Cardiff’s Arcades

Every so often I like to have a rave about some of the great things there are to do here in Cardiff, my adopted home town.

Whether you are a fan of shopping or not, the Cardiff Arcades are a fascinating place to spend a couple of hours. Just like most town and city centres in the UK, Cardiff has all the usual high street stores on the main streets and in the newer shopping centres, but the arcades are something unique.

There are five arcades – Castle Arcade, High Street Arcade, Duke Street Arcade, Morgan Arcade and Royal Arcade. Hair salons jostle for attention next to fancy dress shops, and the amazing smells from a French restaurant will distract you while on the way to a surf shop or travel agents. If you’re looking for something to wear that no-one else has, or a gift that no-one else has thought of, the arcades are the place to come. Alternatively, just sit back and relax with a coffee or a nice meal (many different cuisines available) and gaze at the impressive architecture.

I could give you a detailed description of all the shops, past and present, in the arcades, but I don’t need to because someone has already done it for me.

Even if you’ve never been to Cardiff, or you have no intention of visiting, the Cardiff Arcades Project is worth checking out. It’s a beautiful collection of photographs and stories about boutique shops and unusual, independent businesses.

Check out my Christmas present!

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Right in the middle of an awful day at work yesterday, I was cheered up by an SMS from my neighbour to tell me that a parcel had arrived for me. I knew it could only be one thing – my new running shoes!

I’ve desperately needed a new pair for ages, so when my Mum asked me what I wanted for Christmas I knew what my answer was straight away.

I buy most of my shoes from Vegetarian Shoes in Brighton, because then I know they’ve been made ethically in the EU and they don’t contain any animal products. I try and get down to the shop as often as I can (Brighton is veggie heaven!), but unfortunately it is a trek from Cardiff. So instead I use their mail order service, which is fantastic. There’s loads of information on their website about all their products, including size guides and photographs. They don’t just sell shoes, either. They also have a great range of bags, jackets and accessories. They even sell biodegradable pens – not just environmentally friendly but they’re actually a really nice pen to write with as well. If you have any questions about any of the products, just drop them an email and they will get back to you.

As soon as I got home, I collected the parcel off my neighbour and tried my new shoes on. As I have to wear inserts due to problems with my feet, I usually have a bit of an issue getting used to new shoes, but these ones have been OK. And what better way to christen my new running shoes than with a step class. After taking them for a run today, they are well and truly worn in and my tatty old shoes are a thing of the past.

The Carrier Bag Challenge

I’ve finished my Christmas shopping! I’m not boasting, honestly. I don’t have many gifts to buy, and as this weekend is my last chance to see my family before Christmas I had to be organised. I’m just glad that it’s done. So I thought I’d set you all a little challenge. It is estimated that the average life of a single giveaway carrier bag (or ‘tote’ – I love that word!) is only 3 minutes before being discarded. All those resources used up for three minutes of something we didn’t really need in the first place! Here in Wales a new law came into effect October 1st 2011 which means that if you want a carrier bag (plastic or paper) anywhere in Wales, at any shop/take-away etc you have to pay 5p for it. The proceeds are then donated to charity. I for one have welcomed this new law with open arms, although I stopped using plastic bags a long time ago. Firstly, it was hugely entertaining watching everybody think up ways to carry their shopping without using a bag on 1st October. I saw one man stagger out of Tesco to his car with a tower of groceries in his hands that reached to about two foot above him. Secondly, it’s made the nation think about how they use plastic. There was a lot of confusion from the locals at first, with comments such as ‘They even charged me in McDonalds’ and ‘But I bought lots of clothes so I needed a bag’ falling on deaf ears. However, a law is a law and most people have got used to it now. My particular favourite was a lady in Sainsburys who said ‘Well, if they’re going to charge me they can keep their bags’. I think that was the idea.
I was somewhat surprised at the uproar to the new law. I’m only 32, but I can remember another time when it was normal to charge for bags. It was considered an ingenious marketing ploy when Kwik Save announced that they would no longer be charging for bags. They didn’t think their customers should have to pay for them, unfortunately not realising at the time what they were starting and the effect it would have on the environment.
If you’re already using reusable shopping bags then good on you. If not, then why not take up the carrier bag challenge this Christmas and see if you can complete all your shopping just using reusables. After all, the law will come into effect in other countries at some point. And if you’re coming to Wales to shop, you’ll definitely need your own bags because carrier bags are harder to find here than a Welshman who doesn’t like rugby.

