A Student's Guide to Cardiff

Posted by Alex | Labels: | Posted On Friday, 26 March 2010 at 13:04

I've always lived within an hour of Cardiff. It was either an hour on the train, or a half-hour drive, and there I'd be, firmly planted in the Big City. Nowadays, I live right in the heart of StudentLand, i.e. Cathays, where the Big City is a stone's throw away, and yet everything I need is on my doorstep.


So, you wake up at the crack of dawn, and you stumble in to lectures. About 10am, you consider your first meal of the day, now that you're fully awake of course. With three hours to kill between Advanced Psychoanalysis A, and Introduction to Eschatology, the world is your oyster. But, do you grab a sandwich and cram some revision time in? Do you grab a flapjack, and head into town for a bit of shopping? Or is it all about the Trevithick Brekkie while spuriously rifling through your notes wondering who the hell Diogenes was, and why he is associated with Sherlock Holmes...?

In fact, it's none of the above. With time to kill, you deserve to treat yourself!


Far from being the best looking venue in all of Cardiff to eat your breakfast, Ramon's offers something that no other place outside of the Uni can: wholesome food at cheap-cheap prices. You can come in and eat whatever, for usually less than £5. The best deal is to come early, undo your belt a couple of notches, and settle in for the £4 Special Breakfast - with two of everything, and a special helping of bread and butter on the side, if you're still hungry afterwards I suggest you step it up to the Super-Mega next time you arrive.

(Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

The brilliant thing about this place though isn't just the prices. It's everything. It's your typical 'greasy spoon', so it's filled with workmen, electricians, plumbers, truckers, and every hungover student from here to Roath Park. Getting a seat some days can be a mammoth task, but, the friendly, inviting staff are always happy to have a chat and don't mind throwing extras on your breakfast (at an added cost mind you). And when all's said and done, the only thing you want to do after a Ramon's breakfast is go back to bed, and sleep it off until the next day, when ultimately, you'll return for some more of those perfectly cooked morsels of hearty, homely food.

The Mackintosh

Okay, so your breakfast break has turned into lunch. You've got the afternoon off and you've got a bit of cash to burn. You could go to the Woodville, but, stuff that piece of commercialized, mainstreamery. What you want is some real food, at real student prices, without feeling like you're sitting with the trendy Wendys, who are only in the Woody for its epic hot chocolate and the ability to have a cheeky pint so close to the library... If you've never been to the Mack, there's nothing that can describe what is a jewel in a sea of plastic baubles.

(Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Food-wise, there's naught more satisfying than one of their curries, or even their pasta, in the middle of the day. It's all so cheap you'll consider bolstering up the price with a pint, or even by asking to make the meal that little bit larger - otherwise, it's criminal that you're getting such amazing helpings without breaking the bank. What makes it even better is the fact that once you're sat in the lounge, you don't feel like you're in Cathays, or even Cardiff for that matter; it's high-class pubbery that you don't tend to find - it's not all polished wood and fancy phrases like Gassy Jack's or the aforementioned Woodville. It's a slice of homeliness that is rare, but definitely worth a look-in any day of the week.

The Woodville

I know, I know; I'm a hypocrite. The Woodville, personally, screams (aha, geddit, Scream Pub?) commercialized, mainstream fluff. It's just a tool to drag you away from your studies to sit in a drab, half-assed pub that only does half of what you expect a pub to do - when the milk runs out, they don't get some more, despite your cravings for that epic Hot Chocolate on a rainy day... BUT, what they do is cook bloody amazing food. So they are forgiven.

(Photo courtesy of CardiffOnline)

Say you have a few hours to kill during Freshers' Week, or of an evening, and you don't want to break into that jar of Grossman's pasta sauce, the obvious choice is the Woodville. Nobody in their right mind would pass up a Piri-Piri chicken here; or one of their monstrous burgers. It only gets better on summer nights when you can sit out in the beer garden and while away the hours - eating, or not. A student institution. If you've never been here, you've never been a Cardiff Uni student.


Rarely has there been a place so overlooked. Mango's is all you could want from an intimate bar. The thing is, it doubles as an eatery, but from looking at it you wouldn't think so. In fact, Mango is one of the premier Tapas institutions in the Cathays area. Snuggled away on Cathays Terrace, opposite The Flora, it provides a hideaway for all those students who want a pint of Peroni in a real Peroni glass; a dish of garlic prawns, tomatoes and feta, or any number of Tapas combinations.

(Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

The only downside of Mango is, due to its relatively niche market, it isn't really the cheapest place in Cardiff. I'm sure you could go to La Tasca and get bigger portions for the same price; I'm sure you could go to numerous bars and get Peroni cheaper. But, what you get here is amazing service from the friendliest staff in all of Cardiff - who cook the nicest tapas I've tasted outside of Spain, and who are genuinely pleased to see you giving them custom. Well worth a night-time visit if you feel like splashing out, but, best to take a party of people so you can spread out the cost. (£100 between 20 people on last trip)


So, your day is over. You've had a bit of a long one too. That lecture on The God Particle was really too deep, and you weren't in the mood for those two hours of The History of China. So, you slink home, head hurting, and slam your pile of work onto your desk. "Sod that!" you think to yourself. "The seminar isn't until next week." So, you waltz into the kitchen and proudly announce "I'm off out for a drink, who's up for getting lashed?" The only problem is, where do you all go?

Gassy Jack's

Definitely the heart of StudentLand, but maybe not quite the soul of it. Gassy's is amazingly placed, close enough for those on Woodville Road to work up an appetite for one of their amazing cocktail pitchers; but not too far away for the Freshers in Gordon Hall to head on over and whet their whistle either. It's quite the venue, spread over the ground floor and a mezzanine balcony, you get two sides of the same coin here - some nights, you can be the only person there; others (particularly when the footy is on) you can't move for United fans, and Psychology socials.

(Photo courtesy of Pint of 45's Drinking Guide)

What makes this place worth a visit though is just how it's not exactly a pub, but not exactly a bar either. It's got that friendly pub atmosphere, with that bar elegance and chic. You can walk past it every day and wonder what's going on in there; but only when you go inside, and sample some of their finest pitchers and pints do you really get a feel for what being a student is all about - cheap, cheerful, and a great place for a full-blown night of drinking or a pre-lash.

Koko Gorillaz

Just across the road from Gassy's is the real Institution of Cathays. This place is on every student's lips when they finally get their bearings. "Where are we going tonight?" "Oh, I don't know...I was thinking maybe start in Koko's..." And that is the phrase that is heard year-in, year-out, in houses across Cathays and Roath. Every pub crawl, social, and night-out worth its salt takes a detour via Koko's hallowed halls and flagstone floors.

(Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

A brilliant place for a pre-lash, what with their 2-4-1 cocktail deals, and the finest array of simple-yet-elegant mixed drinks around - white russians, Long Island iced teas, and the ever-popular Purple Rain. With band nights and the infamous C-Y-N-T occurring here every so often, Koko's passes the boundary of being a pub-bar and enters into the word of being a pub-club at the top of every student's drinks list.


Venturing outside of Cathays briefly, we find ourselves on the fringes of town. We're not quite in the Centre, but, we're happy enough. A visit to Buffalo is not for the faint of heart or shallow of wallet. It's an experience - people go there for the pre-lash, but end up staying for the night. With their range of exotic beers (such as Finland's Lapin Kulta), and their free-entry-before-11pm policy, Buffalo attracts a fairly open-minded crowd. It covers business-types and student-types; all-in-all, it's one hell of a place.

(Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

Buffalo also puts on bands, to rival its sister club 10 Feet Tall, and its nearest competitor Clwb Ifor Bach. With not-so-big names playing regularly as part of Bethan Elfyn and Friends, it really is a place of discovery where you can settle down with the finest beers, the finest of company, and while away your night without worrying about where you're going to go next.


A real diamond in the rough is usually a grain of sand that sparkles more than the others do. That's exactly what this place does. It's nothing special when you first get there - in fact, it's like entering someone's lounge and finding out their kitchen has a fully-working bar inside. The seats are pretty much average-couches, and there isn't room to swing a feline (should-you-so-wish). But that's where the downsides end...

(Photo courtesy of Pint of 45's Drinking Guide)

Gwdihw, Welsh for Owl, is a pretty, unique, inviting venue. Nobody cares about standing up for most of the night; nobody cares about the flailing people on the floor, rocking out in their own way to ambient reggae; that's just it - nobody cares. It's laid back. It's not a place you go for a student-piss-up. It's a place you go to escape the students, to escape the norms of "Let's get f****d uuuuuup!" - in essence, it's Nirvana. Plus, it does Peroni on tap (which is a 10/10 for me...)


So, you've decided to make a night of it. You're out, you're tipsy, you've got £20 left in your wallet, and you're in the mood to dance like a lunatic and get hammered. Who cares about that 9am lecture, or that presentation that you have to give on Plutarch? What matters is that you're out having fun and enjoying your degree, right? But, where do you go at this hour of the night when all the pubs are kicking out - well, you go into town and start clubbing!

