpectedly charming, colourful and actually quite interesting (another worrying sign of old age, before you know I will be a member of the National Trust!).

DSC00035Cowbridge Physic Garden’s is divided into sections according to the healing properties of the plants/herbs for different parts of the body.IMG_0115Run by volunteers the garden, which is free to enter is a tranquil oasis with an array of vivid sweet-smelling medicinal plants, trees and herbs laid out in a formal pattern, typical of a century old physic garden.

IMG_0117

Plants are classified together in relation to their medicinal properties for different parts of the body and centuries ago produce from these apothecary gardens were used for healing, cooking and colouring fabrics. Planting sections were for Bones, Childbirth, Digestion, Eyes, Heart & Blood, Infections, Kidneys, Liver, Lungs, Muscles & Glands, Nerves and Skin, Nails & Hair.

IMG_0118

Back in Cardiff it was time for a quick change and more drinks on the terrace before a stroll around the very vibrant Mermaid Quay which has a host of cafes, bars and restaurants and great for a spot of people watching.

DSC00045Cheeky drinks on the hotel terrace before dinner.

DSC00048Mermaid Quay attracts the summer tourists

DSC00047Sunset views across Cardiff Bay

DSC00050The Cardiff Bay area has been regenerated and is now a hub of attractions and entertainment options for tourists and locals. 

DSC00052The Pierhead Building located in the Bay

DSC00055Wales Millennium Centre covered in verses of Welsh and English is an arts centre and home to the Welsh National Opera

Next stop was Moksh Indian restaurant for dinner, who describe themselves as serving ‘Divine Indian Cuisine’ (they were voted Indian Restaurant of The Year – Wales 2013), a bold statement indeed. The modern Indian restaurant serves traditional flavourful dishes (chocolate orange chicken tikka was certainly unusual) with a contemporary twist using the principles of molecular gastronomy (the science of food, think Heston Blumenthal). I have never been to such a funky Indian restaurant before and the food was divine and certainly modern with flashy foam and everything and well worth a visit just because it’s so unusual and definitely a different culinary experience.

DSC00058Trendy Indian Cuisine at Moksh located in Mermaid Quay with foamy Aubergine above

DSC00059

Saturday was a very early start for me and the other half as we miscalculated the time (my watch was still on Paris time, whoops) and we were at breakfast at ridiculous o’clock after a heavy night out, hilarious NOT! Joined by our friends at the correct meeting time who we quite amused by our weary tired faces, we checked out and took a quick trip to Barry Island, location of the very popular BBC comedy series ‘Gavin and Stacey’.

IMG_6320The beach was busy as expected for a weekend in July and as we strolled along the promenade and past the many amusement arcades and beach where our senses were accosted by the strong smell of fish and chips. It’s quite evident that the programme has helped the tourist trade in this area and vendors are cashing in on the fame. Popular character Nessa can be mimicked with a turn in the change booth and souvenirs and memorabilia from the shows characters is available to buy at every turn. We just stuck to the 2p shove penny machines, another throw back to childhood trips to the seaside.

DSC00079

IMG_6321Athletic types playing beach volleyball

DSC00061Two strange tourists on a oversized deckchair

DSC00068Traditional seaside fun fair attractions like the Carousel and Hook a Duck

IMG_6324

IMG_6332Barry Island cashing in on its Gavin & Stacey celebrity status

IMG_0119The change booth used by Nessa in Gavin & Stacey and the 2p Shove Penny machines

IMG_6328Gavin & Stacey memorabilia for sale 

DSC00073Barry Island is undergoing extensive refurbishment and development

DSC00076

DSC00084Some traditional tunes with the brass band at the bandstand

We headed back across the border after a great weekend with a quick stop for a late lunch at a local pub in the picturesque Wiltshire town of Marlborough before an evening BBQ at another pub in our hometown, The Jekyll and Hyde in aid of Macmillan Cancer Research, can you spot a pattern? Eat, drink, repeat……..

IMG_6339Marlborough High Street and its street market