Cardiff, Edinburgh, London

cardiff_edinburgh_london

For a portion of my recent blogging break, I was traveling in the UK with Husband Mike. This trip had been a long time coming, as we actually ended up going to Iceland because the airfare was cheaper than getting all the way across the pond to Britain!

As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of vacation posts. Mine or anyone else’s. I think that vacation stories are far more engaging when told in person, so I’m going to skip the chronological blow-by-blow and attempt to keep this fairly bullet-pointy with a story or two sprinkled in. Loads of photos, too. And I’ll do my best to answer any questions you might have!

CARDIFF

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Most surprising thing about Cardiff: The architecture and public art. There is a LOT of absolutely breathtaking and extremely modern architecture in Cardiff, mostly in the waterfront area near the Millennium Centre. As you can see here, gobs of stellar public art, too.

Most predictable thing about Cardiff: We had some trouble adjusting to the lyrical local accent. Which was mortifying. Nothing more embarrassing than having to ask someone to repeat himself multiple times when you’re both speaking the same language.

tardis_door

What I loved about The Doctor Who Experience: The first part of your visit is an actual “experience” with videos of Matt Smith guiding you through a story/adventure. (I’d rather have had David Tennant as a guide, but what can you do?) It’s extremely cheesy and predictable … but still super fun to get to “drive” the TARDIS.

What the museum lacked: After that first interactive bit, it was mostly old costumes, props, and portions of sets. There were some interactive aspects, like a Dalek that you could get inside and flap around a little, but it would’ve been nice to see more involved, creative exhibits. But overall? Fun. And totally worth doing if you’re a fan and happen to be in Wales.

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What we wish we’d had time for: Cardiff Castle. We lost track of time wandering around City Centre and got to the castle just as it was closing. Seriously sad that we missed it.

What we’re so grateful for: Our first full day in the UK was in Cardiff, and it was 65 degrees and sunny. It was unspeakably gorgeous walking around the waterfront and city centre in the glowing sunshine.

millennium_centre_cardiff

Funny story from Cardiff: We flew into London, arrived at noon, trained it to Paddington Station, and immediately got on another train to Cardiff. We were determined to stay up until 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. so our bodies/brains would be on local time as soon as possible. After grabbing dinner by the water, we noticed people streaming into the Millennium Centre and figured there was a performance that night. There was: Cedar Lake Ballet. We love dance so we nabbed some tickets and headed in. This building is breathtaking, inside and out, and the theater space was all warm wood and carved details. We were so excited. And the SECOND they hit the lights, our jet lag descended. HM and I were both nodding off for the entire first act and mortified by our own rudeness. We spent quite a bit on those tickets, but left after the first act because we just couldn’t bear being the despicable couple snoozing in the balcony. (I hope to catch this troupe again someday when I’m NOT jet lagged.)

EDINBURGH

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What was different since I’d last visited: Maybe I just didn’t spend much time there when I’d visited in college, but holy cats Princes Street is absolutely MOBBED both day and night. Mostly day, as it’s the high street and packed with shops. Seas of humanity, I tell you.

What was the same: Pretty much everything else. Edinburgh is an incredibly old and old-looking city, and I absolutely love that you can see the castle from just about every turn in city centre. Also my favorite painting ever in the entire world is still hanging in the National Gallery:

favorite_painting_scotland2

It is “Wandering Shadows” by Peter Graham, painted in 1878. I want to live in there.

edinburgh_castle_panorama

Fun facts learned:

I knew it wasn’t ed-in-bo-row, but had been saying ed-in-bo-rah. Apparently, the locals go directly to ed-in-bra.

Back in the day, the Scots holed up defending the castle would boil their own poo and pour it on their enemies. EEEEEEW. Also, way to recycle. (If you go, definitely take the free guided tour of the grounds. And, if you can, ask for Ernest. He was hilarious.)

