Rugby World Cup Travel Guide: Avoiding the Cardiff blues
Local boyo Gareth Morgan tells Ireland fans how to make the most of a World Cup weekend in the unfairly maligned Welsh capital
It has been described as an "armpit of a city" by one pundit, but for many rugby fans, Cardiff represents the beating heart of what makes an international weekend special.
Ireland will make the Welsh capital their adopted home for key matches against Canada and France in this autumn's Rugby World Cup.
Its streets thronged with supporters, Cardiff boasts bars and restaurants aplenty, and the magnificent Millennium Stadium right in the middle of the city.
Munster fans who recall the Heineken Cup finals of 2006 and 2008, Leinster supporters at the 2011 decider, and Ireland fans who witnessed the Grand Slam of 2009, will know too well the special atmosphere that ferments within that boiling cauldron.
But there's plenty more to do in Cardiff while you wait for the crucial 80 minutes of rugby to kick off...
Aer Lingus Regional flies direct from Dublin to Cardiff and Flybe is also going to start operating a route later this year. But the clamour for seats may force travellers to look elsewhere - Bristol is closest, but flights to London, Manchester or Birmingham are feasible if you're happy to take a train or rent a car for the onward journey.
Forget taking the ferry to Holyhead, as the trip by road or rail to Cardiff from North Wales is torturous. Even with Sat Nav, you'll likely get lost up a mountain somewhere in Snowdonia.
Heading to Pembrokeshire from Rosslare is feasible, but expect a couple of hours of motorway driving once you land in Wales.
Cardiff hotels are reported to have quadrupled prices for the World Cup, so it may be best to stay outside the capital. South Wales is not South America - geographically, you're looking at quite a small area, so consider staying in towns like Pontypridd, Swansea or Newport.
Many towns around Cardiff are faded remnants of industrial Wales, but the people are rugby mad - you'll get a good welcome and spend far less money than in the capital.
However, avoid Port Talbot. While it is on the main train line to Cardiff, it is far worse than an armpit - with its stinking chimney stacks, it's more like an open sore.
Getting there (again):
Once you're in Wales and have got into your accommodation, you'll need to sort match-day transport. Cardiff enjoys decent rail connections, but beware of the dreaded rugby crush at Central Station. Its proximity to the Millennium Stadium (a distance of about 200 yards) is both a blessing and a curse. Leave plenty of time before kick-off (at least two hours or you'll end up forming your own rugby scrum simply trying to exit the platform with your face jammed into a stranger's armpit).
Likewise, getting home after the game can be a chore. You'll probably need to queue for at least half an hour to get into the station for a train.
Forget hailing a cab in Cardiff on an evening after a rugby match. If you really need one, book well ahead and give the cab firm precise instructions on where to pick you up. And don't be late.
Otherwise, you'll definitely be walking home, or trying to persuade a friendly local that it's okay for you and your five mates to sleep on their couch.
Craft beer has come to Cardiff, just like the rest of the world. There are loads of new boozers springing up in the shadow of the Millennium Stadium, giving plenty of choice, and helping to spread out the crowds.
It is still incredibly busy on match days, especially in classic rugby pubs such as The City Arms on Quay Street, The Old Arcade on Church Street and The Goat Major on St Mary Street. All are within a few hundred metres of the stadium and you'll get a decent pint of Brains (don't worry - that's just the local beer).
Newer bars like Brewdog and Zero Degrees on Westgate Street attract a younger clientele and sell a pricier pint of designer ale. Still, they are generally a little less crowded and are cheaper than most Dublin pubs.
For big screen options, try O'Neills opposite the stadium or Walkabout around the corner on St Mary Street, but you'll likely need to queue at the door.
If you can get into Cardiff Rugby Club for a drink, you're practically already in the stadium. In-the-know fans arrive there early and settle back for the day, but the upstairs bar does eventually get packed.
