Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Oh yeah, Europe

I realized today that I never did write any further entries about my trip to Europe back in September. It seems kind of a waste to do that now, so here are highlights and other thoughts.

Other than Belgium, which I wrote about earlier, I visited the UK and France. I traveled via train, including taking the Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel. In Brussels, I got stuck in the long customs line for getting into Britain without an EU passport. I think I was there for a half an hour, and all I could think was that this is going to be horrible after Brexit. The British customs official was very friendly and asked me where I was visiting. I told him Cardiff, Edinburgh, Alton - and he interrupts me with, "Alton, Hampshire? Why in the world would you want to go there?"

But that was indeed my first stop, to visit the Jane Austen House in nearby Chawton. Alton itself is a charming little village and the site of a battle in the English Civil War. Which of course is called simply "the Civil War" in England and confused the hell out of me when I first heard it called that. Stupid American. Anyway, I wish I had had more time to wander around Alton, but I had only budgeted a day there for the Jane Austen House and Chawton House. I did enjoy both of them immensely. Chawton House is now a museum for female authors from the 16th through the 19th centuries, which was fascinating. It also still contains all of the grounds from when Jane Austen's brother, Edward Austen Knight, owned the place, so walking around really felt like living back in the Regency.

The next stop was Cardiff, which I enjoyed but will probably not return to. I think the problem is that Cardiff itself is not interesting. Sure, there's some DW stuff to visit - I did walk past the BBC Cymru studios and visit Ianto's Shrine - but otherwise it's not particularly historically significant. Everyone I talked to basically said, "Well, yes, (this place in Cardiff) is interesting, but (this other place somewhere else in Wales) is much better." Thus, I ended up going to Caerphilly to see the castle there, rather than visiting Cardiff Castle. (Which was great, by the way. I definitely recommend Caerphilly.) I did make a point of attending an opera by the Welsh National Opera in the Millennium Centre. I saw "La Traviata", and despite the story being pretty hokey (a lady near me as we were exiting said, in a gorgeous English accent, "Now that was really rather corny, wasn't it?"), the music was beautiful and the performances fantastic.

The one thing I really enjoyed in Cardiff was St. Fagan's Museum, which is a historical museum just outside Cardiff where they preserve Welsh history by bringing significant buildings brick-by-brick from the original sites and rebuild them in the museum. The place was fascinating and I spent the entire day there exploring historical Wales. I also happened upon a little square there that I immediately recognized as the place where John Smith threw the cricket ball to prevent the baby from being smashed by the piano.

The other thing I did at this time was fly up to the Isle of Anglesey and do a private tour with Boutique Tours. This was the single best thing I did the entire holiday and would recommend it to everyone. Basically, Boutique Tours is one guy, John Hadley, who's been in the tour business for forty years and now runs his own company. You sign up for a tour and he tailors it to your interests - for example, if you want to spend four days exploring all of the castles of North Wales, he'll arrange it all for you and drive you everywhere, telling you all about the history and geography all the way. I only had a day with him, and it was curtailed by delayed flights into Anglesey and heavy rain, and he adjusted everything on the fly to maximize what he could show me and get me back to the airport in time for my flight. Whenever I return to the UK, I will tour North Wales and will do it with John.

After Cardiff, my sister joined me up in Edinburgh, and we hung out there, in York, and in London. My sister has a very different holiday style than I do. I like to see all kinds of things and run around finding them all. She prefers seeing maybe one thing a day and doing it at a leisurely pace. For example, the one thing she really wanted to do was Harrod's, and we spent the entire day there - shopping and looking around for part of it but also two hours having tea at the tea room. She loves sitting in restaurants or in the hotel room just picking at a tray of meats of cheeses and chatting. It was very different for me and I had a great time with her, but I am sure that I would have been much more antsy if I hadn't already been to Edinburgh, York, and the things in London that we saw when I'd been to Europe back in 2014. As it was, I felt no pressure to run this time, so I just sat back and enjoyed.

