I've been to the United Kingdom about a dozen times, and this trip was remarkable for two reasons: (1) We got to see more of England than we have in all those other trips, and (2) we only stayed in my husband's home town of Cardiff for five days -- which means I did NOT revisit some of our favorite spots:
Shopping in Cardiff
That said, there was a lot we did in the city that was new to us. One of the biggest attractions this time around was the new St. David's Centre, which was just a huge construction zone the last time I visited. It's now one of the premiere shopping destinations in Europe.
As I left my ratty old raincoat in hotel closet back in London, I needed to do a little shopping before we hit the moist weather of England's Lake District. Fortunately, our visit coincided with British retail's annual summer sales, so I was able to find a nice little slicker for just £25 (about $40).
St. David's is a welcome addition to a city centre that has long been known for its beautiful shopping arcades, some of which date back to Victorian times.
Idyllic Strolls in Bute Park
One of the first sights I ever visited in Cardiff was the castle that dominates the City Centre. It's such a convenient attraction to visit, we've managed to do so again and again. This time, we skipped the castle and explored the beautiful park and garden located just beyond its walls.
Unlike the Castle, you can enjoy the park without paying an admission fee. Originally developed in the 1870's for the third Marquess of Bute (who owned the Castle and much of the city), It is the largest park in Cardiff. It boasts beautiful gardens, a lovely outdoor cafe, and views of the River Taff.
Art in Cardiff
I can honestly say that in nearly 20 years of travel to the United Kingdom, our family never had the urge to visit an art gallery -- until this trip. And for that, I have social media to thank.
My husband is an avid photographer, and while he proclaims he has no time for trivial pursuits like Facebook and Twitter, he has managed to make a lot of friends on Flickr -- including one of the owners of the Third Floor Gallery in Cardiff.
The gallery is indeed found on the third floor of a building in the trendy downtown section of Cardiff bordering the new development on the Bay. But I do want to warn Americans who seek it out: in the UK, the "first floor" is the one we think of as the "second floor" - so you have to walk up FOUR flights of stairs to get to the Third Floor Gallery.
Fortunately, one of the proprietors was on hand to greet us and offer us refreshments after climbing all the way up there. And the photos on display were gorgeous. This exhibit, "For the Love of the Game," showcased works by veteran photographer Chris Steele-Perkins, illustrating how "football" (soccer) brings people together around the world. This was a very timely show, as our visit occurred during the World Cup.
Not long ago, I would have been afraid to walk the streets down there -- and many of the buildings still look pretty decrepit. But there's a lot of renovation going on, there are hip nightclubs and restaurants and loft apartments being created... and so it's a terrific location for a photography gallery like this.
The Third Floor Gallery is a wonderful addition to the cultural lives of Cardiff's people, but the owners are living the life of the starving artist. Their website currently states that they are having trouble making rent and is asking for donations. If anyone is so inclined, a link to their PayPal page can be found here.