Those columns and architectural bits on the outskirts of town? They look amazing from a distance, but really odd and chintzy up close. Those Victorians. All about the impression.

edinburgh_arthurs_seat

Best experience: And I can’t believe I don’t have photo evidence. HM and I had a LOVELY dinner with Lauren of Asian Cajuns and her husband, Matt. They took us to a cozy little pub in Leith (The King’s Wark) with absolutely stellar food, and then next door to The Scotch Malt Whisky Society where Matt is a member. Lar and I don’t drink, so we chatted away while the boys sampled 35-year-old whiskies. It was the best, best, best time and I miss them both already.

Worst experience: I pulled a muscle climbing Arthur’s Seat and limped for several days afterward. Boo.

What I’d recommend to anyone: Staying at the Clarendon Apartments. Affordable, gorgeous, a 5-minute walk into town, quiet, and just utterly fantastic in every way. We love having a fridge and kitchenette when we travel, and we had that plus bedroom, living room, bathroom (of course), laundry, skylights, and a gorgeous view of New Town. Tell Billy I sent you.

Style observation: About 85% of the locals I saw were wearing Barbour jackets. Amazing.

Funny story from Edinburgh: The last time I was in Britain, I was visiting a friend who took me out for Sunday Roast. I’d been talking up the Sunday Roast experience to HM for AGES and we were really looking forward to it. Sunday rolled around and we did Arthur’s Seat and I got my lovely injury, but we pushed on. On Lauren’s recommendation, we headed into a neighborhood called Stockbridge that afternoon and LOVED it. Charity shops, a farmer’s market, and picturesque as hell. By about 4 p.m. we were ready for our roast. That is approximately when everyone stops serving it. We hit two or three pubs in Stockbridge, all of whom were either out of roast or closing their kitchens. I was hurting enough that we sprung for a cab back to city centre and found a pub that did roast all day. YES. Put in our order. Waited 40 minutes. Didn’t see our waitress anywhere. Get this: Their ordering system had shut down, taking our order with it. Our server, assuming someone else would bring us our food, clocked out and left. AND now that the computers were back up and they realized the error, they had just run out of roast. Mike had a burger and I had a salad. No roast for us. (Brit’s Pub does it here, so we’ll go sometime this winter!)

LONDON

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Overwhelming art experience: The Saatchi Gallery. Oh, friends, I was absolutely blown away by this place. The exhibit theme was “paper” and I saw heron marionettes, room-sized kites, a couch made of newspapers, and ten-foot-long pen-and-ink murals. Below you see Yuken Teruya‘s trees carved into shopping bags and Han Feng‘s floating city.

saatchi saatchi2

Underwhelming art experience: Don’t get me wrong, the Tate Modern has some absolutely stellar pieces. But it seemed like 40% gorgeous artworks, and 60% Stuff That Would Piss Off My Dad. (I go to lots of art museums and exhibits with my dad, and enormous gray canvases and piles of rocks in the corner make him livid. Even though they inevitably spark great conversations about what art is. And the Tate Modern had a lot of enormous gray canvases and piles of rocks in the corner.)

Totally worth the trek art experience: Banksy’s Falling Shopper. (On an abandoned building in upmarket Mayfair.)

banksy

City failure: Do not trust Yelp. Lee Ho Fook’s is nowhere to be found in Chinatown. We looked for an hour.

leehofook

What I wish I’d loved: Billy Elliot on stage. Billy Elliot is one of my top three all-time favorite movies, so the deck was stacked against this musical play. And there were definitely parts that were so gorgeous they moved me to tears. But I couldn’t help comparing, and definitely prefer the understated beauty of the film.

What I loved way more than I expected: Shopping at Liberty. I don’t know if we showed up on bonus day or something, but EVERYONE in that place was happy, chatty, funny, flirty, and just as lovely as they could be. And, of course, there was the entire room filled with scarves and the basement men’s department with gorgeous shoes and the quirky home decor and the endless bolts of lush fabric. I pretty much wanted to hide behind a rack and stay there overnight. Or possibly forever. I bought hankies. Because I am officially my grandma.

Best choice: Staying in South Kensington. Gobs of restaurants, adorable charity shops, cute boutiques, and a very laid-back vibe. We were near the Gloucester Road tube station, which turned out to be an absolutely perfect staging point for just about everywhere we wanted to go in London.

