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19 August 2015 @ 09:27 pm
Eurotrip 2015: The Finale  
Welcome to the last issue in the Eurotrip 2015 Blog – brought to you from many thousands of feet in the air!

Day 50 we packed up the cars (with all of the obligatory shouting back and forth around the house of a proper family vacation) and took off down the road towards Roscoff.

Given that we had to leave Bénodet at like 10am and we couldn't check in to the new place until like 2pm, and Roscoff is only an hour away, we had some time to kill. So we drove to a beach which I think was called Cape Coz, if I'm remembering correctly. It was a really wide, sandy beach in a bay filled with gorgeous houses. It seems to be one of the more expensive places to stay. We wandered around and Carwyn and I took some pictures, and we just enjoyed the view from a little bit.

Then it was back in the car and off to the hyper-marchés! Which is basically a giant grocery store – or like – French Walmart. Many foods and drinks were gathered to bring home to Wales. I just wandered around and marvelled at all the random goods on offer.

We also had sandwiches at a weird sandwich place in the hyper-market complex which seemed to be out of literally everything. It was 1pm, but they didn't seem to be making new sandwiches. Or they were out of ham. Either way, they refused to make croque-monsieurs or ham sandwiches. But confusingly, some sandwiches appeared out of the back room after some time. So we all got some sort of sandwich. Of mysterious origin.

Then Carwyn came out of the second hyper-marché with a gigantic bar of chocolate and started eating it, not realizing that he had just purchased like a pound and a half of cooking chocolate.

He finished it. I think we were all impressed.

Finally we were off to Roscoff – this time to finish the journey! We went through a gorgeous mountain range – they were very round, hill-reminiscent mountains, with rocks jutting out.

Not as gorgeous as Roscoff turned out to be! I just visited a lot of pretty places, you guys, I've been reaching for vocabulary to help describe them. It's a seaside town which is obviously very old. The tourist section is pretty minimal – about 6 or 7 hotels, a bunch of restaurants and souvenir stores, all down one street. But that makes for a nice, compact little place to explore.

Our first order of business, after checking in to our hotel (where we were given 4th floor rooms with an amazing view of the town and a corner of the ocean) was to visit a little place called Cafe Ty Pierre, which I thought was “Petit Pierre” when people were first saying it.

We sat down and enjoyed cider and an Irish coffee (on my part) and watched locals with their dogs – there are SO MANY DOGS IN ROSCOFF – and listened to a brass band, which turned out to be the exact same one that was in Concarneau. They're called Kraken, and they're really good. I'm not surprised they can make a living travelling around!

After a while of sitting around and talking, we headed back to the hotel and changed to head down to dinner at a placed called La Belle Etoile. I'd been told all about this place for its quality seafood, but Elaine and Paul went and ordered duck and made me indecisive. But I ended up ordering the moules frites I came for. I also got smoked salmon for an entree, which was weird because it wasn't from home and had less flavour – but the lemon cream that came with it was super well-balanced and tangy. But let's focus on the moules, for they were delicious! Delicious and plentiful. I was incapable of eating them all. I poured all my fries into the bowl when I was done and dearly regretted not doing it earlier. So tasty! Then I had a rice pudding bowl for dessert, which was a risk because my mother makes the GREATEST RICE PUDDING so maybe I was hoping for a taste of home but instead it was weird sour rice pudding that was warm with cold toffee sauce on top. Not bad, but so far away from what I was expecting I was really confused.

Then I was going to head back to the hotel, but I was convinced to come to Ty Pierre to watch Rugby with all the rugby nuts. England and France were playing, so of course because this crowd was Welsh, they were rooting for France, because – to hell with the English, is the general attitude of anybody who is not English. This caused some confusion in the bar, when some English guys heard all these English-speaking people cheering for France.

Carwyn and I were crowded onto one side of the bar and were going back and forth between me trying to give him ideas for nice things to text at his girlfriend who he'd been on his phone to all week, him trying to explain Rugby to me (when they all pile together like an ant hill, it's called a scrum – also it's like Football only there's no breaks for you to go get snacks and also they throw things backwards), and him trying to get me to pronounce Welsh town names and cracking up at my incompetent pronunciations.

