Monday, March 28, 2016

Top 6 for 2016: Wales

If you didn't already know, Wales is number 8 on the Rough Guide's list of Ten Countries to Visit in 2016. Anyone who has read the blog before will know that I moved from Scotland to North Wales in May 2015 and have nothing but good things to say about it.

Now that my adopted nation has made it to the Rough Guide, I thought that I'd compile a list of fabulous places and attractions from across the land; with maybe just a little touch of bias towards the North.

These are my top 6 picks for Wales 2016:

Snowdonia National Park, North Wales:
OK, so I actually live within the confines of Snowdonia NP. In a house, though...not out in the wilds in a tent or anything. They don't make tents big enough for my shoe collection and, when they won't make any difference because I don't like camping. Anyway, I digress: Snowdonia is amazing!

If you fancy a bit of hiking, feel free to climb Mount Snowdon, which is the highest peak in England and Wales, and second in the UK (with Ben Nevis in Scotland topping the leader board). Snowdon stands at an extremely respectable 1,085ft above sea level. I have no idea what this actually means, but it sounds like a lot of work to get up there.

There are several routes to the Snowdon summit, which are helpfully graded in terms of just how hellish they are to scale. Me? I'd go for the easiest one every time. In fact, I'd be driving to Llanberis and getting the Snowdon Railway to the top because, well...I wouldn't have to walk AT ALL and I'd still get to stand on the summit and totally take photos for social media to tell everyone just how tired I was.

Apart from hiking, walking, cycling, and all those other Outdoor Things fit people do within the National Park; we are also home to some beautifully picturesque towns and villages. My personal favourites are Barmouth, Porthmadog and Llanberis, which are all full of restaurants, coffee shops, independent stores, beaches, and the obligatory steam railways.

Just to be clear: Wales also has normal railways, like you'd find everywhere else, but the steam trains are by far the most scenic way to get around, provided you're not in much of a hurry. If you need to keep an appointment, you should probably travel with Arriva instead.  

Top 6 for 2016: Cadair Idris
Cadair Idris
Anglesey, North Wales:
The Isle of Anglesey is connected to the mainland via the beautiful Menai and Britannia Bridges and is located at Wales' most north westerly point. Anglesey is the 5th largest island in the UK and sits in the Irish Sea.

A short distance from the bridges is the location of the village with the longest name in the UK, which is a great place to get your photo taken, if you have a wide angle lens. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwilllantysiliogogogoch is a pretty little village, even if you can never tell people you've been because you simply have no chance of EVER being able to pronounce it. Llanfair would be an acceptable shortened version, I would imagine.

The rural coastline of the whole isle has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Beauty and, if you head up to Holyhead on Anglesey, towards South Stack Lighthouse, you'll see exactly why this is.

South Stack is jaw dropping. And not only because you can literally walk along the edge of some pretty steep cliff faces, but also from beautiful colours of the flowers and heather, which provide a gorgeous contrast to the stark whitewashed lighthouse. It really is a fabulous spot for a walk (probably not if it's wet or windy, though, because of the whole certain death thing if you fell), but certainly on a clear day when you can wave to people across the water in Ireland and battle with your mobile provider as you get a text welcoming you to the Emerald Isle and informing you of just how much it’ll cost you to make any calls. 

Top 6 for 2016: Anglesey
South Stack Lighthouse
Newtown & Machynlleth, Mid Wales
Newtown is the biggest town in the Powys region in Mid Wales and lies on the River Severn. It is famous for being the birthplace of Robert Owen, the Welsh philosopher and entrepreneur, and founder of the co-operative movement. Owen's former home, unfortunately, has been replaced by the HSBC Bank, which I'm unsure whether is ironic or not, but there is a museum in the town dedicated to his life.

Newtown is also home to a fabulous chapel and Baptist church, as well as the Oriel Davies Arts Centre. I'm fond of the high street in the town, which has a good variety of old school pubs, clubs and the obligatory Wetherspoons, lots of lovely independent stores and a fair few high street names thrown into the mix.   Also:  the British Red Cross charity shop in the precinct is the best I’ve come across, so far.