Funny story from London: In studying maps of London, I related everything to Hyde Park. It’s huge and fairly central and helped me understand the layout of the city. One of my itineraries for London involved taking the tube to Covent Garden, shopping, and then walking back through Hyde Park toward South Kensington. Or possibly renting bikes from the Barclay’s stations. We ended up attempting a version of this on our last day in London, and after three straight days that involved 10+ hours of walking, we made it to the northeast corner of the park and absolutely pooped out. We bought nutella waffles, looked at a nearby field, and then hopped the tube back to our hotel. Do you sense a wimpy theme, here?

OTHER STUFF

train

How we got around: We did this a lot. Many, many hours were spent on trains getting from city to city. The trains were amazing – on time, fairly clean, and ran without hiccups. I love train travel and so enjoyed watching the countryside roll by.

The first time I visited London was with friends who were studying abroad there, and I was extremely overwhelmed. But, just like New York, once you’ve mastered the Tube, you can get just about anywhere on your own and the city feels far more manageable.

wore

What I wore: I looked like this the whole time. Seriously. Black waterproof jacket, scarf, tunic, leggings or skinnies, and tall boots. I seldom took that jacket off as, even in shops and museums, it was relatively chilly so if you’d seen me anytime on the trip I really would’ve looked just like this! I was grateful for my Ella Umbrella brelly on several occasions, too.

umbrella

Shopping highlights: For some mad reason, I bought 11 scarves on this trip. Some were thrifted, some were posh, some were super touristy. I had limited suitcase space, and scarves just seemed like the wearable, packable, affordable thing to nab. I also bought an absolutely gorgeous mustard yellow Radley bag from the shop in Cardiff. The two sales associates were nearly as thrilled as I was by my purchase, and we all giggled a lot together. The handbag came home with me stuffed to the brim with my new scarves. HM bought Grensons, and gah, are they ever gorgeous. (And hella cheaper in the UK than here in the US.)

Best thing I ate: Sticky toffee ginger pudding at Thomas. Wish I had some right now.

Something that amused me that no one else cared about: The badass crosswalks in Edinburgh. Studs, people! Studded crosswalks!

edinburgh_crosswalk

We had loads of fun and certainly hope to get back again someday. I guess that kinda goes without saying! Hope you enjoyed this little trip summary, and keep your eyes peeled for my travel purchases (read: scarves) in upcoming outfit posts.

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42 Responses to “Cardiff, Edinburgh, London”

  1. Suze

    Lovely stories and pics and so envious. It’s been years since I’ve been there and I don’t know if I’ll ever make it back. Guess I should be glad for the visits I had, huh? Can’t wait to see your scarves. thanks for sharing.

  2. Judith

    I’m glad you had such a lovely time (I’ve lived in both Edinburgh & London and still miss them) and your post about it is excellent!
    I really enjoy your blog. Thanks x

  3. Anna

    Oh, Liberty! Fits of nostalgia here! More than 25 years ago I spent a whole afternoon at Liberty luxuriating in fabric and buying what I could afford. I still have a skirt I made from Liberty’s fine wool challis in a wonderful print, and have yet to sew up the shirt I cut out too long ago from a blue version of Liberty’s signature peacock print. You are inspiring me to finish it soon.

    Lovely photos, all. Thanks, Sally!

  4. Miriana

    I have NEVER EVER heard our trains described like that (although, I notice the word ‘cheap’ didn’t feature). They must be really bad in the States!

  5. Toby Wollin

    The DH and I have a ‘walking vacation’ in Wales arranged for next year in the fall, so we will have to make sure we get to Cardiff, too. We travel by train when we are in the UK also – completely removes the ‘OMG, how do I drive on the other side of the road’ issues, which for us are huge and you can pretty much get anywhere you want and cab it or bus it from there. I totally agree with you on the quality of the trains – we LOVE them.