France lost, by the way. I think everyone was dissapoint. Except those random English guys that nobody cared for. Allez les bleus! ...Despite them being dressed in red during this game!

Then I headed back to the hotel, took a phone call from my dear parents I hadn't heard from in ages, and fell fast asleep, because we had to be up very, very early for the ferry.

I think we woke up something like 6:30 in the morning on Day 51, and went downstairs for provided breakfast around 7:15 or so. We ate, packed up the cars, and drove to the ferry.

When we got there, we waited in long lines, desperately looking around for the French license plate number I still needed and mourning the fact I likely would never see it. But the lines moved pretty fast, despite some idiots showing up at passport control with their passports evidently packed at the bottom of their luggage in the trunk of their car.

Because I am Canadian, they sent us on to immigration control, where a guy literally asked me whether or not I was on holiday and then GAVE ME A PASSPORT STAMP – the first I've gotten since Copenhagen! They should give you a stamp every time you get stopped by passport control in Europe. It might provide adequate reward to make it less frustrating.

Then we got on the boat really, really early and made our way right to the bar to find a place with a plug, because the bar is the only place with internet access.

After a little while, the boat got started (late), and the swaying started, and I was like “ohhhhhh noooooo noooo motion sickness noooooo”.

So my ride on this ferry was a constant haze of nausea, pretty much. It was a HUGE ship. We had a cabin downstairs, where I eventually went to collapse for like an hour and a half. There was also a bar, a self-serve restaurant, a formal sit-down restaurant, a huge shop, a god damn SWIMMING POOL, a HELICOPTER PAD... yeah. It had a lot going on. BC Ferries are much less cool. Although TBH they have better arcades. The arcade on this one was pretty sad.

Like I said, eventually I did collapse in the downstairs cabin, like I said, and when I woke up/emerged I felt basically not nauseous at all. So we went and had food at the self-serve restaurant, where they bake their own bread and had roast leg of lamb as an option on the menu. That's what I had, with fries, peppercorn sauce, peas and carrots and a little bowl of broccoli and corn from the salad bar because BROCCOLI HELL YES and also corn is good.

After I ate all that I had about 20 minutes of non-sick feels but then as the ferry was about to dock I started to feel sick again. Luckily we quickly escaped, drove out to “the Hoe” nearby which – I don't know what to say about that place name. But we drove there to say our goodbyes! A group photo was taken, many hugs were given. Kat and I took off on our own, hoping to make it to an outdoor miniature town, under the guidance of her sat nav, which I managed to successfully name Gilderoy. Kat wasn't even a fan of the name, yet she started calling him such, so I think it's going to stick.

We drove aaaaall the way to the miniature place, and – missed its closing time by like 5 minutes. Oh no! Such sad faces. I'll go next time.

Then we drove aaaaaaall the way to Sidcot, which is near Bristol, to our hotel. It was a really nice place, with very comfy beds and a decent restaurant downstairs. We went down and had some snacks/dinner at the restaurant and then escaped upstairs. This place had the most garbage internet, oh my goodness. It disconnected every 5 minutes off my phone and was incredibly weak on my laptop on top of it. I'm just going to call them out. Shame on you, Premier Inn. Shame on you.

With no internet to keep me busy, I watched TV instead, which was featuring Miss Congeniality 2, which was delightful. It's been a while since I saw that. Ron Swanson was the villain in that thing??

Then we went to sleep. SLEEP TIME.

What did we even do on Day 52?

Oh right! We packed up our car and drove to Cheddar! That place where they made the cheese. And I guess sort of still make the cheese but it is blatantly only done as a tourist offering, so far as I could tell. Although hot damn it was some tasty cheese. BUT I AM GETTING AHEAD OF MYSELF.

So the first place we went, after the parking lot, which is itself in scenic Cheddar Gorge, and then walked down to Gough's Old Cave. Gough's Old Cave is a cave which this guy named Gough found a while ago. Hence the name. It's a cave, alright! What can one say about a cave? I enjoy them. They are cold. They have smooth rock surfaces, in this case. They are very damp and prone to dripping all over me, also in this case. This place has a veeeeery tall pair of caverns which were really cool to look at. Also there was cheese aging in there. Real cheese. Which is neat. I ate some of that cheese.

