For a portion of my recent blogging break, I was traveling in the UK with Husband Mike. This trip had been a long time coming, as we actually ended up going to Iceland because the airfare was cheaper than getting all the way across the pond to Britain!
As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of vacation posts. Mine or anyone else’s. I think that vacation stories are far more engaging when told in person, so I’m going to skip the chronological blow-by-blow and attempt to keep this fairly bullet-pointy with a story or two sprinkled in. Loads of photos, too. And I’ll do my best to answer any questions you might have!
Most surprising thing about Cardiff: The architecture and public art. There is a LOT of absolutely breathtaking and extremely modern architecture in Cardiff, mostly in the waterfront area near the Millennium Centre. As you can see here, gobs of stellar public art, too.
Most predictable thing about Cardiff: We had some trouble adjusting to the lyrical local accent. Which was mortifying. Nothing more embarrassing than having to ask someone to repeat himself multiple times when you’re both speaking the same language.
What I loved about The Doctor Who Experience: The first part of your visit is an actual “experience” with videos of Matt Smith guiding you through a story/adventure. (I’d rather have had David Tennant as a guide, but what can you do?) It’s extremely cheesy and predictable … but still super fun to get to “drive” the TARDIS.
What the museum lacked: After that first interactive bit, it was mostly old costumes, props, and portions of sets. There were some interactive aspects, like a Dalek that you could get inside and flap around a little, but it would’ve been nice to see more involved, creative exhibits. But overall? Fun. And totally worth doing if you’re a fan and happen to be in Wales.
What we wish we’d had time for: Cardiff Castle. We lost track of time wandering around City Centre and got to the castle just as it was closing. Seriously sad that we missed it.
What we’re so grateful for: Our first full day in the UK was in Cardiff, and it was 65 degrees and sunny. It was unspeakably gorgeous walking around the waterfront and city centre in the glowing sunshine.
Funny story from Cardiff: We flew into London, arrived at noon, trained it to Paddington Station, and immediately got on another train to Cardiff. We were determined to stay up until 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. so our bodies/brains would be on local time as soon as possible. After grabbing dinner by the water, we noticed people streaming into the Millennium Centre and figured there was a performance that night. There was: Cedar Lake Ballet. We love dance so we nabbed some tickets and headed in. This building is breathtaking, inside and out, and the theater space was all warm wood and carved details. We were so excited. And the SECOND they hit the lights, our jet lag descended. HM and I were both nodding off for the entire first act and mortified by our own rudeness. We spent quite a bit on those tickets, but left after the first act because we just couldn’t bear being the despicable couple snoozing in the balcony. (I hope to catch this troupe again someday when I’m NOT jet lagged.)
What was different since I’d last visited: Maybe I just didn’t spend much time there when I’d visited in college, but holy cats Princes Street is absolutely MOBBED both day and night. Mostly day, as it’s the high street and packed with shops. Seas of humanity, I tell you.
What was the same: Pretty much everything else. Edinburgh is an incredibly old and old-looking city, and I absolutely love that you can see the castle from just about every turn in city centre. Also my favorite painting ever in the entire world is still hanging in the National Gallery:
It is “Wandering Shadows” by Peter Graham, painted in 1878. I want to live in there.
Fun facts learned:
I knew it wasn’t ed-in-bo-row, but had been saying ed-in-bo-rah. Apparently, the locals go directly to ed-in-bra.
Back in the day, the Scots holed up defending the castle would boil their own poo and pour it on their enemies. EEEEEEW. Also, way to recycle. (If you go, definitely take the free guided tour of the grounds. And, if you can, ask for Ernest. He was hilarious.)
Those columns and architectural bits on the outskirts of town? They look amazing from a distance, but really odd and chintzy up close. Those Victorians. All about the impression.
Best experience: And I can’t believe I don’t have photo evidence. HM and I had a LOVELY dinner with Lauren of Asian Cajuns and her husband, Matt. They took us to a cozy little pub in Leith (The King’s Wark) with absolutely stellar food, and then next door to The Scotch Malt Whisky Society where Matt is a member. Lar and I don’t drink, so we chatted away while the boys sampled 35-year-old whiskies. It was the best, best, best time and I miss them both already.
Worst experience: I pulled a muscle climbing Arthur’s Seat and limped for several days afterward. Boo.
What I’d recommend to anyone: Staying at the Clarendon Apartments. Affordable, gorgeous, a 5-minute walk into town, quiet, and just utterly fantastic in every way. We love having a fridge and kitchenette when we travel, and we had that plus bedroom, living room, bathroom (of course), laundry, skylights, and a gorgeous view of New Town. Tell Billy I sent you.
Style observation: About 85% of the locals I saw were wearing Barbour jackets. Amazing.
