It’s a strange place to go for a football game. When I think of Wales, I always think of rugby, but this was the Champion’s League Final; the most important soccer game of the year. For some ungodly reason, the match was held in the Welsh capital of Cardiff. Presumably because someone paid a lot of money to someone else for the privilege.
Confession #1 is that I had never been to Cardiff before and was ready and waiting to discover a part of the British Isles that I was unfamiliar with. Confession #2, Wales had never really been on my wish list. Still, only a two-hour intercity train from London’s Paddington Station and voila…you’re in Wales or Cymru. What I know about Wales is that its famous for its castles, its rugged interior, and the mountain range known as Snowdonia. Add to that a strong Celtic tradition, a bizarre language, and a history of coal and it’s all a bit of a hodgepodge!
The Sandringham Hotel, our base for the weekend, which was a bit of a scramble because of the Champion’s League Final, was a perfectly centrally located hotel, albeit a little basic. It was a short walk from the station to the hotel and delight upon delight we found that the hotel had another side to its personality. This was no ordinary bog standard hotel. It had a ground floor jazz club that stayed open until 3 o’clock in the morning. Things were looking up.
We were right on St. Mary’s Street, the main drag of Cardiff, where I imagine there are more pubs in the one quarter mile than most cities in the world. For a Champion’s League soccer match or a rugby match, you could say that this was pretty optimal. In addition to that, places seemed to stay open late. Still, we had a lot more to see than just pubs. We had to visit the famed castle and the Central Market which was just off St. Mary’s Street – in fact everything seemed just off St. Mary’s Street!
As it turns out, Heineken had taken over the Cardiff Castle so all we got was the view of the outside. The Dutch had invaded Wales! As for the marketplace, it had a glass atrium, an upper level, and a very Victorian feel to it, but most of the shops had decided to close, presumably because there was a spare 60,000 people in town who wanted to buy something. These guys really knew how to make money! No problem, we wandered around, found a tea shop, and had some Welsh rarebit or Welsh rabbit depending on who you asked (it’s basically just cheese on toast with a lot of brown sauce on top of it).
We went to the game which was truly fabulous and the stadium was remarkable. I believe it was almost twice the size of the town! In the end, Real Madrid won the game and we got to eat at the Charleston’s Steakhouse which is the only place in the world I had ever been, apart from McDonalds, where you must pay for your meal before they serve you. Their secret recipe? They stay open until 4 o’clock in the morning and they were doing a lot of business.
So, Cardiff – a lively city? Yes. A great stadium for soccer and rugby games? Absolutely one of the best in the world. A lot of things to do there? Absolutely not. The pubs stayed open late and no wonder since there isn’t much to do here besides drink, eat Welsh rarebit or rabbit, and have a steak at 4:00 AM. It’s a place I can wait to return to.