After going through the trouble of setting up a travel blog, it’s finally time talk a little bit about some serious travel.
Embark with me on a trip through time, to the heady days of early February, 2015…
One of the major goals of this move, aside from finding gainful employment, has always been to travel. While Em has seen a decent portion of the world, she hasn’t spent much time in the uk.
Me? Simply walking to Shoreditch takes me further away from home than ever before.
Now we’re here. We’re employed. We’re looking in the correct direction when crossing the street. The next question we have to ask ourselves is, where to first?
France is a mere skip away. Germany isn’t much further. Barcelona could be ours for a slim £60 on RyanAir…
With all of these choices at our fingertips, naturally we opted for Cardiff, the “jewel of Wales”.™
I’d be lying if…
… I told you the reason we decided on Cardiff was anything other than nerd-driven. Em, myself, as well as our expat friends, J&C – together we comprise what I’ve come to think of as Ealing’s Canada Village – are all huge Doctor Who fans.
We can’t quote dialogue ad naseum. Nor are we able to reference episodes by name, air date, series number, or show runner … although I personally feel like Moffat has gotten a little long in the tooth, so to speak. However, we look forward to new episodes, enjoy speculating as to story arcs, and have a few pieces of memorobilia strewn about our flats. Geekiest of all, and an expected aspect of being a fan, we can all also point to our favourite Doctors.
Ok, maybe my Mom did knit a replica of the 4th Doctor’s scarf (albeit about 14′ on the more wieldly side of things). And yeah, my wife may have been inspired to knit one of her own … but that’s where it stops!
… and maybe we were a little excited that the geek-inspired trip would coincide with Valentine’s Day. But that’s where it actually stops …
Suffice to say, when we discovered that a large Doctor Who exhibit existed in Cardiff – a town which also hosted the show’s spin-off, Torchwood – it quickly found its way onto our travel lists.
Following that, we quickly booked our train tickets, secured our entry to the Doctor Who Experience, and leaned on Airbnb to provide some locally-flavoured accomodation.
I love trains. Certainly not as much as J (of J&C fame), who tracked our travels with a handy accelerometer app, but I’m a big fan of rail travel. The trip from London to Cardiff was quite pleasant, affording us some picturesque vistas of the English countryside, as well as glimpses of town life along the way.
You’ll pass through towns such as Swindon and Redding, which are pretty in the own rights, but it’s the landscape that’ll draw your attention. The rolling hills, twisting farm compounds, and mazes of stone walled fields are every part the image of English country life. This is what you expect to see when you visit the UK.
The train itself zips along at a respectible 200km/h and got us to our destination in a little under 2 hours. Ontario’s Go Transit has nothing on First Great Western, let me tell you! The pub car may have had something to do with that, as well.
Worth noting: It is a special experience to be riding in one train while passing another at high speeds. The walls really do vibrate with excitement.
Additional to all else, we discovered a little bit of Canadiana in a local magazine. It was merely an article about Margaret Atwood, but we’ll take what we can get. The experience may have been a little tempered with the discovery of this, a few pages in…
Despite a veritable trove of piss being taken out of the Welsh by Brits, Wales is a beautiful place. From everything we experienced, it’s safe to say that Wales is to the UK as Newfoundland is to Canada. It’s oft used as a comedic punching bag, yet you’d be hard-pressed to find people who’d turn down a trip there. Also like the most East-Coasternly of Canadians, the Welsh are amoung the friendliest folks in the world.
I’m a grown man, I have several days off of work, and I’ve found myself in Cardiff … where do I go from here?
Enter Airbnb. If you want local flavour, this is really the route to follow. You’ll see the sights, regardless. It’s in staying with locals that you’ll find the best way to experience a new place. We found two rooms in a beautiful house owned by a family who were the epitome of Welsh hospitality. From what we could gather, the children had since moved off to school, freeing up a great deal of the house for bnbers. The result was a very ecclectic space, with several cobbled together kitchenettes and separate living spaces.
