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03 January 2006 @ 12:40 pm
Lerwick is the capital of the Shetland Islands, and if you're there for a short time it is most likely because you've stopped off on a cruise. Some cruise ships land passengers there for a morning or a whole day; some, like the Norrona, call on a regular run which includes Scandinavia and Faroe, so that you might find yourself with a few days.

Cruise ships berth either at the Victoria pier, which is in the centre of the small town, or at Holmsgarth, which is somewhat outside it, but only about 10-12 minutes' walk (turn left putside the ferry terminal and go straight on until you get to Commercial Street. See map).

Coach trips

If there for just a day or a morning, the first thing you'll have to decide is whether to stay in Lerwick or go on whatever bus excursions are provided for the passengers. Jarlshof, in the south, is a famous archaeological site and also boasts a spectacular beach and the Sumburgh Hotel, which does good food. On a bright day the journey south will also give you a look at some lovely scenery. Scalloway has a castle and is scenic, though there's not much to do there (the Scalloway Hotel serves lovely haddock, though, and there is an interesting museum). If it's a nice day and you get a chance to go north, to Eshaness, take it like a shot; the red cliffs are unforgettable.

Lerwick

If you stay in Lerwick (and on a rainy day that's probably best), walk down Commercial Street, the only real shopping street in town. It's very old, very winding and atmospheric. The Shetland Times Bookshop is unmissable, and the Shetland Soap Company sells some gorgeous stuff. Shetland Coo ice-cream is nice and there are also local brands of fudge and chocolate. Shetland Silvercraft design and make lovely Celtic and modern jewellery; they have a shop here and a factory at Weisdale in the west, also a coach-trip destination.

The museum is in the process of being relocated. By late 2006 or early 2007 it should be reopened in a brand new building at Hays Dock which promises to be well worth seeing. With any luck, they will get back from the National Museum of Scotland the St Ninian's Isle treasure, a hoard of breathtaking Celtic silver jewellery found by a schoolboy in the mid-twentieth century. St Ninian's Isle itself is fairly breathtaking, but don't go on a coach tour unless they give you time to actually walk out to the island, joined to the mainland only by an amazing silver sand-bar.

The Town Hall has some nice stained glass, a present from Norway. Shetland used to belong to Norway, then to Denmark; it passed to Britain as part of a Danish princess's dowry. Many streets have Scandinavian names and there is a Viking fire festival in January, the Up-Helly Aa. There's an exhibition about this, including a film, in St Sunniva Street, which you might be glad of in wet weather.

But the greatest thing in Lerwick is the lanes, branching off Commercial Street up the hill to the Hillhead. There is a warren of them, many still with their 19th-century houses and very photographable. Reform Lane, Navy Lane, Pitt Lane and Law Lane are especially scenic. Explore at all costs.

Just a bit further inland from the lanes, but still in town - 15 minutes' walk at the outside - is Clickimin, an island in a lake with a broch, an Iron Age fort you can explore. Next to it is the leisure centre, with a very good swimming pool.

Food

Fish is unbelievably fresh and good, wherever you eat it. The Fort Cafe in Commercial Street is a great chippie; the Havly Centre, in Charlotte Street near Fort Charlotte, is a Norwegian cafe that sells great food and has deep leather armchairs that tempt you never to get out of them. It is family-friendly, non-alcoholic and Christian though not pushy about it. The Islesburgh Centre in King Harald Street is good too. Monty's in Mounthooly Street has a good reputation but is a bit fancy for the likes of me. The Raba is the best curry-house (and the most northerly in Britain).

Transport

There are local buses around town but most of it is walkable.
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02 January 2006 @ 05:18 pm
Getting around

By public transport

If you arrive in Cardiff by train or bus, you end up in the central bus or rail station, which are horrendously unscenic and give a misleading impression, but do have the merit of being adjacent and central. Neither, however, has a left luggage facility.

Cardiff buses aren't a bad service, being pretty frequent, but they demand exact money for fares and do not give change. Their web site is here.

There are also train services which go from Central Station and Queen Street station to areas in the north and west of the city, and to Cardiff Bay. These are the best way to get out to the Valleys and the Vale of Glamorgan. At Central they leave from platforms 6 and 7.

The quickest way to get down to the Bay is by bus, but the nicest is by water bus down the River Taff – see their web site here. At present their most central stop is near the train station, but soon they will have one further up the river opposite the castle and hence very close to the civic and shopping centre.

By car

Sorry, can't help. I don't drive and have no idea how to get to, or around, anywhere in a car, nor where to park one. Anyone who can add information is welcome to leave a comment on this post!

