Friday, August 22, 2014

Cardiff, Wales - August 9-10, 2014

Cardiff Castle, Wales
We took the train west to Wales early Saturday morning, our first rail ride together since our move to the UK. After arriving in the capital city of Cardiff at 10 a.m, we checked into our hotel then crossed the street to tour the city’s most famous landmark, Cardiff Castle. 
After the Romans abandoned their castle post in the 4th century, the grounds lay dormant for 700 years. Then shortly after the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Normans moved westward toward Wales and, recognizing the strategic location of Cardiff, built a wooden keep on top of the center hill. Years later the structure was replaced with the stone keep that stands today. 

Handmade Welsh cakes
Cardiff came into its own during the Victorian era when Wales' vast supply of coal was mined and shipped from Cardiff Bay buttressing the Industrial Revolution throughout the empire. Today, downtown Cardiff is a hubbub of shops and restaurants with covered arcades offering quaint diversions off the main roads. While most arcades are a labyrinth of small shops, one is primarily food vendors, including a stall where buttery oat Welsh cakes are rolled, cut, then browned on a hot griddle. The aroma is sin itself.

Lunch consisted of two local favorites: Welsh Rarebit for me and Glamorgan Sausages for Rex. These meatless sausages were a delicious blend of leeks and cheese lightly fried in a bread coating. My rarebit was toast with a creamy cheddar cheese and Worcestershire sauce that reminded me of a dish I make called Tennessee Sin. It’s possible that 19th century Welsh coal mining families who immigrated to West Virginia and Tennessee brought the basic recipe them. The flavors then took root and morphed over the years into the dish my family knows today. 

Dragon sightings are common throughout the city.
Cardiff is a well-woven blanket of its own history, incorporating new architecture like the Millennium Stadium alongside 2000 year old castle. And regardless of English influence,  it never let go of its Welsh roots. Street signs, billboards and tourist brochures are in both Welsh and English - there are even Welsh TV programs. And you'd have to be blind, drunk, or both to miss the pride in their fabled dragon. Depictions of it are everywhere. 

A short but sweet visit, our trip to Wales was a great way to get our train legs. If time permits, we'd like to return and see more of the countryside - preferably the land so beautifully described in one of our favorite books, Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley.

For more pictures of our trip to Cardiff, click here.

It’s the little things . . .

Some candy machines in Cardiff come equipped with little bags to stash the sweets. That's gotta make a lot of parents happy.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Living In the UK

Local building in Reading, UK
After more than 20 years living in Virginia, Rex and I sold our house, pulled up stakes and headed across the pond to England. We’ve settled in Reading (rhymes with bedding) about 35 miles west of London, home to the historic Reading Abbey and such entertainment greats as Ricky Gervais and Kate Winslet. So far, I’ve only seen the Abbey.

Our flat has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and balconies off both the kitchen and living room. Appliances include a gas stove (huzzah!), dishwasher, a compact refrigerator/freezer, and a washing machine that doubles as the clothes dryer (what?). Our household goods won’t arrive until mid-September so in the meantime, we’re equipped with rental furniture, linens and dishes. 

Red poppies commemorating WWI
August 4th marked the 100 year anniversary of the British Commonwealth entering WWI and it was commemorated throughout the UK with services, readings, and thousands of red poppies. I attended a lovely service at Reading Minster’s St. Mary-the-Virgin, a beautiful church over 1,000 years old, where they incorporated traditional Catholic stations of the cross with excerpts from letters to and from soldiers of the Great War. Very moving.   

We’re within walking distance of a lively town center -- albeit that walking distance is over a mile.  Since I don’t have my cooking utensils yet we’ve taken advantage of local cuisine from around the empire. So far, we’ve dined on Italian, Indian, Moroccan, English, and French fare. In the middle of the town center is The Oracle, a shopping mall with over 80 stores, plus more than a dozen restaurants along the River Kennet just outside the mall. So whenever I need a little retail therapy, I consult the Oracle.

The Oracle Mall
So far, there haven’t been any major setbacks. We now have cable TV, internet, WiFi and a LAN line phone hooked up. We figured out the hot water system and I’m comfortable doing laundry with just the one machine. All is beginning to fall into place – although I managed to set off the smoke alarm when I broiled some lamb patties from the local Tesco supermarket. No big deal but it scared a few drops out of me. 

  For more pictures of our first impressions of Reading, click here.


It’s The Little Things . . . 

I knew the outlets here accommodated plugs of a different shape, but I didn’t know the outlets would each have an on-off switch. Clever energy saver, that.