The audio guide for this cave was kind of... butts. It was informative and interesting, but it was in character, and I despise audio guides that are in character. “I'm Mr. Gough himself!” No you are not, get out. Also please don't spend the last 20 seconds of every audio recording telling me what numbers will be posted on the walls in future audio portions. Or if you must, don't list 5 options. List 1. ONE, Mr. Gough. Or Cheddar Man the skeleton. Or Mr. Gough's nagging wife who only wants to talk about cheese. Or whoever you are. I hate you all.

Leaving Gough's cave, we walked down through the town, trying to figure out what else we should be doing, and we found Cox's Cave/Crystal Quest. I knew nothing about this attraction. I went inside with Kat, but she quickly had to abandon it because Cox's Cave is way too narrow and activated her claustrophobia. So I went on alone.

Turns out, Cox's Cave is pretty small, overall. So soon I was walking into Crystal Quest.

OH MY GOD CRYSTAL QUEST.

Literally everybody, including marketing materials, that I only saw after this experience, described Crystal Quest as the “spooky” portion of Cheddar Gorge's entertainment.

AHAHAHAHA.

AAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

OKAY. So I turn a corner, I go down this staircase, and – this voice comes out of the heavens.

“I am (insert generic female fantasy name here). I am trapped by the dark wizard Mordon.”

By this point I was already grinning like an absolute idiot because I knew this was going to be some serious campy garbage of the highest order that obviously hadn't been updated since the 1980's.

“You must find the white wizard. He will lead you to the crystal of legend. Find the crystal and touch it, and save me - save the world!”

“THIS IS AMAZING” I half-shouted at the disembodied voice, laughing.

I walked on into the next room, where there were like- soldiers calling out “Save us, brave hero!” and like- goblin-y things, which got lit up one at a time, like WAY too slowly, and whose audio files actually crackled, they were so old.

I went into the next room, which was filled with goblins, and then there was this.

“HALT, FOUL BEASTS!” Cried another disembodied voice from behind me, and I turned, looked up, and found the white wizard I was looking for goddamn pinned to the wall above the doorway. He told me to keep going while he held the goblins at bay.

I was laughing so hard. So, so hard. You can't imagine.

Then I found the gate, where an animatronic seemed to be like – trying to intimidate me, but he was kind of broken and his sound file didn't really work, so I carried on, walked down the stairs – at this point recording all this because HOW COULD I NOT.

And then just as I turned off my camera, anticipating the door to the next room, a human being in a cloak jumped out of the shadows and yelled “HALT”

And I went “waugh!”

And she hissed “the others have not yet concluded their business”

And I was like Oh man there's something in the other room they actually close us off to experience, this is gonna be great.

So they let me into the other room, and apparently decide that I need to wait for a bunch of other people to show up before I can see the ending, so in the meantime I wander this dark room and faintly see – from a beam of light clearly coming from the exit – that there's a dragon in the room, a couple of people on the wall, and a pile of bones on the floor. Oh, and also the crystal is right in the middle of the room, and it's pretty obvious touching it does absolutely nothing.

So like 3 minutes later, enough people are in the room, they close it off again, and suddenly

“AHAHAHAHAHA. I AM THE DARK LORD MORDON.”

Me: “You are blatantly a Lord of the Rings ripoff, sir.”

“THERE IS NO ESCAPE FROM MY LAIR.”

Me: “I can literally see the exit turnstile.”

So Mordon's all 'you can't stop me or my super cool dragon', and then of course the dragon is lit up, and it's like “RAAAAR” and then

“Good hero! Touch the crystal! Hurry!” because there's old generic Galadriel ripoff, pinned up to the wall like the White Wizard before her, and so I touch the crystal, and nobody else does, and it literally takes 20 seconds before anything happens, and then Mordon starts giving a death scream and then him and the dragon's spotlights fade and magical happy music play and Galadriel ripoff is all like “you are a hero for all time, you have saved the lands and your heroism is legend”.

And the music, and the rainbow lightshow that started up

I was just dying.

This is the greatest thing I have seen.

If you want to thrill me, bring me to garbage like this. Oh my GOD.

So I left Crystal Quest, and went to find Kat, and was like “THAT WAS THE GREATEST I'M SO SORRY YOU COULDN'T COME”.

