Monthly Archives: October 2015

Cardiff and the Doctor Who Experience

From Bath, it’s a short train ride to Cardiff, Wales. And from the Cardiff train station, it’s a short walk to Cardiff Castle.

Cardiff Castle is, hands down, the most ornate place I have been ever inside. It’s mind-blowingly beautiful.

Literally every inch of the place is decorated. Look at these ceilings!

And the walls and floors are equally splendid.

Some of the details were so whimsical. Like this fish.

Cute little animals were sculpted in everywhere.

Stained glass, too.

I think you could live in this castle for years and not notice all the details.

The library was beautiful.

They have a small collection of birds of prey, too. I was especially taken with the owls. As I always am.

During WWII, the exterior castle walls was used as bomb shelter. They have a fantastic walkthrough, with it set up just like it was.

Canteens,

and metal bunkbeds.

Plus, they had sound piped in, of bombs falling, and sirens, and period music, and other things. I spent a long time in here, it was so deeply evocative for me.

Afterward, I walked along the Animal Wall. The story goes, that the owner wanted to put in a zoo, but the townsfolk refused to allow it, because of fears of the animals escaping. So he built a wall with stone animals perpetually in the act of escape. Some of them have glass eyes, and they are pretty creepy…in a completely awesome way.

This wall and its animals are definitely making it into the next book series I’m going to write.

Cardiff has several Victorian-era shopping arcades, with lovely little shops under a glass roof. This one, Castle Arcade, was my favorite. Largely because of the button shop. I bought a bunch of cool hobbit-y buttons there.

When I finished shopping, it was time to grab a cab to Cardiff Bay, and the Doctor Who Experience!  After you travel with the Doctor through an interactive experience, you get turned loose in an immense warehouse filled with costumes, props, and sets.  Nothing is behind glass – although they do have the occasional guard to make sure you don’t actually manhandle the treasures.

The TARDIS set was particularly cool, because you could walk around inside it.

There was creepy stuff.

And you always need to remain on your guard…

But I was thisclose to Ten. His suit, anyway. Guys, you don’t know the struggle it was not to reach out and touch…

It was awesome being able to get so close to all the costumes.

I took a billion pictures, including closeups of most of the costumes. You can find them here, if you’re so inclined.

I really liked Cardiff. It’s definitely on my list of places I’d love to visit again.

Bath

I’ve been to Bath before, on my last trip to England, but it was part of a day long group tour to Bath AND Salisbury AND Stonehenge, so really I was there only a couple of hours, just long enough to see the Roman Baths.

But since I have done that, I skipped them on this trip.  First of all, my guest house, The Kennard, was wonderful. Highly, highly recommend it. Perfect location, in a quiet residential street that was within a short walk of Pultney Bridge. And the owners are SO nice and helpful. The morning I checked out, the husband came up to carry down my bags and get me a cab to the station. It’s a lovely old building, too, built in the 1700s, and comes with the coziest beds with down comforters!

The day I arrived, I just wandered around, taking pictures. With the gorgeous gold stone, it’s a very photogenic

This restaurant is a chain, because I saw one in several different cities. I don’t know…maybe it’s because I’m a gardener, and thus very familiar with slugs on lettuce, but I didn’t find this a particularly appetizing name!

The second day, I visited the Bath Fashion Museum. They have a HUGE collection of historical garments, of which only a very small percentage is on display at any given moment.

They also have modern-era clothing, including some by big name designers, but I only popped my head into those rooms. Not interested!  Although, this one did catch my eye:

Remember the stir Jennifer Lopez caused by wearing this? How funny to think it ended up here, in Bath!

Although the light and reflections made it difficult to take pictures, I was thrilled to see a dress by one of my favorite designers, Titanic survivor Lady Duff Gordon, aka Lucile!

Lady Duff Gordon was a fascinating woman – and she wrote an fascinating autobiography A Woman of Temperament. I highly recommend it!

