Europe 2007 Day 9 – London to Cardiff

Today we were back up with the alarm clock with a lot to squeeze in before heading to Cardiff. First thing was to clean up Phillipe’s apartment and then we needed to head out to the British Museum. Before leaving we decided to fire up the toaster in the kitchen and toast some crumpets we had bought the other night. Halfway through, the fire alarm went off in the main room so we had to scramble to get the battery out and open the windows before the fire brigade showed up.

Everything was packed and ready to go just after 10, so we hoofed it over to the British Museum. I wanted to show Daniel the highlights so headed over to the Rosetta Stone, translator of hieroglyphics, as well as the famed Parthenon room with the Elgin Marbles. I am always impressed when you can be in the same room as a valuable historical object. The other stop we wanted to make was in the Egyptian room where they kept actually bodies and mummies all on display for the world to see. I just hope in 5000 years, my shriveled up bones and skin are not on display in some museum. Taking in enough history, we decided to quickly walk over to Carnaby Street and Regent Street to check out some of the stores we took note of last night.

Sadly, most of the stores and their interesting merchandise left something to be desired. Either it was way too expensive, or upon closer examination did not look as cool as it did through a window in the night air. We made quick time of the area and looking at my watch, realized that we were 15 minutes behind schedule. We took the tube from Piccadilly Circus to Russell Square to get back to the apartment to grab our things. We then had to re-trace our steps back to Paddington Station where we arrived just a few days earlier. I literally mean we re-traced our steps since we had to cart our huge suitcases up and down flights of stairs to reach the train. By the time we reached the platform, Daniel was ready to throw out one of the bottle waters he was carrying and the travel books and magazines.

We then had about 20 minutes to get to Paddington and get to our train. Arriving at Paddington, we rushed down the platform and up and over the stairs until we saw the overhead sign indicating that our train to Cardiff was canceled! All that rushing just went down the drain. It appears there was some engineering work on the tracks past Reading and all the quarter past trains to Cardiff had been canceled. We had a seat reservation that was now no good, and worse yet, could not make a new one because you have to do that three hours in advance. It was time to have it my way so we dined on some Burger King in the station. Interesting with all the food places there was not a single rubbish bin in the entire station. I had to ask a security guard what to do with my trash and he directed me to a gentleman pushing a cart around the station. Having deposited the trash the only thing left was to wait for our track assignment. I had noticed a large gathering of people near the monitors and my fears came true when with 6 minutes left before departure, they finally announced the platform and what seemed like the entire population of Paddington Station headed for our train. It was like the running of the bulls in Spain. Needless to say, Daniel and I were at a disadvantage with our huge suitcases.

We tried to make it to Car D for unreserved guests, but due to the high volume of travelers, there were no seats and barely any room for our bags. Daniel managed to score a spot for his and then in the first class car, I found a spot for mine. For the first 25 minutes of the trip, we stood in the doorway between cars. It actually was good because we could lower the windows and try and vent out some of the BO. Once the train stopped at Reading, we were able to get some seats halfway down the coach and by then I was immune to the BO smell. About 45 minutes later as I was listening to my iPod, a huge chunk of something hit the side of the train with a loud thud. I didn’t think much of it until we came out of the tunnel and I noticed the huge window next to me was completely shattered. It looks like a rock hit the window next to the seat behind me and shattered the safety glass. A conductor was called and he had us move out of our seats. When we reached the next station, the railway staff chipped away the remainders of the window and yellow taped off the seats that we were in and the window itself. The driver of the train even asked what happened and I described it to him.

Thankfully, more people got off of the train, but we were now delayed by an extra 15 minutes – so now we ended up in Cardiff a good hour behind where we originally wanted to be. At Cardiff Central station, we took the lift to the ground floor to get out to the tourist information booth. Since we were traveling on Rail passes, we had no way of getting out of the station. An attendant came to our rescue and eventually we were freed. I headed over to the info booth to get directions to our hotel, but she gave us some not-very-helpful directions. I then decided to get a cab to our hotel. I flagged one down fairly quickly and off we went whizzing through Cardiff. Our cabbie asked us where we were from and once we identified that we were Americans, he proceeded to tell us what a mess we have created in Iraq and how we should just leave so things can fix themselves. Not wanting to be driven out of town and shot, we just played along and talked about what people could do, problems facing us, and the like. I just wanted out of the cab so I didn’t have to answer any more questions. Next time I get a cab, I will follow Jonathan’s advice and tell them I am Canadian. Not that I am ashamed of being an American, it just I’d rather have quiet cab rides.

We arrived at the fantastic Futures Inn Cardiff Bay in one piece. I made sure I tipped the cabbie so he would not return and kill us in our sleep. The hotel has a very Holiday Inn Express feel to it, but our room was massive and the reception crew were nice. I decided to prepay for breakfast. It was a bit steep, but at least we will be able to set off on our driving adventure on a full stomach. After getting settled a bit, we headed towards the Cardiff Millennium Center – one of the big landmarks seen in the newest Doctor Who and Torchwood series on BBC TV and also showing in America. I have been a fan of Doctor Who since college, and I really enjoy the new show. Heading through the neighboring shopping mall, I was startled to discover a huge Doctor Who exhibit and gift shop. We ran in to take a first look at all the neat stuff they had on sale. Since we were going to the Millennium Center, we decided to purchase on the way back.

It was neat to stand on places where they filmed the show. It is very funny because it is much smaller in person than on TV, and you would never guess there was a big road behind the center. After some geek photos, we walked back to the Doctor Who store where I bought my very own die-cast TARDIS, an autographed photo of Tom Baker, and a little something for Atsushi at work. The people operating the shop were a lovely set of grandparents and I think I made there day being so giddy. On the way out I got a penny pressed with the TARDIS on it, and the representative who services the machines gave me a shiny new penny so it would come out better. The serviceman asked where we were from and I mentioned Southern California (I forgot I was now supposed to be from Canada – oh well), and he mentioned that he serviced penny presses at Knott’s Berry Farm as well as Disneyland. He ever told us of one up in Loch Ness at the official Loch Ness Museum. We promised to check it out when we got there.

We headed back to the hotel and had some quick dinner before starting our laundry. We are almost to the halfway point of our journey and the hotel had some nice machines so we figured it was a great time to do it. In the room at the hotel we have free Internet on the TV, and free wi-fi in the hotel lobby. I will have to go down there to upload this entry and the photos for the day, but all in all I am very pleased with the room.

Tomorrow we dare to get a rental car and take to the roads of the UK. We start out in Cardiff and head off to Blackpool on the western shores of Britain. I am a bit nervous, as I had thought this was going to be a more rural place to start, but I am eagerly awaiting the challenge.