Monday, 25 May 2015

So long, Cardiff, and thanks for all the stress...

We headed over to Cardiff last weekend to see the Paper Aeroplanes live. I'd bought the tickets months ago and had been looking forward to it... however the experience didn't quite meet my expectations.

We'd really been looking forward to a relaxing weekend - the plan was to arrive in Cardiff, head over to Bravissimo so I could pick up a new sports bra and mooch around the city a bit, then go to the Doctor Who Experience, grab some dinner and go to the gig. Then mosey on home on Sunday. Easy breezy, right?

What's going on? Where's my stuff?
Your activity is suspicious. I'm not happy about it.

Where'd the stairs go?

We dropped off the bunnies at their 'Granny's' on Friday night. They seemed to sense that something was going on and they weren't happy about it. Usually an independent little miss, Pancho suddenly became clingy and wanted a cuddle which lasted twenty minutes before she started fidgeting and when we dropped them off she was quiet and wouldn't leave the cage. I also forgot their vegetables which made me feel terrible. Saturday we were up bright and early and packed up the car to catch a ferry at 9:30am.

This, as it turned out, was our first mistake. Traffic delays and road works meant it took us nearly forty minutes just to get out of Southampton. Then, after joining the A34, we were in a line of traffic in the left-hand lane. We were going uphill, behind a car and a lorry. Even though it had taken longer to get out of Southampton than planned we weren't in any particular hurry so we were happy following behind the lorry, someone else, however, had other ideas. From behind us came an unmarked white lorry and I watched as its front grill got larger and larger in the wing mirror as it came intimidatingly close to our rear bumper. Then it pulled out into the right-hand lane and tried to overtake but only came in line with our rear passenger doors as the hill got steeper and then the driver had to drop back. He stayed in the right-hand lane and began blaring his horn repeatedly. At this point SBB and I were wondering what the hell was going on. A line of cars had built up behind the lorry and eventually he pulled back into the left-hand lane, still blaring his horn and gesticulating wildly, and rudely. SBB and I were left asking ourselves, repeatedly, 'what the hell?'. Just what was he trying to do and what was he expecting US to do? We knew he was completely in the wrong but we debated the situation repeatedly in our annoyance and in doing so missed our exit for the M4. We took a detour past Wantage, which added about forty minutes to our journey but the pretty route did wonders to calm us down and we'd pretty much forgotten about the lorry driver by the time we got onto the M4.

We stopped off for lunch at Burger King (where else?) and picked up some Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Since discovering the stands I think we may end up planning our future journeys via Moto service stations from now on! Checking the time I realised that we needed to get a move on if we were going to make our booking for the Doctor Who Experience. I typed it into our sat nav and my stomach dropped through the floor when it told me that our expected arrival time was 3:45. Our entry time was booked between 3 and 3:30 pm. However, as we drove I noticed our sat nav was trying to take us off the M4 to loop back the way we came and then head north - completely the wrong direction - so we ignored it and just headed for Cardiff and arrived in the city at about 14:50 - plenty of time to get there.

Or so we thought.

I knew we needed to head for Cardiff Bay but our sat nav didn't recognise it as a place so we tried just following the brown signs and ended up going round in circles. I typed in the post code on the ticket and it took us to a military base. We tried following the route I'd printed off from Google maps and ended up in a residential area, with no idea where we were. I've never had a phone with internet connection before, so it wasn't until this point that it occurred to me to check the website for other direction instructions. It had two postcodes for entering into sat navs - we'd already tried the first one so I put in the second one and this, thankfully, took us to a car park near Cardiff Bay.

I've made it sound relatively simple, but it wasn't. It was stressful. Really stressful and all the time we were getting stuck in traffic or sent down wrong roads or roads that had no thoroughfare, our time slot was whittling down. SBB was annoyed by the road signs, or lack thereof, and I was really surprised that NOWHERE was there any sign for the Experience until we got to Cardiff Bay - surely this is a big tourist attraction that should be signposted before the actual place is visible? I almost broke down in tears several times, worried that we'd miss out and waste tickets that I'd already paid for.

We parked the car and then zig-zagged through the dawdling crowds in the Bay towards the Doctor Who hangar. We arrived at 3:33pm to find a sign outside the front door which said the last tour was at 3:30 and the experience was now closed.
We went in anyway and the girl behind the desk told me that we'd missed the tour. I explained what had happened and another of the workers went to see how far along the tour was and if we could catch up. The worker came back and told me we could go in but we'd missed the first few minutes of the interactive experience. I told them it didn't matter; I'd rather see something instead of nothing. Plus, the tickets are non-refundable if you miss your slot, so it wasn't like we could come back the next day. We joined the tour, calmed our racing hearts and settled in to enjoy the interactive experience.

