Cardiff, United Kingdom
Up and at ‘em at the slightly un-holiday-like time of around 8:15 today… OK that is a pretty holiday-like time. But still, had to make sure we weren’t late for our appointment at the Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff, even though it was just a little bit down the road. The instant golden syrup flavour prodding bought from Sainsbury’s yesterday did a pretty remarkable job of actually tasting like golden syrup flavoured porridge, after just chucking in a bit of boiling water and giving it a stir.
Once it was time to head outside … it was bucketing down. Yay. But still we made it in one piece despite Perry’s umbrella not surviving the journey. We were a little bit early (wouldn’t have been anything to do with me really really looking forward to it, I’m sure), but luckily they had a cafe and a few things to look at while we were waiting. Surprisingly the menu didn’t take advantage of its connection to the show. I expected a Lime Lord milkshake, Custard Tartdis, Garlic/Dalek prawns … but no. Nothin’. Not even CyberMentos after dinner. We did share a lovely Bakewell tart though.
Despite the miserable weather, and the fact it was a Monday morning, there was a small band of fellow hardy Who-nerds there, ready to come along on the adventure. And surprisingly, there was a bit of an adventure to be had. The Doctor Who Experience sure starts with an Experience – it must be awesome for the kiddies, except we didn’t have any in the whole group. Basically we were led through series of rooms, following a story, with video inserts starring Peter Capaldi where our trust bands of adventurers had to help him on his quest. I thought it’d be an amusing five minute diversion in a room, but I think ti went on for about 20 minutes or more, through a whole series of rooms, each recalling parts of the show. It was very cleverly put together, really well done. Eventually our adventure concluded and was in to the exhibit proper.
For a massive Dr Who nerd like me, it was awesome. Tons of props from the show, going all the way back to 1963 which was cool – including all the Tardis consoles, at least half a dozen different styles of Police Box they’ve used through the years, Bessie the old yellow car, tons and tons of stuff. Really interesting. Of course it was heavily biased to the more recent series, but hey can’t complain. Really enjoyed wandering around seeing everything up close. I guess the only really surprising thing was I left the gift shop without buying a thing … there’s nothing the screamed ‘buy me!’ loudly enough to counter the other voice in my head saying ‘You’ll have to find a way of getting it home’. But it was a fantastic experience, one I was glad to finally have, having been reading about big Dr Who exhibitions in the UK ever since I was a little kid. Finally, finally, had the chance to see one for myself, so that was wonderful.
Next up was a bus in to Cardiff itself, for a bit of a look around, and an incredible lunch at the New York Diner. It was bit of a holiday within the holiday, being transported, at least food-wise, back to the USA, land of enormous sandwiches. When a brad roll comes with its own fork just so you can start on the fillings, you know it’s a big lunch. Delicious!
It was then time to take in some more history – Cardiff Castle. It has been a castle / fort / stronghold of some kind every since Roman times. There’s not much left of the Roman fortifications, though some parts of the castle’s outside wall are still built about the original Roman wall. The castle Keep itself is fairly small – a little over 23 metres across, with a tower that we were able to climb up. How anyone managed to regularly get up and down the spiral staircase is beyond me. The steps when selves would have been maybe 10cm deep at the edge … running up and down that in a full set of armour must have been a near-impossibility. Still, we managed, and it afforded a great view of the rest of the site.
The Castle had been owned by the Bute family until 1947, when they bequeathed it to the city. They didn’t live in the castle itself, what with the keep just containing a field of grass. Instead they lived in the house nearby. Nominally still part of the castle, being built within the castle walls, it was still a very stately home indeed, completely gutted and refurbished in the 1800s. We took a tour of the house. Ornate is a complete understatement. The decoration, as was the way with rich Victorians, ws completely overwrought, no patch left un-tizzied, at all. The Bute family made an absolute fortune from the Welsh coal industry before it was nationalised – apparently their yearly incoming was around £300,000 per year in the time where a maid could expect to make £8-15 per year. So they weren’t short of a dollar.
This incredibly decorated, overwrought, overdone, over-decorated pile was one of their holiday homes among their 150 properties, and was only used for six weeks of the year, if that. Even so, it was apparently the 3rd house in Britain to have electricity, and was quite modern in other ways. The maids / butlers were called not with pull-coords to ring the bells, but with electric buzzers hidden in the fine carvings around the perimeter of the room. The bedroom also had an ensuite, with hot and cold running water, a flushing loo, and a bath – practically unheard of back then, It was an interesting insight into the way ‘the other half lived’, back in the day. The whole house was covered in religious iconography, apparently the 3rd Marquess of Bute converted to Catholicism at age 21, and pretty much every aspect of the house had been redesigned to reflect his strong faith. To my un-religious self it seems a shame to spend an horrific amount of money on such a thing – but I guess at least the family gave to the home and castle to Cardiff, rather than the church. Looking beyond that though, the craftmanship in the work was undeniable, and in its own way, it could be seen as a kind of beautiful assault upon the senses.
Better pictures than mine are available on the house tour web page: http://www.cardiffcastle.com/house-tour /
Nothing too exciting happened after that – we hopped on the bus to get back to the apartment, and had an unremarkable dinner at a ‘world buffet’ – basically a chinese restaurant that’s trying to branch out, I think. Still, it wasn’t bad by any means, it was just no Za Za Bazaar like Bristol.
Tomorrow is our last day in Cardiff, and also our last full day in the UK. Trying not to think about the fact that the holiday is starting to draw to a close. But its not over yet. Phew!