There’s also a late night vendor on the main street who serves the best post pub crawl out burger I have ever tasted. Seriously, I'm salivating just thinking about it.

Machynlleth is a charming town, full of lovely independent stores and a quite wonderful old clock tower, which dominates the opening to the main thoroughfare. I've previously written a post about the joys of Mach, so I won't go in to them again here.   However, I will say that there are many.   And please don’t miss Wales’ MOMA, located just off the main street, which is free of charge and absolutely wonderful.  

Top 6 for 2016: Aqueduct

Cardiff, Glamorgan, South Wales:
Cardiff is the capital city of Wales and is the seat of the Welsh Assembly (Parliament). Sitting on the banks of the River Taff and Severn Estuary, Cardiff is a wonderfully multicultural city with so much to offer.

Whether you fancy checking out the unusual lines of the Senedd (Welsh Assembly); taking in a game of football at the incredible Cardiff Stadium; to checking out the Castle or one of the many museums on offer, or simply walking around the pleasant green surroundings of Bute Park, you will not be at a loss for busy, people filled streets or quiet, tranquil spots to relax. Me? I'll literally go anywhere where there are actual Welsh people as they're always lots of fun.  

The regenerated waterfront area is a hub of activity, with a range of options for eating and drinking and is also home to the fabulous Millennium Centre; which will cater for all your concert and theatre going needs.  

For your inner geek, there’s a local Dr Who tour, since the BBC programme is filmed in the city or, if art, geology and natural history are more to your liking, you can while away the hours at the beautiful National Museum in Cathays Park.   This is also free of charge.   

Top 6 for 2016: Mermaid Quay
Brecon Beacon National Park:
Located in South Wales, Brecon Beacons is a national park and mountain range, which includes Wale’s highest peak, Pen y Fan.     The Brecons is one of three national parks in the nation and has also been awarded Dark Sky Reserve status in 2013, making it only the fifth to gain the accolade internationally.  I think that means it’s REALLY dark at night, but I could be wrong.

Much like Snowdonia, Brecon NP is more than just mountains and green space – it also incorporates towns and villages and all the local amenities that those bring.  If you want to get away from it all, you can head off on one of a countless number of walking and hiking trails, take your bike out for a ride, relax with a cold cider (a Welsh one, obviously) in a local pub, or book yourself into a local hotel or B&B and have more cider.  The choice is yours.

Brecons NP has a huge range of different festivals and events organised throughout the calendar year, so there’s always something extra to enjoy on your visit there.  

Top 6 for 2016: Cardigan Bay
Cardigan Bay  
Llandudno, Conwy – North Wales
On the Creuddyn Peninsula of Conwy County, lies the gorgeous seaside town of Llandudno.  Famous for its beautiful Grade 2 listed pier and Great and Little Orme Railways, Llandudno has no shortage to of charm to entice in visitors.

It is a lovely town to wander aimlessly around, as I often do, and sit out at one of the many independent coffee shops and boost your caffeine levels.    When the weather is pleasant, as it often is, sitting out at the patio area at the rear of Venue Cymru, with a cold cider, looking out at the sea, is also a wise decision as the views are fantastic.

If shopping is more your thing, head to Mostyn Street, which is the main money spending area in the town.  There is a great selection of independent stores and national brands to choose from.  

My favourite thing to do in Llandudno, however, is check out the Alice in Wonderland Trail.   Llandudno is famous for its connections with the classic Lewis Carroll book and it is thought that the author visited the town and drew inspiration from its surroundings.    

Because of the connection with the books, there is a trail around the town, where you can grab a map (or download the app) and follow the White Rabbit trail.   There are numerous statues, featuring all the famous characters from Alice through the Looking Glass, including the White Rabbit, Cheshire cat, Alice herself, and the ever terrifying Queen of Hearts.   

The statues are outstanding; carved from wood by some incredibly talented individuals with some really big chainsaws.    

have YOU visited Wales yet?   If not...why??

