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Urban Cardiff

This morning, the first Urban Outfitters store in Wales opened in our very own city of Cardiff. I admit I did get quite excited as soon as it was announced. I will confess at this point that I have never actually made a purchase in an Urban Outfitters store, but I love wandering round and looking at all the creative things they stock that I would buy if I had endless disposable income. Their stores are always a visual treat, with wonderful interior design and planning.
Queuing outside new shops isn’t something I do habitually, but as my office is less than a minute’s walk from the new shop, I decided to make an exception this time. They announced on their Facebook page that it would be opening at 10am, so I took an early lunch break and set off at 9.57. There was one other person there, so together we waited.

Urban Outfitters Cardiff

Looking in through the door.

Soon enough it was 5 past 10, then 10 past. Eventually one of the staff came to the door to tell us it would be another 15 minutes. I considered going back to work, but figured that if I’d been there 15 minutes I may as well stick it for the duration. Sure enough, 15 cold minutes later they opened the doors.

In I wandered, wide eyed. The staff were very welcoming but there was not a gift or freebie in sight. I know it’s rude to expect gifts, but generally at the ‘grand’ opening of such a high-profile shop one might at least be given a discount voucher as a reward for waiting outside.

Nevertheless the store did not disappoint. It’s an absolutely huge shop unit, large amounts of the old David Morgan store, at the site that used to be Borders. The construction of the building means that natural room-like areas are created. They’ve used this really well in the decor by putting each collection in a different part.

Urban Outfitters Cardiff

Large spaces are used for creative displays, whilst maintaining original features like these fab windows.

As well as creative outfit presentation, they have all sorts of quirky accessories and plants around each display which really adds to the experience of walking around the store.

Urban Outfitters Cardiff

Quirky design accessories.

I really enjoyed the way that it’s all a bit of a cross between a funky city loft and a department store. The fitting rooms look a lot like a living room, with sofas and reading material. Perhaps unnecessary but it is a really clever use of a big space that maintains a purpose.

Urban Outfitters Cardiff

The fitting room area.

My favourite ‘room’ area could probably be described as a reading room. This is the sort of unique idea that a smaller shop unit just wouldn’t be able to accommodate, so it’s lovely and different. It also houses one of two iMacs that are available for browsing the Urban Outfitters website.

Urban Outfitters Cardiff

The reading room.

As you may have read in other places, the store will also be used to showcase the work of local artists. I hope to see lots of this as it becomes established.

I was very well behaved and managed to return having not blown my entire month’s salary on pretty things, but I did really enjoy the experience. I can see it being the sort of place that people go to enjoy rather than just shop. It’s almost a shame there is no coffee bar in there, they’d have me converted in no time!

New Blogger Wanted!

My awesome co-writer, Raitapaita, will be leaving Cardiff at the end of December. She’s off on an exciting adventure to work as an au pair in Finland. You can read more about that on her blog.

This, of course, leaves me all alone on the AlmostWelsh front. Of course, I’ll continue to present you with my reviews and news about Cardiff’s happenings, but it would be great if another co-writer (or two, or three) wanted to join in and help me make the posts a bit more frequent.

Our joint philosophy when we started this blog was that we aren’t Welsh and aren’t from Cardiff but we’ve been here for a while now. We love it, and we feel like adopted Welshies. We’re also very excited about telling other people how great Cardiff’s art, culture, events and other happenings are.

If this is something you think you’d like to do, then come and write for us!

Leave a comment on this post if you’re interested, or speak to Chloe at the Cardiff Bloggers Meetup on Tuesday!

Wales Rally GB

N.B. This is a post about the Rally from a slightly under-informed but very enthusiastic new fan’s perspective. For Rally results and all the facts, figures etc please click here.

On the evening of Wednesday 10th November after a post-work cider and chips from Caroline Street I take the Bay Car bus to Cardiff Bay. On the bus I hear the sound of a souped-up engine and an unidentified rally car roars past. The World Rally Championship (WRC) has arrived in Cardiff.

The bus drops me behind the Senedd next to Service Park B and I prowl the perimeter fence but it’s not open to the public. I stop to help a couple looking at the map of the “Rally Fest” area – it’s nice to have insider-local knowledge – and then march up to Service Park A where the big boys are.

I arrive outside Petter Solberg‘s pit just as the Norwegian is heading off to Shakedown (a practice run of Special Stage 1 which will take place on Cardiff Bay barrage on Thursday night) and manage to grab a quick snap of his car.