  6. emily

    Oh Sally! My year in Edinburgh was one of the best of my life. The city is so so lovely, and on the inside as well as the out: my best friend there was a native, wheelchair-bound with CP, and I can’t tell you how many times (daily) we approached a stranger to carry him, or wheelchair, up and down the (many- medieval city, remember) stairs. I know that sounds nightmarish but really it was truly a delightful way for Scotland, and Edinburgh particularly, to reveal themselves. I lived in the dorms just at the foot of Arthur’s Seat where you injured yourself. That’s a big climb! You’re not alone in pulling muscles!

  7. Anne

    This post brings back memories of college. I spent my Junior year in London. Edinburgh and Swansea were two of my favorite places. I glad you had such a great time. You lit a fire under me to return with my family.

  8. Alison

    Well I LOVE travel posts, when they are like this! Not too long, quick summaries, all the info I desire (including what one wore with photos), and beautiful pictures. Glad you had a great time! <3

  9. Dee

    I am a bit jealous….have not visited London or Scotand, your trip sounded fantastic.Your photos and stories just make me want to go there! I loved the story about the Sunday Roasts, boy that would have really pissed me off though! When it comes to food and I don’t get what I have been looking forward to…watch out! Can’t wait to see your scarves — fun!

  10. Margaret

    What jacket is that you’re wearing in these pictures? I have been looking for a medium-weight waterproof jacket just like that! Where can I get one like yours and is there anything one would need to know about the fit (if the sizing runs large, if you needed it tailored for such a good fit)?

    • Sally

      Margaret, it’s from Eddie Bauer and no longer available, sadly. This one is the current season iteration: http://rstyle.me/n/cmfjzdm7e There’s also a lined version, but mine is unlined. It runs a wee bit big – I ordered a small for a closer fit. I didn’t get it tailored. Hope that helps!

      • paisleyapron

        I was envying the coat you wore, too. I just sent that Girl on the Go Eddie Bauer coat back because it was way oversized, not at all like the pictures. Perhaps I should try again with a smaller size like you suggest.

      • Katie B

        I’ve had great luck with a Merrell raincoat I found on Amazon. I had always thought of them as a shoe-only brand, but I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the jacket for the price! The exact one I have is no longer available, but Amazon has some other longer, fitted waterproof coats at a great price point.

        • Margaret

          Argh. I thought it might be an Eddie Bauer, and Paisley is just confirming what all the online reviews are saying about that new Girl on the Go coat of theirs (poor fit). After browsing through Lands End, LL Bean (good products, awful colors), and Sierra Trading Post (terrible for returns), I took Katie’s advice and looked into Merrell’s jackets. Thanks, Katie! I love and own some of their wonderful footwear and now I’m going to try out their outerwear. I just wish zappos (love their free returns) carried a couple more Merrell coats to choose from…

  11. Leslie

    Eeeeee!! I’m in the minority, as I LOVE to see other people’s vacation posts. 😀 Bring on the cheesy poses!

    Looks like you had a blast! Thanks for sharing the pictures and the experience. I look forward to seeing your new scarves!

  12. Rose-Anne

    I love your vacation posts, Sally! I think you include just the right amount of photos and tidbits to keep them fun 🙂

  13. Katie

    Love this post! I am always interested in what other people’s travel experiences are like. Especially what lived up to the hype and what didn’t.

  14. Glamdoc

    As Margaret above I found your jacket pretty stylish (see you already replied to her comment). As always GREAT BOOTS, and must say I love the shape of that cap (it´s not quite a baseball cap is it?).

    So glad a vacation was the reason for your blog break, hope you feel rested and/or invigorated somehow (despite jet lag and tired feet). Good to have you back 🙂

    • Sally

      Thank you, my dear! And funnily enough, the cap is HM’s – I borrowed it a couple of times on rainy days. He’d already bought a new one for himself. The cap is by Outdoor Research, in case you’re curious.

  15. Patricia

    Why are scarves so much cheaper in Europe? I went to Spain two summers ago and came back with eight scarves for about US $30 in total… eight! Granted, not all the best quality (mostly not the best quality), but still. Anyway, loved the stories and photos and glad you enjoyed the trip!