Also at the Fashion Museum, I booked a 2 hour slot in their Study Facilites. It’s pretty amazing, really. Email ahead, and let them know what types of fashion you’re interested in, and they’ll pull pieces from their collection and let you handle them and take photos/sketches. If you’re interested in seeing what I looked at, more info on this is on my costuming blog.  https://dragonflydesignsbyalisa.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/bath-costumes/

For lunch, I had crepes at a little creperie around the corner from the Abbey. So good. I went for lunch again the following day! I took my crepes to go, and ate in the parade park, with the lovely views of Pultney Bridge.

In the late afternoon, I took a boat ride up the river. We were promised a sight of kingfishers, but none materialized. There were some really pretty houses along the river.

Instead of doing the trip back via boat, I went into the little village of Bathampton, and walked back to Bath along the canal.

I got back into Bath just in time to see Bath Abbey lit up into pure gold.

Magical.

York

I don’t know what it is about York. I assumed I’d love it, but I didn’t. Even though it’s ancient – its bones go back to Rome, it felt somehow fake-old to me, like an American city pretending to be British.

I took the train along the coast from Edinburgh to York, and it was a beautiful, very scenic ride. I’d intended to stop off along the way at Alnwick Castle, but I’d picked up one souvenir I hadn’t wanted to: a British cold. I felt pretty much ok, but I didn’t have the energy I should have done. So I skipped the optional excursion.  I do love train travel in the U.K.; the trains run on time, and if you have a Britrail pass like I did, you can just hop on any train you want, anytime. It felt so freeing, because otherwise, to get the good fares, I would have had to buy the tickets before I left for Europe, and that would have locked me in to where I had to go, and what time.  One tip: if you’re traveling a short distance, don’t fill the date in on your Pass until the conductor asks you to. When I went to Leeds Castle, I got a free ride both ways because the conductor was nice enough to tell me I didn’t have to use my Pass on such a short distance!

My hotel in York, the Bar Convent, was brilliant. It was a functioning convent, and so quirky and charming.

It reminded me of a hotel for hobbits.  A lot of the doors were short – even for me, and I’m only 5’4″. I could – just barely – walk through my room’s door without ducking, but the toilet across the hall? Not a chance.

The toilet had some crazy forced perspective. It got tinier as you walked in.

And, most importantly, the people who run it are wonderful. The male receptionist (whose name I have already forgotten) was the friendliest guy. He took me on a quick tour of the place on the way to my room, pointing out which way was the breakfast room, the chapel, the garden, the toilet.  There were so many little passageways and staircases, it was like a maze. Fortunately, the walls were well-marked with directions.  The receptionist told me to feel free to wander wherever I wanted. I said it was a good thing there were so many directional signs, or I’d get lost for sure.  He said, “That’s okay – we feed anyone we find lost and starving in the hallways!”

After I settled in, I took his advice for a wander, and when I passed the reception desk, he jumped up and took me on a more in-depth tour. We visited the chapel, which was built to be a secret, as Catholism was illegal when the convent was built.

This gorgeous dome?

It’s invisible from outside the building!

There is also a relic of a woman who was tortured to death rather than betray her priest. Inside this locked box is a mummified hand!

He opened it and showed it to me.  The next day, I was actually inside the shop that used to be her home, and saw the actual priest’s hole, where the priest was hiding.

The convent gardens were lovely.

After I settled in, I went to the Railway Museum.  Normally, this sort of museum wouldn’t have a lot of appeal for me, but they have Queen Victoria’s train on display, and this I wanted to see!

Inside, it was just like a Victorian house, lots of upholstered chairs, lamps with fringe, and little fussy tables. So cute. As I was forced to take pictures through the very reflective glass of the windows, none of my pictures turned out good enough to share. However, if you Google “Queen Victoria’s train carriage” there are lots available to see.

Next I went to the castle. I did not walk up the hundreds of steps for the view.

But I did visit the castle museum, which was my favorite museum of the this trip, and the best of its kind I’ve ever been to. So worth a trip if you’re in York.

