Family Day Out: The Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff Bay

Last weekend, we visited the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay. Being a geeky family of Whovians, this was not our first visit. It was our third. Plus it’s actually the second time we’ve been as part of my birthday celebrations.

We’re really lucky that it doesn’t take us very long at all to get the train to Cardiff Bay (trains from Cardiff Queen Street to the Bay run every 12 minutes and the journey is just 4 minutes!).

We were also lucky that the weather on Saturday was almost perfect: not too hot but a bit sunny and no rain at all! Even without a trip to the Doctor Who Experience, the Bay is one of my favourite places to visit in Cardiff.

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Having always booked tickets in advance, I’d advise doing the same to anyone planning to visit. It means no queuing to buy tickets and no chance of being told they’re fully booked (I don’t know if this regularly happens but wouldn’t want to risk it personally). You can book online then simply print off the tickets or have them sent to you and bring them along.

There is a short queue on the way into the experience but there’s plenty to look at in the foyer area – from character costumes to ancient Gallifreyan artefacts to a massive LEGO dalek!

The actual experience involves going on an adventure, guided by a member of staff and the Doctor himself! Even as an adult, this was really enjoyable and Penny and the other children there loved it, especially the interactive bits. I won’t say anymore as I wouldn’t want to spoil it. I would warn that the first time we went, Penny was about two and did get a bit scared so you might want to consider that when thinking about taking very small children. The experience has changed a few times, usually when there’s been a regeneration, so it’s been different each time we’ve gone.

After the adventure, you get the chance to look around a huge collection Doctor Who exhibit with costumes, props and monsters from the oldest classic episodes right up to the latest series. I really like that this allows you to see the evolution of some monsters like the daleks and cybermen.

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After the exhibit there is a gift shop. With birthday money to spend, I did treat myself to a couple of t shirts and a pin for my notice board.

 

My husband also bought a couple of framed prints which look brilliant in our living room.

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There is a good range in the gift shop, from lower priced souvenirs to some really amazing collectables.

Sadly, the Doctor Who Experience is closing this September, which was one of the reasons we wanted one last trip. If you’re a Whovian, or have any mini Whovians, I really recommend a visit if you can make it, it’s such a fun day out.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

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Summer Holidays 2017: Weeks 1 & 2

The last two weeks are not exactly how I pictured our summer holidays. I had visions of Penny and I spending long days outdoors, walking in parks and along seafronts and through woods. I had researched a whole catalogue of new picnic recipes to try.

So imagine my dismay when the forecast predicted clouds and rain just about every day.

Our holidays began as soon as Penny left school. We headed to Starbucks for our traditional end of term celebration. It was raining. Never mind, I thought, six weeks of school-free fun are ahead of us.

At the beginning of our first full week of holidays, Husband’s Mum and Nan arrived for a three day visit. We went to Cardiff Bay with them (a rare day of proper sunshine!) and took the Aquabus tour around the Bay, Penarth and the Barrage. Here’s a video I made of it:

We all went out for dinner together that evening. For their last day in Cardiff, we went for a shopping day in the city centre. It made for a good start to our holidays, even if the weather was mostly a bit grim.

Penny and I went to our local library in that first week too. Penny always takes part in the Summer Reading Challenge. This year the theme is Animal Agents and the reward for each book read is a set of clues to work out the mystery in the library. To complete the challenge, a child needs to read 6 books over the course of the summer holidays. As an overall reward, they’re presented with a medal at school when the new term begins. It’s a great scheme and I highly recommend it as a way to get the kids reading some new books over the holidays.

Last week, I was ill for several days. I’m rarely physically unwell, at least not more than a minor cold. This wasn’t serious but I ached all over and felt generally crap. By Thursday, Penny was clearly getting fed up with being indoors, however much I tried to occupy her with baking and crafts and DisneyLife. So we went back to the library as it’s close by. Just being out in the fresh air seemed to cheer her up and getting some new books and a set of stickers as reward for the ones she’d already read helped a great deal too.

On Friday, I was feeling quite a bit better and we had a bit of sunshine (along with the clouds and rain that never seem far away at the moment) so we went to Penarth for a walk along the beach and an ice cream on the pier. It did rain on us a bit but we both needed a proper day out. I felt just about entirely recovered by the weekend.

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Penarth Pier

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Penarth seafront, looking towards the Devon coastline

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Writing our names in the Sand

We had a bit of a lazy day at home on Saturday then I had to work on Sunday. Penny had a lovely day at home with Husband, playing board games.

I’m hoping for better weather and no more sickness for the next four weeks!

How’s your summer holiday going? Has the poor weather affected your plans?