Out of the interactive experience, we went into the exhibition hall where there were plenty of photo opportunities and a photo souvenir if you've got a fiver!


We went upstairs to see reproductions of the Doctor Who monsters and, whilst trying to balance for a photo with a Cyberman, my legs collapsed underneath me and I fell onto the exhibit. Admittedly, it was just onto the step in front of the Cyberman and I wasn't close to touching anything important, but still.
I fell.
Oh, the embarrassment. Then, when I tried to brace my foot back against the step I'd just fallen onto, I got told off for touching the exhibit. Suitably chastened, I gave up on getting the photo.

The Cyberman with the hand out is the place of my shame...

 As we were the last tour the employees followed behind us, silently ushering us out. It was understandable - it was the end of the day, after all, but I couldn't help feeling a little rushed. I joked to SBB it was like being stalked by Weeping Angels; every time I turned round, one of them was standing closer.

Eventually, after a quick trip to the gift shop, we headed back to the car feeling a bit more relaxed and happy that we'd been successfully to the Experience. Then we set off for the hotel and hit a horrendous traffic jam. SBB even looked at me and told me he just wanted to go home. I agreed with him and if I hadn't already paid for the tickets and the room, we might have done. We were sat in the same position for half an hour, watching the traffic lights a few cars ahead of us turn green, then amber, then red. Over and over again. Around us, other lanes were moving, but not ours. Eventually the light turned green again and we started to move! We'd just got through the lights when the car in front of us stopped. In a yellow hatched area. And we were stuck behind them, across another road but there was nothing for it. We were stuck. I commented to SBB that we'd just have to wait and he said,

"Yes, but if someone wants to come down that road, I'll have to move."

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than a car pulled up, indicating to go down the road we were blocking. SBB tried to pull forward, to create space for the car to get behind us but the people in the car in front of us started yelling at us out the window, even though they could see the car trying to get past us, who was now yelling and honking his horn. Exasperated, SBB turned into the road.
At least, we thought it was a road.
Despite no signs to advertise the fact, it turned out to be an entrance to an underground John Lewis carpark but, having realised our mistake, there was nowhere for us to go but inside. With sinking hearts, we saw the queue of cars waiting to get out, which looped down the exit ramp and all the way round the carpark. We joined the end of the queue. We crawled forward a couple of inches and I realised that we would have to pay before heading to the exit. I took the ticket to the machine and put it in. We'd only been in there seven minutes, hadn't even parked and it charged me £2. £2 for taking a wrong turn. We sat in the same place for twenty minutes before it occurred to me that we were within walking distance of the hotel and we could have just parked the car there overnight - but it was too late. I'd already paid for the ticket. Forty minutes later, we were on the way out. There were two barriers - luckily we were in the one that was moving. The other one had someone sat at the barrier, trying to put the ticket into the machine but they obviously hadn't paid as the passenger got out and ran towards the payment machines. That was a lucky escape for us but it did little to lift our spirits.

If that's what the traffic is like every weekend it's a wonder that anyone goes there in their car.

We eventually got to the carpark I'd picked out near the hotel and walked through the main high street towards the hotel - ML Lodge. I wasn't expecting great things - the place doesn't even have a reception, you have to check in at the Sandringham across the street. The room was basic but seemed clean, if a little worn. The bathroom, too, was clean although the shower door had been removed and they'd braced a shower pole across the room to the middle of the window so you couldn't close the curtain, which was a little bizarre.

Stinky plug hole in the bathroom floor
Brilliant place for a curtain pole

We were very pleased to see two bottles of water waiting in the room. SBB and I are never without water - particularly in the night and, although most bathroom taps in hotels are classed as 'drinking water', they don't always taste great so these bottles were a welcome sight!

View from the window
View from the window

Having dumped our bags we wandered out into the street to find somewhere to eat. Litter piled up against walls and blew across the street, catching against our shoes as we walked. Homeless huddled in doorways and shrunken old women hawked flowers to passersby. The loud screeches and shouts of rowdy drunken stag and hen parties assaulted us from all sides. It was about five thirty.

We came across a restaurant called The Meating Place. They were fully booked but said if we could be out by 8:15 then we could have a table. The gig started at 8pm, so that was no problem.

