UK/Belgium holiday in planning

Very busy the last few weeks, which is why the blog has been so quiet.

Long-time readers would know that I like to write about my interstate and overseas holidays in almost excruciating detail. Well brace yourself for another one – I’ve got a European holiday in planning for later this year.

It’s looking like England, Wales, and Belgium, with catching up with various family scattered around the place being a key priority.

It’ll be the first big family holiday in many years, and my first time in Europe this century — previous trips were in 1999 and 1998.

Eurostar hadn’t even opened the last time I was there, so you can be sure we’ll be using it to get to Belgium! It’ll be my first journey on an actual High Speed Rail service (I used the Brussels to Amsterdam high speed “Thalys” in 1998, but it was at regular speed due to flooding) and my first time using Oyster card!

Daniel’s 1998 Europe trip highlights from Daniel Bowen on Vimeo.

Obviously the terrible events in Manchester this week (and previous incidents in London, Brussels and elsewhere) are a concern, but ultimately you can’t cower at home because something might happen.

On the list of touristy things already are various sights in London, Cardiff, Brussels, probably Bath and perhaps Stonehenge or Avebury since we’ll be visiting relatives in that part of the country.

Any must-see suggestions?

More notes as I ponder:

  • London transport accepts most overseas PayPass cards, which will save us buying Oyster cards for everyone.
  • I’m wary of Britrail passes – it sounds like roughly the same cost if you prebook flexible fares a few weeks in advance.
  • We’re looking at Air B’n’b for places we’ll be staying more than a day or two, as it’s useful being able to easily cook some meals and do laundry. Hotels for 1-2 day hops.

    European holiday: Escaping the winter

    (I am prone to do long overly-detailed blog posts about my holidays, perhaps more for my benefit and enjoyment than yours. Here’s the first instalment. This post is backdated. Published 26/7/2017)

    This holiday was a long time coming. Co-ordinating with my sons (including university holidays) and work and M and relatives, let alone getting the money together, took some time… in fact it would be my first time in Europe since 1999.

    But the day had finally arrived. After a flurry of packing, and wondering what would be forgotten*, we left the house about 11am, train to the City.

    On the way through, I noticed some of the scaffolding had come off at Flinders Street Station, and showing the new, less mustardy yellow colour. I snapped a photo of it to post to Twitter.

    A few days later the Premier’s Department rang asking if they could use the picture. Heh, you’d think own their media unit could get one, but oh well — maybe I happened to snap it just as it was in transition and nobody else did. They added some captions and posted it to Facebook:

    I do like the new colour. Apparently the section on the right is also zinc sheeting rather than the brick, which explains the different look.

    To the airport

    Anyway, we hopped off the train at Southern Cross, then Skybus to Melbourne Airport. It’s expensive (currently $35 return, times three of us), but as long as you avoid peak times, it’s usually quick and convenient.

    The Skybus driver said the trip would be about 30 minutes, depending on traffic. I timed it: it was actually 23, though I still felt a bit jipped because we didn’t get a double-decker bus.

    While on the Skybus I noticed one bloke up the front was constantly looking through his bags, murmuring to his travel companion and looking ever more concerned. Hopefully he hadn’t forgotten anything important.

    M met us at the airport, and there was plenty of time for a silly selfie in the departures area — but first we had to get our luggage and boarding passes sorted out.

    Silly selfie at Melbourne Airport; about to be over by a tram

    Airlines and check-in

    I’d booked with Singapore Airlines, based on the loose criteria of: wanting one of the better airlines, availability on the dates we needed, and not some weird route taking 40+ hours to get to Europe. They also have WiFi in their planes, though this is a paid extra.

    It wasn’t particularly cheap – nothing is in July, thanks to Australian school holidays and European summer. But with other contenders such as Qantas/Emirates and Etihad all being a similar price, Singapore won out thanks to having slightly less cramped seats – apparently an extra inch of space.

