On Saturday morning we awoke, packed and checked out of the Travelodge, all within half an hour. Man, we're efficient! Normally we're not in quite such a rush but we had plans for that morning which required keeping a tight schedule.
Our first plan had been to call into Greggs across the road from our hotel for breakfast so that the Yorkshireman could get his fix, preferably a Bavarian or vanilla slice. They totally need to bring Greggs to Belfast - it would be very popular indeed! But anyway, this particular Greggs proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. No vanilla slices, no Bavarian slices… just some weird-looking things called "London cheesecakes" that appealed to neither of us.
Undeterred I consulted my BFF Google Maps to try and locate another Greggs close to either our current location or our next destination, but alas it was about a mile away in both cases and, with no guarantee that these alternatives would be any more suitably stocked, we gave it up as a bad job and headed for the last time to the now-familiar Fulham Broadway tube station.
But what's this? The station is closed?! Replacement bus service to Earl's Court? Damn, I guess we should have paid more attention to those announcements about changes to services we kept hearing. Oh well, it wasn't a problem. I stocked up on a coconut ice flavour Krispy Kreme donut (it had been taunting me since I first saw it two days before) and a coffee from Starbucks and we went to wait for our bus. Thankfully it was easy to find (i.e. right outside the door), the journey was quick to the neighbouring station and before we knew it we were emerging once again at Victoria. Wee buns, as we say in Belfast, or "lemon squeezy" as the Cockneys would have it.
We were a little early for our next activity so we went in search of proper breakfast. We found a cheap and cheerful café nearby and enjoyed fried breakfasts. However, the area also proved fruitful in my ongoing search for "the best cupcake". The Yorkshireman was somewhat bemused (and also really impressed deep down, I could tell) that I managed to spot a cupcake shop from the other end of the street. In my defence the shop was painted pastel pink, so it was either going to be a cake shop or a baby shop, let's face it. It turned out to be Peggy Porschen and I bought a very expensive but beautifully packaged vanilla and blueberry cupcake for later consumption.
Weighed down by my huge monkey of a backpack and yet conversely delicately carrying my cute little single-cupcake-sized box, we headed over to Victoria Coach Station and joined the queue for the 509 bus service. Yes, we were off to Cardiff!
How this came about… I genuinely still am not 100% clear. Usually I am involved in all logistics and practicalities of planning our trips, but this time the Yorkshireman started thinking "outside the box" and threw a bit of a curveball. You see, whilst we were still contemplating whether or not to start booking everything, the price of return flights from London on the Saturday started climbing again. By the time we were finally ready to commit, the choices (as I understood them) were to just suck it up and pay the extra or to book a cheaper return flight on the Sunday and find a cheap hotel room for an extra night in London.
However one day I came home from work to find that the Yorkshireman had been doing some research of his own that afternoon and had developed a cunning plan. For around the same price as booking the Saturday flight from Heathrow or staying an extra night in London, how would I fancy exploring a bit more of the UK for a day? Intriguing… It turned out that flights back from Cardiff to Belfast were über cheap and the hotels were pretty reasonable too. All we would need to do was get from London to Cardiff and hey presto. As it turns out the National Express was really cheap too and before we knew it we had a pretty strange but exciting adventure planned. Why Cardiff specifically? Well, why not?
And so Saturday morning saw us spend three hours on a coach from London to Cardiff. Actually it was quite a pleasant journey. There's not a lot of legroom on National Express admittedly, but then it's the same with a lot of cars and planes these days anyway. The Yorkshireman and I spent most of our trip playing on our smartphones and keeping an eye on our GPS to see what we were currently passing or approaching (spoiler: it's mostly motorway).
Oh! The cupcake! I vowed I would wait until we were over the Welsh border before I ate it (as a celebration) but there was a small box-dropping incident that led to some smooshing of frosting, so I caved in somewhere outside Bristol and went in for the kill. The cake itself was pretty nice but I've had lighter and fluffier. However the frosting… oh so good! I love frosting that actually tastes of something rather than just sugar and this really did. I hesitantly stated that I thought it might have been my favourite frosting ever, which is a rather bold claim coming from me. However on the negative side, the cupcake was very expensive, especially given its rather small size, and I suspect you're really paying through the nose for the dinky box.
So, all-in-all, if I had to buy just one of my London cupcakes again, I would probably choose the coffee one I'd had a couple of days before from Ella Bakehouse over Peggy Porschen's vanilla and blueberry, with Ella's still ranking up there with Crumbs in New York as the "best" so far in my quest.
Cupcake long-since consumed, we eventually stepped off the coach for our first Welsh experience. Our first move was to find our way to our hotel, the Novotel Cardiff Centre and check in. Despite the name it was actually a bit of a walk from the centre, especially with our heavy bags, but we found it easily enough. We actually really loved the hotel. It was spacious, light and modern, with big, clean, comfortable rooms and a lovely spa just waiting to be abused downstairs. I especially love it when a hotel room has a sofa in the room as well as your bed - it's nice to have that extra space to chill out and separate the sleeping from the relaxing.
However there wasn't much time to relax - we had a whole city to explore and a spa to enjoy, and only one afternoon and one morning in which to achieve it. And so it was straight back out into the city to discover what it had to offer!
To be continued…