Wales — Cardiff Castle and Riverdance

All the photos in this post © Elizabeth West

I apologize for getting behind–I’ve been busy!

28 September

Today was shopping day–I ran around the center of Cardiff and had the most delicious crepe ever at Sophie’s Creperie in the High Street Arcade.

Go there and order the Atlantic.  Smoked salmon, spinach, red onion, and crème fraiche.  Do it now.  I'll wait.  

Go there and order the Atlantic.  Smoked salmon, spinach, red onion, and crème fraiche.  Do it now.  I’ll wait.

You hear tell that restaurants in the UK and Europe have smaller portions.  What the HAIL, because I keep getting platefuls of food that are as big as my head.  The fish and chips from the last post?  Half a damn fish.  This crepe was huge–but it was so light and delicious it didn’t seem like too much food.

On the way back from shopping, I stopped at Cardiff Castle, where a county fair was on at the castle grounds.  I took the tour of the castle just for grins.

This is what the back looks like from the grounds.  I could live here.

This is what the back looks like from the grounds.  I could live here.

Though there has been some fortification there since Roman times, the current building is mostly a Victorian mansion formerly owned by several Marquesses of Bute.  Now it is owned by the people of Cardiff, and if you live there, you can get a key that lets you gain free admission for three years.

The Victorian part of the castle is designed in the Gothic Revival style, a fashion at the time heavy on medieval details, and was renovated by William Burges for the third Marquess of Bute.  Click here for some photos of the interior.  Our guide for the tour was a hilarious older Welsh lady–I loved her.  As a sample of her wit, we had to climb down a very long, very steep spiral staircase to get to the dining room, and she said she was no dummy–she’d stay at the back so if she fell, she could land on us!

Here is the dining room.  The hole in the table is for a tree.  No, I’m not making this up.  They put a grapevine through the hole and guests would eat grapes off it for dessert (called pudding in the U.K. even if there’s no pudding).

It's good to be rich.  

It’s good to be rich.

 You can rent this ballroom.  It’s not really that expensive. 

You can rent this ballroom.  It’s not really that expensive.


















I saw this in the nursery and nearly died.  I think I actually recognize this from one of the doll’s house books I have.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to play with it.  Darn!

DOLLHOUSE -nursery, Cardiff Castle

The nursery walls are decorated with illustrations from fairy tales and fables.  Some of them would scare the crap out of most little kids.

Jack the Giant Killer.  More like Jack the Nightmare Fairy.  D:

Jack the Giant Killer.  More like Jack the Nightmare Fairy.  D:

 The Invisible Prince.  See if you can spot him.  

The Invisible Prince.  See if you can spot him.

A Victorian flush toilet, in the loo in Lord Bute’s bedroom

A Victorian flush toilet, in the loo in Lord Bute’s bedroom

Okay, I know I keep talking about toilets, but to a person with a tiny bladder, they are rather important.  In Britain, there are plenty of public places to pee.  I suppose I’m not the only one who needs them in a nation where everyone drinks so much tea, coffee, and alcohol.  These beverages are notorious for creating the need for a loo (bathroom).  Many toilets here have a button you push instead of a lever.  On trains, the loos are twice the size of those on an airplane.  I wish they’d take out a few seats and make them bigger on the plane.

I’ve got plenty of room in the en suite loo at my bed and breakfast, but they crammed in a shower that is so tiny that my backside shuts off the water if I turn round.  Other than that, it’s the coolest place I’ve ever stayed.  It’s a Victorian house like the one I always wanted, and I get a lovely breakfast every morning.

The Town House Guest House, Cardiff.  Tell Charles and Paula I sent you. 

The Town House Guest House, Cardiff.  Tell Charles and Paula I sent you.

The day I went to the Castle, the Cardiff County Fair was also taking place on the grounds.  People brought sheep, goats, cattle, and other animals.

Right after I took this picture, baby alpaca dropped a load. 

Right after I took this picture, baby alpaca dropped a load.

This is the old Keep (part of the original castle, pre-dating the Victorian mansion).

Keep again Cardiff Castle

I climbed to the top and took a video (it’s lame, and a bird flies through it halfway, but you can see what it looked like anyway).


Later that evening, I went to see the twentieth anniversary tour of Riverdance at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff.  For those who don’t know, Riverdance is Irish step dancing, set to music composed by Bill Whelan.  The story traces the people from their Celtic origins and the power of humanity, through the myths and legends and trials of the Irish, to their emigration and their integration with other cultures.

