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Adventures in Space, Time…and Southern Wales

This post is a bit of a conglomeration of a few different adventures because I wanted to keep last week’s post only about Adventure Weekend, as it was a pretty big event. So technically this post is about this week and last week, but rather than make two separate ones I figure why not just write them together and save the extra post for something more productive (I’ve got a couple of ideas brewing for some less narrative posts and more informative/reflective stuff but I’m waiting to find time to sit down and plan them out and unfortunately procrastination keeps rearing it’s ugly head around here).

Life in Cardiff feels like it has sort of evolved from school on the week and exploration on the weekend to ‘let’s fit anything and everything you can into every possible minute you have to spare.’ Aside from the 2 hours I save before I go to sleep, I have genuinely found myself with no free time. Course work has picked up in the final weeks leading up to Easter break, especially as one of my lectures actually finishes next week. The semester schedule here is definitely a lot different than in America, so I have to make a conscious effort to remain aware of the next few weeks, rather than a week at a time like I’m used to. I’ve had my first lab practical time since arriving in the UK, which was a very interesting thing to experience. Lab work doesn’t really change that much from country to country but the nerves were there anyway, especially since I was working with at least 8 strains of bacteria. It did feel good to get back to the science though; it felt like I was back at Drake for a while.

Meanwhile, I’ve received my first marks for my work and *drum roll* I’m really proud of myself! Considering I am taking courses in departments that I have absolutely no affiliation with at home (journalism and music) I am pretty happy with how I’m doing so far. I did really well on a group project in my Broadcasting class and did a respectable job on the essay I spent hours worrying about. It still remains to be seen how I will come out of a semester in an entirely new academic environment, but I think so far I am keeping up with it relatively well.

In addition to my general studies, I have also had two field trips over the course of the past few weeks. I don’t think I’ve been on a field trip since junior year of high school so they were very welcome in my mind, especially since one of them was to The Doctor Who Experience! The DWE has been on my to-do list in Cardiff before I even decided to study here, and I got to check it off for class credit. How cool is that? This is exactly the hands on learning that I could only dream of.

To anyone who has no idea what Doctor Who is, first of all I apologize for the next few paragraphs, feel free to skip, and second off as just a quick catch up its an extrememly popular show that premiered on the BBC in 1963 and since then has become popular all around the world. So popular in fact that it has inspired comic books, novels, radio shows, conventions, and a huge fan following. Anyway, like I said if you have no idea what I’m talking about feel free to scroll down to the second half of the post.

On the day in question, March 4th, I still had to go to a 9am lecture and an 11am seminar, but the rest of the afternoon was dedicated to exploring all of time and space with everyone’s favorite Timelord. We all hopped on the bus to the bay (my first experience on the Cardiff bus system) and quickly arrived at the DWE. Right as we pulled up, four coaches full of French students pulled up for tours of their own, which I knew was only going to delay our experience. Sure enough, the staff informed us we would have to wait at least an hour to get in, but luckily they were kind enough to let us to do the experience backwards. Essentially the DWE is divided into two parts; the first part is an immersive experience akin to that of something you might find at, say Universal Studios, and the second half is a museum-esque exhibition of Doctor Who props, costumes, and sets from all different eras of the show. The first half is the part that is strictly scheduled and therefore what was causing the delay, so they let us hop into the exhibition while we waited.

Inside, there are multiple Tardis control panels and actual Tardises from the show that you can check out and take pictures with before you head up to see all of the creatures and costumes from the show. Seeing the Tardis control panel as used by the 9th and 10th doctors was probably the highlight for me as it’s such an iconic part of the show. It’s really what brought the show back in the 2000s, I mean as well as Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant but that goes without saying, and it’s so incredibly detailed and ornate that I could have looked at it for hours. If only it hadn’t been gated off, I would have pushed every button, flicked every switch, and turned every knob (which is probably why they have it gated off in the first place).


Upstairs is an array of various creatures and costumes as used in the filming of the series. They have a whole display of all of the Doctors’ costumes, which have all really taken their own characters, so they were really amazing to see in person. The creatures are all so iconic that being up close and personal with them makes you really feel like you’re experiencing the science-fiction of the show in real life. It was also very interesting seeing everything in the context that I was because as it was for a class, I had a series of questions that I had to keep in mind to answer. I had to try take in a real understanding of the commercial and public service intentions of the experience as a whole. In class, we’re learning about the prospects of multiplatforming and the responsibility the BBC has to its viewers as a public service broadcaster. Obviously a large purpose of this experience is to capitalize on the franchise, but it also has to maintain its responsibilities to its audience. All of the exhibits were intermingled with information cards loaded with fun facts and tidbits of information for both die-hard fans and people who may just be getting into the series. The BBC has really outdone themselves in establishing a hands on way to immerse yourself in the fictional world so many people have fallen in love with.


