Category Archives: Travels

Ferry to Helsinki

The Silja Serenade is apparently a cruiseferry, which is a term I wasn’t familiar with but which perfectly describes her. Sort of a plush ferry or downsized cruise ship whose interior has that casino feel and rows of cabins looking inwards. There was shopping and restaurants, a couple of bars and night spots, and even a casino with a live band, the casino was tiny but the band was exactly as cheesy as you would hope for. Most importantly there was a duty free, so we bought some gin to buffer us against the even higher Finnish liquor prices.

The best part by far was the deck; we all spent the first few hours drinking beer and enjoying the view. Sweden is basically a series of archipelagos and we watched them go by, first lots of them covered in houses with small boats all around, then still lots of islands but more trees and only the occasional home or small dock peeking out between the foliage. We watched a police boat go past and a couple of guys on jet skis play in our wake for a good half hour, but finally we were in the Baltic proper and there was almost nothing but trees and water as far as the eye could see.

We had a burger for dinner and then went out on the lower deck to see the sunset and watch the wake of the boat for a while, the white noise of the motors plus the fractal nature of the churning foam was mesmerizing and soothing. After a certain amount of running around and missing each other we ended up in the British pub with the gang. It had terrible service but was otherwise pretty alright, and there was even a group of Swedish fans in a corner booth who spotted John’s Helskini bid hoodie. We took over the booth beside them for a while, bar hopped a little, and eventually ended up back on the top deck, this time to watch the moon. I managed to spot a fallings star at one point, and it was all just generally pretty great.

Cardiff

The last two weeks were a flurry of activity, some more successful than other.

We had planned on meeting up with Jade and Eric during their visit to the UK, specifically when they popped over to Cardiff to visit the Doctor Who Experience. However we managed to completely misunderstand each other as to dates. Our plan to spend Thursday in Cardiff before heading off to Eastercon was perfect… except that they were in Cardiff the previous Thursday and flying out by the time John and I would be there. Nevertheless our tickets and hotel were booked so we had a little mini-holiday instead.

We arrived in Cardiff early afternoon and dragged my massive pink, sparkly suitcase to the hotel. It was just ten minutes from the trains station but we had loaded the bag with my art as well as stuff for TAFF and in so doing managed to obliterate one of the four spinny wheels on the poor thing.

By the time we go there we were a little tired and grumpy, but nothing cheers one up like a clean and quiet hotel room. We freshened up, unpacked minimally and set off in the direction of town with enough time for a little wander and a bit of lunch before our Doctor Who Experience ticket time.

Downtown Cardiff is a warren of arcades, which confused our map apps but delighted me. As is traditional when in a new city (or any city really) John made a beeline for the friendly local game store. Located in the Castle Arcade it is called Rules of Play and turned out not only to be a great little shop with but also next door to a very nice delicatessen called Madame Fromage. Now that may not sound terribly Welsh but it had a menu advertising Welsh Rarebit and Lamb Cowl. We ordered both and were very happy indeed with the results, the coffee helped quite a bit as well.

Fed and coffee’d we were ready to make our way to the waterfront. The bus that was supposed to take us up to Discovery Quay actually stopped a few blocks short due to some construction going on. Luckily it wasn’t much of a walk but we were a few minutes late and had to go in the next timeslot to the one we had booked which gave us a bit of a breather to relax and look around a bit, and to notice how it seemed pretty busy for a place that is going to close down. Subsequently I looked it up and it turns out that it is less a popularity problem and more that their lease is up, so here is hoping they find some way to keep it going.

When it was out turn we joined the queue and were given lanyard badges with embedded crystals that glowed when stuff was happening. The conceit of the beginning is that something is attacking the timeline and you have to retrieve three time crystals for the Doctor, large overhead screens at each juncture display recorded videos of Capaldi communicating with the guide and the group from his TARDIS console room. The monsters along the way include most of the current favourites and all in all it is cheesy fun with a couple of solid scares along the way.