The one thing we did do that was new was take a day trip to Paris. I can't say that I was particularly impressed with the city - it was too crowded and noisy and full of traffic. There was none of that romantic charm that we tend to see in movies about Paris. We visited Notre Dame because I insisted (I love cathedrals) and the Louvre because I wanted to see it and thought my sister would want to as well. It turns out that despite her being the person who got me interested in art history in the first place, she doesn't really care about art except for the Impressionists, so she was pretty bored there. However, she very gamely followed me about as I went searching for my favorites (I love Flemish and Dutch Renaissance art). She would have much preferred the Musee d'Orsay, so I hope we'll get to do that next time.

After London, she went home and I spent the last two days of my holiday in Essex, specifically Colchester and Tiptree, with bas_math_girl, and this was just a lovely way to end the holiday. BMG and her family were wonderful, so fun to hang out with (we sat and drank tea and chatted for hours -- so British!), and of course she and I got to coo about DT and CT and DW. And I got to see her WIP before it was published! I was a bit disappointed in myself that I didn't do any actual research on Colchester before the trip, because it turned out to be quite a historical town and I know that I missed out on a lot. However, it just means I have to go back and visit BMG again. :D

So that's it - Belgium and the UK on a whirlwind tour of three weeks. I cannot wait to go back again - England, of course, and I'm hoping Munich next time. Or maybe Vienna.

And then for your amusement:

The day I got back from my holiday, I sat down and wrote a list of things that I didn't want to forget. Some of it is really important. Some of it will bring a smile to the face of those seasoned travelers among you (I'm not a seasoned traveler) and people who actually live in Europe and will go, "What? You didn't know that?" I apologize for the couple of insults in the middle there - they were meant in jest.

In no particular order, here is

Travel Things I've Learned
Set up a trip calendar in Google. It really helps. Also helps you figure out relative time zones easily.

Don't stay anywhere for only one night. Even if you only want to see one thing in the city, you'll find other things you want to do when you get there and be disappointed you can't do them.

In general, try to stay in one place for longer periods. You can't apply this to small places (for example, more than one day in Chawton would have been a waste, though I suppose I could have enjoyed a day in Alton), but for any city, you want to stay for at least two full days, if not three or four. Bruges needed more than one full day. Not to mention, having to pack up and travel every other day is exhausting, and travel time really drains your holiday time. (More time would have let you go back for those gorgeous fries in Bruges.)

Tack a day on to the first place you visit. You will be exhausted for the first couple of days and having more days and doing less during them will really help.

If you're traveling with husband:
* When you book the hotel, verify that there are outlets near the bed. Surprisingly, the ultra snooty modern Park Plaza Hotel at Westminster Bridge was the one with inconvenient outlets (and none by the fold-out bed).

If you're traveling with sister:
* Add another day onto each stop. She prefers doing one thing thoroughly in a day rather than two or three things a little less thoroughly. And she wants to eat.
* Plan to get late starts on the day.
* Don't be afraid to say what you want to do. She's really very easygoing about what to do.
* She likes Impressionists. Save the good stuff for your own visit some other time.
* Don't talk politics. You'll only be disappointed.

Bring a toothbrush. European toothbrushes suck. You can pick up toothpaste anywhere.

Bring a washcloth. European hotels have about a 30% chance to supply a small towel for showering. Use your own towel only if there's a radiator or towel rail to dry it on.

Bring hand lotion. Your skin will be dry forever, and, at least in Europe, the hand lotion tubes are large.

Heated towel rails are awesome! However, you cannot rely on every hotel having them, and even if they do, you may never figure out how to turn them on (50% chance).

Take every opportunity to wash your underwear and socks. (Requires heated towel rail or radiator.)

If you are doing a working holiday, don't stay in historic hotels. The room may be too small to have a desk, and the wi-fi may not be reliable enough to work.

Even if you're not doing a working holiday, reconsider historic hotels, because many of them, like the Hotel Mozart in Brussels and the 17th-century coaching inns, only have stairs that you'll have to haul your luggage up. Old buildings are not cool enough to offset the danger of heavy luggage on narrow stairs.

