I am starting to write this post on May 27 in the morning, sitting in “Coffee One” located in Wood Street, Cardiff. The best coffee I have yet to find in the UK. An old Welsh man is sitting two meters away from me, reading a newspaper written in a language that I would never imagine pronounceable. It’s a large, yet cozy place, well decorated and definitely an inviting place for breakfast & coffee.
Stretch to the left.
To the right.
… Now to the left again.
Repeat that for 10 minutes and you get a clear picture of the immensely complex process of waking up yesterday at the comfy bed of the Rainessance Hotel in Manchester. I woke up and felt an urge to start walking about in the room, to make sure that it is as big as it seems—an urge that was suppressed within a few seconds as (a) it is insane, and (b) I should really get going if I want to catch the train on time.
Checked out of, and left the hotel into a semi‐cloudy morning. Not too many people roam the streets of Manchester’s city centre at the morning, but you know those people who are hired for minimum wage in order to shove all bunch of ads and papers into your hand as you pass them by? well, they were there. They always are. I think there were more QSSs (Qualified Soliciting Specialists) in the streets than innocent passer‐byers.
Almost‐tasty Panini and a cup of coffee at a Costa Coffee store next to the station; my ass parked on one of those inviting couches. Looking outside I see busy people shuffling around. Some people call it “vibrant life”, I call it “stress”.
On the 10:30am train from Cardiff to Brighton. Chose to take a longer route (time‐wise), earning one less train‐change and I don’t need to change trains in London, thank God.
At the other side of the aisle, a mature ma’am sits, looking a bit tense; a bouquet of white roses lays on the table in front of her, and she is focused on the view, be it picturesque rolling hills or boring train stations such as the one in Bristol where we’re stopped now. This must be a students town as the train is now flooded with youngsters.
I seem to recall sinking into deep thoughts about money, people’s rush after it and what the hell is the purposes of all of that—while sipping my coffee; recalling certain events from my not‐so‐distant past, which are so tightly related to the type of hustle and bustle reflecting through the cafe’s windows.
I am happy to be here.
Train left Manchester right on time; direct service to Cardiff Central station, in Wales (also a part of the UK). I used the entire ride time for blogging; time goes by quickly when one is busy typing nonsense onto a 10‐inch laptop, and before I knew it the train arrived at Cardiff.
Signs here are in both English and Welsh. Don’t even try reading / pronouncing the Welsh words (unless you can speak Welsh of course); it wouldn’t make any sense to you.
As you leave the station, it’s very easy to get orientated here. Most hotels are within a very short walking distance from the station, and it’s pretty easy to realize which way is to the city centre. The Sandringham Hotel, where I was going to spend the night, was located at the city centre, about 3 minutes walk from the train station—an easy walk up St. Mary Street, one of the main routes in Cardiff’s city centre.
Some construction going on on St. Mary’s street. Not too much action—nothing like, say, Manchester. It was around noon or so, and the streets weren’t busy at all.
Arrived at the Sandringham Hotel and checked in. What a disappointment, what a drop in quality comparing to last night in Manchester; I guess that for £40 (Priceline doesn’t offer any auctions here) I shouldn’t have expected much anyway; but still, come on. Situated in an old building and in urgent need for some renovation, this hotel offers dusty, primitive, small rooms that are really only suitable for those who aren’t planning on spending any time in the room (except for sleeping).
An envelope was waiting for me at the reception. Orange UK sent me a 3G SIM card to replace the 2G one I had received in the store a day earlier. It goes without saying that replacing the SIM card was the single most urgent task for me, I am not a big fan of procrastination especially when it comes to technology. Luckily the process went smoothly; finally, fast mobile Internet connection through my BlackBerry. Life can go on.
I so wanted to just step out of this dusty despicable “hotel” room that I just stormed out. Knowing nothing about places to dine and not wanting to start doing research, I asked the receptionist for information about good restaurants; turned out there’s a good Italian restaurant just around the corner in Church Street. Good spaghetti with some meatballs hit the spot just right, and I left the place to explore some more of this place.
After about 10 years I seemed to have finally reached the decision to go for a new pair of glasses. Paid a visit to a local optics store; browsing the inventory I finally found a frame that I could live with, which I ended up not taking since (a) I realized it costs half the price if ordered online, and (b) I am known to not have the best taste in anything wearable (clothes, glasses, shoes, you name it) so, barring the opportunity for a second (or third, or fourth) opinion, I decided to wait for a better time.
Or perhaps you could help: what do you think? (change the “color” to CVL) http://www.optiquevision.co.uk/glasses/emporioarmani/9581
Received word that the American gang has finally made it to Cardiff so I went to meet with them at their hotel (Marriott). Located about 5 minutes walk south from my hotel, the Marriott is located where whatever is exciting in Cardiff is. A nice area full of bars, restaurants, cafe’s and whatnot.
A visit to a local bar for drinks, chit‐chats, laughs and we went on our way towards the venue, located just a couple of minutes walk from where we were. Seems as if all interesting things in Cardiff are located within walking distance.