And then she repaid me by leading me to the lookout staircase that leads to the top of the Gorge so you can see the view, joining me up the first 40 stairs, and leaving me to climb the remaining 250+ on my own, which I didn't realize until I was halfway up!

So that climb felt like it was going to kill me. The stairs were all of varying heights and shapes and SO STEEP. But I made it to the top, up the incredibly rickety, rusty viewpoint tower, and the views were indeed magnificent. So it's worth it. But I'd never do it again! No sir.

Back down I went, and we returned to our explorations. We found many shops we intended to drop in to, but we were like “Oh, let's take the Gorge bus tour first, because then when it drops us back down here we can just head up again.”

As it turns out, the Gorge bus tour takes you back up to the top – while showing off the Gorge and random facts about it and the goats that live there.

So – whoops, we were walking all the way back down.

Although we did stop into the prehistory museum, which they have because the caves had a bunch of important archaeological discoveries made in them. It's mostly about humans, and how they evolved, and how they made tools, and also how sometimes they ate other people. It's no great shakes.

Then we did our walk back down. We stopped into a candy shop (where we bought candy), and the cheese shop (where we bought cheese I'm dearly hoping has survived the trip home). Then we stopped for ice creams. This particular ice cream shop offered themed ice creams that looked like cartoon characters and funny things.

There was one in particular called “Miss Flat Chested” which had googly eyes, big lips, and two fried egg candies on the front of it, that I was amused/weirded out by, but then things got hilarious.

This little girl stopped and pointed, and said “Mummy, I want that one with the pointy head and funny face with the dots.”

And her mom looked at the window and pretended not to see – a decent job, because I wasn't sure if she had or not, and the kid just kept pointing and going “that one, that one”.

Then the dad caught up with them, and the kid was like “daddy I want that one”. And her dad was like “which one?” and the mom said “Miss flat chested.” and he said “you're a little young to be wanting such things, aren't you?” and then me and Kat cracked up and made it clear we'd been listening in. Whoops!

Our ice creams consumed, we began the long, long walk back up the Gorge to the car, loaded up, and drove off towards our next destination – which was Crawley, just south of Gatwick.

Gilderoy brought us on a long, winding, confusing road full of beautiful countryside. We weren't sure whether to trust him, and occasionally saw the roads he wanted us to go on and were like “HAHAHA no.” But we made it, despite Kat's brakes getting squeaky, in a way that was not entirely worrisome but was a little weird.

The hotel was surrounded by fields filled with bunnies. I mention this mostly because I would be remiss to fail to mention me squealing “BUNNIEEEEEES” as Kat drove by, because she laughed until she cried about how excited I was.

We then drove around trying to find a place to eat, and after the Thai place I'd looked up turned out to be closed (thanks for nothing, Google!) we picked a chain restaurant and went to Bella Italia, where we had pasta and dessert and kept them from closing for a little longer, given that they were putting out the breakfast menus about an hour before we left.

Then we returned to the hotel, had brief online time, and crashed out.

Day 53 – the last real day of vacation.

It was the day we went on the Warner Bros. Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour.

IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS FOR THIS TOUR, STOP READING NOW. All that happened today is that Gatwick's computers went down, delayed my flight for like 45 minutes, and now I'm on a plane.

If you want to know about the tour, then by all means, read on.

So the morning of, we slept in like sane people, had breakfast, and then lazed around the hotel room for a bit while we waited for our tour time to come up, because they give you scheduled times for this thing.

Finally, we rolled out onto the M25, which is the big ring-road around London, which has a frankly unacceptably terrible road surface and is full of traffic that is occasionally frightening – although having been on ANY US Highway, I'd say nowhere in the UK could compare. Especially to L.A.

We got to the tour, and as we pulled in, noticed a HUGE village of greenscreens off in the distance. They were like 40 foot tall and very wide across. I wondered what the heck they were filming there, but figured it was a WB production I'd never heard of and headed inside.

It took about 40 minutes to get through the queue (yeah proper British terms for ya) and into the experience, the whole time of which I was staring at the gift shop and going “Oh crap. Oh crap. How is my wallet going to survive that place”, because even from the outside it looks magical.