They had a HUGE section of street reproduced exactly as if it were a Victorian street. All the details were perfect. They even had the sounds of the street playing over a speaker. It was very immersive.

Some of the street was meant to be residential.

But the largest section was full of shops.

Some of them were just for window-shopping,

but others you could either look inside, or actually go inside!

Part of the time, I had the whole street entirely to myself!

And as I left, I noticed that you can actually rent use of the street after hours for parties and events. Costuming friends, think of how fun it would be to hold a Victorian party here – it would be the closest possible thing to time travel!

The second day I was in York, I visited the Shambles, the famous little shopping street. And I did love this particular bit of York.

Sometimes, you’d catch a glimpse of the Minster.

And then, the Minster itself.

Unlike Westminster Abbey, the Minster allows photos.  Yay!

Lots of stained glass, but like the Abbey, too high up to really appreciate.

The faces were the best part.

The Elizabethan-era memorials were splendid, and gave me just a hint of how colorful the entire church must have been, when it was new and all the stonework (walls, ceiling, and posts) were all painted vivid colors.

And down in the crypt, a memory of the past: an opening to the Roman foundation. Those are coins down there…people just can’t resist throwing money into any vaguely well-like opening they see.

York was super easy to navigate in, because of all the signposts.

Geese wander at will through the streets, completely unperturbed by traffic.

I visited the ruins of St. Mary’s.

Another reminder of Roman days…everywhere in the gardens surrounding St. Mary’s were Roman caskets, dug up and discarded during construction of modern buildings.

Hundreds of them were thrown in the rubbish pit, until someone rescued a bunch of them and used them for garden “art”. Interesting to think that sometime in the future, our own graves might be treated similarly.

And for my mother, who loves pictures of laundry…

Even though I never really bonded with York as a city, it ended up having my favorite museum, and being my favorite place to shop.

Glencoe and Loch Ness

I probably would have skipped this tour and spent more time in Edinburgh if I’d known what it was going to be like. I chose Rabbie’s because they offer smaller, more personal tours. With bus tours, a lot depends on the driver/guide you get, and I just didn’t really get on with my guide. He didn’t talk enough during the drive – I love a guide that just tells you everything about the country and the history you’re passing through. This guy was more into playing music, which would have been ok, if he’d stuck to Scottish music, and didn’t keep veering off into random music like Pink Floyd. (That was when he really lost me…I hate Pink Floyd. Nails on a chalkboard…)

The largest horses in the world; who knew they lived in Scotland?

And I was just a bit underwhelmed by the scenery too. The Highlands are beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but they are so very much like where I live, in the Pacific Northwest.

Everyone else on the tour was oohing, and I was just…it looks like home. Yeah, by this time I was completely spoiled by all the things I’d already seen, in Iceland and elsewhere.

I don’t remember the name of the place those first three pictures were taken. Some loch on the way to Glencoe.

Glencoe, at least, did live up to my expectations of beauty. That is definitely a place worth going to. And different than home, yes!

And here’s an example though, of why I didn’t like my guide overly much. He told us basically nothing about the history of Glencoe. I knew the basics, of course, but I’m sure there are tons of fascinating details I don’t know – and in opinion, a guide shouldn’t assume his tour already knows even the basics.  I had perfect weather, again, and the guide did a great job of beating the large tours up here, so we got an unspoiled walkaround.

After Glencoe, we went to Loch Ness. I was super pleased with my guide here, because instead of taking us to one of the touristy, busy parts of the lake, he brought us to a little village whose name I have forgotten.  Queen Victoria came here, though, on her tour of the Highlands. She was eating her lunch on the deck of her boat when they came through the canal locks, and was very displeased by the rudeness of the villagers who all crowded around the banks to stare at her while she ate. In reality, though, it wasn’t to see her eat, but simply because they always gathered to watch boats pass through the locks.

I got to watch four boats go through the locks while I was there, and it was fascinating.

