After Nick and Paula spoiled us with an evening of great food and good humor in High Wycombe, we were ready to camp out in their home for a few more weeks of idle relaxation. Alas, they have lives to get on with and we had plans to meet up with an old friend in Wales, so we had to press on to the next stop on our tour.
We tagged along with Nick on his morning commute via train, stopping at a small cafe near his office for yet another Full English Breakfast. (It was at this point in the trip that I thought one or both of us might turn into a Full English Breakfast if we continued eating them.) Fortified on grease, potatoes, and coffee we took a short hop on the tube before catching the train to Cardiff.
The view out the train window was beautiful, and we rolled along through the hills and many farmlands with sheep, horses, and beef cattle. At some point it began to snow quite steadily, adding to the layer of frozen precipitation already on the ground and upping the magical winter-wonderland feeling.
After three hours we arrived at Cardiff Central Station in the Welsh capital. At this point the snow was falling fast and heavy, and had already blanketed the city. We waited several minutes for a cab to take us to the hotel, managed to check in despite a problem with the online reservation I had made weeks earlier, and spent a few minutes relaxing in the room and enjoying our snow-laden view of downtown.
I wasn’t keen to spend a day lazing about, so, despite the snowstorm, we decided to trudge into town for some sightseeing. We realized that this type of snowfall was unusual for the area, and this was confirmed along our walk: a van stuck in a car-park — unable to make the 10-degree incline of the exit to the street; taxis, buses, and cars sliding along the road; and no sign of any snow shovels or snow blowers for clearing the sidewalks. By mid-afternoon there were at least 4-5 inches of accumulation on the ground and the snow was still coming down in a sheet. It was beautiful! We made our way along the river and over the bridge to the central downtown area.
Apparently the economic boom of the early-mid 2000s spurred a massive revitalization effort in Cardiff. The buildings on the main streets looked completely new, and the entire downtown felt like one large upscale open-air shopping arena. Although traffic on the streets had lessened due to impassibility, we found many people on foot enjoying the snow while holiday shopping. We passed through the streets of shops to the northern end of the city and found Cardiff Castle. Unfortunately, due to weather, the tour guides were closing it up. We did manage to cajole them into letting us take a quick photo from the main gate, and they told us that they expected to reopen at the weekend.
Foiled at our first attempt at tourist activities, we set off to try to find the Dr. Who exhibit that a friend had recommended. I couldn’t remember whether this was in the Millennium Center, or the sports stadium, so Rick humored me as we made a circuit around town, trying to find any sightseeing opportunity that hadn’t closed due to weather.
Eventually we backtracked and found the National Museum Cardiff, but like all the other cultural points, this was closed too. Tired, cold, and soggy, we decided to give up and began making our way back to the shopping district in search of dinner. Rick had received some suggestions of pubs to try, but our phone Internet service was spotty so it was difficult to locate them. Then, as we passed Cardiff Castle and paused for another photo of the outside, I realized we were standing in front of The Goat Major, one of the suggested spots. It was a sign, and we went in to warm up with pints and pies.
Like many of the pubs in Cardiff, The Goat Major serves Brains…SA Brains beer that is. This brewery was founded in 1882 and has their headquarters is in Cardiff. We began with one pint of Brains Black and one of the bitter while pondering the menu, an extensive list of pies, including their award-winning chicken pot pie.
After ordering I took a turn around the pub to check out the historic photos and memorabilia on the walls. It turns out that the place is named for the mascot of the Royal Regiment of Wales. There were photos and a number of newspaper clippings about the history of the Regiment and its Goat Majors….a fascinating and quite odd bit of military tradition.
The pies were brought and we settled into a second rounds of pints. The food was indeed excellent, and we enjoyed our meal as the pub began to fill with the after-work crowd. Finally, warmed from the food and drink, we tottered back to the hotel through the snow and the Christmas lights, looking forward to our visit to Trealy Farm the next day.
