Geeks Abroad! Post 2: Cardiff and The Doctor Who Experience

The following events take place on May 4, 2015 (may the 4th be with you).

We woke up early, walked the quarter mile or so to the Bristol Temple Meads train station to catch the train to Cardiff, Wales.


After a confusing time trying to find the correct bus stop (there was like 20 different bus stops), we asked for help at the train station information booth and were directed out and along and behind the train station to the correct bus to take us down to the Doctor Who Experience at the marina.  The bus, however, didn’t take us all the way to the marina.  It was a Monday but a holiday for May Day, and there was a 10K or some other run going on down at the Millennium Centre, so we had to just sortof head towards the water, occasionally finding these kinds of signs to guide our way.

We also met a fellow Whovian walking from the bus to the Experience, a girl from Canada traveling in Europe. She originally had a different start time for her Experience but they let her change it and we then basically ended up spending most of the rest of the day together.

Even having to walk as far as we did, we arrived a few minutes early.  We did decide to wait a few mins for the next tour (they gave us the option) after seeing that the 10:30 tour was 80% small children.  As it turned out, the next group had zero children.

So there’s 3 parts to the place, the ‘Experience’, the museum, and the gift shop.  In the Experience itself, they wouldn’t let us take pictures, so I’ve found a few pictures online to try and describe this.  Also, here’s a YouTube Video that gives you an idea, too.

You start out in a mostly dark room with a few cool items like the Moment.  They hand out these lanyard badges to wear that have crystals that light up.  The museum curator comes out and the story begins.  A crack in the wall opens up and we go inside…

…and into the inside of the TARDIS.  Once we’re all in there, the Doctor comes on the screen and explains the emergency that’s going on (you know, aliens attacking, time unravelling, just gonna land the TARDIS inside the TARDIS, like ya’ do), instructing “Boy-Girl” (the museum curator) to guide us from room to room and do various things in each.  In the TARDIS we have to use the joystick controls to steer and land the TARDIS.

We come to a room with a bunch of apparently dead Daleks, however one of the crystals we need to collect is sticking out of one of them.  They ask for a volunteer to retrieve it.  I figure I’ll let the children do this bit, but then remember there’s no kids in this group and no one’s raised their hand yet so mine goes enthusiastically up.  Why not?  I bravely extracted the crystal from the Dalek and escape just as it and all the other not-so-dead Daleks in the room start waking up!

Then there was the Weeping Angel forest…

Then we get to a room where they hand out 3-D glasses and we get to assemble the 3 crystals our group has retrieved and then craziness happens.  Basically, the 3-D show is so you can experience the sensation of every scary Doctor Who entity flying towards you.  The Weeping Angel was the worst.

Well, the Doctor saves the day, however, he leaves us in the 60’s, but that’s ok, right?

Next is the 2-story museum full of props and sets and costumes and all sorts of things, including the round things…
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Oh, and here is our new friend, Kathleen!
We took quite a lot of pics here, so to see the entire collection, click Here!

Then it was time for gift shop!

We shopped and shopped, and picked up our merchandise packs that came with the tickets I bought.  It has a T-Shirt, a wristband, brochure booklet, a souvenir ticket and certificate.

Basically, the whole morning I was like this…
It was about lunchtime now, so we decided it was time to venture over into the midst of stuff going on at the Millennium Centre and get some food.  It was extremely busy, so we put our names in at a pizza place with a 45 min wait and then wander about, taking pics and looking in the Millennium Centre gift shop.

Also, since we were by the water, I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if the back door to Torchwood is around here…’ and so we walk towards the water, under the foot-bridge, turn right and there it is!  Only, there’s stuff all over it.  It turns out people have made the wall there into a huge shrine to a certain character on Torchwood.  There’s all sorts of mementos, fan art, gifts and some downright weird shit on this wall.  I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t want to know who, but if you do….. CLICK HERE!!

So we ate our lunch of pizza, which was decent, and then decided to head to Cardiff Castle.  On the way we saw a Mr Whippy truck, and Kathleen said they were good so stopped and had some.

We all rode the bus back over by the train station, because Cardiff Castle is nearby.  This is where Kathleen left us as she still had a few more days in Cardiff and didn’t want to do everything all in one day.