Clwb Ifor Bach

The mainstay of every Cardiff student's life is Clwb Ifor Bach, aka Welsh Club (for all those too ignorant to learn to pronounce the only 3 Welsh words they will ever need to use in their time here). Catering for all walks of life - from the fans of cheese, to the indie cindies, and even the grime-lovers - this is a place that doesn't only begin nights, it becomes the night. If you're not still in Clwb trying to dance when the lights come on at 3am, wanting one more Prodigy remix before dragging yourself back to your room, head-spinning from the £1 Fosters, you're not really a true Clwbber.

(Photo courtesy of Clwb Ifor Bach's Blog)

Occasionally sporting a line-up of bands, the general consensus is that Clwb is amongst the places to be. It's up there with the best, if not topping the list at least vying for pole position. With a loyalty card, it's cheap and cheerful, but, even without, one can get amazingly smashed to good music for little over a tenner. Personally, I recommend Thursday's C-Y-N-T, the infamous DnB/Grime/Breakbeat night; but Wednesday's are also worth a look in for your Indie and Motown fans, with Bethan Elfyn and the Vinyl Vendettas rocking it up on Fridays with their own mixes and choons to get the weekend started.

The Normal Clubs

Every big town has one of these places, so I don't need to go into detail about them. If you're more of a mainstream clubber, who likes their tunes to come from Radio One or the general Chart area, then you're obviously going to be more at home in the comfortable surrounds of places like Walkabout, Oceana, Tiger Tiger and Revolution. Each place has its own charm, and personally I'm more of an Oceana fan because at least I can move/breathe in there.

(Photo courtesy of Pint of 45's Drinking Guide)

Usually the end to a good, long Lash, each place has their own student nights with special offers and so forth. If I remember rightly it's: Oceana/Tiger Tiger Mondays, Revolution Tuesday AND Wednesdays, and Walkabout on Thursdays. It all depends, therefore, on who you're out with, when you're out, and how much money you want to save/how much you think you can drink. Recommended, however, is Rev's own Chili Vodka.

Reflex and Flares

Essentially one and the same, Reflex and Flares offer a slice of the past that you can't exactly find in "normal" establishments. Whilst Reflex offers music strictly from the 1980s (including regular Rick Astley moments), Flares harks back to the Disco days of the 60s and 70s, including having its own dance floor, lit with those garish multi-coloured squares. Expect cheap drinks, bad music, and plenty of women aged 40+ in both venues.
(Photo courtesy of Flickr)

The good thing about these two, however, is that you can essentially get an extra pre-lash on your way to Walkabout, and if you send someone down to check on the queues while you go in, you know that you have a club to stay in if it ends up being too-long (by that I mean "one-in-one-out"). Just think, though, that this is not one for the people who don't like cheesy music; who don't like older people in the same clubs as them; and who generally want to get pished to Taio Cruz. Still, worth a giggle, right?

The Morning After - Parks

So, you've survived to the weekend, but you're really putting off that work. What can you do? It's a sunny day, and you need to escape that essay on Alessandro Manzoni, but you just can't bring yourself to walk through the concrete jungle; not the way your head is feeling. You need peace, tranquility...what you need is a park!

Bute Park and Pontcanna Field

One of Cardiff's largest open, green spaces, Bute Park holds sway over much of the land next to the University campus and behind the castle. If you throw in Pontcanna Field, you have a good few miles of pathways, gardens, open spaces, and general fresh-air to run, walk, jog, and laze around in. Generally best visited in the summer, when the cold doesn't make you want to leave it; or towards sunset in winter when a walk along the river banks is just what the doctor ordered.

(Photo courtesy of Virtual Tripping)

A word of advice, however: Bute Park covers only half of the area. If you enter from the Museum-side, you can cross the river and carry on into Pontcanna Field; a space which is generally what it says on the tin - a field, rather than a park. Still, it's good for dog walking, or general escapism, because as soon as you're behind those trees the idea of Cardiff as a city disappears, and you're left to your own devices. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the breeze.

Cathays Park

For those not brave enough to venture into the wilds of Bute Park, or who just don't have the time between lectures or general lazing around, there's always Cathays Park. While the University and Civic Centre take up a lot of space within Cathays Park, the greenery that shows through is just beautiful. With the choice of Alexandra Gardens, wedged neatly between the University buildings, and Gorsedd Gardens in front of the Museum, there's a slice of relaxation within the confines of the city that doesn't take you too far from reality, but, just far enough so that you can sit, and take the weight off while the cars pass you buy and the bees bumble in the bushes.