Try not to schedule going to/from Heathrow during rush hour on the Tube. Look into the possibility of taking a train instead of the Tube.

Tube lines have Twitter feeds.

Buying the heavier coat in Britain worked out wonderfully. (Six quid for a heavy coat at a secondhand store in Caerphilly!) Don't bring your own. Depending on the time of year, you might never need it.

Go to North Wales. Book with Boutique Tours. This is a must-do.

Clip your stupid toenails just before the trip. One would think you'd learnt that lesson already.

If you're having knee problems, try to schedule destinations with cobblestone streets toward the end of the trip, when your legs are strong.

Paris is full of French people and is nowhere near as fun as anywhere else.

Research the area before you go, even if you think there's nothing there. Colchester and Essex was a lot more interesting than I gave it credit for.

Early trains worked out well. The later trains I scheduled for sister worked well with her, but earlier trains are better for me alone.

During long flights, take off your shoes. It's the only way to save your knees.

Edinburgh Waverley has pay toilets. They are inconvenient as hell (blocked by gates or bollards and difficult to navigate with luggage) and going on the train is a lot better.

Use a wallet that fits in your front pocket and has separate compartments for bills and coins. It's really essential in the UK and Europe, where you use coins all the time.

Long blouses and jumpers give extra security to your phone in your back pocket.

My Oyster card has 14.95 on it.

A money belt is nice security, but it's overkill in the UK. Just make sure the passport pocket in the backpack is locked (and has RF protection).

Give extra time for customs out of the EU, especially after Brexit.

Admitting you're American to a taxi driver is a tacit invitation for him to tell you his opinion of Trump.

It's better to mail things home every few days, rather than save it all for one big box at the end. First, you don't have to carry it everywhere. Second, one big box is very expensive. Most English high streets have a post office.

It's "Eh-din-bra", not "Eh-din-burrow". You will get corrected by complete strangers.

When you arrive in a new city, establish the following:
* Where is the pharmacy? Note that beauty products (hand lotion!) are here.
* Where is the post office? Get some stamps.
* Which way is north?

Where do I want to go next?
* North Wales
* Glasgow
* Inverness
* Dorset
* Cornwall
* Newcastle
* Manchester
* Lancaster
* Amsterdam
* Munich
* Copenhagen
* Boston
* Toronto
* Calgary
* Scandinavia



( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 3rd, 2019 06:58 am (UTC)
Sounds like a great trip! i also visited St. Fagan's. My daughter absolutely loved it. Cardiff was ok. It's a very pretty city and the people were super friendly. I stayed with friends there and we got to see the Doctor Who Experience before it closed. I've heard rumors that they're supposed to reopen it, or an exhibit of the costume and set pieces, in Cardiff Castle. Oh, you got to see BMG! I met up with her in London in 2017 and we saw DT in "Don Juan in Soho." We had such a nice time and spotted Matt Smith in the audience as well.
Jan. 3rd, 2019 07:17 am (UTC)
Oh yeah, don't get me started about the DW Experience! :D The last time I went to the UK (which was also the first time), they announced a week after I had made the reservations that they were closing it for six weeks to prepare for Twelve - over the two weeks we planned to be there. Then in 2017, they announced the complete closure just after my husband and I decided I wouldn't be going back to the UK until 2018. So I missed it twice. Cardiff Bay is still covered in signs pointing to it. I've also heard that they have plans to reopen it, so I suppose I need to stay away from the UK to avoid dooming it yet again. :)

I am very jealous you got to see "Don Juan in Soho"! BMG is awesome, isn't she?

Edited at 2019-01-03 07:18 am (UTC)
Jan. 3rd, 2019 07:30 am (UTC)
Sounds like you had an amazing time. How cool it must've been to see where Jane Austen lived. That's on my list of places to see. And thank you for the tips!

Cardiff was, for me, pretty cool because I'd never been and was open to exploring the place. It didn't hurt that I was visiting my friend tardis-mole and got an unofficial DW tour of the area. Including spots from all sorts of episodes. And if they ARE talking about reopening the Experience... may it happen soon! It was the most amazing day ever!