Our first castle!

About Cardiff Castle:  The original motte and bailey castle was built in the late 11th century by Norman invaders on top of a 3rd-century Roman fort.  The Norman Keep is still there, and there’s even still bits of the wall from the Roman times.

Cardiff Castle was repeatedly involved in the conflicts between the Anglo-Normans and the Welsh, being attacked several times in the 12th century, and stormed in 1404 during the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr.  The third Marquess, John Crichton-Stuart, inherited his family’s fortune (including the castle) at 6 months old.  As an adult, he used this fortune for extensive renovations of the castle in a Gothic revival style by architect William Burges. The resulting interior designs are considered to be amongst “the most magnificent that the gothic revival ever achieved“.

During WW II, the castle was used as shelter for air raids, able to hold 1,800 people.  When the fourth Marquess died in 1947, the castle was given to the people of the city of Cardiff (emphasis on ‘people’).

Now, this wasn’t here when we were there, but it’s a cool pic, so I’m including it!
CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 07: The TARDIS appears on the top of Cardiff Castle ahead of the
After the castle, we stopped at a few shops across the street, including a comic book store and a Welsh craft store featuring an extensive collection of Love Spoons.

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During our walk back to the train station, I saw this weird street art.

We got back to our hotel room that evening and we’d put a Do Not Disturb sign on the door handle, but the hotel left a bag with fresh towels, toiletries and provisions at the door for us.  I thought that was rather nice of them, and kindof wish more hotels would do that!

So now that we’re back in our room where there’s WiFi, I check on our travel arrangements for the next day (the big train day).  We’re supposed to take a First Great Western train to London (back to my favorite, Paddington station), then ride the underground to St Pancras International station and catch a Eurostar to Brussels, then a couple of Deutsche Bahn trains down to Stuttgart.

That was the plan, anyway……

I’m scrolling through my email and I see one with the subject line “Rail Strike Action in Germany 5th -10th May”.  So of course I have a surge of panic, thinking WTF! as I try to read through this email.
Basically, for Deutsche Bahn “many trains are likely to experience disruption and may be cancelled”.
It’s around 9pm at this point, and rather than settling in for sleep, I’m now on emergency planning mode. I require food and drink. Inquiring at the front desk, there are no vending machines in the hotel (WTF? Why not?), but there’s a convenience store a few blocks down. Oh yeah, it’s also raining, so that’s fun, too. So we make our way down to the shop and grab a few things. As I’m trying to pay at the single self-checkout, I’m getting an indeterminate error with my card. The cashier manning the manual check-out is thinking I haven’t swiped my card yet, and we’re trying to explain from a bit of a distance with growing line behind me.
So the cashier finally transfers our transaction over to his machine and gets it to work. He theorized that the self-checkout didn’t like my card being from overseas. Sounds likely, but I’m just internally flustered and don’t care about the reason.
So, back in our hotel room, wet clothes set out to dry, I hunker down to find us a new way to Stuttgart. Basically, if we do nothing and chance it, we could be stranded in Brussels. I have little luck finding any alternate trains from Brussels to Stuttgart that even kindof fit in our time frame. I’m figuring everyone else that had train tickets had an 8 hour head start on rescheduling and nothing is available. Now when I check out the DB Bahn site, it already says the first train from Brussels is cancelled. I guess that decides that. In my head I’m like this…
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So I start thinking alternatives. I find a reasonably cheap flight from London Gatwick directly to Stuttgart on an airline I’ve never heard of (but what do I know about European airlines?). I book it, even though I realize this means we’ll likely just be eating the cost of the Eurostar trip from London to Brussels (why would they give me a refund because another rail company had a strike?).

And poor Jon is sitting there while I’m in frazzled ‘don’t talk to me until I get this figured out’ mode. I normally like planning, but not this last minute on a deadline kind of planning. This is why I bought tickets in advance, ya know? And who strikes on a schedule like that?!

Ugh, so anyway, new plans are made, and we’re actually due to land in Stuttgart about the same time the train would have arrived, so at least in that aspect we aren’t losing any time there. Now I can sleep.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, as we actually implement these modified travel plans.

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