Cardiff a Whogasim

DalekEyeWe spent a week in Cardiff and I have to say I really like the city. It was very different from Edinburgh which I liked as well.

Cardiff is a very modern city. Much more like American cities. Yes, it still had a castle in the middle of it and the house we stayed is was kind of “new” being built around 1920. But Cardiff has undergone a rejuvenation over the last couple of decades from a industrial port city to a cosmopolitan business and media center.

They like to say it is the youngest capital in Europe because it is the capital of Wales, which the Welch consider its own country. It is a new capital because the English just gave them back – devolved – some self rule in the last decade or so. But I think of it more like a state than a country, but that may just be me.

High Street

In the Cardiff High Street, but not the same as the Texas Mission burrito despite being a very similar big ass burrito place.
In the Cardiff High Street, but not the same as the Texas Mission burrito despite being a very similar big ass burrito place.
In every town in the UK they have a High Street. It is normally named this, but often that term encompases more than one street. The High Street is the main commercial shopping area. It has the majority of shops and many eating places. A smattering of banks and a Ladbrokes which is a sports betting chain here. As the High Street gets more popular, the road is often blocked off and it becomes a pedestrian only area.

So when you go to a new city and want to shop, you know to find out where the High Street is.

In Cardiff the High Street is more than one street. Doing a quick mapping thing, the area is about 92 Acres, 14 by 11 blocks. Some of this is enclosed completely, others parts are open areas. Much of it is blocked off to vehicles, and in the open outdoor areas you’ll often find street performers doing their thing. I even saw a street preacher on a literal soapbox speaking the truth in fire and brimstone. And people were listening.

Interestingly Google Maps will give you walking directions through the “mall” parts because it still thinks of them as streets. I get the impression they just closed off an outdoor mall and made it an indoor one. At least metaphorically, the architecture doesn’t look like it was ever designed to be outside.

Cardiff Quay

Cardiff Millennium Centre
Cardiff Millennium Centre
Another area of new development is around Cardiff bay. It’s called Cardiff Quay pronounced “key”. When shipping dropped off for the port the city decided to create a upscale business and entertainment zone around it. The new Welch Parliament building is right next to the water. The Millennium Center which is a beautiful performance and arts space. There’s a lot places to eat and it is very tourist focused.

It also the home of…

The Dr Who Experience

Whenever people asked why we came to Cardiff, I somewhat sheepishly answered “Dr. Who”.

The Dr Who Experience
The Dr Who Experience
I don’t think your average Brit understands just how popular Dr Who is in the States right now. Our hosts said they’d had other guests who came just to do the Dr Who Experience.

What is the Dr Who Experience? It’s a cross between a amusement park ride and a museum to the TV show.

The first floor is an “experience”. You walk through an an adventure that takes you from Starship Britain, lets you pilot the TARDIS, and run around with the Dr.

The second and third floor….wait I’ve got that all wrong.

The Ground Floor is the experience. The First and Second floors are the museum. The Brits don’t start numbering the floors until there is more than one.

The upper floors exhibit everything you could ever want to see from the show. There are at least 2 complete TARDIS consoles – the very first one rebuilt for the 50th anniversary special, and Tenent’s last one. Smith’s first console is part of the ride part of the experience. There is also the costumes of every Doctor. Costumes of most of the new companions from Rose through Claire. The top floor has props and monsters.

I took detailed pictures of everything and you can see them in my Dr Experience Album on Facebook.

Dr Who Watch
Dr Who Watch
I’ve noticed that my way of experiencing a place tends to include buying something. I now own a Scottish and Welsh flag for instance. At the Experience I wanted something unique and maybe subtle. Turns out they have a very nice Dr Who watch. If the band didn’t have the police box stuff on it, I don’t think anyone looking at it would realize it was Whovian at all.

I could go on about Cardiff, but I think this gives you a good understand of the place and my view on it.

Our May In the UK

The view from our friend's house
The view from our friend’s house

We’ve come to the end of our first location in the UK. Ten days in Brentwood, Essex staying with our expat friends Jonathan and Angela. Wasn’t what I expected, since I thought they lived in a suburb of London and that Jonathan worked in London. Brentwood is kind of a suburb of London, one train stop from the end of the line that’s considered part of the London Underground, but it is very different from the city. Plus our friends live in the middle of park, about 2 miles of woods away from the city of Brentwood.

The road to our friend's house.
The road to our friend’s house.

Though things were unexpected that wasn’t bad. It was good to start a trip with Americans who could ease us into the UK. We didn’t have to deal with a native culture all the time while learning about the money, or how simple things like eating out or finding wifi work.