General layout

The map here gives some idea. Basically Cardiff lies in a valley basin with hills to the north and the Bristol Channel to the south. Three rivers run from the north to the bay, the Ely to the west, the Rhymney to the east and the Taff through the centre, and either side of the Taff is a great vein of green land, the city's best feature. You can, literally, walk miles through this central belt and see nothing but trees, river and parkland. This green land starts at Bute Park, the grounds of the castle, in the city centre, and goes all the way to the city's northern edge. The castle was originally Roman but was extensively renovated in the 19th century by the architect William Burges. Lots of gothic faux-mediaeval decor and gilding. Next to the castle are the civic centre and shopping centre, a little further south the station and south of that, Cardiff Bay, which is mostly restaurants, bars and general entertainment. The Bay is walkable from the city centre, but it'll take you around 15 minutes; the number 8 bus from Wood Street (just outside the bus station) is quicker.

Shopping centre

There are two main shopping streets, Queen Street and St Mary Street, which are more or less at right-angles and connected by the St David's and Queen's Arcade shopping centres, The Hayes and a lot of arcades. In the arcades you'll find the only really interesting small shops; otherwise I'm afraid it's the same old chains you get everywhere else. The best of the arcades are Royal Arcade and Morgan Arcade, down at the station end of St Mary Street, and Castle Arcade up at the castle end of it.

It's worth visiting the men's department of the one department store, Howells, in St Mary Street, not to buy anything but to find an odd old wall that plainly isn't part of the modern fabric. It's the sole remains of an old chapel, demolished when the store was built, and it contains the monument of Rawlins White, fisherman and preacher, burned in 1555 for preaching protestantism. Those interested in working-class history might also wish to pause outside the market in St Mary Street: although there is no monument, this is where Dic Penderyn was hanged after the Merthyr Rising in 1831.

Near The Hayes is St John's Church; you can climb the tower for a panoramic view. The best of the shopping centre cafes are in Church Street, leading to St John's, or in the arcades (a nice Rombouts, and Crumbs, a vege place, in the Morgan Arcade). There's a Wetherspoon's pub, The Gatekeeper, in Westgate Street (parallel to St Mary Street and leading to the railway station), which has a big non-smoking area.

Civic centre

Cathays Park, as it's known, is home to several civic buildings including the National Museum of Wales. This is worth a quick visit if you like Impressionist paintings, because I doubt there is a better collection outside France than the Davies sisters' collection. Otherwise it's your average civic museum with stuffed animals, industrial relics etc.

Cardiff Bay

Map here. Tiger Bay, as was, now renovated and reinvented by a barrage, very scenic and happening, probably best known as the location for a lot of the new Dr Who. The Bosphorus Turkish restaurant, on a pier, is where the Doctor dated that woman who turned out to be a green slimy alien and nearly got blown up. On the next pier is Cadwalader's café, which serves its own peerless brand of ice-cream. The place is full of pubs and restaurants (Scallops has a good reputation and a resident cat, which I always think a fine recommendation for a fish restaurant), but the really must-go café is the Norwegian Church (see here), which serves Scandinavian fishy stuff, open sandwiches and cakes of staggering variety and quality. It is where Roald Dahl was christened but is now an arts centre. There's a place called Craft in the Bay where you can buy nice designer stuff if you have a lot of spare cash, and the water buses do lots of trips around the bay and up-river. The Bay is a nice place to be, especially in bright weather.

Further out

The Museum of Welsh Life, out to the north in St Fagans, is well worth a visit: a vast tract of land with re-erected buildings from medaeval times to mid-20th-century terraces and a miners' hall. A little castle too. Over the road, the Plymouth Arms is supposed to be a good place to eat. It's served by the 32 and 320 buses.

Also in the north, Castell Coch (the Red Castle) has been the location of umpteen films; it looks like something out of a fairytale. Another William Burges building, in a lovely setting, served by the 132 bus.
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02 January 2006 @ 03:57 pm
Hi. This is a community I set up because I travel around on short trips a lot. When you're only going to be somewhere for a day or two, you want to know in advance what you should see, where you should go etc, and I'd found that for some things, guidebooks were a lot less use than LJ friends who knew those places well. Like "where can a vegetarian eat in such-and-such a town?", or "is it worth a bus trip to see this museum?" Or, indeed, "is the bus service any good?"

I'm going to start by doing a rough guide to my home town and what you can do in one or two days there, with links to useful information sites, and I hope others will add entries for their home towns. Additions to posts already here can be made as comments on those posts - it might help if each post has as title the name of the place in question.

I'll file all posts under individual places in "memories", ie a memory category for each place.