Once done with the adventure part you enter into a reproduction of the original console room, perfect for photo opportunities. There are a couple of other consoles from different eras, a Dalek Invasion of Earth corner, and even some period BBC studio sets and props. This section ended with a green screen area where visitors could don a fez or scarf and ham it up a bit.

Upstairs is the costume and props section, separated roughly by type: monster, companion, Doctor, villain, etc. Seeing the evolution of some of the recurring monsters side by side is a treat, and there are a couple of interactive bits. At the very end are costumes from the most recent season (which I have not seen) and a couple of bits from the then-upcoming Season 10.

And of course there is a little shop as you exit, and a pretty good one. It has a fair number of items I haven’t seen elsewhere as well as many of the usual suspects you would expect. As a bonus there is a little gallery/waiting room adjacent to the shop which doesn’t seem to have any signage but turned out to be full of wonderful Chris Achilleos art from the Target Books novelizations.

I bought things and gawked at things and eventually we set back out into the world. We headed back towards town but did so via Mermaid Quay, which is of course home of the Torchwood Hub entrance. We were pretty tired by this point so we mostly saw that in passing and continued on past Ianto’s Shrine (which was surprisingly impressive but could use a little love) and so back into town.

Back at the hotel we took advantage of the pool and sauna facilities for a couple of hours, which really hit the spot after the long day. Then back into town for some really frikkin’ good burgers from The Grazing Shed. So good. So so good. No idea what “tidy” means in the local lingo but it is not tidy in the American sense, juicy and messy and delicious burgers plus actual fountain root beer by some miracle. It was entirely satisfying.

We got to bed early and slept the sleep of the just.

 

Gally

The culmination of our February trip was of course Gallifrey One.

There were multiple reasons I was excited to go; I missed last year, I hadn’t been to a proper convention in a while, and of course it would be my first trip back to California in a year. But I was also excited to have John attend his first Gally.

The morning  in Santa Monica started with a bad omen, a broken statue of Mercury, god of travellers. But perhaps because a replacement was procured speedily her was a forgiving god and our trip to the hotel went smoothly, as did our eventual plane ride home, although we did get lost between the bus and the LAX Marriott… so take that as you will.

At the hotel we found we only had one bed and had to get a rollaway, which was a bit annoying-I wish they would guarantee that somehow. Beds sorted we went and  stocked up on supplies for the weekend; snacks, beer, and a couple bottles of wine. By the end of this I was pretty pooped and needed a shower and change of clothes to get into convention mode so John went off to participate in the traditional In & Out burger run that kicks Gally off while I puttered about getting ready.

As it turned out I had misunderstood the description and the burger run was an actual outing where the entire group walks to In & Out and orders individually, which frankly seems like a terrible idea. But John had In & Out, which is a rite of passage, and got a ribbon out of it to boot so all’s well that ends well. He also came back with several new Pokemon, as the new expansion had just launched. Luckily the hotel had five pokestops of its own so they were pretty thick on the ground all weekend.

Fed and cleaned it was time for the ice cream social, which is a con event but technically takes place before the convention officially starts. There were good ice cream flavours and by this time Palle had arrived and Bryan and Mette where running around as well. They introduced us to some of their friends, and I ran into a few people I knew pretty quickly. We finished off the night mixing questionable drinks in their room, including a pint glass of a surprisingly good irridescent green drink.

Friday was the first official day of the convention and we started it with a Denny’s breakfast. Previous years I have occasionally ventured out of the hotel for food but didn’t realize there even was a Denny’s nearby. Probably I would have been less excited about it when I lived walking distance to a diner, but breakfast food is one of the great American traditins so that was nice.

Back at the con it was time for the Opening Ceremony, which may or may not have been replaced by Radio Free Skaro interviews. I thought it had but someone later said that there is still a more traditional guest intro kind of thing later. In any case the interviews were good but not the right energy level for a con kick-off so we left after a while and spent the rest of the day in a variety of panels. I enjoy behind the scenes stuff so always get a kick out of the classic actors telling war stories and/or current folks discussing the industry-and I got plenty of both during this Gally, as well as a top notch interview with first time guest Lalla Ward and a hilarious Naoko Mori and Gareth David-Lloyd joint interview.