Suzanne x

Sunday, March 27, 2016

NEW: Caffi Castell Tapas Restaurant, Harlech

I can often be spotted, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, dragging LT out of the shed and up towards Harlech Castle.    This is largely because I love coffee, but also because the views from Caffi Castell are spectacular and, when you walk in, you're guaranteed a warm welcome from the staff.   

We found the original Llew Glas Cafe during our first week living in Harlech and, even though we've moved a wee bit further south, we still go up as often as we can for some Sunday chat and to chill out before the madness of Monday hits us again.  

Caffi Castell Tapas Restaurant: Harlech Castle
This. View. 
This week, however, we found out that Caffi Castell was starting a new evening menu, so we were very excited about that.   We were even more excited when we realised that the food on offer was Spanish tapas...and they have a licence to serve wine.    There are few things that make me happier than gazing at Harlech Castle, with my favourite people, favourite food, and a glass of Rioja.   Muy bueno.      I even washed my hair and changed out of my jamma bottoms for the night.   And that doesn't happen too often.   

The Caffi only opened its doors the previous evening and was already full when we arrived, save our little table for four.    The lighting outside the castle was, as always, beautifully striking and the interior, despite being at capacity, has enough space to make your dining experience feel intimate and romantic.    

Caffi Castell Tapas Restaurant: Menu
I'll have one of everything, please.
Caffi Castell Tapas Restaurant: Drinks Menu
Tres botellas de vinto tinto, por favor.. 
The menu mainly consists of classic dishes, such as patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), albondigas (meatballs), olives (because obviously), stuffed peppers, garlic mushrooms and garlic prawns, to name a few.     There is also a great veggie and gluten free selection for those of you who don't eat meat...or gluten.    

In addition, there was a very tempting cocktail menu, which I'm definitely trying next time.   On this occasion, we stuck with Rioja, because it's my favourite wine and, well...we were eating Spanish food and it would be rude not to.   Not that I need a reason to bust open a bottle of Rioja, you understand.        

The food was glorious and served in authentic terracotta pots, delivered to the table with a smile and satisfaction check (once a VS inspector, always a VS inspector...)  Don't judge me, I can't help it. 

Caffi Castell Tapas Restaurant: Tapas
I'm hungry just looking at this.  

Cheeeeese, Gromit. 
I could live on these, I reckon.
We ate, drank, and became rather merry over the course of the evening, indulging in way too many calories and excellent red wine.      For four people, each ordering three tapas, extra bread (naturally), a lovely bottle of Rioja and three desserts totalled £120.   This was promptly paid for by the boys, so really my dinner was entirely free.     You can't really ask for more than that, can you??

You can contact Caffi Castell to book a table on 01766 780200.    Do it now.   Off you go...

Suzanne x 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

What's On In Wales: MoMA, Machynlleth

beth sydd ymlaen n Cymru

Like everyone else in the world, I lead quite a busy life and often feel that I don't have enough time to fit everything in.    As I work full time hours/write the blog/look at photos of dogs dressed as humans on the internet, it's easy to see just how productive a girl I am.   

To further enhance this, I decided I'd do a spot of lunch time learning and make the most of the hour between 1 and 2pm, where I have successfully completed half a day, but still have another half to go. 

Since there's very little else to do in this time (because apparently it's frowned upon to go to the pub), I thought I'd check out some of the local attractions, shows and exhibitions.

This week I visited the new exhibition at the Wales Museum of Modern Art in Machynlleth, 'Romanticism in the Welsh Landscape'.   

What's On in Wales: MOMA
Romanticism in the Welsh Landscape
The exhibition is made up of private and public works of art and guides you through the role that Wales played in the origin and revival of the Romantic art era and is curated by Dr Peter Wakelin.

This is a major event in MoMA's calendar and has taken over the Pulpit Room, Tannery Gallery, Bridge and Owen Galleries within the centre.     

MoMA is a stunning space to wander around and is finished to such a high standard that it rather makes me want to touch everything.   I don't, though - I don't want to be banned from going back.   