I don’t think these dancers are human–no one can move that fast.  In the Thunderstorm number, the dancers make the music WITH THEIR FEET.  They bounce around like they’re on springs.  I especially enjoyed a West Side Story-style competition dance between two city toughs and the Irish boys.  In between dance numbers, we were treated to some great pieces by the musicians of the show.  They also had a lovely singer with a beautiful and plaintive soprano.

Here’s a taste from an older video I found on YouTube.  IIt’s not exactly like the one I saw, but it’s close.  This piece is called Reel Around the Sun, and it’s the opening number to the show.  American figure skater Jason Brown did his U.S. Nationals and Olympic long program to this music (quite wonderfully, I might add).  It’s my favorite of the Riverdance music.  I highly recommend this show–it’s just brilliant.

Next post, we’ll visit Cardiff Bay, Penarth, and Tintern Abbey in Chepstow (this last is what I did today).  I’m tired and need to go to bed soon.  I only have one more day in Wales, and frankly, I don’t want to leave.  But London awaits–and with it, perhaps my destiny.  Or so one can hope.

Britain Day 3–To Cardiff!

I’m a day behind and I’m sorry–I just don’t have time to post every day because I’m having fun, dammit.  Below is my post for 27 September.


I’m on the First Great Western train from Paddington Station in London to Swansea, Wales, stopping off at points west, including Cardiff Central, which is my destination.  For the journey out, I booked a first class seat and I’m sitting here typing on a table, with my laptop plugged into an outlet in the wall, and it’s VERY VERY QUIET in this carriage.

First class on First Great Western train to Cardiff 9-27-14

Spiffy. I like first class. :)

Photo: Elizabeth West

Going back, I’ll be on standard class *sigh*.  Returns are more expensive — silly, as it’s the same route, so I chose not to go first class going back to London.  I’m sure there is some reason for it, but I haven’t figured out what it is yet.  It’s not a long ride so it’s not a big deal.

Out the train window, there’s not much to see.  When you get to a station, all you see is the station, and most of them are located in industrial districts.  We’re heading toward Reading.  My seat is facing backward, which isn’t what I thought I booked, but the carriage is practically empty.  If I’m in the wrong seat (it was hard to tell), I’ll just switch when/if someone kicks me out of it.

England is green 9-27-14

England from a train. It is very green this time of year.

Photo: Elizabeth West

This is not the first time I’ve ridden the British rail system–a relative took me to Brighton the last time I was here.  The trains used to be run by the government but they’ve all been privatized now.  It’s clean, it’s nice, and I wish to hell the toilets on airplanes were as large as the one in this carriage.  Maybe first class is on planes–that’s out of my budget and experience (someday).

It’s cloudy but the sun is peeking through, which is making it very difficult to see my screen.  I’m going to stop writing this soon and just look out the window and take snapshots if I can.  I haven’t worked much on Secret Book, but then I’ve only been here for two days.

More impressions:

  • It’s hard to type on a moving train.
  • When you go through a tunnel, your ears pop as if you’re going down or uphill (I’m guessing it’s the air pressure).
  • The bacon butty, the most British of all sandwiches, is delicious.
Bacon butty on train to Cardiff 9-27-14 GOOD

With HP sauce, of course. (Americans–HP is like A-1 but tangier and more delicious.)

Photo: Elizabeth West

We just passed a freight train near Newport, which was on an adjacent track.  I’m seeing signs in Welsh now.  It’s my understanding that U.S. passenger trains have to defer to freight trains.  The U.S. is something like 39 times the size of the U.K., and why the hell didn’t we get trains like this set up before it got so expensive to do so?  I’d gladly pay extra tax to get something like this.

Trains rock.

 Photo:  Vermatt / Wikimedia Commons

  • The people in London are as nice as I remember them. I had to ask a couple of people where to go from Richmond Station and at Earl’s Court.  They were very helpful.  The whole tube/train thing is starting to come back to me now.
  • First impressions of Cardiff? BUSY.  Busy traffic, busy people, tiny buildings all smooshed together. But it looks pretty lively, and I think I’ll like it.


I just got back from the Llandaff Ghost Walk.  Here is the trailer for this unique tour.

