Cardiff-Bound - The Graduation Adventure Day 6 and 7
(Why two days at once?? Just wait a minute and let me explain...)
Tuesday, May 27th
I've learned I can be in one hotel/location for four, maybe five nights. After that, I begin getting antsy. I want something else. It's not really a change of hotel, but a change of scenery. I think the last time I had a full week somewhere and noticed I had the need for a change in scenery was in Moscow. So...that was what...2009?? This is the reason we are getting on a train today for Cardiff.
Well...kind of. The Doctor Who Experience is the real reason we are getting on a train to Cardiff. But that is not today's story.
The hard part about heading out for multiple locations is that we have to pack for multiple hotels. The original packing for the trip is hard enough. Packing the dirty with the clean and trying to get everything in place becomes increasingly difficult. Today, we put everything back in the space saver bags. With a little effort, everything zipped up. And then the handle on my bag decided to not extend. Wait. What??
Yep. We had finished with our breakfast and was bringing our luggage down to reception, with the many, many steps. As I began moving my larger bag out of the room, I quickly realized I couldn't pull up the luggage handle. Which was going to be a massive issue since we still had four train rides and one bus journey before the luggage would be dropped off at CDG next week. I asked the front desk people if they could help in any way. The maintenance guy came down and helped. It took him five minutes (and deep digging in the bowels of my luggage) to help hit a latch somewhere. He showed me how to fix the damage when it sticks again. Because it will stick again.
We walked the few blocks to Paddington Station and retrieved our train tickets. I had purchased these online several weeks ago and was freaked out to discover the tickets had to be picked up. But what if they couldn't be?? What then?? I really should know not to be freaked out when it comes to transportation like this. Printing out the tickets could not have been easier. As you walk into the station, there are plenty of kiosks to buy and print tickets. All you needed was a credit card for verification, and the record locator. Easy as can be. Nine tickets printed up. Four for each journey and one for proof I picked these up. And now...we wait.
Because we didn't know how the train system was going to work, we accounted for any time issue. I didn't want to run late like some of the reservations we have had during this trip. Even though we were close to the station, I didn't want to take any chances, so we got to the station early. Waaaaaaay early. Considering the trains aren't even on the track until 15 minutes prior to departure, our arrival a good hour early was a bit much.
But once the train was on the track, we found our seats and dragged our suitcases on the train. Or I dragged them. And found a place to stash the larger luggage (Woo Hoo!!). We had plenty of room. No wifi and barely had juice in the outlets, but whatever. We didn't need to be hooked into the internet, right??
I'm a fan of the train. Always have been. I mean, I take a train to the office every day, so I'd better be a fan of the train. For two hours, I didn't have to worry about where we were going or how we were getting there. And even when we were delayed by switching problems (hey, Metra BNSF isn't alone in this issue!!), it didn't really matter. We weren't on any time crunch. Though our patience was being tested as a girl on the train was watching a Disney movie on the iPad. Without headphones. Apparently this is a thing?? And acceptable in the world?? Cause no one questioned this or asked the girl to stop.
We booked a room at the Royal Hotel Cardiff. The hotel is basically around the corner from the Cardiff Central train station, so dragging the luggage shouldn't have been a problem. Unfortunately, the rain that has been following us during our entire vacation decided to open up the moment we walked outside of the train station. Awesome. It took a minute to get our bearings, since we left the station out of the back way (which I kind of didn't appreciate). But even though our walk was maybe only 5 or 10 minutes long, we were drenched. Our luggage was drenched. But we were where we needed to be.
The Royal Hotel Cardiff bills itself as the oldest hotel in Cardiff. Not only is it right in the city center (more on that in a minute), but it is a lovely place. Sure, the moment we walked up to the steps to get in, there was a homeless guy sitting there (I was instantly regretting our decision), but once we went inside, we knew this was a great choice.
