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.
As predicted we both woke up a little worn for wear from the cocktails the night before, but we got up, got dressed and walked back to Nick & Jess’ flat before landing at The Regency Cafe — which both Jess and Rich had recommended.
We had been warned about the rules of this place: Do not sit down at a table until you had placed your order, and be ready to order when it is your turn. We had also been warned of the way our order would be called, but that part ended up being nothing like we imagined. After the four of us had placed our orders with the nice, petite, soft-spoken woman at the counter we grabbed a table by the far window and chatted. The food comes out in spurts, but you are alerted in bursts.
“BREAKFAST SPECIAL, BLOOD PUDDING, HASH BROWNS!”
Vibrating off the window next to us came bellowing a deep, baritone voice from the same woman who had quietly referred to me as “love” moments before. We realised then that this place was a challenge the morning after a night of drink.
Jess needed to get to work, so we left The Regency Cafe, said our goodbyes to her and walked with Nick to Pimlico Fresh for coffee. As we are standing out front I noticed a familiar face waving to us. Rich greeted us at the door explaining that he and Carol had different methods for dealing with red-eye flights. Hers was to nap (I agree) and his is to plow on through and pretend nothing happened. Granted Rich travels a great deal, so your mileage may vary. Rich was having his breakfast and we joined him with our delicious lattes.
After second breakfast, Sarah and I took Nick and Rich’s suggestion and took The Tube over to Monument to the Great Fire of London (aka Monument) to take in some views of the city from Christopher Wrens functional tribute.
When we arrived the weather was gray and misty, but by the time we paid our admittance fee and climbed the spiral staircase to the observation deck it had also become a bit gusty, making the walk around the deck interesting. We both think the thick wire meshing made it a challenge to enjoy the view, and may have even induced a bit of vertigo. It was an enjoyable experience that we were glad we did. We took a few more photos and then made our way back down, where we were greeted by a woman who gave us certificates that we had, in fact, been to the top of Monument.
Next we headed back to our hotel to pick up our bags which had been stored while we played tourist. We strapped on our backpacks and rolled our luggage to the Lambeth tube station, and took a straight shot to the Baker Street stop. We got a little turned around, but we weren’t expected by Tait for an hour. We reoriented ourselves and headed for the Sherlock Holmes Museum to pick up a souvenir for a colleague of Sarah’s. We then noticed a Beatles memorabilia shop a few shops down and squeezed to the tight little shop with our luggage, which they preferred to my standing in the doorway. I stood very still with the bags while Sarah looked at suitcase-friendly gifts and brought them to me for my approval or whimsy. I listened to the two female store employees as they quoted Yellow Submarine along with the film which was playing in the store.
Satisfied with our purchases, we walked a few blocks along the crowded sidewalks of Baker Street to Tait’s workspace. Still a bit early, we made our way to his office and took a seat and tea and chatted while he tied up loose ends with clients in various time zones. Satisfied that no one would be too angry if he left 2 minutes early, we made our way back down the lift and around the corner to The Bee Hive pub, where we briefly caught up over a shout before heading to Marylebone station.
We gave Tait cash and he used a kiosk to purchase our tickets to High Wycomb. We made our way to the platform and boarded a “quiet” carriage, where Tait and I played backgammon against each other on our iPhones while Sarah played a game on her iPad. The trip was brief, so I was only able to beat Tait the one game we played before we our stop. At the train depot we cleaned out the back of Tait’s station wagon which was full of dog gear. Sarah asked to be in the front seat and promptly made her way to the wrong side of the car.
After a quick shop at the market to get some more beer, we arrived at Tait’s place where Paula was waiting. Tait retired to the kitchen to put the finishing touches on the curry, while we caught up with Paula and met their two wonderful rescue Greyhounds. We presented Tait with a hat made of our yarn that Sarah had knitted along with some Vermont-made hot sauces and a bottle of Maker’s Mark. Paula received a set of handwarmers which Sarah had also knitted and we also gave them the spoon I carved when we took a course with Bill Copperwaite five years previous. I also had one of the better beers I would drink this trip when I was presented with a Gem by Bath Ales. After dinner, we watched a few comedy sketches on YouTube, and I beat Tait on a traditional backgammon board, before we all went to bed.