There’s an option to purchase a walk plus a twilight supper.  I did this, but I was the ONLY one who did. So I got treated to a lovely meal at the Mulberry Street Restaurant on High Street in Llandaff, just down the road from the Llandaff Cathedral where the Walk begins.

Carmelized onion and goat cheese tart on a bed of rocket. Almost too pretty to eat. Tiny, but richly delicious.

Carmelized onion and goat cheese tart on a bed of rocket. Almost too pretty to eat. Tiny, but richly delicious.

Photo:  Elizabeth West

The staff at Mulberry Street was lovely; they took very good care of me.  Tom in particular recommended a place for Welsh cakes.  I’ll try his suggestion.

Then, it was on to the Ghost Walk.  This tour takes you around the district of Llandaff, a village that occupied the site before Cardiff was built around it, near the Llandaff Cathedral.  Author Roald Dahl was born there.

This tower looming over you in the dark of night, against a cloudy sky faintly glowing from the lights of the city, is seriously spooky.


Our fabulously entertaining guide John Hutch and his trusty steward Pete Simmons (who brought up the rear and was available to help if anyone had to leave the tour) took us down past the Cathedral and around by the River Taff near the weir.  He showed us where the river used to run, which corresponded to one of the more pathetic ghosts.

John told us thrilling stories of the Welsh equivalent of a banshee, tales of ghostly horses galloping up the old Celtic trade road, and another that I won’t reveal because it’s seriously creepy and I don’t want to spoil the Walk for you.  I wasn’t scared (it’s extremely difficult to scare me with stuff like this), but I really loved hearing about all the history and the spooky stuff.  I’m not a horror fan for nothing.

The walk is a bit strenuous coming back up beside the Cathedral, and there’s a lot of standing around while you listen to the tales, so you want to make sure you’re in good form before you go.

My favorite part was the old Llandaff graveyard.  To get to it, you had to make a U-turn through a gate that only admitted one person at a time (like a stile, kind of).  I think I smacked the poor person behind me with it.

I like cemeteries–they’re quiet and peaceful, most of the time.  This one was covered in brush and weeds.  Here and there, the leaning tombstones pop up at you out of the dark when your torch (flashlight) hits them. They dot the land around a huge yew tree that grows in a stone circle, where you can sit and rest your feet.  It’s the last stop on the Walk, which then ends where it began, in the shadow of the great Cathedral.

Personally, I experienced no ghostly phenomena, but plenty of people have.  If you do, make sure you tell the steward because Cardiff History and Hauntings will document your experience.  Your story might even end up being told on the Walk.

Britain Days 1 and 2 – Primark and Richmond Park

25 September

It’s 11:30 pm here in England.  I’m sitting here watching a British version of Hoarders on TLC (yes really) after a lovely afternoon being shown around the centre of Kingston-upon-Thames and how to get to the train station, etc.

We hit up Primark (super cheap Walmart-level clothing) where I found a cute tote bag that my computer fits in and also has 1) a cross-body strap and 2) closes with a zipper completely.  What is up with bag manufacturers who leave the tops open–have they never heard of pickpockets!?

And why do we not have Primark in the U.S.?  I’m loading up, people!

We also went to Boots so I could get some toiletries. Though I packed far too much crap (I should not be allowed to start packing until a week before I leave–I do much better that way), I didn’t want to drag that kind of stuff here when I can just buy it.  I will try some British brands, but for now, I stuck with my familiar Olay moisturizer to avoid breakouts.

A visit to a place called Carphone Warehouse netted me a British pay-as-you-go mobile (a prepaid cellphone in American).  I got a cute little Samsung smartphone made for the kiddies and a talk/text/data card.  My PAYG won’t work over here.  Now I can get hold of my Welsh buddy and make calls, etc.  It’s as much for safety as information and keeping in touch.

Although I’ve been here before, it was a long time ago, and I wanted to note some impressions for you.

  • The stalls in the toilets at Heathrow go almost all the way down to the floor. I LOVE this. Near total privacy; no one can nick your carry-on out from under the stall.
  • Queuing. Yes, I forgot how great at that people are over here.
  • All the lovely red buses. J  I’ll be riding them a lot, most likely; Kingston-upon-Thames is a suburb, and it’s a bit cheaper for me to go further afield than taking the tube every time.  Plus, I have to go into town on the train to even get to the tube.
  • I have my own Oyster card! Though Transport for London (TfL) is phasing these out in favor of contactless debit/credit options, there are still a lot of people who will use them.  Visitors and people who don’t have cards come to mind.