Things have been a tad strange at Casa Scully on this first day of January. We awoke to find a light crust of ice over the house, car, and driveway. I had been hoping we might find an excuse to drive in to town for a nice breakfast, but with all the ice, it made more sense to scrounge up something at home. Just as I was about to scramble some eggs and make some toast, the power went out. Without our electric range, we had to put the meal on hold. Fortunately, we had a few home-made biscotti left over from our trip, and the coffee had finished brewing.
After a light breakfast, we decided to go on our first snowshoe expedition of the season. Rick and I would have preferred to have four feet of snow on the ground, but with the warm winter we’ve had so far, we decided to take advantage of the five inches we did have. We tromped about on our property a bit, found some animal tracks (most likely rabbits and deer), and then proceeded to trespass on our neighbors’ fields. By the time we returned home the power had been restored. The lights on the porch were a welcome sign as we made our way back up the steep, icy driveway.
Sometimes, you have to improvise or jump in to a situation even when conditions are not exactly what you’d like them to be. This year we have a lot of plans that we want to try to put into play, and we’ll most likely need to be flexible in order to have success. Here’s hoping that at least a few of our ideas will come to fruition.
At the end of December my temporary job with Vermont Ski Areas Association will end. I’ve greatly enjoyed working there and may come back again next year. One of the perks of the job is free skiing and snowboarding for the staff, and each year we also have a ski day at one of the resorts. I was hesitant at first, as I have never skied or snowboarded before, but eventually I decided to participate by taking a snowboarding lesson.
My first experience was challenging and exhausting, but fun too. People warned me that I would spend several hours doing nothing but falling down on my butt. Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but neither can I say that I have much natural skill for this activity. I’m more used to roller skating and blading, where you have to have a certain amount of control and balance, but where gravity plays a much diminished role. Much diminished. In snowboarding (or “riding”), gravity is a major factor, and for the beginner, it is an adverse force. It will pull you the wrong way, or before you are quite ready. It will even take your board away from you at very high speed if you aren’t paying attention and let it slip (this almost happened…almost). And after every run downhill, you get to battle gravity as you hike back up to the top with the (heavy) snowboard bound to one foot.
During the 90 minute class, I glided, fell, practiced turns, fell, got going really well and then panicked and fell in order to keep from riding off into the parking lot, and did a lot of hiking up the hill. After a while we moved to a steeper section of terrain and practiced “traversing”, where the aim is to go across the grade of the slope rather than taking a straight shot downhill. The idea is that, after a lot of practice one will be able to build up a repertoire of moves (straight gliding, J Turns, traverses) that allow one to regulate their speed and direction as they navigate a trail. Snowboards don’t have stops or breaks like skates do, so you have to tame gravity by learning how to subtly shift your weight and stance. I understand these concepts in theory. Putting them into practice is another matter.
Still, I did enjoy myself and got one of the best workouts I’ve had in recent memory. In the afternoon we went snow shoeing, which takes more energy than snowboarding but is much less technically difficult to master. (Yes I was painfully sore the next two days.) I will be buying snowshoes as soon as possible, and hopefully in the not too distant future I’ll be able to take another snowboarding lesson.
While this is the first real snow storm of the season, we got our first snow (an inch or so) earlier in the week. Haley wasn’t sure what to make of it, but she seems to have enjoyed herself (Note: Sound & Quicktime video: 6MB).
Last year we got a ton of snow, and believe me, we enjoyed it. But I still remember saying to Sarah that it would be the last time we would be able to stand by and watch other people shovel it for us.
So last night while we cuddled up in front of the fire, I couldn’t help but think about the snow I was going to have to move the next day. It didn’t worry me, and it certainly didn’t keep me from enjoying our first fire, but it was at the back of my mind.
Luckily, we bought a house that doesn’t have much of a walkway—and no driveway at all, yet—so it wasn’t too much effort to shovel our walk and the sidewalk in front of the house. In fact, it was so easy, I shoveled our next door neighbor’s walk as well.
My reward? Not that I needed one, but Sarah had delicious pancakes and coffee waiting for me.