The serving staff were lovely and the menu looked very tasty. A couple of vegetarian dishes caught my eye but, as I said to SBB, if you come to a restaurant called The Meating Place, it'd be rude not to eat meat, right? So, meat it was!

The menu
At the table

SBB had the steak and I had a chicken hanging skewer, mainly because I was interested about what made it 'hanging'. We'd been sat there a few minutes when I noticed the table next to us had a huge metal skewer of meat pieces hanging from a hook above the table. I pointed it out to SBB.

"Oh no," he said. "Is that what you're having? You're going to stab yourself with it, aren't you."

Oh ye of little faith.

The skewer
The plate (chunky chips in the metal cup)

After eating we headed over to Clwb Ifor Bach for the gig and took up our customary spot - at the back, against the wall, out of the way - expecting to quietly enjoy the music.

The warm-up act was Ellie Makes Music - I'd never heard of her before but was pleasantly surprised that such a strong singing voice came from such a petite girl! I really enjoyed her set and I'll be looking up more of her music.

Towards the end of her set a young woman who looked like a blonde Fake Monica turned up and joined a group of her friends who were already there and started to tell them, loudly, about her journey to the gig. The group also started moving backwards until one of them was stood so close to the woman next to me that she had to turn her head away to keep her nose out of the other's hair! I commiserated and suggested that she should have a coughing fit, at which she smiled ruefully. Eventually the group moved to the bar and the woman next to me, and her boyfriend, moved forward in anticipation of the main act.

Another group of young women came to stand next to me and one particularly rotund masculine woman came to stand in front of me, so close that her hip was against my arm. Then out of the corner of my eye I noticed her look me up and down before she put her hand against the wall next to my head, brushing against my ear and resting her arm millimeters over my shoulder. At this point I was wondering what the deal was with the Welsh and personal space.
Luckily they moved away before I had to say anything.

At some point another group came to stand on the other side of us and started a conversation which lasted through the intermission and well into the Paper Aeroplanes' set. A lady stood near me eventually went over and said,

"Excuse me, do you mind taking your conversation elsewhere? You're spoiling it for the rest of us."

They looked at her like she was a piece of dirt on their shoes and her husband stood between them until they got fed up and went to the bar. We enjoyed several songs without the unwelcome disturbance until they came back and started talking again. It didn't matter what sort of song was playing - upbeat or slow and quiet - they kept talking. I listened to half an hour of their conversation before I went over and said,

"Excuse me guys, but all I can hear is you talking. Could you keep it down?"

"Or you could go stand over there," the woman told me, holding her arm out in front of my face.

They did stop talking, for about a minute, but then started up again. I think they ended up going to the bar but that left us in peace for only three songs before the end of the gig.

SBB did suggest moving but I liked our spot - apart from the inconsiderate people - and it was the principle! I didn't want to reward their rudeness. I wanted to argue with them, to tell them that such a gig may be a normal weekly occurrence for them - perhaps they went there every weekend - but I didn't travel over 150 miles and spend out about £200 to listen to them talk about which friends got wasted the weekend before or that 'we need to fight back against the bloody Tories, because we've never stood up for ourselves before'.  It's just unreasonable. You want to dance? Great. You want to sing along? Awesome. But I paid to listen to the band not your conversation.

Sadly, I don't remember much about the gig other than the fact that the crowd - or rather the select people in the crowd - made it one of the worst I've ever been to. The Paper Aeroplanes were great but the whole experience was soured for me due to the needless rude and aggressive behaviour we experienced in the crowd.

We went back to the hotel and went straight to bed. We'd brought earplugs, as usual, and only heard a couple of rowdy groups come shrieking up the stairs around midnight. Luckily our room didn't face out over the high street, otherwise I'm sure we'd have had a terrible night.

I woke early to the sound of the plumbing humming and gurgling away and eventually at 7:45 made a cup of tea. I'd planned to head over to Bravissimo as we hadn't made it there the day before but when I looked on my phone for opening times and we saw it didn't open until 11, we ditched the idea. We just wanted to get out of Cardiff as soon as possible.

I was disappointed that we didn't get to see more of the city but from the troubles we had just trying to see the small amount that we did, I sort of think seeing more would have just caused more problems. It was one of the most stressful 24 hours I've ever had and after such an experience I don't think we'd ever go back.

Has anyone else been to Cardiff? Did you have a better experience?

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