Isn't St. Fagan's incredible?! A few times I had such a look of awe on my face that Moley insisted on taking my phone to take a pic of my reaction. We tried to find every spot where a DW scene was shot, and even stand where the Doctor did. And I took a selfie each time. :D

I miss BMG. We explored her city, seeing all the old things there. Mind, if it hadn't been for seeing her and Moley I don't think I would've been looking at airfare prices back in November 2015 and happened upon airfare I could easily swing.
Jan. 3rd, 2019 07:59 am (UTC)
You know, I think if I had visited Cardiff back in 2014, during my first trip, rather than now, I probably would have sought out all the DW spots and enjoyed it immensely. But I have always been interested in history and science, and the more I travel, the more I find myself wanting to see historical and scientific things, rather than the DW stuff. The DWE would have been nice, of course, but I was happy with the incidental DW things I happened to find. I did wander all around the Millennium Centre and Roald Dahl Plass looking for DW and Torchwood stuff, and pinpointed exactly where 10 and Martha were standing when Jack told them about the Face of Boe, but that was about it.

Oh, when I identified the place in St. Fagan's where John Smith threw the cricket ball, I did walk around and retrace John's and Joan's steps. There is no way I could not have, seeing as HN/FoB is my favorite episode. But no selfies. I never take pics of myself - I don't care to see myself in pictures. I'm starting to wonder why I even bother to buy photo ops at cons. Though I will probably do one with Colin Baker at G1 this year, as he's the only one of the classic Doctors I don't have a pic with yet. :)

I miss BMG, too.

Edited at 2019-01-03 08:00 am (UTC)
Jan. 3rd, 2019 08:58 am (UTC)
Oh, TM made a point of showing historical points of interest, which were amazing even without any DW references. Like the WW2 additions to Cardiff Castle. May I assume that you saw Ianto's Shrine? I spotted something posted there by another G1 attendee, the note about Tosh also being missed. (Didn't know until I mentioned it to said attendee.)

I think I only did those selfies for practice with my camera, and because my mom keeps asking for more photos of me. Took far more pictures without me in them, and I took a TON of photos on my camera. (Mind, a few of the selfies were to show just how low the ceilings were. I don't usually get to feel tall when I go somewhere.)

Oh, yes! Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy are the only classic Doctors I don't have solo photos with. I'll remedy that where CB is concerned this year. (Only money and the reality of David Bradley doing a duo with him is why.) I can't believe it's coming up so fast!
Jan. 3rd, 2019 04:23 pm (UTC)
I love Cardiff Bay, every Torchwood fan of course has to stand in front of the water tower! So far nobody has found the switch to make the elevator go down though :)
And when we were there of course the Doctor Who exhibition still was going. It's sad that it's closed now but I hear there are some plans for it to return, but probably smaller. Have you seen that one before? I saw it first in London 2012 and then again in Cardiff 2015, but some things were different by then.

Around the area where the castle is is also a nice Historical museum with live Dinosaurs. One of those museums that have everything - paintings, archeological stuff, coins, but I most wanted to see the Dinosaurs that are really moving and roaring. I think there is also a vulcano for the children? I haven't managed to see it all in my one visit and need to go back one day.

From the castle to the Rugby stadium is also a nice walkway along the river which I like, it has mosaics of all the Rugby nations. I put up some pictures back in 2010 here: https://dieastra.livejournal.com/68963.html

I love love love St. Fagans as well! It's possible I recommended it to you before your trip. I have been there three times, and they always add something new. And yes, some Doctor Who filming locations make it all the more interesting! Aside of the ball throwing place, there is also the shed where Martha Jones had the TARDIS stored and drive by bicycle. We peeked inside, no TARDIS there.

The entry building is all new now, last time I was there (2015 for the John Barrowman concert) they were still in full building modus, but I guess they are finished by now.