On the way through the queue you also see the cupboard under the stairs set, which is pretty cool and features the tiniest pair of glasses. I spent a lot of time giggling on this tour about how tiny Daniel Radcliffe is. Those are some small costumes, sir.

So they open a tour with a movie that's basically Dan Rad, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint being like “Hello everyone, we're here on this terrible green screen to tell you how cool this experience is. Also, y'all always fangirl over the cast, but this crew puts in DUMB AMOUNTS OF WORK so this is the place you are coming to appreciate all of that please enjoy”

Then the screen lifts up and there are giant doors behind them (the entrance to Hogwarts) and that leads into the Great Hall set which is huuuuuuuuuuuuuge. One side was all set up like a feast, because we were there for the “sweets and treats” exhibition – every so often they change the setup to feature a different aspect of the production. Kat's been 3 times so she could point out all the things that had changed since she'd been last.

They did a house loyalty call out in the great hall, and it was literally the saddest thing, because she was like “Who's a Hufflepuff!?” and this one – I swear to god, one, out of maybe 100 people – person went “yaaaaay” in such an unenthusiastic voice, and I was like “...Okay Hufflepuff deserves better than that” just as the woman said “yeah that's about all I ever get for Hufflepuff”. POOR HUFFLEPUFF.

So then she was like “Who's a smart Ravenclaw?” and Kat and I went nuts because damn it, we saw what just happened to Hufflepuff – if we risked being the only ones we were going to be LOUD. And apparently we were, because she was like “Whoa that's the biggest cheer I've ever heard for Ravenclaw” and there were only like 3 or 4 of us who cheered so THAT'S REALLY SAD. Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff friends, we are coming to this tour all together one day and we are going to BLOW THEIR GOD DAMN EARS OFF. I am determined.

Of course Slytherin got a decent cheer and Gryffindor got an overwhelming one. I am identifying more and more with the Pottermore writeup that says Ravenclaws resent Gryffindors because they're pompous dicks because HELL YEAH, GRYFFINDOR IS OVERRATED.

I'm going all house loyalty on this right now, I'm sorry.

Anyway, from the Great Hall it all becomes self-guided, and you walk into a huge room with sets like the Gryffindor Common room, Harry's Crowd's dorm room, the Ministry of Magic (a portion of it, anyway. That was my FAVE set. I am mournful they don't have the whole thing set up), Dumbledore's Office, Hagrid's Hut, Umbridge's Ministry Office, Malfoy Manor, Borgin & Burkes, and a bunch of props and cool stuff set up.

There was also a pair of prop makers there for the sweets & treats exhibitions. The woman made all the real food, and the man had made all the fake food. They had some real/fake food set up to show off and try and get you to guess which was which. The fake raspberries were almost indistinguishable, and the fake fruit tarts proved to in fact be completely impossible to identify. At least for me.

The lady who made all the real food told us most of the food is fake, except every time they eat breakfast that's all real food because breakfast is hella cheap to make and they had a lot of breakfasts. And I couldn't remember a single breakfast scene but then we watched Order of the Phoenix later and I was like “Oh what the hell they're eating breakfast RIGHT NOW” a few times. So – it's true!

Then you went and saw Platform 9 3/4 and the Hogwarts Express – the real train, and the carriage sets. There's also a shop in there because damn it they know their merchandise is irresistible. Well, nearly. Kat and I managed to bypass that shop.

Next you exit into the area with the Butterbeer and snacks and stuff, and I tried a Butterbeer and Kat had a Butterbeer Ice Cream. I found the Butterbeer fine (but not something I'd want) except for the whipped cream on it, which was foul – which is weird, coming from me, because I love whipped cream. Kat loved the ice cream, I thought it was gross.

While we ate we could see all the outdoor stuff – the Potter's Cottage, #4 Privet Drive, the Knight Bus, and the bridge where Cedric Diggory drops some homoerotic undertones in Harry's direction are all out there. This is also about when my camera started dying because I was taking WAY TOO MANY PHOTOS.

Then you go in to the creatures lab where they have all of the monsters and prosthetics – Aragog, Buckbeak, Grawp, and all the Goblins were in there. From there, you move into the Diagon Alley set, which is just – a glorious mess of details. All of the shop windows are packed with interesting things to look at, and the set itself is of course iconic and was so cool to see. Forget you, fake Diagon Alley in Florida, I saw the real thing.