Five years in Cardiff

Five years ago, we moved from London to Cardiff. It’s probably been the best five years of my entire life.

Back in 2011, we lived in an area not far from where the riots had recently happened. It’s not easy being out in a place and constantly wondering if the person you’ve just passed in the street was looting a few nights before. We’d been talking about moving away for a long while but it had always felt like fantasy, like when you plan which mansion you’ll buy when you win the lottery rollover (Everyone does that, right?). But with London (or at least the bit of London we lived in) feeling more and more like somewhere we didn’t really want to raise our child, we started looking elsewhere.

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View across Cardiff Bay, 2011

Cardiff was a pretty obvious choice. We’d been there on a day trip a year earlier and instantly loved it. It’s a capital city – a good place to find jobs with plenty of cultural stuff to enjoy – but at the same time it’s a quieter, more laid back and friendly place than where we were. Plus it’s where Doctor Who is filmed and for a family of geeks, that’s a massive tick in the pros column.

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At the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay, 2012

Husband went on a little reconnaissance mission. The poor guy spent two days looking at what were mostly pretty grim flats, attending job interviews and spending the night in hotel room with a broom closet sized bathroom and a TV smaller than his iPad. He had the pressure of actually picking where we lived without me ever laying eyes on it. When we actually moved, I arrived a few hours ahead of him (he finished packing up at the old flat, while me and Pip went ahead) and he texted me, all anxious about what I thought, given that this was the first time I’d set foot in the place. I think my reply was ‘I f*cking love you’. He’d chosen brilliantly.

I loved that flat. It was the first place that really felt like our home, rather than somewhere we’d had to settle for out of necessity. It was just near Cardiff Bay, still one of my favourite places to visit, plus near plenty of shops including a huge 24 hour supermarket. The best thing about it was it’s second bedroom. Pip finally had a room of her own, which we were all extremely happy about.

We stayed there for a year, then our landlord quite suddenly decided that they were going to sell the flat and gave us just over a month to move out. This time I chose the flat and Husband was the one that didn’t get to see it until after we moved in. I won’t go into much detail about that place but suffice to say, we’ve since made an agreement that he gets to choose all subsequent places we live in. It was bloody awful.

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Victoria Park, 2013

Since 2014, we’ve been living in my favourite place that I’ve ever lived in. Plenty of space, brilliant location and a lovely landlady. I don’t see us leaving here for quite some time yet, which is quite something for a family that’s moved five times in eight years.

I love Cardiff. I love the Bay, a beautiful place to have a walk, take some pictures and perhaps have an ice cream. I love the city centre, full of shops, two museums and a castle, plus a massive library and loads of lovely places to eat.  I love that if you say Good Morning to someone in the street, most of the time they’ll say it back rather than look at you like you’ve just casually uttered a racial slur (seriously, I wouldn’t even make eye contact with strangers in London). I love how comfortable I feel here.

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Castell Coch, 2016

Starting fresh in Cardiff has made me a such a different person. I might still be shy but I’m way more confident than I used to be. I’ve faced up to the fact that I have PTSD and depression and had treatment and now I feel so much better. I’m not cured but it’s incurable so being able to deal with it is the best I can do and I think I’m doing it (most of the time).

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Me, 2011

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Me, 2016

So thanks Cardiff. I can’t wait to see what the next five years have in store!

 

Catch up: An Ending and a Beginning

So it’s been a pretty busy time around here.

Pip turned seven a few weeks ago. We had a family event for the actual day; just a little tea party with some visiting relatives. Then the following weekend, she had a few friends over for another tea party. This was an opportunity (excuse might be a more accurate term) for me to design personalised placemats and invitations and little thank you notes to go into the party bags. I hadn’t quite anticipated just how much noise a few six & seven year old girls could make but still, a good time was had by all.

Then last weekend, I attended my graduation ceremony at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. It was brilliant. I will admit to being slightly nervous that I might trip and fall straight into the orchestra pit in front of the stage but I actually managed to avoid this, which really felt like as much of an achievement as attaining a degree. The robes were a little awkward but overall, made me feel a bit like a student at Hogwarts rather than the Open University. Anyone who knows me will know how happy that made me. Husband was graduating at the same time and looked extremely dignified in his robes, which didn’t keep slipping off like mine did. I’m not the kind of person to feel very proud of myself about anything but I genuinely felt rather smug for nearly a whole day. After six years of hard work, I think I was entitled to that.