The end of the trip with meeting your friend sounds lovely! It's always nice if you know local people who can show you around a bit. Maybe one day you want to do a side trip to Dresden! It's a lovely place I can tell ya ;)

Edit: Sent my comment before reading the travel tips. Now I am really curious how American tooth brushes are different! Do American hotels provide washclothes? I also always said "Eh-din-burrow" so I'll have to learn the new pronouncation.
Not sure if the post office you visited had this, but when I was in London last time you had to draw a number and then wait for your number to be called. Also, for postcards to main Europe only some bigger post office have the right stamps, most smaller ones only have stamps for within the UK. This is inconvenient. I have stopped sending postcards since usually I am back home before they arrive.

Edited at 2019-01-03 04:32 pm (UTC)
Jan. 4th, 2019 05:28 pm (UTC)
Nope, never got the chance to see the DWE. I had hoped to do so the first time I visited Europe in 2014, but they closed it for six weeks to prepare for Twelve, right over the time I was there. I have the worst timing for planning holidays, it seems.

I walked a little near the river by Cardiff Castle when I got back from St. Fagan's - I got off the bus there to transfer to the river taxi - but it was cold and stormy so I didn't get far, and instead retreated to that little cafe right by the entrance for afternoon tea and warmth. :)

I'm very sad I missed Martha's shed! I probably saw it but didn't recognize it. I thought maybe the Cartwright's house (where John, Joan, and Martha sheltered near the end of the episode) was in St. Fagan's as well, but if it was, I never found it. The thing they're building now is a medieval prince's court, and I would really like to see it once it's done. I might have to return to Cardiff just for that.

I would love love love to visit Dresden! Maybe my next trip will have to be more of a Germany tour, as I also really want to visit Munich.

Let's see, the travel tips.

1) Mostly I had a problem finding toothbrushes in Brussels. I visited a number of shops (though not a pharmacy - didn't realize that's where I should have looked first) and finally found a single toothbrush, no variety. And it was hard and pointy and I really hated it.

2) American hotels in general provide small towels for showering. You usually get a big body towel for after shower, a smaller towel for drying face/hands after washing, and a small washcloth for inside the shower - one set of these for each guest in the room. Most of the European hotels I stayed in had the first two but not the last. On the other hand, the European hotels usually had heated towel rails, and if I had a choice between the two, I'd take the heated towel rails. :D

3) The one post office I used in UK was in Colchester, and it was mostly automated, with three self-service machines and a couple of clerks to help. I didn't have a problem with getting "global postcard stamps", though I don't know if what I bought is more expensive than what would be used for postcards to continental Europe. Oh wait, I did visit a post office in Cardiff for them - just this little place by Cardiff Bay - because, similar to what you said, I usually only send postcards early in the trip, so they arrive before I get back home.

Jan. 6th, 2019 05:15 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I read your other replies about not seeing the Experience after I had sent my own comment. That sucks.
The first time I was in Cardiff in 2010, they also had a very small exhibition. I hope whatever will come now will not be as small again.

If you think you have it worse on planning holidays - a friend planned a Cardiff visit and ended up getting there one week before the John Barrowman concert happened that was later announced. I always wait for announcements first and then plan accordingly ;)

I just had a look and I have a picture of Martha's shed for you! It's in the area where the bungalow made from airplane parts the 50s is and behind the pigsty, a bit at the far side: https://dieastra.livejournal.com/28644.html

And yes, I think the Cartwright's house is where the big farm is (to the far left of the entrance), with pigs and ducks. We sat down at a banch there and all the ducks and chicken came running, thinking we would feed them! That was funny.

I just had a look and it would take about 5 hours from Munich to Dresden by train, but you have to switch trains at least once. There is also a direct flight. I need to change planes in either Munich, Frankfurt or Dusseldorf if I want to go to London.

In Germany we have toothbrushes in soft, medium and hard to choose from. Either available in the pharmacy or also in normal supermarkets I guess. But why did you not bring one from home? I always bring my own toothbrush and my washcloth. My mother insists in bringing soap as well but it should be usually provided. Some hotels don't have glasses for brushing your teeth though, only plastic cups so you could bring that as well.