(Photo courtesy of Geograph)

Alexandra Gardens is particularly worth a visit, since it's only behind Main Building. On a nice day, it's a great place to sit and watch the people go about their daily business. For history buffs, and general patriots, it's also home to a war memorial. Some days you'll find people who stop and pay their respects near it - so far, in the last two years,  I've seen quite a few security guards and general pedestrians stop on their way from one place to another and take a minute or two to themselves.  But, if that's not your cup of tea, sitting out in Gorsedd Gardens, with a nice cold drink on a summer's day isn't to be missed either - especially if you can grab a bench by the Gorsedd stones themselves.

The Morning After - Education

Education, education, education. Why, that's what you're here for right? A bit of stimulation for the old gray matter? Of course that's what you're here for! So, when it all gets a bit much, and that thesis on Stravinsky is getting you down, why not go to Cardiff's premier educational institute: The Museum!

(Photo courtesy of Geograph)

With everything from dinosaurs and butterflies, to a room filled with baroque depictions of Jesus, the National Museum of Wales pulls off the role of both Natural History Museum and Art Gallery. With regular exhibitions all year round, and no entry fee, it's well worth a look. From Graecian pottery to South American beetles, it has anything and everything to tempt you into staying that little bit longer. When you're on your way out, why not pop to the gift shop and buy mum that teatowl of Welsh Heraldry you know she'll love?

And even if you've done all of this, you've not really scratched the surface of Cardiff as a city. There's only so much a 'rough guide' can give you, so, from here out it's up to you to discover new things!

Day #202: The Universal

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Sunday, 21 March 2010 at 13:05

The Universal question at this moment in time is "Where am I going in Italy!?", for you see my Easter Break has begun, so I can't do anything about sorting it until I get back in. I can't sort my funding, I can't sort anything until that point, which is a total pain, but there we go really - story of life and such.

The year seems to have wound down now, and that's probably for the best. Nothing exciting will be occurring anytime soon, though I'd like to hope that everything will go just right and I'll end up in Parma next year too - I've already started thinking, if I get the job I've applied for over the summer, I'll maybe do a few vlogs instead of typing out all nonsense about how lovely it is out there.

I've actually got very little to fill in on this blog - I gave up Icelandic after less than 3 weeks. Declensions got the better of me. I start revision in earnest tomorrow morning, writing out verbs, learning rules, all that nonsense. I have a million novels to read over the next three weeks - Seta, Una Relazione, and I Viceré - for Italian. I have work coming out of my ears, and yet I still have to find time to revise and perfect my languages down to an artform so I can pass with an amazing mark, and spend the summer doing something that means I can keep on-par.

However, the most interesting news is: If you hop over to my music blog, there's a little Easter egg there!

Day #188: Flowers of Normandy

Posted by Alex | | Posted On Monday, 8 March 2010 at 22:17

I have not posted here in what seems like an age. It's only, apparently, been three weeks. I feel like it has been a lot longer than that. Surprisingly, however, there have been very few revelations or things of note going on in my mediocre life, it seems.

I have, however, taken to Icelandic. Ég er að lœra íslensku. I actually don't know what possessed me to learn this language, but, one day I was sat in my room and I thought "You know what, I'd like to learn Icelandic." I also have taken out a book on Finnish, but that looks far too difficult for words so I'm probably going to return it tomorrow along with my mountain of books on the Renaixença Catalana which I had to specially order from the Library Store facility.

Aside from pushing myself to learn new languages, I'm pretty much living the boring student life of "Get up, shower, go to lectures, come home, grab a bite to eat, go back to lectures, come home, read/work til 8, eat, sleep". I actually need to escape from here, to be honest. As the Italians say "Non vedo l'ora in cui posso andare da qui!"

However, on a positive note, I finally know where I am going in Spain should I pass this year. I get to go to sunny Lleida, or Lerida if you prefer not to be all Catalan. In fact, I don't see the difficulty in pronounciation - Lleida - "Yay-ee-da", much the same as it would be in Spanish - but our Mexican course coordinator insisted on saying "I cannot speak Catalan, so I do not even want to attempt to say it." Still, I get to go there, and will be there roughly from February of next year. HUZZAH!

And so, I'll leave it at that for now. It's not like there's anything else worth mentioning.