Just before my graduation, I got a tweet, totally out of the blue, about a rather exciting opportunity. Long story short, I’m now the local editor for the Bubele newsletter for Cardiff. It’s fortnightly and I promise it’ll be packed with fun stuff for families in the Cardiff area. My first newsletter will be emailed out on 2nd November so do sign up! Bubele is also an app with lots of listings for family fun throughout the UK – I recommend downloading it and signing up for whichever newsletter covers your area. I certainly like having activities lined up, equally for the school holidays and for those long weeks of monotonous routine in between so I really feel like this is a useful tool for any parent.

I’m feeling uncharacteristically positive about all of the above. My little girl is getting ever bigger and brighter and more brilliantly unique. I’ve achieved something I never thought I’d be able to. I’ve got a new opportunity for writing more. Everything’s just bloody marvellous!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Summer Half Term 2016

This morning I was a little sad to send Pip back off to school but I’m also breathing a sigh of relief to have a quiet day at home to myself. We’ve had such a busy half term week!

On Monday, we went for a walk and picnic in Cefn Onn Park, to the north of Cardiff. We hadn’t been before but it came highly recommended and it’s close to Lisvane and Thornhill train station, making it easy for us to get to as we don’t drive. It is a beautiful place, filled with pretty flowers.

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Cefn Onn Park, Cardiff

There was a pond with big koi carp appearing occasionally through the murky water and a multitude of tadpoles clinging to algae covered rocks all around the edges. Pip spotted a dragonfly but I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to get a shot of it!

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Tadpoles in the pond

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By the stream

 

There are picnic tables and plenty of benches but we chose to use our picnic blanket and eat on the big picnic meadow to the north of the park. Recently I bought a really lovely picnic backpack from Mountain Warehouse. It comes with cutlery, plates and cups for four people, plus a nice big food storage section and an insulated removable bottle pouch attached to the side. There’s even a little chopping board, bottle opener and salt & pepper shaker in there! I knew it would be perfect for all of our summer outings.

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A perfect place for a picnic. I promise that’s a glass of squash! 

We’d spent Sunday afternoon preparing some yummy picnic food. Pip snipped the herbs for our pasta salad, helped to fill the tortilla wraps and she really enjoyed dipping strawberries in chocolate!

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Zesty pasta salad with tomato salsa

On Tuesday, we went to Penarth for some fossil hunting. We’d been there before (here is a post about our previous trip) and Pip, an aspiring palaeontologist has been really keen to go back for ages. We found a few ammonite fossils this time, to add to our collection at home.

We had ice creams on the pier, while looking out at the beautiful views all around.

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Ice cream and the stunning view from Penarth Pier

We picked a nice spot in Alexandra Park for another picnic. It’s a lovely green space, with plenty of shade to relax in after a long walk on the beach. There’s a also a small aviary there and Pip loved watching the little birds flit about.

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Alexandra Park, Penarth

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At home in the afternoon, once Husband had arrived home from work, we all made ice cream sundaes to cool down.

On Wednesday, the gorgeous weather turned a bit grey and dreary so we had a day indoors. We watched the new BBC adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, my favourite Shakespeare play. Pip loved the fairies and magic in it, plus we both giggled at Matt Lucas’ portrayal of Nick Bottom. I really recommend watching it – it’s a bit of a departure from traditional stagings but I really liked all of the changes and the special effects and the cast were superb.

Afterwards we got out our new fabric pens and designed t shirts inspired by the play. I was pretty impressed that Pip remembered a quote that she wanted written on hers.

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T-shirt inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream and created with fabric pens

I had to work on Thursday, Friday and Saturday but Pip got plenty of fun time with Husband. They went off to Cardiff Bay together on Thursday.

After work on Thursday, I went and bought myself some new fish. The tank now contains five neon tetras, seven platys, four otocinclus catfish and a cherry shrimp.

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Platy

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Otocinclus catfish

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The platys

On Saturday, I took Pip to her first tennis lesson before my shift started then to her friend’s birthday party after my shift. I was pretty tired by the end of the day, as I’m sure you can imagine!

We all had a well-earned chilled out Sunday at home.

It’s been an all round brilliant half term. I know it won’t be long until the summer holidays are here – I’ve already been busy planning!

 

My November

November has been a quiet month, as it always seem to be for me. Its the lull between the excitement of the summer, which always seem to spill over into September, right up to Pip’s birthday, and the excitement of Christmas, which seems to dominate the whole of December.

I have started preparing for Christmas already though. I took a trip into town, mostly for window shopping, gathering ideas of what I might buy. Of course, as with all of my window shopping trips, I did come home with a couple of little bits!

I’ve already wrapped the presents I’ve bought. I don’t leave them unwrapped as then there can’t be any temptation for anyone to peek (let’s face it, I mean my husband as much as I do my daughter).