    I’d checked-in online the day before. The flight was pretty full, so there weren’t any practical choices of seats.

    But I this I find a bit puzzling: The queue for those needing to check-in was really long. The queue for “Internet check-in” was really short. So we got to bypass the queue like rockstars despite booking Economy.

    Once at the desk, they weigh your bags, ask you questions about what’s in them, tag them, and give you boarding passes. So what’s the difference between this and checking-in at the airport? Just the lack of seat selection, which wasn’t an option anyway? Oh well, it certainly saved us a bunch of queuing.

    After grabbing a sandwich and a drink (at the predictably incredibly exorbitant airport prices – maybe next time we should just make a sandwich at home), we headed through the departures gate (quick selfie against the tram-themed backdrop – see above) and through security.

    Unbelievably, at the automatic gates at passport control, the bloke in front of us had left his passport in the scanner. Perhaps he expected it to zip through the machine and come out the other side like an old school mag stripe ticket gate. We called out and passed it to him. That’s not a mistake you’d want to make without realising until later.

    Then the looooong walk to gate 14 via the duty free shops.

    Melbourne Airport in the drizzle

    Melbourne to Singapore

    Despite some rain outside, the flight was away on-time (3:40pm).

    The food on the flight was pretty good – with actual metal cutlery! I read for a bit, watched some classic West Wing.

    Note to self: always grab the airline earphones. They’re hopeless, but your own snazzy earphones, which actually cut out some of the flight noise, won’t work – you get mono sound unless you have an adapter. Honestly, would it kill them to wire the plane sockets up so they provide stereo sound for stereo earphones?

    Before we knew it we were landing at Changi. Two hours to kill in the huge transit lounge, browsing the shops. You can also watch a free movie or visit the in-terminal butterfly house. Notably, one shop was running a promotion to win a trip to Melbourne.

    Singapore Changi Airport - win a trip to Melbourne!

    I tried to sign on to the free airport WiFi. It wanted to send an SMS activation code to my phone, which would normally not be a problem, but this was when I discovered that my phone roaming wasn’t working.

    This would be a problem for another three days, as I tried repeatedly to contact Telstra to get it resolved. Their Twitter people are very helpful but unable to actively fix very much directly. Their online chat people try to be very helpful, but anything complex tends to outfox them.

    In this case (I think on the second contact attempt, a day or two later) one of their so-called solutions was a suggestion for me to ring up another department. DUDE, I CAN’T RING ANYBODY BECAUSE MY ROAMING ISN’T WORKING. And even if I could, it’d be costing me $2 a minute to make that call.

    Having a fully-functioning phone was important to me. Although I was planning to buy a second SIM (my phone can take two), some of the services I use, such as banking, uses SMS for two-factor authentication. I also wanted to receive text messages and calls from home.

    The hassles I had with getting it fixed is probably the sort of issue that convinced the Australian Government MyGov web site to suggest turning off 2FA when going overseas.

    After a number of sessions on their online chat system over several days (well into the holiday proper), it was finally resolved, though frustratingly I don’t even know why it didn’t work in the first place, since roaming is meant to be on by default.

    And there was a sting in the tail of this problem. Stay tuned.

    So anyway, a little while later we boarded a huge bulbous Airbus A380 to continue on, departing Singapore at 11:30pm local time. I don’t quite know how these ridiculously big planes manage to get off the ground, but they do.

    After the “supper” meal, I slept for a bit, though light from toilets kept made it difficult to get back to sleep once awoken.

    We flew on into the night, headed for London.

    *What got forgotten? My sun hat. Would I need it to prevent getting sunburnt? Yes, as it turns out.

    Go west! (to Cardiff)

    (Backdated. Posted 28/7/2017)

    Click on any photo to see it larger

    After a long flight from Singapore, we landed in London, and as we taxied I did my usual thing of checking out the exotic airlines you can see at airports outside Australia.

    I particularly liked the Brussels Airlines slogan “We fly you to the home of Tintin” – apparently this is their “Rackham” aircraft.