Funny story from Edinburgh: The last time I was in Britain, I was visiting a friend who took me out for Sunday Roast. I’d been talking up the Sunday Roast experience to HM for AGES and we were really looking forward to it. Sunday rolled around and we did Arthur’s Seat and I got my lovely injury, but we pushed on. On Lauren’s recommendation, we headed into a neighborhood called Stockbridge that afternoon and LOVED it. Charity shops, a farmer’s market, and picturesque as hell. By about 4 p.m. we were ready for our roast. That is approximately when everyone stops serving it. We hit two or three pubs in Stockbridge, all of whom were either out of roast or closing their kitchens. I was hurting enough that we sprung for a cab back to city centre and found a pub that did roast all day. YES. Put in our order. Waited 40 minutes. Didn’t see our waitress anywhere. Get this: Their ordering system had shut down, taking our order with it. Our server, assuming someone else would bring us our food, clocked out and left. AND now that the computers were back up and they realized the error, they had just run out of roast. Mike had a burger and I had a salad. No roast for us. (Brit’s Pub does it here, so we’ll go sometime this winter!)
Overwhelming art experience: The Saatchi Gallery. Oh, friends, I was absolutely blown away by this place. The exhibit theme was “paper” and I saw heron marionettes, room-sized kites, a couch made of newspapers, and ten-foot-long pen-and-ink murals. Below you see Yuken Teruya‘s trees carved into shopping bags and Han Feng‘s floating city.
Underwhelming art experience: Don’t get me wrong, the Tate Modern has some absolutely stellar pieces. But it seemed like 40% gorgeous artworks, and 60% Stuff That Would Piss Off My Dad. (I go to lots of art museums and exhibits with my dad, and enormous gray canvases and piles of rocks in the corner make him livid. Even though they inevitably spark great conversations about what art is. And the Tate Modern had a lot of enormous gray canvases and piles of rocks in the corner.)
Totally worth the trek art experience: Banksy’s Falling Shopper. (On an abandoned building in upmarket Mayfair.)
City failure: Do not trust Yelp. Lee Ho Fook’s is nowhere to be found in Chinatown. We looked for an hour.
What I wish I’d loved: Billy Elliot on stage. Billy Elliot is one of my top three all-time favorite movies, so the deck was stacked against this musical play. And there were definitely parts that were so gorgeous they moved me to tears. But I couldn’t help comparing, and definitely prefer the understated beauty of the film.
What I loved way more than I expected: Shopping at Liberty. I don’t know if we showed up on bonus day or something, but EVERYONE in that place was happy, chatty, funny, flirty, and just as lovely as they could be. And, of course, there was the entire room filled with scarves and the basement men’s department with gorgeous shoes and the quirky home decor and the endless bolts of lush fabric. I pretty much wanted to hide behind a rack and stay there overnight. Or possibly forever. I bought hankies. Because I am officially my grandma.
Best choice: Staying in South Kensington. Gobs of restaurants, adorable charity shops, cute boutiques, and a very laid-back vibe. We were near the Gloucester Road tube station, which turned out to be an absolutely perfect staging point for just about everywhere we wanted to go in London.
Funny story from London: In studying maps of London, I related everything to Hyde Park. It’s huge and fairly central and helped me understand the layout of the city. One of my itineraries for London involved taking the tube to Covent Garden, shopping, and then walking back through Hyde Park toward South Kensington. Or possibly renting bikes from the Barclay’s stations. We ended up attempting a version of this on our last day in London, and after three straight days that involved 10+ hours of walking, we made it to the northeast corner of the park and absolutely pooped out. We bought nutella waffles, looked at a nearby field, and then hopped the tube back to our hotel. Do you sense a wimpy theme, here?
How we got around: We did this a lot. Many, many hours were spent on trains getting from city to city. The trains were amazing – on time, fairly clean, and ran without hiccups. I love train travel and so enjoyed watching the countryside roll by.
The first time I visited London was with friends who were studying abroad there, and I was extremely overwhelmed. But, just like New York, once you’ve mastered the Tube, you can get just about anywhere on your own and the city feels far more manageable.
What I wore: I looked like this the whole time. Seriously. Black waterproof jacket, scarf, tunic, leggings or skinnies, and tall boots. I seldom took that jacket off as, even in shops and museums, it was relatively chilly so if you’d seen me anytime on the trip I really would’ve looked just like this! I was grateful for my Ella Umbrella brelly on several occasions, too.
Shopping highlights: For some mad reason, I bought 11 scarves on this trip. Some were thrifted, some were posh, some were super touristy. I had limited suitcase space, and scarves just seemed like the wearable, packable, affordable thing to nab. I also bought an absolutely gorgeous mustard yellow Radley bag from the shop in Cardiff. The two sales associates were nearly as thrilled as I was by my purchase, and we all giggled a lot together. The handbag came home with me stuffed to the brim with my new scarves. HM bought Grensons, and gah, are they ever gorgeous. (And hella cheaper in the UK than here in the US.)
Best thing I ate: Sticky toffee ginger pudding at Thomas. Wish I had some right now.
Something that amused me that no one else cared about: The badass crosswalks in Edinburgh. Studs, people! Studded crosswalks!
We had loads of fun and certainly hope to get back again someday. I guess that kinda goes without saying! Hope you enjoyed this little trip summary, and keep your eyes peeled for my travel purchases (read: scarves) in upcoming outfit posts.