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Cardiff

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About Cardiff

The Welsh capital is a city undergoing major renewal, as is evidenced by the amount of building and reconstruction that is taking place. Most noticeable of all, particularly for the visitor emerging from the railway station, is the looming modernity of the Millennium Stadium, which dominates the skyline on the western edge of the city centre. This phenomenal amount of development is entirely in keeping with Cardiff’s (Caerdydd’s) marketing slogan: Europes Youngest Capital’. Both in the city centre itself and at the equally impressive Cardiff Bay development, an air of optimistic rejuvenation is almost palpable.

Home of the recently established Welsh National Assembly, Cardiff is currently on an upward curve, virtually a city reinvented since the low points of the 1970s and 1980s. Then it was difficult to believe that less than a century earlier the city had been one of the great powerhouses of the British Empire, exporting vast amounts of coal from the nearby Valleys and steel from the huge plants in South Wales. When these industries all but died out during the last quarter of the 20th century, prospects appeared bleak. Yet, thanks to government and European Union encouragement, new employers have moved in to help fill the economic void. A measure of this successful economic regeneration is the fact that available hotel bed spaces in Cardiff have increased by over 40% in the past five or so years.

Even now, however, visitors should not go to Cardiff expecting the cosmopolitan sophistication of larger, longer established capitals. Located in the south of Wales and looking onto the Severn Estuary, the city was only officially recognised as a capital in 1955 and it retains a friendly small town quality that spirited self-promotion and inward investment have not entirely shaken off, perhaps to its benefit. Even so, it has a vibrant atmosphere and a lively music scene and nightlife, due in part to the presence of 26,000 or so students based at the city’s universities.

The central area, with its seven delightful Victorian shopping arcades and traffic-free streets, extends from the railway station to the impressive castle. This is Cardiff’s traditional commercial and social heart but, increasingly, Cardiff Bay, two kilometres (one mile) or so to the south, is gaining ground in the entertainment and leisure stakes, as well as becoming an important administrative centre.

Modern Cardiff’s dilemma is how more effectively to fuse these two distinct parts into an integrated whole. The Bay, formerly the port area, is separated from the city by an expanse of glum-looking housing estates. There are bus and train connections but these somehow perpetuate the sense of two towns, not one. One possible solution is a tram link but this plan is far from fruition. As with any newborn entity (phoenix or otherwise), Cardiff has further growth to undergo before maturity is reached. However, Wales as a whole has grown in self-esteem now its status as a nation is recognised by the UK government. Cardiff embodies this new confidence, although the city’s ambitions also clearly extend far beyond the nation’s boundaries. It is bidding to become European Capital of Culture in 2008 – a clear indication of the city’s new-found confidence.

Cardiff’s climate is quite temperate, without extreme variation between seasons and rain, sometimes quite a lot of it, all year round.

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