    Tracking the flight to London

    Heathrow: Brussels Airlines Tintin plane

    Hello Heathrow

    During the lengthy walk from the terminal we found the airport WiFi and connected for a quick update from home. We would find WiFi was pretty common around the UK and Europe, at many small and large institutions, including airports, pubs, restaurants.

    It was also ubiquitous on long-distance trains run by GWR, which covered all the places we’d be going in southeast England, Wales and Cornwall, and it was also available on one of our two Eurostar trips (the one where we lucked out getting newer carriages), some museums, as well as everywhere we booked accommodation (though this latter point was deliberate on my part!)

    We cleared immigration via a chatty bloke from UK Border Force who wondered, since we were initially headed to Cardiff, if we’d be watching the test match. Cricket, I assumed? No, rugby!

    Then through customs – notably on this occasion, the “Nothing To Declare” and “EU” entries funnelled into the same corridor. Presumably as with the EU queues at immigration, some changes are coming to this.

    I found a mobile phone stand and bought a local SIM. It wasn’t quite as cheap as I hoped, but for £35 (basically £15 of fees for the SIM, plus £20 for the top-up), I got a Vodafone SIM with 4 Gb of data that would roam to Belgium with voice and data. They also sold the Three one I’d looked at for the same price, but it didn’t do voice/text outside the UK… normally I wouldn’t be concerned, but it would prove to be useful in Brussels.

    The bloke at the stand fitted it into my phone and set it up for me. Good service. He said some people walk past and don’t even notice the stand is there. I’d recommend it. It’s in the subway on the way to the Heathrow rail station, near the entrance to the Underground.

    Which way from the airport?

    To coin a phrase from Doctor Who, he who wants to get from Heathrow Airport to central London by train has three choices: above, between, below.

    Below (cheap) is London Underground, though most of the route is not in fact underground. This costs £5.50 in peak, and is very frequent, but is also the slowest unless your final destination is along the Piccadilly Line. Which ours wasn’t.

    Above (expensive) is Heathrow Express. Frequent, every 15 minutes, and takes just 15 minutes to Paddington Station – which is where we needed to go. But over-the-top in cost, at £22 for a single trip, per person, though there are discounts if you book many weeks in advance.

    Between: Heathrow Connect. It takes much the same route as Heathrow Express, but stops at more stations, taking 27 minutes. It runs only half-hourly, so you might have to wait around for it. But at £10.30 per person (which is still a premium fare, by the way; non-airport trips on the same line are much cheaper), it’s a more affordable price if travelling in a group, so that’s what we took.

    We bought tickets and were on the 7:27 departure, and being rush hour the train got pretty packed by Paddington a bit before 8am.

    In comparison, the Heathrow Express trains we saw appeared relatively empty. I guess you’re paying a bunch more money for shorter average waiting times, a slightly shorter trip, and a less crowded train. Their own web site says they carry 17,000 passengers per day, and there are 150 services per day. So an average of 113 passengers per train? As with other premium-priced trains, that’s not a huge number of people. You could carry 113 in a double-articulated bus. I wonder if Heathrow Express is profitable? (Toronto’s much newer airport express is in deep trouble.) You wonder if it’d be better to combine the two services and run very frequent trains at a lower price.

    Paddington Station, London

    Paddington Station, London: filming notice

    Heading west

    We arrived at Paddington and joined the back of the queue to exit the platform. The fare gates took a couple of goes to accept the tickets (but it may have been jetlagged-user-error), but we got through and found some food on the concourse.

    A quick look for the Paddington Bear statue was fruitless, but we found it on a later occasion. There was time to admire the architecture, and to note that a film crew was around somewhere, filming yet another one of those documentaries showing railway operations that the Brits love making (and which I find surprisingly addictive).