One thing that was on my must-do list was try a steak and kidney pie. I finally had my chance. I took it down to Loch Ness to eat.

It was good! I’m now a fan.

Loch Ness itself was very quiet and peaceful. I sat beside the water for almost an hour. So pretty. And so much like home.

From the Loch, there’s a canal through the village.

On the way back to Edinburgh, we stopped briefly in Pitlochry. It’s another village that Queen Victoria visited. Another solo girl from the tour and I foraged out together, first to find a restroom, and then ice cream. She had the familiar choice of raspberry. I tried the Traditional.

The girl (as we’re waiting for the clerk): “What flavor is that? Vanilla?”

The clerk: “No. It tastes like…like milk.”

The girl, making a disgusted face: “Milk????”

It was good. It did taste like milk, very very creamy rich milk. There was another flavoring in there, too, but I couldn’t identify what it was.

Continuing on in the bus, we had to stop for some hairy coos.

I was so delighted.

And so was everyone else on the bus.

Edinburgh 2015

My new favorite city in the whole world.

I boarded the sleeper train to Edinburgh at a little before midnight. Each car of the train has its own attendant, and mine was a super nice gentleman with a gorgeous Scottish accent. I think a Scottish accent is my favorite when it comes to men. (For women, it’s Welsh.)

I loved the sleeper train; I’d love to do it again. The motion of the rails was so relaxing. At about 6:30am, my attendant “knocked me up” and brought me breakfast – porridge with honey. Here’s a tip I have for traveling in the U.K.: carry little packets of salt in your pockets. I don’t know why, but no one pre-salts the food. French fries are unsalted, porridge is unsalted….I learned this pretty quickly, as they don’t include salt packets in Takeway orders, either.

But Edinburgh!

At 7am when they kicked me off the train, the city was pretty much devoid of tourists. It was all mine. I left my bags at my hotel, and went immediately to the Royal Mile. None of the shops were open yet, and I just walked down it, looking in all the windows. I just felt so happy here, like I’d found a place where I really belonged.

If I ever come to the UK again, I’m bypassing London, and flying directly into Edinburgh. Edinburgh was another of my Five Best Experiences.

There were several old churchyards, and of course I wandered through them.

I visited the Elephant House, where JK Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

It is justly named the elephant house. There are elephants everywhere inside. Big ones, medium sized ones, and a display case of little ones…and a signed first edition of Rowling’s first book. Plus, a personal thank-you note from her to the cafe.

I visited St. Giles Cathedral, which I liked so much more than Westminster Abbey.

Here, the stained glass was gorgeous and within reach.

It was just much warmer, and more welcoming. But still awe-inspiring.

The St. Giles churchyard was where Rowling used to wander for inspiration. Many of her characters’ names are taken directly from the gravestones. Including Tom Riddle’s.

One of the most haunted places in the world is here, at the Mackenzie mausoleum, home to a violent poltergeist.

All was peaceful when I was there.

Loved the grave art.

The architecture in Edinburgh is so spiky and beautiful. I found myself just repeating “I love it here” over and over inside my head as I walked around.

There are famous dogs,

and pigs I’ve never heard of.

And everywhere, cunning little “closes” or alleys.  I took an interactive tour of The Real Mary King’s Close, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Incredibly informative about Edinburgh’s early days.

The other really amazing thing was Holyrood Palace. Besides being still a lived-in palace by the British monarchy, it was Mary Queen of Scot’s palace. I saw the place where her jealous husband and his friends dragged her male secretary out of her breakfasting room and stabbed him 50+ times in front of her. History gets real when you’re actually standing in it!

Let us talk of graves, of worms, and ephitaphs. Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth. Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings. How some have been deposed, some slain in war, some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed. Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed, all murdered.

Richard II, Shakespeare

 

Westminster, Kensington, Victoria & Albert

Today Alberta left us to go back to Iceland, while Bonnie and I spent one more day in London together.