Next thing some headlights appear from the depths of Service Park and a Citroen with Red Bull livery approaches. The Ice Man exits Service Park too quickly for me to get a picture. “Kimi!” I involuntarily squeal to no one then grin sheepishly. Then Jari Matti Latvala drives back into Service Park. Again this is too sudden for me to get a picture…I need to have my camera ready!

I head off for a recce of Service Park. I need to know where all the big boys have their pit garages for tomorrow night when my dad and sister come to see the Rally.  I spot a guy in a dinner suit looking at a map of Rally Fest and decide to be a friendly local and ask if he needs any directions. He turns out to be a dashing American who lives over in Penarth and was worried about road closures (‘helpfully’ the map of the Rally route cuts off half way across the Barrage). I advised him (totally incorrectly as it turned out, whoops) that they wouldn’t be closing roads in Penarth just the Barrage.

After ascertaining where all the drivers’ pits were I headed back to the bus stop. Damn. 20 minutes until the next bus. But my wait was made eventful by the fact the drivers were using the road to get back to Service from Shakedown. First I saw Petter drive by and have to stop at the traffic lights. I ran up the road to the lights and then just stood there grinning (luckily there were some photographers there taking pics so I didn’t feel so conspicuous). Next Mikko Hirvonen had to wait at the lights and again I was there to stand grinning and waving – what a fan girl!

Thursday night and my sister Georgia (@susi36) and our dad have arrived to watch SS1 and have a day of Rally action up in the mountains on Friday.  We have dinner at IKEA and then walk down to the Bay, Georgia and I waving our suomen lippuja (Finnish flags) and arguing in pigeon Finnish about who has the best flag (hers is the veteran of at least 3 WRCs and numerous other motorsport events).

Me, Andreas Mikkelsen, Georgia

Me, Andreas Mikkelsen, Georgia

We go into the WMC to buy our tickets for SS1 and surprisingly there’s quite a queue. Then it’s announced that tickets have sold out. Damn! Dad is the most upset, Georgia and I are good at finding the silver lining in situations like this.  We decide to walk over to Service Park B and see who we can find. This pays off as we get a pic with the super-sexy Andreas Mikkelsen but otherwise there’s not much going on. We try to work out if we can stand somewhere on the road to catch the cars as they drive from Service Park to SS1 but after chatting with a marshal it seems we can’t access their route to the stage. We decide to drive over to Penarth and see if we can see the cars as they drive onto the Barrage (they start SS1 from the Penarth end). We park a little way away from the Barrage and, spurred on by the sound of revving engines and the sight of headlights, jog to the Barrage through the lashing rain and gale-force wind!

Me, Georgia and Dad, SS1

Me, Georgia and Dad, SS1

We are pretty pleased with ourselves for figuring out to come to this end of the stage especially as the cars stop right in front of us as they are let onto the stage a couple at a time. Unfortunately we seem to have missed the big boys so my hopes of seeing Kimi up-close are again dashed but we do see Andreas again and some lesser-known Finnish drivers including one Finnish co-driver who has walked up to the start of the stage to see what’s happening (there seems to be some confusion with the order the cars will go through) and nodding to me and Georgia and our flags says “hyvännäköinen” (looking good). Squee!

Georgia and Dad had a great, if cold, day out on the stages on Friday. Friday evening I decide to pop down to Service Park just to see if anything is happening. I timed my arrival perfectly, stepping off the bus just as some of the cars pulled up outside the side of the Red Dragon Centre for scrutineering. And Kimi was there…

The Ice Man Cometh

The Ice Man Cometh

I didn’t get a photo with him. Some fellow fans called him over with mournful cries of “Kimi! Please, Kimi.” He scrawled 3 autographs without smiling or looking up and the walked away to stand with his crew. I think people knew not to call him over again. He then got in the car ready to drive it to Service Park. He sat inside alone and perfectly still as a press photographer photographed him through the windscreen. He obviously hates this side of Rallying: the fans and photographers being so close and access being a lot less restricted than in F1. Also perhaps he wasn’t enjoying waiting around in the cold for something to happen – but that’s at least 50% of what Rallying is about for both fan and driver!

Me and Mikko Hirvonen

Me and Mikko Hirvonen

The other drivers seem to tolerate the fans better. I interrupted Mikko Hirvonen talking with his crew and having a drink to ask for a photo and he was more than willing to oblige. But Kimi is different, “Kimi is Kimi.” Maybe one day I’ll get that prized photo and maybe get to exchange a few words but I doubt I’ll get a smile from the Ice Man.

