Monday, September 24, 2012

London 2012 Part III: Who, What and Wales.

We’re in the hire car for the first time in a few days – you can’t drive into central London because of congestion – and we’re on the road by just after 9am, good going. Speaking of going, we’re not entirely sure where we’re going, not do we have a map. As I said before, then, thank goodness for the GPS. We start to head in the general direction of Wales, and finally we’re on a motorway – their name for a highway. It is slightly confusing to say the least, that we have to monitor our speed and distance in miles instead of kilometers. Aren’t the Brits the ones who invented the metric system? We haven’t exactly eaten breakfast yet, and so we take advantage of the first sign saying ‘services’. That’s what we know as an Ultracity. I don’t know why this reminds me of Canada so much, but it does. There are fir trees everywhere and it’s slightly chilly, giving the whole place a bit of a creepy vibe. We attempt to track down a Proper English Breakfast, but end up settling for bacon rolls from McDonalds. Plus, McDonald’s has free wi-fi and I need to tweet.

We’re back in the car and I’m attempting to not spill my hot chocolate everywhere but Runaways has just come on XFM and I’m having a slight freakout session. We soon lose XFM signal though, and I start up a steady stream of The Gaslight Anthem and The Shins on my iPod.

But what are those strange rocks chilling at the side of the highway about an hour and a half later? The Shins are singing one of their melancholy laments… “another afternoon, with the goat-head tunes, and pilfered booze… we wonder through the mother’s house….” And could that be Stonehenge? No, surely not? They’re tiny! We stop and buy tickets to get closer to the structures, and I’m forcibly reminded of our stop at Cango Caves before the last time we saw The Killers. At least this time I get to stay above the ground. OK, the stones aren’t that small, but they hardly touch the sky the way they’re portrayed on TV and in books. I’ve seen more impressive rocks in my backyard – and I don’t even have a backyard. Also, there’s nothing creepy, powerful or mystical about them. But it’s pretty cool to take photos with them in the background. I get a lemonade from a stand outside, we take some photos with the Stonehenge sign, and then leave. Maybe we should go to Glastonbury, that sounds fun!

‘Fun’ is probably not the right work. ‘Freaky’ is more like it. The people all have dreadlocks, odd hats, printed clothes and interesting cigarettes hanging from their mouths. The shops are all mystical and full of crystals, magic books and who knows what else. I wander into a music shop and suddenly I feel very mainstream. I’ve never heard of any of these people, but finally I spot a rack of normal-ish CDs – I’ve never been so glad so see a U2 album in my life. I’m positively creeped out by this entire town. The food at the local pub is great though, even though the place looks like it would fit perfectly into any number of horror films. A few photos of the Glastobury ruins and then we decide to get out of town ASAP, but not before another photo opportunity in the form of a structure called the Tor. It’s on top of a hill, so we snake our way up the tiny lane, where we encounter many people lying on the grass alongside the road – they’re probably smoking the grass too. Turns out you can’t drive to the Tor and we’re way too lazy to walk, so we drive back to the ‘main road’ and consult the GPS again. Something called Cheddar Gorge is apparently not far from here (I seem to remember checking an actual map around this time, but we hadn’t bought one yet, so I assume it was pulled out of some travel brochure we’d picked up somewhere along the way). Anyway, the only result for ‘cheddar gorge’ on the GPS is ‘cheddar gorge cheeses’, so I select it and we drive as directed by the device. In retrospect, I realize how ridiculous this kind of unplanned travel sounds, it could have ended really badly. Also bear in mind that we’ve not booked into anywhere to sleep for the night, as we’re not sure where we’ll be. Wonder what the UK’s policy on sleeping in cars is?

At some point, the GPS directs us to turn towards something called Axebridge – I wonder if it’s got something to do with axe murderers. Oooh I see a Spar! Didn’t know they had those here. Maybe it’s some South African who opened it. Maybe he’s an axe murderer. About this Cheddar Gorge, though, I feel like we’re being led, quite literally, up the garden path. We’re back on tiny country lanes, and the motorway is nowhere in sight. It’s also afternoon by now, and we don’t really want to get lost at night if we can avoid it. Ha! Eventually we see signs for Cheddar Gorge. It’s a cute, quaint little village-type-place and the actual gorge offers hikes into caves – pass. We view the scenery from the comfort of the car before continuing on. It really is time to head to our final destination by now, and we decide Cardiff isn’t too far, that will be the place! Travelodge, Cardiff to be more precise. We’ve never slept at a Travelodge before, but that’s where we’ve booked in for our time in Leeds, so it can’t be too bad.

I squeal a bit driving over the Severn Bridge… the line form Wonderful Life is in my head… ‘on a bridge across the Severn on a Saturday night, Suzie meets the man of her dreams… she says don’t let go, never give up; it’s such a wonderful life…” it’s true. It really is.

Travelodge Cardiff doesn’t seem to exist though, and so we go driving again, this time looking for Travelodge Cardiff Bay. Aha, success! Yes, they have a vacancy for the night, yes they have free wi-fi in the lobby. Winning. But why does the window not open “for your own safety”? Odd.

We’re basically on the Cardiff waterfront, and it’s beautiful! We’ve found a flyer for something called the ‘Doctor Who Experience’, and my inner nerd is basically crying in anticipation. It’s also supposed to be ten minutes walk from here. I will find it!