I can go anywhere now. It’s a thing of beauty.

Photo:  Elizabeth West

  • Okay, London, I know I don’t have a chip and PIN card, but if you run my card as credit, it will work, I promise. It’s not my fault the U.S. can’t get its damn ducks in a row and upgrade.


26 September

Today, my auntie and her friend and I had lunch at a lovely pub and went to Richmond Park, one of eight Royal Parks and the largest enclosed green space in London. This was on my list anyway.

If you find a place with good fish and chips, you’ve found heaven.

If you find a place with good fish and chips, you’ve found heaven.

Photo:  Elizabeth West

Richmond Park is full of deer–they have been there since before the days of Tudor kings, when the land was set aside as royal parkland/hunting areas.  Because so many people wander around the park, they’re kind of used to them, and they don’t run away when you get close to them (mostly).  They roam around freely in the park.

This is the part the tourists want to see.

This is the part the tourists want to see.

This is the part nobody tells you about. 

This is the part nobody tells you about.

Photos: Elizabeth West

There’s an ornamental park within the park called the Isabella Plantation.  Find out more at the link.  I did not know this existed, but it was absolutely one of the loveliest places I’ve ever seen.

Pond in sun Isabella Plantation


Photo: Elizabeth West

On the way back, we heard what sounded like a cow bellowing.  We looked under a tree and there was a huge stag, at least 12 to 14-point, who apparently was none too happy we’d disturbed his nap.

Another stag in a meadow was wandering around, occasionally calling out and just looking cool.  We’re approaching the rutting season for these animals, so the boyz are strutting their stuff.

At King Henry’s mound, there is a maintained unobstructed view of the city.  It’s quite far, but if you look through the gap in the center, you can see the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The slit in the center is the view. You can't see it in the picture because I took this with a smartphone. You'll have to come see it for yourself.

The slit in the center is the view. You can’t see it in the picture because I took this with a smartphone. You’ll have to come see it for yourself.

Photo:  Elizabeth West

Tomorrow I go to Cardiff, Wales on the train.  My B&B has internet, so I will post when I can.  This holiday is going by much too quickly.  I’ll just have to come back.  Oh darn.  :)

Aaaaand she’s off!


The holiday begins later today.  I so wish the flying were over–we all know how much fun trying to sleep on a plane can be.  I tried like hell to get an upgrade, to no avail.  But it’s okay.

Getting ready for a holiday upsets your routine tremendously.  Some people are anxious when they travel.  I get anxious beforehand.

–Did I pack everything?

–Did I pack too much?

–Did I pack the wrong clothes and oh my God will I look like an idiot?  (Seriously, I don’t know how to dress; this is a real concern for me.)

–Will my suitcase get lost?  (Shush, Rick Steves; I’m not going carry-on only because I don’t want to do laundry every damn night.)

–Will I be able to sleep on the plane?

–Where’s my passport/confirmation/lip balm/phone/water bottle/tablet?  No really– I NEED MY LIP BALM!

–Will I miss my plane?

–Will there be a delay?


The Universe gremlins have sensed impending fun, and they’ve ramped up their efforts to try and spoil things.  I haven’t slept.  I’ve been eating crap for the last two days because I cleaned the house on Sunday, and I didn’t want to cook anything and dirty up dishes.  I couldn’t buy any fresh food.  And the trash man did not empty my *full* can yesterday so I had to call them.  AAAAUUUGGGHHH.

But really, it should be fine.  I’m much more prepared than Bilbo was.  And I’ll try not to forget my handkerchief.

See you soon!

Why of course, I’ll change my name! *blush*

Hope you are having a happy and safe International Talk Like a Pirate Day, yarr!

Just an announcement to say that I have purchased my domain name, so the URL of this blog will change to  You can still get here from, but you might want to update any bookmarks or anything in the next few days.

Kermit sour faceImage:

Yes, Kermit, I know change is hard, but Brian Keene had some very good advice about taking control of your public persona.  Anyone with a commercial (or potentially commercial) internet presence would do well to be mindful of it.

I’ll be on tumblr too, if I can figure out what the hell is going on over there.  Look for me at  Be patient with it; the interface is crazy and it might look pretty rough for a while.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day 2014!