What's On In Wales: MoMA
MoMA, Machynlleth
There are guides on hand to answer your questions and some extra ones to follow round at the back of me, making sure I don't hug anything.  I'm joking, obviously.   I prefer licking stuff to show my appreciation.

In addition to the paintings themselves, MoMA also has a host of events taking place throughout the duration of the exhibition, such as Artists' Discussion, an afternoon of readings, a Day School, and Gallery Tour with the Curator.    

The exhibition runs from March 19th through to June 18th.   Admission to MoMA is free of charge and it's open between 10am-4pm Monday to Saturday.     MoMA also has a lovely little tea room on site, where you can rest your weary gallery-pounding feet after you're done.    

Off you go....  Do come back and let me know how you got on, though.

Suzanne x 


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Things To Do In Denver Before You're Dead, Part 2: Sports

I love my sport (apart from cricket and basketball), and I sporting events in the US are fantastic days out, with really reasonably priced tickets.   Denver has a plethora of quality sporting teams and impressive stadiums, which make for a great atmosphere.

Even if you’re not a sports fan, or are British and therefore entirely confused by the mixtures of soccer and rugby that is American Football and think that Baseball is just a massive game of rounders’, the stadiums are really something to behold. 

If you can catch a game when you’re in town, I’d highly recommend it (people sell you beer from your seat.  Your actual seat, peope!)   Also, the games are lively and fun and there’s no real segregation in American sports, as everyone seems to get on.   On a few occasions, when hearing the Scottish accent, we’ve been invited to tailgate with locals in various states and had a brilliant time learning about life and culture in the US.   

Things To Do In Denver: Sports - Mile High
Get your head in the clouds with a game at Mile High
Sports Authority Field at Mile High:
This is the home of NFL’s Denver Broncos and was right next to the hotel we stayed in, from whose upper floors we had a fabulous view over the field.    

The Broncos have sold out every single game since 1970, so it that doesn’t tell you how much they are to watch, then nothing will.   With a capacity of almost 79,000 people, the atmosphere must be electric and I wished I’d had a chance to catch a game while I was around.     

Coors Field:
This is where all things baseball-y take place in Denver and is the home of the Colorado Rockies and 33,000 of their closest friends.   I love a bit of baseball, although I don’t profess to completely understand all the rules, I have previously enjoyed games in Boston, Seattle and Toronto while signing up for credit cards which came with free towels and plastic cups with team names emblazoned on them.  I have no reason to doubt that the action at Coors would be any less enthralling that it has been anywhere else.   And I bet they also have awesome free stuff.   

Things To Do In Denver: Sports - Coors Field
Take in some baseball at Coors Field.
Pepsi Center:
The PC stages games from both the NHL and NBA, although I can’t for the life of me work on how that might work.    One can only assume they are played under the same roof, but in different areas.   Otherwise, that would just be a nightmare.    Particularly if you got the schedules mixed up and got your Zamboni out to ready the surface for a Nuggets game because you thought they were a hockey team.   You could end up being responsible for a whole new sport called ‘Ice Basketball’, which actually sounds like it might be a lot of fun to watch.  Not so much fun to play in, though.  You’d be freezing in those shorts and sleeveless tops, wouldn’t you?

Anyway, the PC hosts games from the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche (who play on ice) and the NBA’s Denver Nuggets (who do not play on ice).   

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park:
The local soccer team, Colorado Rapids, play their home MLS fixtures at Dick’s to an average crowd of around 18,000 people.    Given it’s not the most popular sport in the US; it draws in bigger crowds and has far superior stadia that most of the places I’ve watched football at home in Scotland (and around the world).  Apart from Tynecastle, obviously. 

Suzanne x 

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Dear Passport...I Love You

I've had a passport for as long as I can remember and, despite not travelling much when I was young, I've more than made up for it as an adult.

There's something wonderful about clutching the gorgeous maroon book that opens up new worlds and gives you the freedom to explore other countries, continents and cultures, that can't be surpassed by anything else. Seriously, it's even better than shoes.

