We left the hostel at 7am and took the Piccadilly Line from Picaddilly Circus to Heathrow. Once there it didn't take us long to figure out where to get the shuttle bus to the car rental company from (thanks to Jules looking into this upon her arrival to Heathrow on the Friday before) and with a detour to the Ben and Jerry's ice vending machine (not me, Jules. At 8am in the morning!) we took our spot in the queue. We didn't have to wait very long at all and luckily the bus stopped right in front of us so we got in first, bagging seats near the front meaning we could get out first too. Once at Avis we queued again and when checking in for our car there were initially some issues with the right car not being there (and the guy trying to give us a large American car instead, er no thanks that would only cost us more in gas and be a pain to park) but we eventually got our silver Peugeot and after giving it a proper check - and making sure they added another scratch we found on it on the liability form - we were off.
The drive to Cardiff was reasonably uneventful and quite long. We listened to Glee music on the way, had a giggle when we passed a sign saying "15 miles to The Oracle" and got worried when we approached the toll bridge to Cardiff as Jules thought we may need a special card for it. Thankfully we were able to pay in cash, so it was all good, and the drive over the bridge was beautiful. The bridge itself was stunning (it's a unique mint green colour) and approaching Wales, seeing it surrounded by water and pretty coastlines, got us really excited about our visit. We arrived at our hotel - The Holiday Inn opposite Cardiff castle - at 12.30 and despite being a few hours early we asked if we could already check in and we could. This was excellent news as it meant we were able to dump our things and relax for a bit before heading out. We had lunch at Burger King in the city (where I ordered a Whopper Jr but they accidentally made me a large Whopper with extra cheese. I didn't have to pay extra so win!) and I went tot he tourist information to check on a Doctor Who location map, which unfortunately I got told they don't make anymore.
After lunch we went back to the hotel to pick up our car and drive to the first of many castles we were planning on visiting that week: Cearphilly Castle. Quite unexpected was the Tommy Cooper statue where we parked, but that was cleared up when I read the plaque and saw he was born in the area. Our initial plan was to pay separately for the two castles on our to visit list that day but once there we found that for the entrance price of three castles we could actually visit near thirty, and while we had no time to visit them all during our few days in the area we did quickly figure out that we'd be visiting more than three so we bought the special Castle Pass. As always with us, we spent a lot of the time in the castle climbing things and taking heaps of photos (see below). There was also a really great room with a large table and shields against the wall where we took quite some time taking photos. And while Jules spent ages in the rain trying to get a perfect shot of a well (which she thought looked like the well from The Ring) I was inside taking photos of her XD
Our next and final castle of the day was Castell Coch, about a 10 minute drive away through narrow and winding roads reminding us of the trip to Sababurg Castle in Germany (though thankfully the road wasn't *that* narrow and at least it wasn't pitch black this time around). Unfortunately it started raining fairly badly as this point, so our pictures of the Castle's front were taken while we were huddled under umbrellas. Once we went through the gates we made sure to stay under cover and took pictures from the exterior before exploring the beautifully decorated rooms inside of it. When we wanted to leave the castle (it was REALLY pouring down now) we noticed the doors were locked and upon enquiring how we had to leave the guy gave us two options: through the big doors or through the small door. Until that point we hadn't even noticed that the large doors held a much smaller Alice in Wonderland type door! We had to crouch to get through it, but it was pretty nifty.
Dinner was at a pub near our hotel called Rummer's Tavern. My meal came with half a tomato (wtf? what do they do with the other half?) and while my main meal was quite filling both Jules and I were tempted by the dessert menu so we got that as well. I got warm chocolate cake with ice cream and omg, it was huge! Absolutely delicious though, but easily a meal on its own.
Best dessert ever!