Kimi

Kimi

London Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
St David’s Hall, Cardiff 7th October 2010

This was the opening performance in St David’s Hall’s new International Concert Series. This year’s is a fantastic season both in repertoire and artists and features orchestras including the Staatskapelle Dresden and London Symphony.

The concert opened with a ‘Scherzo Fantastique’ by Josef Suk, a work unfamiliar to most. Järvi’s direction led the orchestra through a wonderful execution, demonstrating Suk’s nationalist and folk influences superbly.

Next was Schumann’s only piano concerto, with soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Bavouzet is very much a character, and entered the stage with as much pizzazz as that with which he went on to perform the concerto. His enthusiasm and physical motion made an enthralling performance of a work not always thought of in this way.

Dvorák’s New World Symphony completed the programme, with Järvi making some fairly unorthodox decisions about tempi. The first movement set off at quite a pace, much faster than one expects to hear it but this lent it a driven excitement that it was easy to be carried along with. The slow movement, however, did become a little turgid in the middle as it was played rather slowly. That said, the cor anglais solo was performed with beautiful, elegant tone.

The orchestra, throughout the concert, showed a little too much disregard for the music and came across, as professional orchestras sometimes can, as being bored of the music they were playing. Whether or not this may be the case, other orchestras tend to hide the fact a little better. At the end of the slow movement in the symphony, the orchestration was stripped back to the front 8 string players, who didn’t seem to be able to finish phrases together. This was a little too noticeable.

That said, the audience was ever appreciative, with a contingent of what might be termed ‘groupies’ on their feet and whooping away in an upper tier at the end of the concert. Several other audience members also stood as Järvi encouraged the whoopers, who kept the applause and thrilling atmosphere going for a good few minutes.

The Magic Flute – Welsh National Opera
Wales Millennium Centre, 6th October 2010

The Wales Millennium Centre, purpose built for opera, really does the genre justice. Even from seats in the upper circle every one of Mozart’s notes, each sound and every consonant was crystal clear.

The visual appearance of this production is much talked of, and rightly so. The set is minimalist with several doors on and off stage, and relies on the excellent lighting design to change scene and mood. Simple colours are used to characterise people generally, with Papageno’s and the Queen of the Night’s costumes more complex.

Neil Davies’ Papageno was the highlight, sung wonderfully with just the right amount of comic timing. Also very commendable were the Queen’s ladies in waiting who moved in unison and sang with a beautiful vocal blend.

The only let-down of the evening was the audience. Coughs and splutters were almost constant from all over the auditorium and one person’s mobile phone even rang towards the end of the first act. Although many are aware of the conventions of being an audience member, one wonders if the opera would benefit from a pre-show pep talk about keeping quiet and turning your phone off. The cinema doesn’t suffer from it.

Cardiff Girl Geek Dinner

@ The Promised Land, 23/09/10

This was my first Cardiff Girl Geek. I brought along my fellow blogger vanillalatte_1’s other half Drew as my ‘plus 1’ (guys can only attend if they are invited by a girl).

We were greeted by Chyrelle and Claire the two very smiley and friendly organisers and asked to wear name stickers which was a really good idea although I think I should have put my Twitter handle (@raitapaita) on my tag a la @reinikainen to try and get some more follows. Plus it might have been a conversation starter.

Drew and I jumped straight in there chatting to Aussie twitterer and techie Mark (@markheseltine) about whether blogs should be used as money-spinners through using adwords etc (Drew is of the strong opinion that they should) and I whinged a little bit about  how tweeting about two niche interests – Finland, and MotoGP – means I’ll never have many followers and am constantly alienating at least half of them at least half of the time.

After a little more chitchat dinner was served. Drew saved me a seat whilst I had to do a little eyelash fluttering at the server to give me two plates of chilli. Whilst in the queue had another little chat with Mark about school dinners and tuck shops as the guy ladling out chilli and us all forming an orderly queue (with @reinikainen first in line) had reminded me of school days.

Over dinner Drew and I discussed his MsC dissertation project and the problem of referencing code written by someone else (well, look this is a geek dinner!)