Christmas has landed

It’s official. The Coca-cola commercial has aired, and the run-up to Christmas has well and truly begun here in the UK. I have experienced Christmas in a few different countries, and I have to say that here in the UK I just find it very stressful. So much so that I try to keep away from it as much as possible. Before anyone says ‘bah humbug’, because I hear that a lot, it’s not that I don’t like Christmas itself. I just don’t choose to celebrate it the same way as most other people in the UK, and it’s actually quite insulting when people tell me how I should be celebrating the holidays and what I must do. I’m a grown adult, and in exactly the same way that I have the right to spend my birthday how I choose to (lot’s of people told me that I couldn’t fly to America on my own for my 30th), I also have the right to do whatever I want on the 25th and 26th December every year.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I want to talk to you about Christmas shopping. As you know, one of my things is to try and ‘buy local’ wherever possible. Not only is it a lot more environmentally friendly and kinder to our fellow humans, it supports your local economy and makes for more interesting presents. My family love it when I take gifts home for them that they can’t get in England.

So why not check out your local Christmas markets or craft fairs for gift ideas this year? If you’re struggling to find them, community notice boards in places like coffee shops and launderettes are usually good places to find local adverts and information. Where I live in Cardiff we have loads of local, eco-friendly, fairtrade shops and markets. My local food market in Roath is teamed up with a craft market every Saturday, and we have a great Christmas market in the city centre every year, which makes my Christmas shopping very easy. Perfect for someone like me (I always enjoy the start of Christmas shopping, but I soon get bored and can’t wait for it to be over).

To give you a few ideas, I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite gift ideas from here in South Wales.

Handmade in the Hills Childrens toys, homewares, jewellery and food goods hand-made by artists and makers in Ceredigion. Not only are their crafts incredibly cute, the hobby horses are my favourite, but I felt very well looked after by Handmade in the Hills. When I encountered a problem with Pay Pal during my order (for some reason it didn’t believe that I live at my address), their team not only sorted it out straight away from me, they kept in contact via email to make sure evrything was to my satisfaction. Rarely do you encounter a company in today’s modern world that is so keen to look after it’s customers.

Nature’s Little Helpers Sorry vegans, this one’s not for you. This Cardiff based company make all their products from bee-keeping. As well as the most obvious product we get from bees, honey, these clever bee keepers also create cosmetics and soap from bees wax. Their ylang ylang hand balm helps to stop my hands drying out in the winter. It comes in a handy little tin that’s easy to pop in your bag or pocket and carry around with you, and because it’s made from bees wax it stays solid until you’re ready to use it. If you’re interested in keeping bees yourself, their farm shop has everything you need, and you can even join them on an experience day and learn how to become a beekeeper.

Some of my favourites from Natures Little Helpers

Land of Make Believe I first discovered this fantastic local company at our annual Christmas market here in Cardiff. They make adorable name boards, coat rails, book ends, hanging mobiles and other personalised gifts for children. Seven years ago, I bought a name board for my godson for his first Christmas, and since then it has become a tradition for all my godchildren, nieces and nephew. When my youngest niece was born in September this year, I wanted to get her a name board that I could take out to Austria with me in October. This was a good month before the Christmas market starts, and I clearly have problems ordering through Pay Pal. I messaged Land of Make Believe, and they made one up for me and arranged for me to collect it from their workshop. I couldn’t have asked for better customer service.

Funky Feet Whenever one of my friends has a new baby, I use it as an excuse to visit the Funky Feet website. Their baby clothes and gifts are gorgeous. They are all really good quality as well, items that I’ve bought in the past are already being passed down to younger siblings.

Sebon Want to know what to buy for the vegans in your life? Sebon is the place to go. They produce natural, plant-based soaps and body products that are made with no palm oil (better for the rainforests) and no animal products. My personal favourite is the spearmint lip balm, I’m addicted to it! Although Sebon products look tiny, they pack lots in and they last for ages.

My (well used) spearmint lip balm

Hipo hyfryd I’d heard of this company in a Welsh magazine that I read last year, but I only got around to trying their chocolates last week at a local Christmas market. Boy am I gutted that I’ve missed out on a whole year of eating these treats. Started by a vegan chef, hipo hyfryd make vergan, gluten free chocolates. Whether you prefer savoury or sweet, they will have something for you. Even if you’re not vegan or gluten-free, these chocolates will rival any of their omnivore competitors. If you have any other allergies or dietary needs, it’s worth contacting Gareth from Hipo hyfryd. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about food and is happy to develop new recipes so that everyone can enjoy chocolate.

Hipo hyfryd chocolates also come in these cute little boxes – perfect for gifts

Untapped Brewing Co If your family are anything like mine, the men are always the hardest to buy for. The Untapped Brewing Co were the answer to my prayers when, once again, I was stuck with what to get my dad last year. Their selection of hand made, home grown beers are perfect.

Have you got any great local finds to share? Get out and get discovering!