The thing so far with the hotels in the UK is that they seem to be retrofitted from whatever old building they could find. Which meant they had to work around building issues. The Park Grand in London had our room up a flight of stairs that was not reachable by an elevator. The Royal Hotel in Cardiff walked us up stairs to the front entrance, then down a set of stairs to an elevator that at took us up to the 2nd floor to Reception. Then we went to another elevator to get to the fourth floor. Confusing at first, we did get used to it. And we are chalking up the entire situation as just something we have to deal with in an old, built up city.
The room itself was twice the size of our room in London. We had space to keep an open umbrella upside down to dry. There was a lovely sitting area where Elias stored pillows. And there was plenty of storage to unpack. What it didn't have (similar to the Park Grand) was decent lighting. Seriously. Apparently having acceptable lighting in the bathroom is a foreign concept in the UK. The Royal Hotel plussed up the lighting experience by having bad lighting in the room as well. Was it enough to make me stomp out the room angry?? Lord no. We were fine. The hotel was lovely.
As we walked to the hotel in the rain, my eyes spotted a lovely word in bright lights. PIE. We hadn't eaten on the train. And with the delay, we were starving. So we did what we normally do...the thing that actually hurts us every time. We ate lunch at 3p. We ate pie at Pieminster.
This pie wasn't like a Baker's Square kind of pie. Or more apt for us, a Bang Bang Pie Shop kind of pie. Nope. These were meat pies. With gravy. More Pie Boss kind of pies (which I did explain to the worker when we talked about if I'd "ever eaten pies before"). I grabbed a cider (trying to drink as many as possible) and Elias was thrilled to see unlimited soda. Three Cokes later, I can only imagine they changed the policy the moment we left the shop. But we loved the shop. We are still talking about the shop days later.
At this point, we just began walking. Being right in the city center, we needed to get our bearings and figure out what we were going to do. Vey quickly we learned Cardiff (or at least the city center) was all about shopping and tattoo parlors. And there were many streets blocked off to traffic. Yes!! We walked through mall after mall after mall. Or I guess they were called "arcades." We didn't buy anything, but found a few cute stores. Around 530p, we needed to come up with a plan for the rest of the day. The decision was made to see a movie.
Now seriously, every day I had been asking Elias if he wanted to see X-Men: Days of Future Past. Every. Day. And every day he said no. But today, it was the best idea to burn some time this evening. Considering the amount of shopping in the area, we knew a cinema would be nearby. We walked by an information kiosk with a lady manning the booth. She confirmed our theory and by 630p, Elias and I were sitting in a theatre wearing 3D glasses. We loved the movie.
Before the movie started though, there was a bit of a hilarious moment. The cinema had a mid-week deal for a small drink and popcorn for £3.95. Elias was still hungry after the pie, so he ended up with the deal. We found our seats and waited for the movie to start. A few minutes before the start time, music started playing in the theatre. Not a big deal. We've heard music at theaters before. But the type of music was suspect. The first song was "Honey Honey" from the Mamma Mia Movie Soundtrack. Interesting. The second, "Breaking Free" from High School Musical made me pause. Or more accurately, it unknowingly made me make a silly face. I know this because Elias started laughing and jerked his arm wildly. The arm holding the popcorn. And every last kernel of popcorn was now on the floor at his feet. I mean, what can you do, really?? We laughed even harder as the advertisements started because the popcorn really was everywhere.
Here's the problem we keep running into. I mean, we ran into this just yesterday. By the time we got out of the theatre, it was after 9p. And not everything was open. But we were hungry. So we spent a good amount of time wandering the streets of Cardiff looking for something to eat. Anything to eat. Yes, pubs were an option, but here's my dirty little secret...I'm rarely comfortable in pubs/bars. And with drunkies already out and about, I didn't want to be in a weird position with Elias in tow. Plus, while Elias is legal to drink here, he still looks very young for his age. So there's the whole "yes, he IS actually 18 and can be in here" routine we are increasingly becoming familiar with. I'm sure nothing would have happened and everything would have been fine. But we didn't partake in the pub for dinner. Ultimately, we did find a chippy. The place was called Dorothy's. There was a small stream of folks coming in and out of the shop. And as we talked to the owners, we knew this was a hub of drunken activity in just a few hour's time. We left with an order of fish and chips and a scotch egg the size of my head. It was perfect.
