Home is where the tourism starts: Rhan Un (Welsh for, Part One)
When abroad my own rules on, ‘how to be the best tourist’ always include: Research, see cultural highlights, follow at least some best rated tip offs from online communities, spend money in considerate ways, treat every minute as one I’ll never get back and maximise it, leave less ignorant than before I’d arrived and, most importantly, follow any whimsy that pops up, all open doors are invitations after all.
I trust my list. I follow my list. My list yields cherished results.
Nonetheless, regardless of my own carefully refined list, when I’m a home, in Cardiff, I revert to comfy jumper places and routines. I spend an absurdly large part of every weekend lolling around in my pyjamas. Embarrassingly, I discount activities based on impending doom grey skies and smatterings of rain.
“Pull up your bootstraps Keegan!” the better version of my myself demanded. This month, I’m going to be a list-obeying #touristathome and start exploring with refreshed eyes.
Part 1: Research
Foraging for information about Cardiff felt bizarre. I focussed my attention on the recommendations from 3 sources:
http://Visitcardiff.com/events (Scrolling through outdated material is frustrating, this page is dedicated to the here and now happenings of Cardiff.)
Giant Paper Sculptures, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Free until 29th Oct 2017.
This exhibition spans a total of 5 pieces, but they are 5 wonderfully witty and whimsical pieces more than worthy of your time. If you don’t get a little weak at the knees at being towered over by engorged birds made entirely of paper, their beaks sharp, eyes beady and bizarrely bandy legs planted in colossal feet, your imagination must have died during adolescence.
Sometimes less gives you time to think more. By having to either just take silly selfies and leave within 5 minutes, which nobody wants to do when it’s raining, or pay extra attention and try to engage in less familiar ways, we actually pushed ourselves to understand more than just the superficial size of the sculptures. We commandeered an employee, identifiable by the standard black uniforms of all academic art institutions, and found out the only part of each piece that wasn’t paper, cardboard or tape was the scaffold beam it was all structured around.
Even better, the exhibition was put together in only a week! If you want proof of why the university is regarded so highly, look no further! The students from the BA and Ma courses in Design for Performance, should be commended. The interpretations of the Great Blue Heron, Long Billed Curlew, Spoonbill and Scarlet Ibis had the all the ragged accuracy of Quentin Blake illustrations.
As RWCMD is Wales’ national conservatoire, we chose to coincide our visit with Chamber Tuesday, (6-7pm, a FREE weekly showcase of ensemble work). Seeing the performances with the sun setting behind the trees of Bute Park was strangely soothing considering none of us have any interest in classical music. The event is thoughtfully held in the foyer; lessening the associated formality of listening to live classical music. The seating is also generously spaced and facing many different angles, allowing for you to simply do some work while the music plays behind you; a welcoming and inclusive touch.
Bin Laden: The One Man Show, Sherman Theatre, £15 adults, £13 students, £7.50 under 25s. Friday 20th Oct 2017
With a title like that I didn’t need an excuse to see this show! I’d also been meaning to poke around the venue since its 2012 refurb, the work of Jonathan Adams, also mastermind of Western Avenue’s WJEC building and the better known Millennium Centre, a Welsh born (Caerleon) architect that has significantly improved what used to be an ugly brick rectangle.
The Sherman is the theatre you head for if you want something less commercial, a little offbeat and to run the risk of being offended. The Sherman is the sort of arts establishment that still takes risks; it won the UK Theatre Award for, “Best New Play 2015”, with Gary Owen’s ‘Iphigenia in Splott’. Sophie Melville’s performance scooped “The Stage Award for Acting Excellence” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the production became the first Welsh play to transfer straight to the National Theatre.
It’s therefore with an aggravated heart that I say, neither the building nor the historical successes could hide the fact that Bin Laden: The One Man Show, was terrible. Terrible, with a capital T. To surmise, if you could have coped with the show lacking the punch factor its title promised, (a lack of exploration of any ideas about Bin Laden, or dissident voices in general, that weren’t trite sentimental drivel) and just wanted to score some PC points for seeing a show about a risqué topic, it would have been for you. Personally, it felt like being immersed in a protective blanket of polite, well-meaning, white privilege. I’m not offended by the idea of a white man playing Bin Laden (my companion was) but I did find myself tensing when an audience member unceremoniously had an imitation hair covering, that while being of a reasonable fabric and length, looked as if he were a child in a nativity. Using biscuits to represent weapons of impoverished communities, while hurling himself and his toned, able body, around like a little boy on Ecstasy also missed the mark. You don’t even want to hear my opinion on the flipchart paper scrawling of the Twin Towers (just two tall rectangles in red marker) because it wasn’t even the tastelessness that galled me, it was the fact that it has zero dramatic impact relevant to the story, simply a cheap shock tactic. Yes, Knaive Theatre had done their research, there was a careful timeline, international links explained and a token, “peace be with him” motif running through, but ultimately, the cloying message of, ‘walk in someone else’s shoes before you judge’ made me want to lash out at both the company and the men-children who stood to applaud the shocking display of mediocrity.
Wales Online Cardiff Bucket List for 2017: An article that is well judged because it covers the essentials that aren’t going anywhere, like Roath Park and the ridiculously well-placed castles, but also some new additions and on-trend things that sum up the mood of the hipsters and spenders of the hour.
Science Cream (Castle Arcade), also featured as one of the Guardian’s Top Ten Cheap Eats 2017: If this place had existed when I was at school maybe I would have worked harder in science, in the hope I could one day be part of the magic that is Science Cream. This is sorcery of the highest intelligence… Liquid Nitrogen ice cream, made fresh as you order, so you can gawp and salivate.
