I’m very behind on posting things, but I went to Cardiff last weekend. Wales is technically a separate country from England, but they’re all part of the United Kingdom, so luckily I didn’t need my passport — which is good, because I didn’t remember to bring it. Still, this marked my first adventure outside of London!
We woke up bright and early to get to the Victoria Coach Station, where we took the National Express bus out to Cardiff. It’s about three hours away, so we touched down in Wales well before lunch (I stuffed my face with snacks on the bus, anyway). The funny thing about Wales, though, is that everything is in Welsh as well as English. But Welsh isn’t like English, even if it uses the same alphabet. It’s like a very drunk version of English where there are different vowels and you don’t pronounce half of the consonants. So while we had a really good time laughing and trying to figure out how to pronounce words like “myfyrwyr” (which means “university”), I don’t plan on taking up Welsh anytime soon.
Luckily for tourists like us, Cardiff is relatively small and easy to navigate. We basically had to get from one end of the city (“downtown” or Central Cardiff) to the other (Cardiff Bay) to see the Doctor Who Experience. I had drawn a little map by hand the night before, so we had a basic idea of where we were going. Still, a stop by the visitor center produced an actual map of the city that ensured we stayed on the beaten path. We walked about a mile and a half to get down to Cardiff Bay, where there was a great collection of shops for us to eat lunch at.
On our way to the bay, we kept seeing signs that said “Brains.” The first sign we saw on a pub, we had a laugh. The second sign we saw, we were terrified. By the third sign, we were intrigued. Because of Cardiff’s prominent place in British science fiction shows, we just assumed it was a zombie thing and that we were probably all going to die in this godforsaken city. If there was ever a city where the zombie apocalypse would start, it would be Cardiff. Eventually, we decided Brains must be some sort of beer — but we stayed on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary, just in case.
When we got down to Mermaid’s Quay (the shopping center in Cardiff Bay), we decided it was time to get lunch, but had issues finding a decent place to eat. Everything in the UK is super expensive, but it seems we picked a particularly upscale place to try and get cheap eats. Eventually, we walked into a restaurant called “Salt,” which boasted a two-story eating space and a fancy menu. We walked in, and the only sound in the empty restaurant the was cool elevator music playing … and a couple clinking their glasses of wine at the back of the restaurant. And then there was us, five disheveled college students looking confused and being purposefully ignored by the sole waitress. It was like an awkward scene from a movie. And that’s when we decided to go to Eli Jenkins for lunch.
The lunch at the pub was much better than anything Salt could have served — especially because I caved in and got a burger. Still not up to par with what my parents would have made, but decent for being in Wales. As if Cardiff knew I was missing American food, though, it produced a shop called “Americandy.” This glorious place was stocked with Twinkies, Reeses Puffs, Poptarts and the like. It isn’t until you get out of America that you realize how much good and diverse food we have there. I mean, they don’t have Cool Whip or Jello pudding here. How am I supposed to make Dirt and Worms? And forget about Mexican food: that doesn’t exist. My burrito craving will have to be unanswered for the time being. Anyway, I decided to stop by Americandy later, when I didn’t have to carry around my hordes of treats for the rest of the day.
The Doctor Who Experience (our primary reason for visiting) was great, of course. The first part of the exhibit was an interactive experience. The Doctor leads you on an adventure where there are spaceships and cracks in time and Weeping Angels and Daleks and — oh yeah — I got to fly the Tardis. Then, once you got out of that, you got to go through the museum part, which wasn’t too big but was pretty extensive. They had a few things from the old series and a lot of stuff from the current adaptation. I got to see things like the David Tennant Tardis set, original costumes, the evolution of the Cybermen and the Face of Boe. And I even got to be a Dalek.
After we got out of the Doctor Who Experience, we wandered around Cardiff for a little bit and saw what there was to see, including the Millennium Center (a performing arts … place) and an excellent ice cream shop (where we downed a massive sundae). As the weather got worse, we decided to hit up a few shops and then head back to the bus station. But Americandy was closed. So much for my plan to take the few Twinkies they had left and sell them on eBay. We ended up heading back into town and hanging out at a pub called Kitty Flynn’s where we ordered — you guessed it — Brains. We couldn’t bring ourselves to say it out loud, so we just pointed at the tap and asked for a pint of that. It’s apparently the Welsh beer, but I am unfortunately not a beer person. So I can officially say that I don’t like Brains. It probably didn’t help that it was served slightly warm, but still. As Amanda said, “My head is telling me yes, but my tongue is telling me no!”
Aside from having a place to get out of the rain, our plan was to get slightly tipsy so we would fall asleep on the bus ride home and wake up just in time to take the Tube back and settle down into our nice cozy beds. Unfortunately, that did not happen, thanks to National Express.
Five minutes before its scheduled departure time, the coach pulled up … and subsequently pulled away without letting anyone on. So we figured that it was just filling up the tank, and would be back shortly. But five minutes passed, then ten minutes, then fifteen, then thirty-five minutes had come and gone and the bus still hadn’t come back. Which meant that it was a half an hour late and there was something wrong. By this time, whatever buzz we had was wearing off, and most of us just really had to go to the bathroom, which we could not do in case the bus showed up. Other coaches came and went, and no one wanted to help us or the thirty other people on the platform find where our driver was. We went online and National Express had no idea that the bus existed, we called and the customer service people didn’t know what to do. Meanwhile, there are five college students that are stuck in a foreign country, in the rain, with no contacts and no way to get home. And if the bus doesn’t get out of there soon, the Tube will shut down and then they will be in London with no way to get home.
Long story short, we were stranded at the bus stop for over an hour. Luckily, after many calls and pleas with other bus drivers, or coach eventually showed up at 8:05 (with no explanation, mind you), we made it home, I registered a complaint with National Express, and all was well.
In short, Cardiff was a good day trip and a fun start to my out-of-London experiences. Coming soon: Stonehenge.