While we plan on only using public transportation during our trip, we spent a lot of these first days in a car. On the “wrong” side of the road, sitting where the driver belongs and flinching at every turn on the tiny little roads. We also did a lot of touristy things like stopping at every old church to take pictures and visiting museums and seaside towns.

All it all it was a fun time.

It’s an Adventure

I keep saying that to myself whenever something goes wrong.

For example the time in Brentwood when we accidentally gotting on a train the wrong way, thinking we were heading toward London but going to the next town over. It turned out we were on a “train train” one that requires a ticket, not just an underground pass. They are very serious about taking a train without a ticket. There’s a £1000 penalty fare. Luckily for us there was a nice lady who told us to go back to the platform and catch the next train back the way we wanted to go.

Of course that train went all the way into London. We road standing up, then got off and found the train back out to Brentwood. While we road trains for almost an hour to our Oyster card (the London Underground pay card) it looked like we just moved one stop west.

On To Scotland

ScotTrainNewCastle

ScotTrain

Our train from London to Edinburgh was another adventure. I’d bought tickets in advance and had them ready to go. The train boards and is “fully reserved”. That means every seat is reserved for someone. Our ticket – and those of at least 50 maybe 100 others – were not reserved.

But you can stand.

Feeling we were doomed to stand for 6 hours we jumped off that train and got on the next one to Edinburgh. There someone finally explained we could sit in a reserved seat as long as the person it was reserved for wasn’t getting on till we got off at Edinburgh.

Of course we managed to get on the coach (train car) that’s AC didn’t work so it was hot the whole way. There was also a huge clan in our coach with half a dozen little one who would not sit down.

I often joke about, or just feel like, I’m getting old. One of the traits of old age is not being about to cope with the unexpected and change. One of the points of this trip was to exercise that ability. Getting lots of exercise for sure. 🙂

As an aside most of this post was written on the trip to Edinburgh and not posted till now. It’s hard to keep up with posting, but I’m trying.

Day 1: Abilene to Dallas

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We don’t trust the Abilene airport. That’s why we aren’t flying out of there. Instead our flight starts at the DFW airport. Our original plan was to have a friend or relative drive us to Dallas, but that didn’t work out. We didn’t want to leave a car in Dallas for 3 months, so we rented one from Avis in Abilene. We picked Avis because they were the only ones who didn’t want to charge us for returning the car at DFW.

Driving

Day 1 was just like Day 2 and 3 in one way. We spent hours sitting on our butts traveling. In this case driving from Abilene to Dallas. I was a good trip. I listened to Patrick Rothfus’ “The Wise Man’s Fear” and it felt just like any other trip to Ft Worth.

We’re here a day early as well. Our flight doesn’t leave until 13:00 tomorrow, so we could have waited and driven in that same morning. Instead we came down a day early. This let us take our time doing the final clean up of the house, and it gave us some time in the big city to shop and what not.

Hotel

The hotel I’m writing this from isn’t far from the Irving hotel we normally stay in when we come to DFW cons. It isn’t as nice either, and the parking lot is packed. But it’s a lot cheaper. We need to get used to small anyway. Everything in UK is small and packed together. Oh and the wifi is slow and a little flakey.

Food

We’ve been to this neck of the woods enough times to know where our favorite restaurants are and can get there without GPS. But we tried somewhere new. We actually walked to a couple of restaurants and looked at their menus before picking the Terra Mediterranean Grill. We had hummus that had a really cool presentation. Both of us ordered the Gyro expecting a “sandwich”, but instead got a huge plate of meat, rice, and yogurt sauce.

Over dinner I also discovered a really funny, really great Yelp reviewer in Edinburgh, Sara “what’s new pussycat” C. I’ll be reading more of her stuff when looking for places to go in our Scottish home away from home. Which also bring up a cool idea I had.

Activity: Shopping

We went to Target to get travel pillows and I thought I should get a flag to take with me as a gift or something. But I remembered what everyone’s been telling us since we started planning this trip, “You’re a Texan, not an American. They hate American’s but love Texans.” So I bought a Texas flag to take and I hope to trade someone for a Scottish flag.

I also decided to find some toy mascots to travel with and be the subject of pictures. We went to ToysRUs and they were having a big clearance sale, so I now have a few taggers on.

Oh and a tribble. It was on sale, and it not only vibrates when you pick it up, it purrs too.

Geo Caching

We also went GeoCaching and found 2 out of 3.

Well I guess that’s it for today. Big travel day tomorrow, and the next time I sleep it will be in Europe.