My pet peeve is that they never have any place to hang the wash cloth. The rack is full with the towels but where do you put the wet wash cloth? At home I have small metal rods to hang it over or hooks at the wall. I am bringing my own hooks now that I can attach in the hotel with a sucker cup!

Edit: Ah, forgot something. What's really funny is the first time we were there, we ended up in the American Diner at the Bay, since we loved that food. That was BEFORE it was used in an episode with Matt Smith when he was in Utah. When watching, I thought they had filmed everything in Utah, and thought: Funny, they have the same Elvis at the door to the toilets like in Cardiff! And then it hit me ;)
Now they have pictures of the episode on the wall. My pictures are from before: https://dieastra.livejournal.com/29318.html

We also went to the Chinese restaurant in the bay, the one where Owen went with the lady from the 1930s.

Edited at 2019-01-06 05:19 pm (UTC)
Jan. 3rd, 2019 09:22 pm (UTC)
I laughed at a lot at your closing insights, especially about Paris XD
Jan. 4th, 2019 05:11 pm (UTC)
I have to admit I'm glad you laughed at my Paris joke. I was afraid it was more offensive than funny. :)
Jan. 5th, 2019 09:32 pm (UTC)
No worries, it was fine ;)
Jan. 6th, 2019 10:32 pm (UTC)
*blush* Thank you so much for saying lovely things about us. It was an absolute delight having you here, even though it felt like too short a time. :D
Feb. 22nd, 2019 02:16 pm (UTC)
Looks like you had a good trip! So many places in a short time.

I think I was there for a half an hour, and all I could think was that this is going to be horrible after Brexit.
This is a bad sign. Almost two years ago, it was fast and problem-free with a EU passport. I was hoping for a short visit this or next summer, but I'll see.

I also happened upon a little square there that I immediately recognized as the place where John Smith threw the cricket ball to prevent the baby from being smashed by the piano.
I love finding film locations!

Now I'm wondering how American toothbrushes look like. Or "proper-European" ones, since everyone knows Europe ends with Germany ;) At least I've come across heated towel rails so I know how civilisation looks like :D

Paris is full of French people and is nowhere near as fun as anywhere else.

Edinburgh Waverley has pay toilets.
I assume toilets on stations were free everywhere else? I genuinely don't know how it is in other countries, in Poland there are pay toilets on train stations.

It's "Eh-din-bra", not "Eh-din-burrow". You will get corrected by complete strangers.
One of the characters in my English book at school was from Edinburgh and the city's name was on every other page. You knew you were reaaally bad at reading if you couldn't even say "Edinburgh" correctly after all those times the teacher corrected you ;D Another never-ending-repeat: "vegetable" and "comfortable". By the way, if you could read "jewellery" correctly, you've probably been taking extra lessons...
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

September 2022



  • shivver13
    16 Aug 2022, 16:04
    Yes, Tim Russ is correct, last year! And I had a blast! In hindsight I regret not doing more VOY actors that evening, but maybe it was better for my nerves LOL It was my first chat.

    Kate hasn't…
  • shivver13
    16 Aug 2022, 15:16
    That is awesome! How was it? What I've seen of her, she seems really nice and intelligent. Did they put any limits on what you could talk about?

    I remember you doing that early on in the pandemic,…
  • shivver13
    16 Aug 2022, 08:18
    Good for you! I'm also not going on conventions, so much less money spent on hotels and flights and autograph tickets.

    So I treated myself to a video chat with Kate Mulgrew, even though it is…
  • shivver13
    30 Jul 2022, 22:56
    My dad was an aircraft mechanic but really should have been an engineer (he was certainly knowledgeable and educated enough to design things for the aircraft he worked on) and his handwriting was…
  • shivver13
    30 Jul 2022, 14:22
    Oops! Sorry. Meant to post a much smaller image but 'preview' didn't work. 😮 And there's no edit button...
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by chasethestars