'I'm back and it's about ...'

Life I'm back from Cardiff then, feet aching, head aching, eyes itching and I've got the sniffles. How come whenever I go on what's supposed to be a relaxing holiday I come back in worse shape than when I left? It's probably because I try to cram in more than I should in as little time than is allowed (see also Paris and Nottingham). It was an exciting time, many things happened and I'm going to try and tell you as much as I can. The first thing which struck me as I left Cardiff Central railway station on Tuesday morning was how familiar everything was. The signs are in both English and Welsh, a law passed about twelve years ago to reinvigorate what was a dying language. But the first shop I saw was a Londis, and beyond that a WH Smith. I don't know what I was expecting being on the same mass of land, but I don't think I was expecting that. As I walked around the city centre, it seemed like most others - all of the usual high street suspects were there, if not always in the same order. There are the massive shopping precincts and small markets. I just suppose I was expecting something other. But then it became clear that Cardiff is a city which has treasures underneath and in corners, and finding them was part of the fun. If my own senses and keen eye for idiocy didn't get in the way.

Problem #1. None of the various maps and bits and bobs which I'd download and printed matched each other to some degree or else didn't bare any relation to the city centre as I was experiencing it. Something which I would encounter time and again over the following forty or so hours would be that nothing seemed to make any sense -- in places streets would double back on themselves like an Escher drawing and at other time it even felt like they were moving around. Which sounds crazy, but on more than one occasion I'd spend a good twenty minutes to half an hour walking to a place then hours later of the next day, I'd go a slightly different way and I'd be there in five minutes. How can they be so geographically so different unless they were moving around. Some of you might wonder if it was more to do with me having a lack of a sense of direction, but that brings me to ...

Problem #2: The street signs openly and at times flagrantly contradict each other. The first thing a tourist might naturally do stepping into a city centre for the first time would be to go to the tourist information office. Outside the station is a sign with 'Information Centre' on point towards the middle of town (why everywhere can't be like Leeds and have a T.I. at the station saving everyone some excitement I'm not sure but I digress). I follow the sign until I find another and then another then another - then another. Although this was a good way to see the city centre it was becoming abundantly clear that I was walking around in circles and not getting very far very fast. It came to a head when I walked down a street in the what I later learnt was the café district and found a sign point in the direction I'd just come, which another sign in fact had told me to go. If I had no common sense, if I'd just mindlessly been following the instructions of those signs I could have been walking back and forth in front of that coffee shop all day. So I stopped someone and asked, and she said it might be at the back of a nearby building which it was. As I entered, probably looking a bit bedraggled, I told the clerk that they were difficult to find. He put his head down and sniff and said something along the lines of 'Yup' seemingly as powerless as I was to affect change. Then he sold me another map which felt like just another other version of the truth.

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