The fun part for me has been the conversations had with the Welsh folks. They are all vey confused as to why we are here. "Where are you from??" "Why are you visiting Wales??" They are genuinely interested and delighted when I start telling our story. I don't know if they just don't get a ton of visitors from the US or if they just like hearing us talk (like we like hearing them talk). But there have been some great conversations here in Wales.
Wednesday, May 28th
Honestly, other than the big event for us on Wednesday (which will be its own post), we really (really, really) took it easy today.
We ended up at Starbucks for breakfast, because the Orbitz reservation we had did not include breakfast. Which chapped my hide juuuuuust a little bit. It was supposed to have breakfast. Or I expected it to. I've been in contact with Orbitz, but there's not much that can be done at this point. Yes, there were other places we could have gone for better breakfasts, but Elias is not super thrilled about this leg of the trip, so I'm catering a bit more to his preferences (though trying to steer him towards certain options when necessary). To its credit, Starbucks has some amazing breakfast sandwiches here. Ones I'd be more than happy to partake in if they ever brought bacon sandwiches over to the US. And seriously, Starbucks is awesome. So quit giving me crap about it.
Once we consumed our Starbucks, we made our way to the Doctor Who Experience. And that...is a story you can come back to tomorrow. Hah!! Made you look!!
After our visit to Doctor Who, we hopped on the 6 Bus to the city center. Yes, I'll let that one sink into your brain. I took a bus. By myself (kind of...I mean, Elias is here with me, but as a non-bus rider, I'm calling this as "by myself"). The bus dropped off at many places near the city center, but we rode to the far end. Where the National Museum was located.
The National Museum is a cross between the Field Museum (history) and the Art Institute (art), but very Wales focused. It was a nice enough museum and the best part was it was free. We didn't stay very long. We didn't need to.
At this point, we needed lunch. One of the places I'd researched was a shop called Madame Fromage. They have sandwiches and cheeses and such, but they also had a few Welsh items that ended up being perfect for us. Elias had a lamb stew. I had a Welsh rarebit. And we both chose wisely. Adding teas of some sort, our lunch was everything we needed it to be.
And this is where the story takes a boring turn. Cause we were tired and there wasn't that much more for us to do in Cardiff. We were close to the Cardiff Castle, but neither of us wanted to spend the money to go inside. So we got close to the entrance and took a few pictures. Then, we went back to the hotel and just lounged around for a few hours.
When it was time for dinner, we found a crepe place in one of the arcades. This was our chance to get ready for crepes in Paris in a few days. Two savory crepes and one Nutella one later, we were good for the night. Though there was one place we wanted to stop before going back to the hotel for the night. The bar at the hotel.
First, we thought we'd use the coupon we had from the hotel. Buy two drinks, get one free. Lord knows I could drink two drinks. Elias only gets one. That's the rule. The bar was pretty empty when we got there. And it took a while for the bartender to show up. The only cider was Magners (fine with me). And when I asked about what kind of beer the bartender would recommend, he ended up with Corona. Which...even as a non-beer drinker, I was a little, huh?? But whatever. Elias wasn't a huge fan of the Corona. He said he likes draft beer vs bottled beer. And I didn't want to drink a second Magners, Hopefully we can have one last hit of cider and beer before we leave the UK. It needs to make up for this bar.
Back to the room, we fell asleep pretty quickly. We will be able to sleep in tomorrow as we were leaving Cardiff for London. One more night and we would be on our way to Paris. We are both super excited about this part.
5/27 - 13,100 steps, 5.7 miles
5/28 - 12,500 steps, 5.5 miles