    We bought tickets old skool (in the booking office) for the 8:45 train to Cardiff. I’d considered booking ahead, but it seems that in many cases there is no real price advantage, and some types of tickets may tie you to a specific train – tricky when they are every half-hour and I had no idea what time we’d be departing. Expect a separate blog post on the vagaries of UK National Rail fares.

    The train left on time for Swansea (via Cardiff). It’s not “high speed rail” by Japanese or European standards, but the train zoomed along very fast. There was a noticeable rush of wind and noise as we passed trains in the opposite direction. If you’re wondering, the schedule is: 8:45 London Paddington, 9:11 Reading, 9:39 Swindon, 10:04 Bristol Parkway, 10:31 Newport, 10:46 Cardiff Central.

    This is partly Brunel’s Great Western Main Line, built in the late-1830s, and partly the South Wales Main Line, completed in 1903. To Cardiff is about 234 km, which the train does in just on two hours, so a pretty good average speed of 117 km/h, though apparently the top speed is 200 km/h aka 125 miles per hour – reflecting the High Speed “Intercity 125” trains used on the line.

    Intercity 125 train at Paddington Station, London

    These are a relative of Australia’s aging XPT, but clearly the trains and track are maintained to a far higher standard. The train wasn’t particularly crowded, and the seats in Standard (Economy) class were big and comfy, with free WiFi.

    There are lengthy (7 km) tunnels under the Severn river along the way – it’s all very impressive. And before you know it, you’re in Wales, which of course is a separate country to England.

    Newport station, Wales

    Cardiff Central Railway Station

    Welcome to sunny Cardiff

    After entering Wales, we got to Cardiff pretty much on-time, and walked to our accommodation, an Air B’n’B place midway between Cardiff Bay and the city centre. For the trip, we’d booked Air B’n’B for the longer stays, with the aim of being able to make meals etc (which didn’t really end up happening apart from breakfasts) and hotels for the shorter stays.

    Getting there involves a myriad of major roads, side streets and canals in that area, which is precisely why I’d wanted a fully-functioning phone: during the trip, Google Maps would prove its worth time and time again. For navigating a new city, an accurate map with a GPS locator to tell you exactly where you are is invaluable.

    Okay, so sometimes it couldn’t tell you which direction you were facing. But walk a few steps and see which way the dot moved and you were set.

    We dropped off our bags (as per agreement with our host, we were a little early to actually settle in just yet), and walked down towards Cardiff Bay. Some friendly neighbours directed us to the scenic route, via the old canals.

    The Wales Millennium Centre is an incredible landmark, so we stopped there for some photos, and explored the surrounds.

    Cardiff Bay: Millennium Centre

    Cardiff Bay: Pierhead building and Millennium Centre

    Cardiff Bay: Detail on the Pierhead building: Cardiff Railway Company coat of arms

    View of Penarth from Cardiff Bay

    Old railway signals at Cardiff Bay

    Cardiff Bay: Shrine to Torchwood character Ianto Jones

    Fans of Doctor Who and its spinoff Torchwood would recognise the area, and there’s a shrine to Torchwood character Ianto on the pier.

    Lunch on the waterfront lunch at a burger bar, then we walked back to have a post-trip shower and a rest.

    Time to explore! This time we headed into Cardiff CBD, to help get our bearings. Finding a supermarket, and given we were all tired, we ended up with a plan to get some salad and a cooked chicken and take them back to the flat to eat.

    But do Welsh supermarkets sell cooked chooks? One didn’t. One did, but they’d sold out. Eventually we bought salad (and other supplies) at a supermarket and a chicken at Nandos. We trekked back to the house with it. Dinner solved.

    Jetlag was starting to kick-in, so after a little TV, it was bedtime by 8pm.

    Why Cardiff? Some of you may have guessed, but if not, stay tuned.

    Cardiff Who?

    (Backdated. Posted 31/7/2017)

    Oh the joys of jetlag. Having gone to bed at 8pm, I woke at about 5am. But being summer, it was already light.

    Eventually it seemed like a half-decent time to get up and out, and we prepared for our mission.