Apart from the opportunities my passport opens up to me; my old passports are the source of most of my favourite memories. These are the places I've travelled, the experiences I've had, and some of the fabulous people I've met that I never would have if it weren't for £70 and one of those little photos that make me look like an escaped convict.

Dear Passport, I Love You: Passport
Isn't is beautiful??
When I was in my teens, most of my trips revolved round Spanish islands, because obviously. These days, you couldn’t force me to go.   I've gone from being attracted to sun and lying about to realising that lying about means I'm missing out on history and culture.

Don't get me wrong, I've been back to Spain since my teens, and I love it, but I've ditched Anglicised island towns and islands for cities like Madrid, Valencia or Barca.  I can also no longer cope with sunbathing all day as I need to be, you know…DOING something.    

My latest passport is brand new and hasn’t been out of North Wales yet. Its inaugural trip is to Paris in a few weeks for a girls' long weekend. My previous passport is a myriad or stamps and visas and smells deliciously of beer and hot nights in Thailand and Mexico. Just looking at it brings back a raft of priceless memories that have shaped my life.

Dear Passport, I Love You: Spanishi Flag
Es muy hermoso... 

I think the thing that also makes my passport so special is that, as well as documenting my travels, it also reminds me of how many brilliant travel companions I've had. From my ex-husband, my sisters, my Mum and my step son, to school friends and new friendships I've made through the years.

When I met LT on our first date, we'd both returned from recent travels and he had so many places he still wanted to go. I’m completely incompatible with someone who doesn’t live for exploring like I do, so I was thrilled to hear him speak so excitedly about his trips.

Over the past few years, we've been lucky enough to combine our love of travelling and I've discovered that I actually don't hate camping in Wales and Scotland and that LT shares my love of road tripping around the US. We've also spent a lot of time going to places that are new to us both and building up our own special memories together.

Dear Passport, I Love You: Roadteip
Without my passport, there'd be no loud singing to country music radio and driving through Nashville.  
I guess, although my passport is the first thing I'd grab from the cottage in a fire (provided LT was already out, of course), it's the way it makes me feel that's the thing I love about it.  It promises so much fun and excitement and it’s rarely let me down.    

Basically, whoever invented the passport is a legend and I am forever grateful. The person who invented airport queues systems can go to Hell, though.

So, here’s to another decade of exploring the world with my trusty companion, and many thanks to Her Majesty’s Government for issuing me with a new one.   I promise I’ll behave when I’m abroad and never request the services of the Consul...