The Friday evening event this year was The Idiot’s Lantern. Basically a series of comedy sketches centered around Doctor Who, ranging from really clever and funny to pretty silly. Annoyingly there were some people sitting behind us who did not like the show but also seemed to forget they were free to leave, thank goodness they eventually remembered. The best bits were probably Tony Lee as Captain Kirk and a silly but amusing Kylo Ren sketch with a surprise Rick & Morty twist. After the show I assume there was drinking, it’s all a bit hazy tbh.

Saturday is the big day on any convention, and we kicked it off with a visit from Andres who swung by and took us to have breakfast at The Coffee Company which was jam-packed but worth the wait.

After that the usual blur of panels took, chatting, and costume gawking took us to the afternoon where we managed to squeeze in a quick recording for the Geek Girl Crafts Podcast up in the room before heading down to Latitude 33 for our first hotel dinner of the weekend. We joined Jade, Erik, Jean, and Chris and there was a lot of Star Wars geekery, primarily between John and Jade. Like, a LOT. We were seated near the entrance so got to say hi to various folks as they came in, reminding me a bit of the good old days at the Coffee Garden.

Saturday’s centerpiece is of course the Masquerade. This was the first year no one I knew was participating, but it was still an enjoyable show with Tony Lee as MC. I may be mistaken but it seemed like there were also fewer Master division entries than usual. But there was definitely some good stuff up there all the same. And like at most conventions there was a halftime show while the judges, including Jude Hudson herself, went off to deliberate.

Normally the halftime is some sort of gameshow, but this time was a bit of a surprise as we got a band instead, called Awesome City Limits. Its no secret that I love it when conventions expand their usual repertoire, especially in regards to live geeky music which has experienced such an explosion of variety and talent in the last decade. And this band was pretty great so I was quite a happy camper.

The judges came back with their decisions, most of which I agreed with entirely, and then it was off to get some alcohol in my system in order to be ready for the Night of the Living Dead Discotheque. I had been excited to experience the DJ skills of Paul Condon, who was in charge two years ago and had been listed initially in the schedule, but Shawn Crosby did a fine job in his stead and I got a lot of dancing in. Once that wrapped (sadly early) there was a certain amount of running around culminating in the lobby, of course, where some people where running this all-night ribbon contest that was strange and confusing to my poor drunk and tired brain but all the same very entertaining.

There were no interesting early panels on Sunday thank goodness so we staggered off to Denny’s and generally had a chill day of watching one panel after another in the main room, partly because they were the most interesting ones and partly because of inertia. Then it was time for closing ceremonies, sad but always a bit of a love-fest. We left before next year’s preview in order to have dinner with Leigh Ann and Leo at a joint Italian and Persian place nearby. It isn’t fusion, but rather has the two cuisines separately. We chose the Persian and had some really amazing dishes including a pomegranate based one, fesenjan I think.

Sunday evening at Gally means drinking the last of the booze, trying to talk to everyone you have missed, and generally sucking the marrow out of the convention. We spent time in the smoking area watching the cool kids compare ribbon trains, and in the lobby getting increasingly maudlin, and we made facebook friends with a Gally fellow-traveller who happens to be local to us in Southampton. And then, sadly it was bedtime. But Gally always saves that last bit of magic for you, and we had a brief but lovely encounter with the luminous Lalla Ward on our way up to our room, and a final late night chat with the charming Simon Fisher-Becker.

And that was it, Gallifrey One was over for another year. Monday morning we ran some errands nearby, got back in time to say goodbye to friends, and then boarded our plane back home.

June in Barcelona

June and July were busy months both at work and at home.

Following the Corsican honeymoon I got some more globetrotting in with a work trip to Barcelona. My job sent me there for two weeks to learn the ways of the Spanish market and customers, and to meet the Barcelona branch people who will be remaining there after the dreaded centralization the company is implementing.