After dinner is was time for a talk by Dr. Kelly Page on ‘The Gendering of Digital Media Knowledge: Is it really all about Sex?” The talk was a short introduction into her research interests and some of the issues, questions and problems surrounding using ‘gender’ as a definition and a quantifier in research. I especially agreed with her point that gender is not binary (boy/girl) but a spectrum of masculinity and femininity and therefore to group results into boys think/say/do, girls think/say/ do is fairly meaningless. But then we’re faced with the problem that making gender a spectrum “muddies the waters” and makes the answers to a lot of questions “we just don’t know.” The gender issue of course applies to any field of research but is perhaps especially interesting / relevant in the emerging field of digital media knowledge which,  although perhaps seen by some as a male-dominated field is affected by the gender-neutral and anonymous nature of the online world.  The talk blew my mind a little bit and I’m not sure I (after 2 glasses of wine and a belly full of chili) completely grasped everything Dr. Page was saying but she was a great speaker: bubbly, lively, inquisitive and engaging. She asked for questions at the end and quite a few people piped up. The question that interested me most came from @reinikainen who, after Dr. Page made the slip up of saying “The web designer. What does he do at the weekends?”, introduced the idea of how language influence gender stereotyping. He used the example of the Finnish language where one word – “hän” – means both he/she and it so in Finnish you can’t gender stereotype in the same way.

After the talk there was more mingling and chatter. I enjoyed listening to Girl Geek organizer Claire and Drew discuss the South Wales music scene and community with especial reference to under-used concert venues in Cardiff. We moved downstairs after the advertised finishing time of 830 and I got chatting to a group of Cardiff girl tweeters including @grainyknits and @nicintosh – nice to make some new Twitter friends.

The chattering continued and I ended up outside under the patio heaters with Chyrelle, Claire, @reinikainen Dr. Page and some others to carry on slightly more tipsy and less geeky conversations on, amongst other topics netball and cigarettes. We stayed until the staff switching off the heaters gave us the sign that perhaps we should let them close up and go home for the night. I then shared a hilarious taxi ride with Chyrelle, Claire and @reinikainen. All in all a great night. See you all at the next one!

  Three restaurant reviews, three first visits.

 Spice Quarter, Brewery Quarter, Cardiff 17/09/10

 Spotlessly clean and smart restaurant where you can see the chefs at work in the kitchen. It was interesting watching them cook the naan breads and my best efforts at distracting them didn’t put them off!

We arrived at 9pm having booked a table. My dinner companions were pretty “well refreshed” and a little rowdy.  We were squeezed onto a table without much elbow room or room to stretch out! I sat at the end with the designated driver and discussed the merits of Formula One vs. World Rally. The table ordered some popadums and dips to share. There was enough to go round and they happily brought us extra mango chutney when requested. For my main I ordered chicken tikka masala and garlic naan. The tikka masala was really creamy with a good depth of flavour and a spicy kick (but then I’m a real wimp when it comes to spicy food!) . The staff were very polite but the seating arrangement meant a lot of passing plates etc over peoples’ heads etc. I’d def go again but I’d like a better table.

 Harvester, Cardiff Bay 18/09/10

 My first ever visit to a Harvester. The occasion was vanillalatte_1’s birthday (Happy Birthday fellow blogger!).  The bar staff were super slow on the up take to serve us pre-dinner drinks – and I was VERY thirsty! But service when we sat down was good. Due to a mix up in the kitchen I got a bigger, better steak at no extra charge. Guess It was a shame for the guy who got mine but he deserves it if he can’t tell different between rump and sirloin! I was very excited by the free salad bar but in the end I only had one bowl as was trying to save myself for the main! We were all too full for pudding and cost for 7x mains and 4x sides was £63. Amazingly good value I thought!

 Ruby Tuesday’s, St. Davids Dewi Sant Centre, Cardiff 22/09/10

Last time I went to a Ruby Tuesday was three years ago in Times Square, NYC  so visiting the Cardiff restaurant (RT’s   first UK franchise) wasn’t quite the same ambience. The cook their fries in something delicious (don’t want to think about what) they are the yummiest fries ever and very moreish so it’s lucky they have their ‘bottomless fries’ gimmick. Although I was of course very British about it and asked very shyly for more. They also do bottomless refills on soft drink and do this without asking. They also come and snatch your glass away without asking and then don’t bring a refill! They seemed to be in a big hurry to turn our table over and kept coming over to ask if we were done. Perhaps this is to stop people sitting there all night eating fries and drinking Coke which is what we were trying to do but I felt a bit hassled. There’s a fine line between prompt and attentive service and feeling ‘bothered’ by the staff and I’m afraid RT’s crossed it.