There’s a fountain in the middle of the square near the waterfront, it’s tall and silver with strawberries painted on it – it makes me think of Coldplay. And then we walk the whole length of the waterfront, taking in the beauty of the scene. The sun is setting and the water is illuminated and everything is stunning. It’s also cold. Clouds are rolling it and it’s threatening to rain. We stop at the Sainsbury’s to grab some food for supper and I facetiously ask the guy behind the counter if they take Pounds in Wales. He smirks. Yes, they take Pounds. I’m so awkward. Time to get out of here.

[If you don’t know what Doctor Who is, it’s best to skip the next few paragraphs.]
Where is the Doctor Who experience, then? After walking around for a while, we find a sign and take a photo before following it. And then I totally spot The Doctor’s car! No, I’m not even lying, it says TARDIS on the back, and a photo of Matt Smith smiles at me from the license plate which reads S21 WHO. Fangirl spasm of note. AND THEN I SEE THE TARDIS! The blue police box is mounted on a jetty a few meters out into the water. An actual TARDIS. Never been so excited in my life. Of course, the actual exhibition is closed, only resuming tomorrow morning at 10am… so I know what we’re doing in the morning!

Back at the hotel, I attempt to watch TV, but don’t they have an equivalent of SABC here? Everything is news channels, and something called the One Show, which makes me giggle, because it’s kind of like an evening version of Expresso…

Wednesday dawns cold and rainy. I’ve got my jeans, coat and hat on, and we run squealing down to the DH experience, to be there by the time the tour starts. Most of those joining us look like they wouldn’t be out of place at auditions to play Harry Potter in a re-make of the movies: ten-year-old boys wearing glasses dominate the crowd. Aww. Nerds in training!

And then the magic begins. We step through a crack in time, and a video feed of Matt Smith gazes disparagingly at us. “Shoppers!” he admonishes. He then proceeds to urge us to pass through a door ‘into the TARDIS’. Hehehe. The floor of the TARDIS actually shakes! It’s a perfect replica of  the machine in the show. And it’s awesome. Next we’re hurried off the TARDIS and into the spaceships of the Daleks, whose mission is to exterminate The Doctor. I’m not sure how we escape them, but the next thing we have to look out for are weeping angels. When the is over and the lights finally come back on, I’m absolutely delighted! After that we’re invited to walk around the exhibition room and take photos of all of the props used in the show. There are several TARDISs, sonic screwdrivers and Doctors’ outfits, and the second level houses replicas of many of the creatures including Daleks and the Ood. Awesome. A million or so photos later, we move on to the souvenir shop, and I get Lauren and I each a TARDIS pen. Because I’m cool like that.

When we get back outside, the rain is absolutely pouring down, and we run for cover in the tourist info centre (free wi-fi, yay! But where’s that umbrella I’m sure we vowed to purchase?). We still don’t have a map, so we ask how long it will take to get to Leeds from here  - our Leeds adventure is due to begin tomorrow. The woman at the info center laughs a bit. “Leeds? But that’s not here, that’s on the other side of the country!” she says, in abject horror.  We know. How long will it take, though? She shakes her head. “At least 3, 3 and a half hours.” It’s our turn to laugh. In SA, it would take 20 hours to get to the ‘other side of the country’.

We pack up and move out of the Travelodge, intending to find another one to sleep at tonight. We end up in the nearby town of Barry, however, which does not have a Travelodge. In fact, a local tells us that we’d be better off not staying in the town at all. But it’s a pretty cute town and we walk around for ages, sincerely hoping we’ll remember where we parked the car. This is also the town in which we finally purchase a map! Yay, direction! The shops aren’t too bad here either, and I buy an item or two of clothing from a tiny but interesting shop. “Nsjnojfoergirejfjkadjlkfj?” Asks the lady behind the counter. Or at least, that’s what it sounds like to me. I have to ask her to repeat herself three times before I realize that she’s asking if I’d  like a packet. Oh. Yes, please.

There’s no Marks & Spencer here and we’re hungry and maybe we need to find somewhere to sleep… the nearest Travelodge is apparently near the Cardiff airport, so off we go. But they’re fully booked. Oh dear, now what? It’s around 2.30pm and…. Oh look, there’s a little pub called Toby Carvery, and the sign outside says something about proper English lunch! Don’t mind if I do. The young man serving the food has the same eyes as Chris Martin, I note, and five minutes later, when his boss shouts for him “HEY, CHRIS!” I nearly fall on the floor. Ha. Fangirling seeps into all facets of my life, doesn’t it.

After lunch we’re feeling ready to take on the world, and we get an idea into our head that’s so bad it’s good: it only gets dark after 9pm, let’s just drive straight to Leeds! We put Gaslight on pull blast, type ‘Travelodge Leeds Central” into the GPS and we’re off! Through the countryside, past farms, and farms, and, well, farms. It’s pretty and different to SA and it’s all so homogenous. And then we’re passing signs for Birmingham and Solihull and the signs are also telling us that Leeds is getting closer. Now I’m really getting excited – Killers, I’m comin’ for yuh!

It’s dark by the time we get to Leeds and the GPS is lost. We ask for directions from about 5 different people but somehow get progressively more and more lost, and by the time we finally find the damn place it’s 9pm and I’m not happy. Imagine if they don’t even have a room open for tonight! But luck is on our side, and they do have a room, even if it’s 50 Pounds for the night. I don’t even pause in the lobby to use the free wi-fi. It’s bedtime. 

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