I was very excited, since the city has always been on my list of places I wanted to visit. Though naturally I was a bit nervous as well, unsure as to whether the staff at that location would be particularly welcoming, plus general nerves about the job that I am still learning after all. Luckily there was nothing to worry about, while I still feel like I have no clue what I am doing, the people in the Barcelona office are all warm, friendly, and more importantly eager to get the job done and train me right.

And oh my god the city. Stunning, packed with beautiful places and interesting things, the weather was pretty great as well and the advantage of being there in summer when the sun doesn’t set till after ten o’clock meant I probably spent at least three hours just wandering the streets after work each day; shopping, eating, drinking, and just letting my attention ricochet from architecture to shopping to art to people watching like a happy pinball. And what a treat to be someplace where things don’t close at 6pm!

The location of both the office and the delightfully swank hotel they put me up at was  perfect for a first time visitor, especially one who only gets to explore after office hours. I was right near the Cathedral (not the Sagrada Familia, which I learned is actually a basilica) and a very short walk from the Rambla, the Gothic Quarter, and a bunch of other stuff. Half of the time I wandered in random directions until I was tired and then turned around, and never once did I run out of things to do and see.

The weekend in the middle of my trip was big local holiday which filled up all the hotels, meaning my job sent me off to a small town ninety minutes away by train. It was an interesting break in its own way, less overwhelming than the city but highly amusing in spots and even made me a bit nostalgic for Estepona.

I can’t wait to go back, this time with John for a relaxing visit without the stress of work hovering in the background.

Birthday

This past weekend John had a friend over and massive amounts of gaming ensued, which I mostly skipped except for a game of Battlestar Galactica (I lost) and one of Power Grid (I lost a lot). We did leave the house once or twice as well, once to hit 7bone for a burger and on Sunday we popped out briefly to get a pint with his visiting uncle.

But Monday it was time for my birthday! John had to go into London for work-related activities and as my birthday present he took the next day off and we got a hotel for the night. While he was off presenting his poster I met up with a friend of Jade’s named Miko who lives in London and has many overlapping interests, life being life we both ended up running late and we had less time to hang out than I had hoped but it was still fun and hopefully I can make it back up to the city for a more extended visit at some point.

Once John was done he made his way to the hotel and we popped over to Queensway street, where there’s a whole street of restaurants that Miko had just clued me into. We had a light lunch at a Persian place to lay a basic foundation for the evening and then got changed before heading down to the Soho area. I had a list of likely looking places that might do for a drink, but not a strict itinerary. We started with happy hour 2-for-1 martinis at a trendy, kinda slick, but still fun place called Dirty Martini and then moved on to a very friendly bar called Graphic which was hosting a gin tasting. The tasting was already wrapping up when we arrived, alas, but we still had a couple of pretty great cocktails served in paint cans (presumably to match the theme). By now we were properly hungry so we hit an American diner which has alcoholic milkshakes. Mine was pistachio and rum and extremely good. Satiated and tipsy we headed through the freezing night in the direction of the hotel in order to get a nightcap at a warm and cozy bar in the Zetter Hotel. This was the perfect place to end the night and even the subsequent walk through the cold didn’t quite defeat the afterglow from their very civilized cocktails.

On Tuesday we woke up late and had a solid continental breakfast at the hotel before making our way towards downtown. We popped into a few stores, has some barbecue at Bodean, and then wandered in baffled circles in Soho trying to find one of the delicious looking French pastry shops that had seemed plentiful earlier in the day. Luckily John’s instincts led us to what I’m sure must be the cutest pastry shop in London (and which Wikipedia assures me is the oldest) Maison Bertaux. Despite being quite sated from our plentiful lunch it was difficult to restrain ourselves and we ended up leaving with three slices of assorted cakes to bring home to Southampton.

We wrapped up the extended weekend drinking coffee on our new sofa, eating a lovely and surprisingly light chocolate mouse cake, and watching Her.