Another local trick is to head just a bit further out of town, and still get to the match at a 15-minute trot. Cathedral Road offers a load of pubs, as well as bed and breakfast options. This is where Cardiff's Welsh-speaking set like to hang out: try Y Mochyn Ddu (The Black Pig - but nobody calls it that), Y Cayo (named after a Welsh patriot) or, er, The Cricketers for a decent pint of local beer.
Lining the stomach:
With the stadium in the city centre, you won't go hungry and have to resort to a dodgy burger van for sustenance.
To get away from the madding crowds, take a train down to Cardiff Bay (it only takes about five minutes) and enjoy the sea air with modern bars and restaurants. Give yourself plenty of time to get back into town, though!
The Potted Pig on St Mary Street is one of the best restaurants in town, if you feel like something fancy, and the excellent Bullys and Arbenning are both near Cathedral Road - but you'll need to book ahead.
For a quicker bite, all the staple restaurant chains are close by, including a strip in the impressively redeveloped St David's Shopping Centre that offers informal dining like Jamie's Italian and the ultra-good value Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca.
Locals might walk out to cosmopolitan Cowbridge Road, which is a good 15-minute step from the stadium, but offers a smorgasbord of global cuisine.
But no international day is really complete without a late-night trip to Chippy Alley. Officially called Caroline Street, this huddle of kebab shops and chippers has a plate of grease with your name on it come chucking-out time in the pubs.
St David's Shopping Centre is one of the largest of its type in the UK, although there is little to differentiate it from the likes of Dundrum Town Centre. Instead, try the many arcades that riddle the shopping precinct around St Mary Street.
Castle Arcade and Morgan Arcade are two of the largest, and offer everything from a haircut to cheese to designer clobber. You're guaranteed to find a decent gift here, if you've got someone back home to sweeten up.
A BIT OF CULTURE:
Cardiff Castle dominates the city centre, just like the Millennium Stadium, and can't be missed by anyone strolling through town. You'll be walking past the battlements even if you don't decide to head inside and view the Roman Fort, Norman Keep and the wonderfully mental architectural flourishes of William Burgess. Entry costs £12 for adults.
Admission to Cardiff Museum, however, is free. There's enough art and history here to keep the high-minded going for a few hours. And hey, there's also dinosaurs!
In Cardiff Bay, you'll spot the Welsh Assembly building and the architecturally dramatic Millennium Centre, which has featured in TV shows like Dr Who and Torchwood. The Millennium Stadium itself offers entertaining tours, although this can't be done on match days, so check millenniumstadium.com/tours before you go.
A taste of Wales
Wales will seem like a home from home for many rugby fans but there are a few local flavours not to be missed:
Welsh Cakes: Sort of like a thick pancake with raisins, these griddle-cooked cakes go beautifully with a nice cuppa.
Cockles and Laverbread: The breakfast of kings, if Wales had any kings left. It's seafood and seaweed, but don't baulk. You've eaten sushi, right?
Brains Beer: Yes, it may sound weird but asking the bar staff for 'A pint of Brains, please' sounds far cooler than ordering another Heino.
Faggots and Peas: Again, don't look so perturbed. Faggots in Wales are big spicy meatballs, served with lots of gravy.
Clear your throat, here are some useful phrases to get you through any rugby weekend in Cardiff
* Iechyd Da... Commonly mispronounced 'Yucky Dah', it's more like 'Yeah-Kid Dah' and means the same as 'Slainte'.
* Gwyddel dw i... Let the locals know you're Irish with 'Gwee-thel Doo-ee'
* Ti'n bert... If you're not into chat-up lines, then a simple 'You're pretty' might do the trick. Pronounce it 'Teen Beart'. May not work quite so well on men.
* Clwb Rygbi... Spelled differently from the English, and back to front. But it means 'Rugby Club' and the words are basically pronounced the same way.
* Cwtch... Pronounced 'Cootsh', this is universal Welsh slang for a big hug. You can cwtch a beautiful woman, or your best friend, or even your mam. If that doesn't sound too weird.
* Peint o Cwrw... 'Paint oh Koo-roo'. A pint of beer, what else?