The Cardiff International Arena (abbreviated as CIA… nice) (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardiff_International_Arena) turns out pretty much the only venue in Wales used to host sizable events. It is located at the city centre and features a dragon‐shaped logo. Spooky.
Ticket pickup was a breeze, as always; the five of us had some time to kill before the concert so we passed the time chatting over a drink. At some point, I went inside to take some photos for you.
Wikipedia claims that the CIA’s capacity is 7,500 but it doesn’t look like it to me. It is fairly small; If you look at the last picture, at the highest row… well, that’s just about it, and the distance between the very last row to the stage isn’t that big.
Back to my American friends, some more chit‐chat and we entered the hall as the concert was about to start. For the first time in the UK, we weren’t seated together: my seat was at the very centre of the front row, and between myself and the gang there was one seat occupied by a lovely lady (who, as it turns out, also follows this blog. Hello there, how are you?).
It’s weird being one seat away from the American gang… hopefully such separation won’t take place too often.
The show started on 8:00pm to a mild cheer by a tired audience.
Cardiff really didn’t strike me as a city filled with over‐excited individuals, as I was walking its streets earlier that day. Very reserved audience, reminding me of the notoriously quiet audience in Belfast—although standing ovations did take place from time to time, by courageous souls that decided to break the ass‐seat linkage.
The concert was great, as (almost) always despite the sit‐down crowd. Mark appeared to be happy and positive just like the night before in Manchester, smiling a lot. He told us about the doctor that takes care of his trapped nerve—turns out that that doctor’s hobby is motorcycle racing; quite peculiar for a doctor that you just happen to assign your trapped nerves to.
“What’s next? a trapped neck?” he then said, joyfully impersonating a choking man. I found it awfully funny.
So… between the laughs we did get to listen to some great music. Lately, the show has been less about Mark and more about the talent that just shines out of the wonderful musicians surrounding him. We get a different performance of the transitional parts of a few songs (What It Is, Sailing to Philadelphia, Marbletown and the like), every day. The symbiosis of John & Mike keeps on generating pleasant surprises.
(Had anybody asked me for my opinion, I would say that there definitely is some room for John and Mike both playing the flute during the Sailing to Philadelphia outro part. Even a simple two‐flute harmony would make miracles here and open up endless opportunities for exploration. But nobody asked for my opinion so I’ll shut up)
“Here’s another thing that can go horribly wrong” said Mark as he was handed an acoustic guitar by one Mr. Saggers. I thought of it as quite a peculiar introduction to playing Get Lucky, until I took a second look and noticed the capo on the second fret and realized what’s coming. Mark then went on to tell the audience the short version of John Monteleone’s story, mentioning that the song has been only played twice before (the first time—that I know of, anyway—was at the Hurlingham Club charity concert last September; the second time was in NYC during this tour. It should be noted though that, at the Hurlingham Club concert, the American band members weren’t there so this is a pretty “fresh” song for this band to play).
Monteleone sounded beautifully as John McCusker helped Guy condense a 40‐piece orchestra into one keyboard and one violin. Beautiful violin work by John, beautiful performance of a great song by the entire band. I loved it. Short, quiet song… as simple as it is beautiful, performed perfectly.
(OK, there was a small variance comparing to the studio version. During the line “too quick or too careless”, the word “careless” was accompanied by a B chord rather than a G♯m7; told you I’m picky)
Marbletown featured John taking on a more “lead” role during the jam part. Was nice to see the band recovering from John’s switching in to a 3/4 beat for a couple of bars, or maybe it was planned? I don’t know, anyway, I didn’t see it coming but it was all good.
The stage’s security staff made sure that at least two feet separates the audience from the stage, much to our disappointment but hey, rules are rules; at least they did it gracefully, I must say.
Another great concert ended.
Leaving the venue, we all went to a nice pub just across the street from the CIA. It just happened to play some Dire Straits tunes. I’m telling you, it was bizarre to be in a pub filled with upbeat, talkative people having drinks of all sorts, while Brothers in Arms plays in the background. For some reason, that song never quite caught on as a pub song (duh). For the first time in quite a while, I was able to actually finish an entire pint of beer—it was a very weak beer, though. I think I’ll stick to wine from now on.
Mike met a father and son having a drink just outside the pub. Turns out the boy was raised listening to Dire Straits music almost exclusively… what a great way to raise a child. Time went flying as we all had some good laughs, then we left to grab something to eat.
Took a few photos of Cardiff at night, just for you.
We ended up in an Indian restaurant that was pretty much the last restaurant to remain open at that time. Wonderful Indian meal and we all went back to our hotels—the Americans to the magnificent Marriott and myself to the sh*thole that shouldn’t legally be allowed to call itself “a hotel”. Took me more than a couple of hours to fall asleep as the hotel is located at the city centre and stupid youngsters seemed to be having club fun right downstairs.
Signing off this post as the train approaches Fareham, where I have to switch trains on my way to Brighton.
P.S. Last night’s show was the 35th concert in the “Get Lucky” tour featuring neither “Before Gas & TV” nor “So Far from the Clyde”. This is my blog… and this is my own tiny, meaningless, private protest. :-)