    Why had we come to Cardiff in the first place? And at the start of the holiday? Because of the Doctor Who Experience. It’s been at Cardiff Bay since 2012… but the lease runs out this year and it’s closing.

    For a family of Doctor Who obsessives, who on this trip would be coming to the west of England anyway to visit family, including this was a no-brainer.

    Cardiff: Doctor Who Experience

    Cardiff: Doctor Who Experience - bus stop
    (Can I get a photo combining Doctor Who and public transport? Yes! Note the bus stop passenger information display.)

    Back when I was planning the holiday earlier this year, they’d only confirmed open dates until the first week in July. Way back in 1999, we narrowly missed out on going to Legoland, and I wasn’t going to risk a repeat. So I planned the holiday around ensuring we got to Cardiff first for the Exhibition before it closed.

    After booking everything in, including accommodation located about midway between the city centre and the Bay (an easy walk to both)… it was announced the exhibition will be open until September.

    No matter, we’d made it there, and we were damn well going to enjoy it!

    So on our first full day in Britain, we walked down and arrived just as they opened, for our pre-booked 10am entry.

    The initial part of the Experience is a kind of interactive experience thingy. They ask that people don’t record/photograph, so as not to give it away. So I won’t blog about it either, but it’s good!

    Then you pass into the exhibition hall, which is a bit like the Sydney Doctor Who Festival we went to in 2015: Lots of displays, costumes, monsters, models from the series, both the “classic” (1963-89) and new (2005-) episodes.

    Being adjacent to the studios where they actually produce the show helps them keep the displays completely up to date – costumes from episodes only aired weeks before were on display. And there are plenty of opportunities for photos, with or without your own ridiculous posing with them.

    Police boxes, Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff Bay

    1980s TARDIS console, Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff Bay

    Monsters, Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff Bay

    Two Davroses, Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff Bay

    Costumes at the Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff Bay

    Costumes from "World Enough and Time", series 10, Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff Bay

    Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff Bay

    Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff Bay

    Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff Bay

    Of course you exit (eventually) through the gift shop — merchandise galore, including some items you don’t normally see at other shops — it was only the thought of my limited suitcase capacity that stopped me going crazy with a credit card.

    And there’s a chance to sample a welsh cake in the cafe. Nom nom nom.

    Welsh Cake

    It was lunchtime by the time we exited, and we grabbed a bite to eat nearby at a takeaway place, and ate in the park as we watched three blokes who, having a lunch break from a nearby office, tried to get their throwing toy down from a tree.

    We then walked into Cardiff’s city centre to explore some more, and up towards Cardiff Castle.

    St Mary Street, Cardiff

    St Mary Street, Cardiff

    One of the local breweries is called Brains, which results in some amusing signage around the place. Makes it look like alcoholic zombies have taken over.

    Brains Beers advertising, Cardiff

    The Goat Major pub, Cardiff

    Cardiff Castle

    At the northern end of the Cardiff CBD is Cardiff castle, an impressive structure, overlooking one of the main streets. And like many large old buildings, it’s evolved over time: it was a 3rd century Roman fort, then got an 11th century castle, with various changes and upgrades along the way, then the development of a Georgian mansion in the 18th century.

    After a quick look at a display of wartime memorabilia under the visitor centre, we did a tour of the mansion, which showed off some of the amazing decorations inside the building.

    Cardiff Castle

    Decorations inside Cardiff Castle

    Cardiff Castle

    Then a climb up into the keep. Signs warned of ever-steeper steps up – back in the day, they certainly didn’t design these buildings for ramp accessibility — more like to defend against attackers.

    If you make it all the way to the top there are some great views of Cardiff.

    Steps inside Cardiff Castle

    Cardiff Castle

    View from the top of Cardiff Castle

    After the castle, we had a somewhat early dinner at a nearby famed Italian restaurant called Cafe Citta – it’s lucky we were early or we wouldn’t have got in – this was utterly delicious. Thanks jetlag!