The first thing we did today (well after a lovely breakfast of course) was make the very long trek (not really, we only had to cross the road) to Cardiff Castle. We arrived before it had actually opened so we took our time taking photos from the outside and the various animals gracing the walls. Once inside we showed the ticket from the hotel (as the castle entrance fee was part of the hotel package) and got our daily tickets. I also read that a day ticket could be turned into an annual pass and was cheeky to enquire if the same rules applied to our free hotel ticket. It did and I am now the proud owner of a pretty annual pass (it looks like a credit card with a picture of the castle on it), which hopefully encourages me to visit Cardiff again within the next 12 months. Next thing we did was pick up our audio guides included in the price (though I was, and still am, convinced we were entitled to a proper guide as it said so on our hotel ticket - though at this point we had exchanged it for an actual ticket so I had no way of proving this) which I didn't end up using at all since Jules become my guide :D The castle itself was huge, and we had fun exploring the various parts.
Before making or way back to the hotel we went to the Millennium Stadium just around the back in search of the Ianto memorial wall I read about. While I know there's also a Millennium Centre (confusing much) I found a website stating it was near the stadium, but we found out that it wasn't. So instead it was just a little detour for us, although we did encounter a few Brains signages along the way again and finally figured it was probably a beer brand and not Sylar related. We also wandered over to the city hall, museum and university as that little square looked really nice in the pictures. But since it had started spitting at this point (and our feet were starting to feel sore again) we just made a quick circle around the buildings before heading back to the hotel to pick up the car.
Our first destination that afternoon was nearby Llandaff Cathedral, which is where quite a lot of Doctor Who has been filmed, including my favourite two-parter, the 3rd series episodes Human Nature/Family of Blood, and the wonderful Vincent and the Doctor from series 5 (see pictures below). I particularly loved our little walk at the back through the woods as there were very old graves hidden between the trees, all covered in foliage making it look quite spooky. We also ventured inside the cathedral, but other than quite a creepy Jesus statue there wasn't much of interest. Before going to our next destination we had a quick look around the Llandaff city centre which wasn't very interesting besides a cute gift store and a blue plaque on a building indicating that it was the location of a sweets shop from a Roald Dahl book (sadly now a Chinese restaurant).
Next up we ventured over to Mermaid Quay in Cardiff Bay to book our tickets for the movie that night and figure out where exactly it was located as our GPS refused to find it at first. When we did that we headed to the waterfront and started to explore Cardiff Bay. One of the first things we found was the Millennium Centre which is a well-known sight for anyone who's seen Torchwood or (to a lesser extent) Doctor Who); quite impressive in real life. I also went to the Norwegian Church (where Roald Dahl was baptised) and we finally found the Ianto memorial wall with directions given by someone at the Millennium Centre.
Before dinner we had some time to spare so we wandered around Cardiff Bay going in an out of shops. There was one place that sold Welsh cakes and we got to try a bit and it was delicious! So much better than the Welsh cakes I'd picked up at the supermarket only hours earlier in Llandaff :( We had dinner at this American style sixties diner called Eddie's Diner where I tasted my first ever coke float and it was glorious. In fact just writing about it makes me crave one! I also ordered chili cheese fries, but it was nothing like the deliciousness we had in Los Angeles as these fries were topped with some sort of cheese sauce and a can of beans (or so it seemed), yuck!
The movie we saw that evening was Bad Teacher with Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel. It was alright, not as great as I had expected it to be but not absolutely terrible either. And we both agreed that Jason was very huggable, so that alone made it worth it.
I won't post pictures of all the animals because there were many, so here's a selection
This was one of many pictures taken at that spot as a previous person we asked to take the picture didn't include the awesome building, but just the bin next to us :/
Jules kept yabbing on her phone all day, so annoying!! (not really, that was her listening to the audio guide ;))
The "hidden" staircase
At Llandaff Cathedral, where John Smith and Joan Redfern got married
One of the top windows is where Vincent sees the monster he draws in "Vincent and the Doctor"
All we could find from Roald Dahl in Llandaff and it was now a Chinese restaurant :(
The Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay is a sight well-known from Torchwood and Doctor Who
The aged Ianto memorial wall
Inside Eddie's Diner