For me, this day was one of the least exciting days of my whole trip. I did like visiting Queen Elizabeth I’s tomb in Westminster Abbey, but otherwise, the Abbey largely left me feeling really underwhelmed.

I think part of it that I have such a love for stained glass – and you’d think I’d love the Abbey, because it has the largest collection of stained glass in England. But the thing is, the church is so huge, and the glass windows are so high up, that it’s not at all the same sort of glorious experience as I had at Salisbury Cathedral the last time I was in England. In Salisbury Cathedral, the glass windows surround you completely, and when the sun shines in through them, you feel like you’re inside a jewel box of pure heavenly light.  The Abbey just can’t compare to that experience.

I did like all the cool/weird/freaky carved faces. Which I can’t show you, because the Abbey doesn’t allow interior photography. The only pictures they allow are in the cloisters.

After the Abbey, we went to Kensington Palace. This, also, was a bit of a disappointment, because it used to have some of my very favorite historical fashion on display, but they had taken all of those away. What was up in its stead was lovely, but not what I really would have liked to see.

There was a very sparse collection of Queen Victoria items.  Some of her less-appealing clothing:

Some of her jewelry and items such as this mourning handkerchief:

And her paint box and some original artwork:

There were also some historical fashions made entirely out of paper. Cool enough, but as splendid as seeing Victoria’s wedding dress would have been!  Sigh.

Afterward, Bonnie and I said goodbye, as I was going on to the V&A museum, and then directly on to the train station for my sleeper train to Edinburgh, while she would be spending one more day in London, then traveling to Paris.

I don’t know…I was honestly expecting much more from the V&A as well. I didn’t see much in the costuming area that I really loved. I kept comparing it to the much more incredible British Museum and wishing I’d gone back there, instead.

My favorite part of the whole museum was a section I wandered into completely by accident – the plaster reproductions floor.

All the plaster casts were just so huge and impressive.  Like Trajan’s Column.  Wow.

And this. I don’t remember what it was, but it was beautiful.

I planned to stay at the V&A until they closed at 10pm, but after a couple of hours there, they brought in a DJ and he started playing the most horrible music. I couldn’t enjoy looking at any of the art while that racket was going on, so I just went early to the train station.  I was quite ready to leave London and travel to someplace new!

 

Warner Bros. Studio Tour – Harry Potter!

One of the most amazing things I did was visit the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. It’s a vast, incredible collection of about every costume and prop used in the Harry Potter films, as well as many of the actual film sets.  If you’re in the London area, it’s a must-see.

This was one of my top five best experiences, as well. Before I even got inside, they started playing the film music, and my friend Bonnie and I just instantly broke out in goosebumps!

As a costumer, there were a few of the costumes I was especially looking forward to seeing in person…this one, the Grey Lady, is one I’ll be attempting to reproduce, as close to screen accurate as possible.

The detail on it is so beautiful.

I also got extremely close to Jason Isaacs.  Well…his hair, anyway.

The full sets were amazing – especially when you consider that these are the real thing, not a reproduction like in Universal’s Wizarding World.

The detail was astounding.

Look! There’s the sorting hat!

Voldemort is alive!!!

Some of the effects where amazing. This is not real fire, although it looked exactly like real fire. Light and vapor. Incredible.

So many things had animations.

The most surreal experience was Diagon Alley. So perfect, down to the smallest detail.

(The pictures of me were taken by Bonnie.)

The filming model of Hogwarts was immense.

But when you got up close, every detail was finished.

It left me wanting so badly to just run through onto Platform 9 3/4.

And board the Express to Hogwarts.

I had to settle for some Butterbeer. It tastes like cream soda, with a very thick, sweet, and mustache-making topping. Seriously, it’s impossible to drink without getting a ‘stache.

And some shopping. Even the store was immense. If it had anything to do with Harry Potter, it was here.

And it was decorated with wonderful things!

I took over 500 pictures at the Studio; if you’re interested, you can find them here.