Suzanne x

Friday, March 04, 2016

The Great 2016 Monthly Challenge: February

The February Challenge: 2016
Determined to follow on from my whole New Year Challenge thing, I hit February with the same gusto I reserved for January:  i.e. I realised on the 5th that I hadn't done anything and thought I'd best make a start before March grabbed me by the throat.  
This is the new stuff I discovered in February: 
New Author:  
I picked up a copy of John Grisham's 'The Confession' in my local charity shop for 85p and decided to give it a go.  I told myself that because it was actually a 'legal' thriller, this totally set it apart from all those crime novels I'm so fond of.     It does have crime in it, though.   Lots of crime.   
The main thread of the story is about a young black man from Texas who is convicted for the rape and murder of a young white student.   He's left to rot for 9 years, while his lawyer fights to clear his name.    At the very last second, the real killer comes forward and it's a battle against time to submit paperwork and earn a stay of execution for his client.     
The Confession is a very powerful book, focusing on the racial bias and laziness of a Southern small town police force and the dangers of the death penalty.  It had a great twist, which took me by surprise, and also made me very sad at times.   It's simply incomphrensible to me that any type of racism exists because I simply don't understand it.      I'm in a mixed race relationship and it has come as nothing but absolutely stunning to me to hear some of the comments levelled at my partner; both by his own family, in relation to my race, and members of the public, in relation to his.   It never fails to truly disgust me that people judge others by the colour of their skin, their ethnicity of religion.  
The February Challenge: Reading
I read an actual book, not a Kindle one.   Bonus points for me.  
New Music: 
I haven't found any new albums this month, as I'm still far too obsessed with Beyonce's 'Formation' video.   Oh, and that Superbowl Halftime performance.   I like Beyonce in a 'how can that woman be so bloody amazing' kind of way.   I don't own any of her music, though, but, like Madonna, she's just one of those artists that I'm not a particular fan, but I know the words to so many of her songs.        
I was sick from work the day after Superbowl 50 and was on Buzzfeed (it's my source for EVERYTHING) and spotted that she'd dropped a new song on the Saturday.    I flew over to Twitter and had a look at some of the comments and knew I had to see what the fuss was about.    I was far from disappointed.   I can't stop watching the video and I love the whole theme and concept of the video.   I can also see why it's so controversial as there are a lot of sensitivities to race relations and the Black Lives Matter movement, but who better to use her voice to speak on it?   We all voice our opinions all the time and she's no different.    It's just that people listen when Beyonce does it.   
What has been interesting to me is the backlash and the strength of feeling both for and against the song and its video.   As a 38 year old white woman, living in rural North Wales, I don't exactly have my finger on the pulse of US news so, although I followed all the themes in the video and was horrified to learn that people had actually been criticising Beyonce's daughter's afro (who ARE these people and WTF is wrong with them??).  The Superbowl Halftime show sign with 'Justice for Mario' made me google the shooting of a black man in California and educate myself as to what had happened.   
I love the song and the Southern influence of the video, but I love it more for making someone like me, far removed from any of the topics in the track, learn a little bit more about the issues.   If that's not a brilliant way to speak through your music, then I don't know what is.   
The February Challenge: New Music
The glorious colours of New Orleans. 
New TV: 
Due to my early February sickness, I had a few days at home and watched Season 2 of Hinterland.   If you haven't already heard of it, it's a Welsh crime drama (because obviously) and is set in and around the beautiful Aberystwyth area.   Season 1 was originally made in Welsh, but proved so popular that it was redone in English.   And I'm extremely grateful that it was.    
It features a pretty stereotypical troubled male lead detective who is ably assisted by a long suffering female colleague.   Basically, it's a tried and tested format and it works really well.   I love being able to spot the scenery and find new places to explore, much like the buzz I get from watching 'Shetland' on BBC Scotland and shouting out when I see some spot that I've been.   
The February Challenge: Cycling
Exactly like my cycling, expect mine is stationery and done in the spare bedroom. 
I kick started February by being ill for a few days, so exercise for me was just managing to get out of bed and put the kettle on.   I did eat a LOT less during those first few days as the only thing I could face was coconut yoghurt and blueberries (at quite stunning combination, BTW).   I improve towards the middle and end of the month and kept up with my cycling, but running has, once again, taken a back seat.    I suck at this so bad.    

Suzanne x 

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The Travel Bug's Three Fascinating Facts About Swansea

The Travel Bug's 3 Fascinating Facts About Swansea

The Travel Bug is enjoying his new life in Wales since he flew down from Scotland.   He's having a lovely time enjoying his favourite hobbies of eating carne, sleeping and exploring.   This week, he's decided to focus his research on Wales' second largest city, Swansea, in the hope that he'll uncover something so fabulous that his humans will take him there on his next trip. 

Swansea marina
So many boats, so little time.  
  • During the Second World War Blitz, the Luftwaffe unleashed hell on Swansea with the dropping of more than 1,200 bombs and 56,000 IEDs.    They completely destroyed a large portion of the city and killed more than 200 people.    This makes The Travel Bug very sad and he doesn't like fighting.   Except with cats:  he hates cats.    El gate bastardo...
  • The oldest ever Welsh person, who lived until he was more than 112 years old, was from Swansea and The Travel Bug thinks this is quite an achievement.    

  • Swansea has produced some very intelligent people.    The leader of the Large Hadron Collider, Dr Lyn Evans (who has a CBE, no less), and Sir Clive Grainger, who has a Nobel Prize for Economics.    The Travel Bug likes intelligent people, even though his own brain is made of what looks like cotton wool stuffing.  

Do you have any fascinating facts about Swansea to share with The Travel Bug??