A big appeal of Airbnb is the chance to swap stories. Our hosts – a middle-aged family with adult children – had a bevvy of travel stories to share. We were thrilled to discover that their favourite trip ever had been a summer adventure to no place other than Canada. Not only that, but in the Muskokas on a lake I knew quite well. I hate using the word serendipity … but sometimes it really does apply.
Had it not been for our tight timeframe, we’d have been quit happy to spend an evening socialising with our hosts. As it was, we had blue boxes to see and daylight was burning.
It’s worth noting…
Almost immediately after arriving in Cardiff you’ll discover that the city contains its own, stunning, castle. Accompanied by a picturesque walled park on its doorstep, Cardiff Castle is a stop that’s incredibly difficult to ignore. To our credit, we’d planned the trip to include 2 full days, giving us the freedom to build a list of ‘tomorrow-musts’ whilst not cutting in to our geeking-out time. If you’d prefer to skip the geekery and proceed straight to castle-borne goodness, click here.
Have you ever had that moment, while waiting in a queue, when you begin to ask yourself if perhaps you’re not the intended audience?
As 4 adults in and around our 30’s, I think we came to that realisation simultaneously whilst glowing crystals were placed around our necks.
Looking at the other folks in our queue – a 3rd of which were children, a 3rd of which were parents of said children, and half of which were very clearly ‘serious Whovians’ – I realised that perhaps we have a different perspective of Who in North America.
What followed could best be described as an experience between a Chuck-E-Cheese orchestra and a half-assed haunted house. While the ‘interactive’ tour started off with a video greeting from the latest Doctor, plunging us into a mission of survival, it quickly devolved into a hand-held stroll through dusty sets and mildly-interesting scenarios, culminating in our dramatic egress.
To his credit, our tour guide tried his damnedest to kick some life into the performance. He had the children in our group hanging on every new setpiece, chomping at the bit to be the ‘chosen one’ at every stage. He sold it remarkably well considering the tools at his disposal.
Working against him, with a fair degree of success, was a terribly shoddy lav mic.
All said, it was entertaining… yet we were all very happy that we hadn’t hinged the entire trip on this singular ‘Experience’.
I couldn’t have cared less about the tour, I was most excited for the props and sets that followed. A lot of which was exactly what you’d expect. What more can I say? If you like props, costumes, and setpieces, then you’ll dig the museum portion of the tour. Heck, skip the tour entirely.
While I found the museum interesting, it could have been so much more. A little interactivity, perhaps a passionate curator or two, maybe something with a little more life than protective glass and ropery can convey.
It was quite interesting to peek slightly behind the veil. A few of the props offer interesting glimpses into the construction of maquettes and practical effects. Sadly, these are quite limited and clearly prioritised below a looping video from which you can learn to walk like several regulars of the Doctor’s rogues gallery.
It’s also quite startling to discover just how small and shockingly short many of the actors on the show are. Freema Agyeman is possitively travel-sized!
Garçon, the verdict, sil-vous-plait…
Tour done. Props ogled. Souvenirs purchased. Would the Doctor Who Experience, on its own, be worth the trip to Cardiff?
You can see a lot of this stuff without the need to leave London. However, if you find yourself in Cardiff while being a fan of Doctor Who? Then absolutely go for it!
While you’re at it…
Don’t forget that they shot Torchwood here, too.
Checking out the most recognisable location from the show will take you to the picturesque town centre, within a stone’s through of the Doctor Who Experience. Also situated on the harbour, you can find the main entrance to the Torchwood Institute: a giant art installation and perpetual waterfall pillar. It really is quite beautiful and photogenic, should you be able to shoot your photos between the herds of children running gleefully into the splash-radius.
Not to fret, there are plenty of eye-pleasing things to see a mere 45º in any direction.
And that pretty much covers our first day in Cardiff
But wait, there is more!