After checking out all of the iconic material from the show, we finally got a chance to head into the experience, without really knowing what we were going into (which is the intention of the production staff- no pictures are allowed in order to keep the experience a surprise for everyone). We were all fitted with ‘time crystal’ lanyards and were lead into Gallifrey Museum. The next half an hour or so was filled with adventures through space and time in order to accomplish a mission for The Doctor. I won’t say much more than that to maintain it’s mystery, but I will say that it was brilliant. I’d say it’s generally directed towards a younger audience, but us university students all had a really fun time. I never expected that kind of experience but I was very pleasantly surprised. I’d say it was a pretty fantastic substitute for a lecture.


Off to explore all of time and space!

After ‘class’ I decided to stay down in the bay because it was still pretty late and I still hadn’t checked ‘sunset over Cardiff Bay’ off my checklist. Since I was down there, I obviously had to stop in at Fabulous Welshcakes so I picked some of them up before sitting on a bench and reading for a while. It was a little chilly, but I’d say the views were worth it.


To all you non-Doctor Who people- welcome back! We’ve now reached the non-nerd portion of our weekly programming, so sit back and enjoy some Welsh scenery.

Flash forward to more up-to-date happenings in my life and we’re back to yesterday and our trip to Caerphilly! We’ve been trying to make this trip happen for weeks now as we were told it was a must see. The last time we tried it was a rainy (surprise surprise) day and we didn’t want to spend all day getting rained on. Luckily, today was only forecasted to be cloudy so we hopped on the train for the brief journey *slightly* north to check out the second largest castle in Britain!

Getting to check out Caerphilly was interesting because it’s such a different atmosphere from Cardiff. It was a lot smaller, but still had a lot of the commercial feel in the shopping area. However, the castle was a lot more intimidating than Cardiff. I’ve seen pictures of Caerphilly Castle and I knew that it was the second biggest castle in Britain, but I wasn’t really prepared for the sheer scale of it. It’s absolutely massive, and because it’s essentially in ruins, it’s even more intimidating. I can only imagine what it looked like in the 13th century when it was in use.


We wandered in and out of the massive stone towers for the better part of an hour and it was a really cool, albeit eery, experience. There were some really cool fireplaces, and the view from the top of the tower was spectacular. In true castle form, there were some insane spiral staircases that we had to take, but it was all worth it because the whole place was absolutely stunning. At one point we read a little informational card about how the castle is haunted by one of the past inhabitants, which I obviously just ignored because I’m entirely too cynical for a 20 year old. But when we were in the main dining hall, we were about to exit through a door on one side and as we approached it, it slammed shut. Now it was probably just the wind, but we had just read about a ghost so we quickly walked in the opposite direction to never return to that area again.


Queens of the castle.

I think the coolest part of Caerphilly Castle is that it has a tower that is falling over, its leaning so significantly that it’s actually at a greater angle than The Leaning Tower of Pisa. And to add a little humor to a collapsing tower, they added a statue of a guy that looks like he’s holding it up. He was my favorite part of Caerphilly by far.


After we exhausted our time at the castle, we decided we wanted to finally fall victim to the massive British staple that is fish and chips. Unfortunately, the experience was rather disappointing. We had really bad customer service and the food wasn’t really all that spectacular, so overall our first experience with fish and chips was kind of lame. Maybe I’ll try it again in a nicer setting and have better things to say. We spent a little more time wandering around the city, checking out the giant cheese sculpture (yes they have a giant cheese sculpture- your move Wisconsin) and exploring more of the exterior of the castle.


The size of Caerphilly Castle sort of makes Cardiff Castle look like not that big of a deal in comparison, but what Cardiff lacks in size it makes up in decor. Caerphilly maintains more of the authentic castle feel with just the stone walls and everything but Cardiff has everything all done up and ornate. It’s hard to compare the two, or even compare any of the castles that I’ve visited, but it’s really interesting to see so many different interpretations of something that I’ve always just pictured one way. If you like castles, Wales is definitely the place for you.


We had a really fun time checking out a totally different part of Wales than we’re used to and the Castle was incredibly to get to see. Plus, it was nice to get out for a while before I spend the next week trying to get through the massive essay I have due for my music class this week.

Mid week highlight! We had a fun little ‘American’ night this past week where we took the evening to make some American pancakes for a little taste of home. We even got some British people to try, and enjoy them. Tesco even has Aunt Jemima syrup so it was completely authentic. I had no idea something as simple as a pancake would be significant in my life, but it basically felt like we were taking a bite out of home.


Classes are winding down, assignments are building up, and all I want to do is get to Easter Break. Bring it on.


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