To keep the wonder alive time after time, the parlour offers weekly experimental flavours, an outlandish example being, “Bacon & Egg: custard ice cream, candied prosciutto, maple syrup, sea salt flakes” and my favourite being, the mighty Freakshake: “your choice of ice cream served as a shake in a sauce lined cup & topped with flame toasted veggie marshmallow & a homemade cookie”. Unadulterated rainbows, glitter and unicorns in a cup.
Street Food Circus:
My big dirty greasy secret is that I’m no foodie. If I could exist on burgers, extra thick milkshakes, chocolate, Giant Strawberries (of the Haribo variety), crepes, Five Guys fries, curry, poppadoms, naan bread, Cherry Coke… You get the idea. I would.
It’s not easy to be in my 30s, move in quite a middle class social group (despite being from a working-class background), have a former chef for a dad, play roller derby (where there are nearly as many Vegans as tattoo bearing lesbians) and not be ‘into’ food. Somehow I manage it. I turn my nose up at all types of textures, combinations and cold fillings. We won’t even talk about mashed potato.
The idea of paying to enter Cardiff’s Street Food Circus, (£2 per person after 12pm) just to have to pay prices similar to restaurants to stand in huge queues and buy food from trucks, regardless of how pretty they are, wasn’t something I was going to go for. But that was before the Bucket List.
Sneaking in wasn’t an option, so I grimly palmed over my coins and let me scepticism go. The circus big-top tent impressed me immediately, novel idea for a large sheltered eating area, doubles as a protected space for musicians so the programme doesn’t get interrupted and you can become acquainted with local musicians all day long, calculated call for keeping punters consuming.
The daughter of a builder, I’m always eager to spy DIY greatness and SFC gave me some ideas of how to put dad to work. Shipping container bar. Craft Coffee Trike. Tuk Tuk love seat. Caravan Cocktail Bar. Internationally branded beer crates for seats. I was wrong, SFC was worth the entrance fee. The people who have got this project off the ground have poured passion into every detail and it was a delight. The range of food for herbivores was heartening and non-drinkers were offered more than just Coke and water. We whiled away the hours, dipping spoons and poking forks into each other’s plates and bowls and squealing exclamations of approval.
At the moment SFC don’t have any events scheduled, so get yourself added to their mailing list for updates. The summer season, including the one I graced, was held at Sophia Gardens but they use all sorts of imaginative venues. Head over to the website to get in the know: http://streetfoodcircus.co.uk/
Cocorico Patisserie, 35 Whitchurch Road.
Look, this place does serve scrumptious ‘LA TARTINE’ (pretentious way of saying, ‘half the bread of a sandwich for the same price’, or bruschetta) and picky eaters, like myself, will get a thrill from being able to pick everything: bread type, main topping, secondary toppings, dressing and even if there’s a salad garnish or not. Plus, £6.60 is a fair price. Not cheap, but fair considering the freshness and locally sourced nature of products. However, it’s a patisserie, so you’re there for cake.
The cakes are as neatly aligned as you’d expect, in immaculate glass cabinets, but WOAH are they pricey! (And small.) £4.20 for a miserly éclair, come on! A drink and a cake here are going to cost you £7 per person. If, like me, you opt for the more reasonable macarons, £1.30 each, because you can’t resist tasting the rainbow of flavours, you are going to be subjected to pot luck on the quality. My Pistachio one, bought on recommendation from the server, was superb, exactly what you’d expect from a top-class macaron. Smooth shell, proving the almonds have been ground finely enough, an effortless bite through the barely there crust into a firm filling that then dissolves with the rest to offer a lovingly blended mix of sugar and pistachio. C’est manifique! The Salted Caramel one the other hand, was so hard I couldn’t cut through it! It had been chilled for far too long I suspect. Is there an excuse for a rock-hard Macaron? It did still taste delicately balanced on softening in my mouth but was not in the same class as the first one, which wouldn’t make me want to take someone there as a treat.
Deciding to learn some local history to inform my wanderings of the city centre, I spent an inordinately long time on this fantastic little website scrolling through a trophy case of how and why Cardiff is like it is today. http://historypoints.org/index.php?page=the-royal-arcade-cardiff
Why didn’t I know?
The arcades I feel so sentimental about have a history as fascinating as the ones I make up for them? Royal Arcade (#62 on Trip Adviser) opened in 1958 and was built on burgage plots, meaning this curving alley of curiosities was once slum tenement housing. The arcade became Cardiff’s first real shopping centre and the shelter it provided made it as popular for a meeting place as it still is today. “Loitering in this, the Royal Arcade of ‘gentle lovers’” was once commented upon in an 1871 edition of the Cardiff Times.
These days, when I head into the Royal Arcade it is Sobeys that gets my heart fluttering. What. A. Beaut. This ‘vintage’ clothing shop is competitively priced, and the reworked garments are a treasure trove of shapes, styles and sizes to root through. Lots of midriff skimming loose shirts, silk, denim, baggy, A-Line… Ahh, this is where skint and slightly, ashamed-to-be-branded-hipsters come to die. If you want to reinvent yourself in reinvented fashion, go!
I feel I should note here, the manager of the Cardiff branch is so adorably approachable (if she hasn’t approached you first) That you’d be convinced it was her shop. Satisfied employees are a lesser spotted species these days, so it’s revitalising to be in the presence of contentment too. This is a brand I can, and do, get behind. Supportive splurging in Sobeys is my way of trying to support local business and buy as considerately from independents at home as I would abroad.
I feel a little less ignorant than I was about Cardiff, now I’m a tourist at home covert. Watch. This. Space! (Pretty please with a cherry on the top)