Inner Circle

Doing the Rabat-Paris-Cardiff triangle

First it was to Morocco, then to France and onto Wales - Yeoh Siew Hoon covers an unlikely Continental triangle.

Doing the Rabat-Paris-Cardiff triangle
Here, people take their time to do things. I like that. I also like the friendliness of the people, they just smile a lot more than we find in other big cities.

The trip didn't start off well. There was an airport strike in Charles de Gaulle in Paris and so there were problems with the flight to Paris.

 The good news though was I had four seats to myself in the economy cabin and it being a night flight, I spent most of the time in la-la land, so that I was all ready to go ooh-la-la when I arrived in Paris. 

Paris on an early summer dawn – hard to beat, even if you are sitting at Charles de Gaulle airport. Just the promise of the city that I would return to for a few days was enough to keep me occupied at the airport where I had six hours to wait for my flight to the capital city of Morocco.

My anticipation rose when we left the southern European coast and we caught sight of the northern African coastline. It had been more than a decade since I had been to Marrakech, one of the best holidays I have taken.

Rabat is not quite Marrakech – it is more of a government and commercial town – but it still evokes the feel of northern Africa. The clear blue sky, the dryness of the air and a fresh cool breeze was blowing in from the Atlantic when we landed.

I was in Rabat for a conference and I took some time off to explore the old town of Medina. Locals will tell you Rabat is not a tourist city but if you haven't been to Morocco, you would have nothing to compare it with and so it's a good place to start.

I drank tea at a local café, walked through the markets, ate camel for the first time and even managed to squeeze in a couple of hours at a spa, in between my business commitments.

From Rabat, I returned to Paris and this time I got out of the airport to spend three days in one of my favourite European cities. Paris lived up to its promise. The weather was perfect, not too hot or sticky as it can sometimes be in summer. Plus the entire city was on sale.

Unlike some cities in Asia where everything seems to be on sale throughout the year, summer sale in Paris is truly what it says it is. High fashion brands at 40-70% off; it's hard to resist. I had a shopping list from friends and so I went to work with a mission, planning a day around the Marais and Saint Germain des Pres.

Another must-do on my list was a visit to Shangri-La Hotel, Paris to see how it was doing. I last visited it a couple of days before its opening last December and it was good to see the hotel open and busy. 

This is one very special Shangri-La – it truly evokes history and grandeur like no other – and if you haven't been yet, then you must make it on your to-do list for 2012 at least.

My baggage full to bursting, as well as my stomach – I of course had plenty of good meals – I headed out to Charles de Gaulle (again) to catch a Flybe flight to Cardiff. My Parisian friends had raised their eyebrows when they asked me where I was spending the weekend and I had told them. "Why?" one asked. "That's not a normal choice."

Having gotten to know the Welsh city over the years, I have to confess that it's gotten under my skin. I like the smallness of it, and the cosmopolitan feel of the city centre. It's a great place to shop – you can find everything you'd find in London except you don't have to fight with the crowds or run from place to place. Everything is in one small, compact area.

Cardiff Bay has also developed into a really nice area for al fresco dining and when I was there, they were holding the International Food and Wine Festival so it was nice, with the sun out, to be walking around the bay and trying out the various produce.

I tried Jamie's Italian and was impressed with the food and service. The full flavours of Jamie Oliver's cuisine are found here, and he uses fresh, seasonal ingredients and so I had pasta with cockles and leeks for the first time.

I spent most of the time in Cardiff relaxing and not doing much. After a hectic business trip to Rabat, followed by a shopping frenzy in Paris, it was nice to just come home to Cardiff (I stayed at a friend's), stay home, read the papers and watch telly.

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