Avast, ye scurvy knaves!  Tomorrow be International Talk Like a Pirate Day (or TLAPD, as it be known on ye olde intertubes). Ye better be practicin’ yer pirate lingo, or I’ll keelhaul ye!

I won’t be writin’ a pirate-y post fer ye, as I’m preppin’ to go te that great seafarin’ nation o’ England.  Aye, it be just a few days and I’ll be off, but not aboard ship, more’s the pity.  No, I be havin’ to take a flyin’ machine, arrrr.  These days, it not be the most fun way te travel.

Arrr, this be the way to go.

Image:  Captain Woodget/

But I got me some comfy trousers, and I’ll be wearin’ me best boots and neckerchief (a scarf for ye fashionably impaired).  I’m told I look European in me glad rags, and as ye know, a good pirate likes to mix with the locals.

Bein’ as this TLAP Day be on a Friday, ye might be wantin’ to step out to the pub for some grog and a hearty yo-ho-ho with yer best mates.  So switch yer Facebook to pirate talk, quaff a flagon fer me, and don’t get yerself thrown in the brig!



The Saga of Secret Book and the Upcoming Holiday Continues

I wrote a chapter on Secret Book at lunch last week that was so good I made myself giddy.

Anything is possible with…IMAGINATION. 

Anything is possible with…IMAGINATION.


I posted about it on Google+, and a friend said, “It is the most elegant drug.”  She’s right; I really did almost feel high.

Now if only I can get the rest of the book to that caliber.  I’m challenging myself with this one–not only is the scope and research more wide-ranging than anything else I’ve attempted, but it’s far more character-driven, and despite a rather difficult and speculative quirk, more literary.

Plus, I have two worlds colliding with these characters.  However, by a stroke of good timing, I’ll be able to cram some research into my holiday, both geographical and cultural.

On the bad side, by several horrible folds and stains in the fabric of time, I will miss the following:

  • The Doctor Who Experience will be shut for regeneration when I’m in Cardiff.
  • There will be a new Dark Arts exhibit at the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio the weekend after I leave.
  • My skating club decided on our Halloween show date, for which my coach and I have already choreographed something because I’ll miss three weeks of practice. I have literally been begging for a Halloween show for years.  It is now a fall exhibition and will happen at 7:00 pm on Friday, October 3.

I will be asleep on a train coming back from Scotland.  



This would have been my program:

If you haven’t seen the original 1985 Fright Night, I highly recommend it.  It’s great fun.

I’ll keep working on it.  Perhaps I’ll get another shot.  Or maybe the Universe is trying to tell me it doesn’t want me to skate any more—this is the second time it’s skunked me on a club exhibition.  A trip to Loch Ness trumps an amateur ice show, of course, but it still sucks.  You’ll have to give me a better reason than that, Universe, if you want me to quit.

Pittbull fight universe and me

Original image:

Just to drive you crazy (heh heh), listed below are some of the things I’m trying to research for Secret Book.

  • The film industry in the 1970s, primarily in America but possibly the UK as well
  • Theater from about 1960 through 1978 or so (both London and New York)
  • Boys’ boarding school in England in the mid to late 1950s
  • London in the 1970s (this should be easy–my auntie can tell me)
  • Two things I can’t tell you about or they’ll ruin the story, one of which I’ve already mapped out (mu wa ha ha)

If anyone has any specialized knowledge of these things, or knows someone who does, I would appreciate any input you think might enhance the story.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve put the Rose’s Hostage sequel on the back burner for now, until Brian sends my manuscript back.  I can’t write anything until I know what he thinks I should change in the first book.  Well, I could, but I don’t want to.

Besides, if you knew what was going on inside my head right now, you’d be all over me until I finish Secret Book.  Only ONE person knows what happens, and that is someone with whom I had to discuss the psychology issues.

So until I’m finished and start querying, it will have to stay a secret.  I was hoping to get a large portion of it written before I go on holiday, but that probably won’t happen.  Looks like it will be a working holiday.

Maybe if the book sells, I can write it off!

Maybe if the book sells, I can write it off!

Image:  adamr /

That’s all for now on the book.  I’m counting down the days now until I can get the hell out of here.  If I can post between now and then, I will, but there’s a lot to do, so don’t count on it.  I still have to try on clothes, mock pack, get my hair done, work, clean the shit out of my house, and of course, write.

Look for pictures and commentary on all I’ll be seeing and experiencing.  I’m looking forward to sharing it with you!