    Laneway art, Womanby Street, Cardiff

    Parking officer in Cardiff orders vehicles out of a pedestrian area

    It was still light, so we walked back towards Bute Park, along the way watching a parking officer enthusiastically ordering a car and a van to leave a part time pedestrianised zone. I wonder if he’d like a job in Melbourne? We could do with some like him.

    Bute Park sits between the Castle (it was once part of the grounds) and the Taff river. It was a warm evening, and lots of others were wandering around the park enjoying the sunshine.

    Bute Park, Cardiff

    River Taft, Cardiff

    A walk home, and bedtime by 9pm – still jetlagged, and still sunshine outside.

    With the long days, it would be some time into the holiday before we would actually see the night sky. Certainly not tonight.

    Battling the buses

    (Backdated. Posted 4/8/2017.)

    We’d be leaving Cardiff the next day, so before heading out we decided to get some laundry done. This is one of the benefits of Air B’n’B over hotels – at least if you’ve booked somewhere with a washing machine.

    Then, what excursion today? We’d considered trying to get to Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch, which as many would know has the longest place name in the world, though it’s known as the far snappier Llanfairpwllgwyngyll for short. (Disappointingly the long version was made up for promotional purposes in the 1860s.)

    Unfortunately, this is right across the other side of Wales, it was almost 5 hours by train to get there. Even driving takes over 4 hours.

    Instead we decided on St Fagans museum, just outside Cardiff, which is a kind of multi-timezone Sovereign Hill (but without the gold). On a huge property they have 40-odd buildings from lots of different periods of history, from the Iron Age to the 20th century.

    The bus to Pengham Green via Splott

    We didn’t catch the bus. I blame Margaret Thatcher.

    St Fagans is about 7km from the centre of Cardiff, and the only public transport mode serving the site is local buses.

    Most bus services in Britain were privatised in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher — with London being a notable exception — they have private operators but planned and controlled centrally.

    In most of the bigger cities, the network is split into multiple bus operators, and they all do their own thing. In most cases they do not have common fares or ticketing, and in some cities they’ve had disputes to try and compete for customers. As recently as last decade, some bus company managers were jailed due to related unsafe practices as part of their battles with other operators.

    Consistent with this model of deregulation, Cardiff has numerous bus operators, and they all have different tickets and fares.

    This works against public transport patronage. Can you imagine if every highway and freeway was run by a different toll company, with different incompatible payment options? Or if you could only send SMS messages to people on the same phone network as you? (Actually this was the case before April 2000)

    Planning and operating a common network makes it easier for users to use the service, encourages more patronage, and more income for all the operators.

    In this case, we wanted to get from Cardiff Bay to St Fagans. Frequent bus route 6 (“Baycar”) run by Cardiff Bus goes to the station (fare £1.80), and connects (in the spatial sense only) with buses to St Fagans run by Easyway. But they are run by different operators, so you pay two fares.

    Depending on which bus you catch back, you could be using a third operator (New Adventure Travel), with another separate fare.

    Timetable information is easy to find online via Google Maps and the official site Traveline Crymru. But for two of those three operators, fare and ticket information isn’t available (though Traveline are apparently working on it). I had no idea what I’d need to pay. Perhaps about £2, but was it cash only? Did they accept cards? Probably not. Did they give change? Did they accept large notes? What cash did I have on me, anyway?

    So the prospect was trying to pay multiple fares with cash (awkward) and times four people (expensive) on a two-bus trip (time-consuming)…

    (Later on I found there is a £8.30 Network Rider Ticket that’s valid on multiple operators… but not all of them. It covers all the operators I mentioned above, but not all their routes… confusing much? And if the plan was for three trips at about £2 each, then that’s not actually a very good deal. And where do I buy this ticket? On the buses, or elsewhere? Oh and by the way, at least one bus operator lists this at the old £8.00 price.)