The next room is the CONCEPT ART ROOM AAAAAAAAAAAAH.

WHY DO THEY NOT SELL A BOOK OF NOTHING BUT HARRY POTTER CONCEPT ART BECAUSE I LOVED THIS ROOM AND I WANTED TO OWN EVERY DRAWING IN IT.

They had designs for every location, for the Puking Pastiles Machines, for the creatures, for the candy, for the doors, for the vehicles – all in glorious detail, all showing how you could film them, how they would work, how they would fit into the scene. It was heaven. And around the corner was the concept art that was fully coloured and more of a “this is the mood/colour scheme we're going for” art which was just as incredible and I want a separate book of that, too!

Close to the end of this passage, there was a design for the model of Hogwarts Castle – which gave us a hint for what was coming.

IT'S HUUUUUUUUUUUUGE.

The model is enormous! So much detail, so many cool things to look at. The only confusing thing is that the Quidditch Pitch and Hagrid's Hut are blatantly missing, whereas the boat house is prominently featured. But man, what a thing to look at. I'd pay 10 pounds to just stare at that model for about half an hour.

Then you go into a room with all the wand boxes they had in the film, which are all inscribed with every member of the cast/crew's names, so you can wander and find famous names. Or ask the staff to find an obscure name and watch them scramble.

Finally, there was the gift shop. I got a video of that place I'm hoping to upload, but – ugggggggggh I want so much stuff in that shop. There's actually a huge quantity of Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw merchandise, which never happens, and also Chudley Cannons, Hollyhead Harpies, Bulgaria & Ireland team jerseys, Honeydukes candies, Ministry-themed merchandise, magical creatures merchandise, wands, the plates from Umbridge's Office, a bunch of making-of books, quaffles & snitches (where are my bludgers at? I want a bludger!), and – just... so much stuff. So much cool stuff. So much stuff of actual quality make.

I got a hoodie. A Ravenclaw hoodie. It cost too much but it is glorious and I needed a new hoodie anyway. I managed to get away without buying anything else, but man did I want more. Sigh! If I had a million dollars, I would have a ridiculously nerdy collection of things.

Oh, and I forgot to mention – that field of green screens we saw outside? The Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them set! !! I should not be excited for that movie. I am still angry it's being made. But damn it. ...I am a little excited.

It's probably going to be garbage.

...Still excited.

Curses.

Then we went to Wagamama for dinner, where our waiter made the mistake of asking me for 3DS game recommendations and ended up being held up for 5 minutes as I gave him a very thorough answer. We picked up snacks after that, to prepare us for our Order of the Phoenix watching party, and returned to our hotel.

So I packed as we watched OoTP, and we ate snacks, and hung out, and went to bed what was probably too late, but it was our last night, so of course we were going to do that. I just feel bad, because Kat had to drive home. Hope you drove safe, Kat! I'll find out when I've landed, I guess.

So, here we are.

Day 54.

Or 55, depending on how you count that first interminable day.

Either way, I'm coming home.

I feel like this was too long away, or something. People keep saying they've grown used to me being away, and I don't care for that. But I suspect this will be my last trip of this magnitude in my lifetime, and that's enough of a thought to make it worth it. And all of these trips lined up too perfectly for me to leave it undone. My mother had to be in the UK for July 7th. Wolf, Nicole and Gal were already making their graduation trips to Europe, whether I joined them or not. And my invitation to join Kat in France has been standing for days – and they left just a few days after Wolf & co. were flying home.

It's been one hell of a trip.

I'll be glad to be home.

I'll miss exploring the world.

But...

I guess I am going to Japan in a month, anyway. (For those of you who didn't know... uhm – SURPRISE!)

Next time on the travel blog: I coach my father through culture shock!

It's gonna be fun.

(P.S. I'm going to try hard to resist breaking the ankles of the man who is sat near me on this plane. There's an empty seat between us yet he still has his legs so stretched out they are across that seat and UNDER MY SEAT. Sir, you aren't the only one with messed up knees around here! He literally has them resting on my feet sometimes. I just- arrrrrrrgh.)
 
 
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