We were considering going to Sparks in the Park, the big fireworks display in central Cardiff but in the end Pip had a friend’s birthday party to attend and that appealed to her much more than standing outside in the cold. I’m actually fairly glad we didn’t go – I’ve since heard a few stories of people waiting ages to get their tickets.

I did bake some Ninjabread men. I’ve had these cutters for years but they’ve been left forgotten in the cupboard for quite some time. I’m glad Husband suggested digging them out. I haven’t done much baking lately and I do really enjoy it.

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Of course, there was Remembrance week. I find it really important to instil the message of this with Pip. She had her poppy, of course, and we spoke at length about why we wear them and about the various wars soldiers have fought in to defend our country, as well as other countries.

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We finally watched Ant-Man. As big Marvel fans, we’ve been eagerly awaiting this and we weren’t disappointed. It had that great mix of action with comedy we’ve all come to expect and love! We also started watching the new Jessica Jones series on Netflix. It’s certainly much more adult than the comic book inspired films and TV series we’ve watched so far. David Tennant gives a brilliant, if extremely creepy performance as Kilgrave, the psychotic, mind-controlling villain.

In general, things carry on pretty much as normal in November. Now it’s time to start getting excited because Christmas is well on the way!

I love Cardiff

Recently I realised that it has been four years since we moved here to Cardiff. It feels like so much longer, memories of my home town where I spent the first 22 years of my life are getting a little hazy now. I feel totally at home here and I’m so glad we chose this city to move to. In celebration of this milestone, here are some of the things I love about Cardiff:

  1. The people. Yes, like anywhere else, you get grumpy people and angry people and generally rude people but on the whole, Cardiff people are friendly, helpful and quite laid back compared to other places. I was in shock when we first moved here and complete strangers kept saying hello to me in the street – nothing like the grumpy silence that was the norm in my home town.
  2. The Bay. Gorgeous views, lovely places to eat, a wildlife reserve and the Doctor Who Experience. What more could you want?
  3. Cardiff Castle. Even on a normal day it’s a great place to visit with it’s lovely architecture and stained glass windows. Big occasion days are frequent with lots of fun stuff going on for everyone to enjoy. Plus, owls live there, which just doubles the awesome, in my opinion.
  4. Shopping arcades. Filled with brilliant little independent shops and cafes, selling everything from board games to ice cream made with liquid nitrogen to liqueurs in pretty bottles, all sold by some of the friendliest shopkeepers I’ve ever come across. I also love the look of the arcades, they’re so wonderfully Victorian.
  5. The Museums. I was concerned that living further away from London would mean fewer trips to museums. I was totally wrong. In the city centre alone there’s the Cardiff Story Museum and the National Museum. We make frequent visits to both. Slightly further afield there’s St Fagan’s open air museum and Cosmeston medieval village and Techniquest in the Bay (a bit like the Science Museum in London).
  6. Green Spaces. Cardiff has lots of parks and other outdoor areas. My favourites are Heath Park (for the miniature railways) and Roath Park (for the boating lake and terrapins in the conservatory).
  7. Great for keeping active. You never seem far from a leisure centre, swimming pool or community centre in this city. My favourite swimming pool is the Cardiff International Pool in Cardiff Bay. For the kids, there are tons of play centres all over the city. If you’re looking for an activity for the whole family, Treetop Adventure Golf is in St David’s shopping centre.
  8. Christmas. Cardiff city centre turns into a magical place at Christmas time with pretty lights and decorations everywhere, Christmas markets with all sorts of independent businesses selling unique gifts and decorations and plenty of events going on. Cardiff Castle goes particularly Victorian – the Santa’s grotto there is enchanting.
  9. Independant cafes. From Selah in Llanishen to Cafe Barker in the Castle Arcade, Cardiff is home to so many gorgeous little cafes, each one with a unique feel to it. As a writer, there is nothing I love more than a peaceful hour in a corner of a cafe with my laptop and a big mug of hot chocolate. Simply wonderful.
  10. Patriotism. No, that is not a dirty word. I know these days it conjures up all kinds of ideas about racism and xenophobia but it doesn’t mean any of that here. The crowds on St David’s day, the support for the Welsh rugby team, the pride of calling such a brilliant city home. I really admire the Welsh for how much they love their country and capital. You’ll now regularly find me cheering at the television at a rugby game!

So there we have it. My ten favourite things about Cardiff. I hope to live here for many years to come and discover lots of other things to love about it.

Did I miss out your favourite things about Cardiff? Do share the love and comment!