  16. Katy

    Love this recap of your trip and all the pictures. Ahh.. I need to get back to traveling again. – Katy

  17. Eleanorjane

    I love travel posts (as long as they’re not too long) and they’re a regular feature on my blog. It’s interesting to see what you made of three of the four bits of the United Kingdom.

    I love Cardiff myself and yes, Cardiff Castle is awesome. It was extensively re-build reasonably recently (as in a few hundred years ago), but it still looks exactly like what you’d think a castle should look like and there’s insidy bits to explore and an excellent gift shop (I love little tourist attraction shops).

    My husband is a big Dr Who fan so we do need to pop over and do the experience.

  18. Audi

    I adore Edinburgh! A lovely city full of lovely people. I like that the crosswalks also instruct you which way to look; I suspect for absentminded tourists like me who can’t seem to remember which direction the traffic is coming from.

  19. Sheila

    Oooh, your trip sound fabulous! I’ve been to Edinburgh (17 years ago) and London (4 years ago) and loved them both. The trains in London are the best. “Mind the gap!”

  20. Melanie

    I discovered your blog only recently, and I’m leaving my first comment to say how much I loved this post. I’ve visited the UK a number of times, though the most recent was 11 years ago, and I’m longing to go back. I’ve visited all three cities and spent my junior year in Bristol, so Cardiff was nearby and an easy weekend or day trip. It’s a wonderful city, and I think underrated as a tourist destination, so I’m glad to see it getting some love.

  21. Ruth

    How funny and nice to hear my home town (London) described like this from the outside. And part of me wishes I could have given you some tips. But maybe it is more fun discovering for yourself. I am a bit mystified that you post outfit posts from the US and talk about temperatures in the 50s, wearing bare legs and then in the UK, where we have had an exceptionally mild autumn, and it never gets as cold as where you are, you are so wrapped up. I think I am a wimp, but certainly haven’t been as dressed up yet as you are.
    By the way – the trains. Not too bad, and more efficient than they used to be, but still SO expensive. We of course dream about the super-wonderful trains in France and italy. Try those for your next trip.

    • Carla J

      Do you expect Sally to wear a coat for each of her outfit shots? Not really the point, is it?

      2 minutes in the street for an outfit shot v. all day outside…yes, she is going to wear a coat. Hope that demystifies things for you.

  22. Bernie

    Glad you had a great time with us Brits. That was a brilliant travelogue, and I loved your pics. Enjoy that Radley!

  23. Emily

    Waitaminute waitaminute, are you a Whovian?

    Your trip sounds a lot like my trip this summer – I spent most of it in a black raincoat, fell in love with the Tube, hurt my foot hiking in Gloucestershire, bought a scarf…

    • Sally

      Hahaha. I might be an Apprentice Whovian, Emily. For instance, Matt Smith makes my skin crawl and I’m tempted to skip his entire last season and just wait for the new fella to step in. Which makes me too fickle for full Whovian status, I think. 😉

  24. Car

    I love this trip summary! I’m from Wales and was in college in Cardiff in the 80s and it was definitely not so nice back then! I’m sure people didn’t mind your struggles with the accent 🙂

    This brought back fun memories as I went with my US husband to Edinburgh and London this summer, and we had a blast too. getting around by train us definitely the way to go.

  25. asiancajuns Lar

    Sal, we so so wish you guys lived here with us in old Edin-bra!!! Seeing you guys in town was the highlight of our autumn. I’m so glad you had so many grand adventures on your trip. I can’t believe all you guys did — and I’m so sorry you pulled a muscle up Arthur’s Seat — I’ve done that before!
    Come back soon!
    xoxox, Lar

  26. Karoliina

    Looks like you had a wonderful trip! Arthur’s Seat is a fairly tough climb, so I’m not sad my fiancé and I skipped the climb during our recent visit. I think we both have climbed that chunk of rock more than our fair share when we were students in Edinburgh.

  27. coffeeaddict

    What an amzing tour! Thanks for sharing. From now on I’ll forever remember that Edinburgh is ppronounced with the word “bra” at the end 😉