    And the clincher was we were late getting out of the house… so I gave up and called an Uber. It came a couple of minutes after we called it, took about 20 minutes, and cost £16.30, direct off my credit card. For the four of us, not much more expensive than the, perhaps, £14 in bus fares, but also quicker and more convenient.

    Iron Age round houses, St Fagans Museum, Cardiff

    St Fagans Museum, Cardiff

    St Fagans, to rhyme with Baggins

    We saw various parts of suburban Cardiff on the way to the museum (including, up close, for the first time since our trip started, a British railway crossing – rare in urban areas, but there are a few on the less busy lines in regional areas).

    On arrival at the museum, our Uber driver remarked that he’d lived there for 20 years, but “I’ve never heard of this place.”

    It was pretty warm, and we did a lot of walking around the museum looking at the various buildings, as well as some amusing placement of (fake, presumably) dinosaur tails.

    St Fagans Museum: Dinosaur tail

    It was kind of interesting. But it’s very widely spaced out. Admittedly this does give each site a nice sense of isolation, but it also means you have to walk a long way to see anything.

    I may be a total philistine, but I have to confess, even though the museum was free, and parts of it were interesting, I’m not sure I’d go back. (Which you could interpret as: if you’re in the area, don’t bother trekking out there unless you’re super-keen and there’s nothing else to do.)

    Plymouth Arms pub, St Fagans, near Cardiff

    On the recommendation of some neighbourly builders, lunch was at the Plymouth Arms, a rather lovely pub just outside the eastern gate of the museum. Tasty. Mushy peas is a UK tradition I think we should adopt in pub meals here.

    I thought we’d catch a bus back to the city centre. The buses from St Fagans back to central Cardiff are theoretically every 20-30 minutes, but I discovered that during school terms, there’s no bus between about 2pm and 4:30. Evidently the buses go off and do school runs.

    This is perhaps understandable from a purely economic point of view. But it’s poor service to museum patrons.

    Another bus runs from nearby, but only about every 2 hours. It was due in an hour.

    I tried to call an Uber. A driver accepted (12 minutes away) then cancelled on me. I tried for a few minutes, but no others responded. Hmmmm. Could it be that, 7km from Cardiff City Centre, we were just too remote for Uber?

    I had no idea what the local phone number was for a cab… nor whether they’d take a credit card. This of course is the benefit of Uber in an unfamiliar city.

    So we decided to look around the museum gardens and mansion house a bit more (it’s all very Downton Abbey), then catch the bus.

    The bus – assuming I’d read the timetable correctly – rocked up 5 minutes early – thankfully we’d reached the stop early. The bus driver seemed surprised to be getting any passengers :-/ Oh well, at least the fare was an even £2 each.

    On the bus from St Fagans to Cardiff

    War memorial, Cardiff

    It took us into central Cardiff pretty quickly and we had another look around the shops to find a cold drink.

    Then we walked up to the National Museum. Somehow the day had got away from us, and we only had about half-an-hour before closing time – only had time for a quick look around.

    Doctor Who fans might recognise the museum as one of those used for The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, the final episode of Matt Smith’s first season.

    National Museum, Cardiff

    In fact, there are Doctor Who and Torchwood shooting sites all over Cardiff and the surrounding area. Turns out there’s a web site tracking them all: Doctor Who Locations.

    As we continued to wander the streets, we spotted another location: the University of Cardiff, which doubled for Bristol University in the most recent Doctor Who season.

    Walking past the Cardiff Police headquarters we noticed a film crew packing up their equipment, including uncovering the “Cardiff Police” sign, which had been disguised as “Bristol Police”.

    I’m not sure what had been filmed, but a number of productions are based in Cardiff apart from Doctor Who, such as Sherlock and hospital drama Casualty.

    Police station, Bristol. No, actually Cardiff.

    A little more exploring of the city centre, and grabbing a takeaway dinner along the way, we headed back to our accommodation to relax for the evening and prepare to head for our next destination.