2012, WE NEED TO TALK

Every two weeks, another LetsBlogOff topic is introduced and we scamper off to compose our responses. This week the topic is, “What are you looking forward to in 2012?”

First things first.

2011, thank you for the year of recovery. We marked the one year anniversaries of the passing of my father, Bill Rogers, and my friend, Leah Siegel. I appreciate the opportunity to experience the healing process that strengthened other relationships and for the ability to add a little perspective to my life and work. I don’t know that I would have taken the trip to Wales (my first out of the U.S.) if not for the realization that we don’t always have next year or even tomorrow to carry out our plans.

(Thanks, Sandy, for the best trip ever!)

2012 has the potential to deliver big in lots of ways – or to be a complete disaster. We can control our fate to some degree, but some things are outside our power to command. But, hey, a girl can try, right?

So listen up 2012. Here’s what I need you to do for me.

I will be needing a complete and total cure; a clean bill of health – for a child I know. I can’t go into more detail, as the situation is still developing, and it’s not my place to do anything but put the universe on notice. I just know this: It needs to be fixed. Universe – Pick on somebody your own size. Or I will cut you.

Employment. For my husband. It’s been a difficult few years for him in IT/Channel sales, and it’s time to turn things around. Really. He needs to get out of the house. The dog has gotten way too attached to him. And too spoiled. Observe.

Otherwise, 2012, I expect the same thing from you that I do from myself. I am looking forward to new opportunities, a little rejuvenated attitude and more than a small boost of energy.

I plan to continue this blog, which will be a year old in May. It has been fun and therapeutic, and has introduced me to some wonderful people and talented writers. Who knew complete strangers could be so supportive?

There’s also a possible trip to France in 2012 which should rival my Welsh adventures. I look forward to seeing my friends and family more often, and to the complete recovery of my mother’s pelvis. (That sounds as if she lost her pelvis, rather than broke it, doesn’t it?)

I also look forward to never discussing my mother’s pelvis in public again; as I am sure, does she. (It’s healing nicely, by the way.)

Okay, apparently my obsessiveness and paranoia is going to continue in 2012, because now that I am thinking about the trip to France, I look forward to someone loaning me Rosetta Stone – French. Hint-hint.

I think I may be confusing 2012 with Santa Claus.

Au revoir, 2011. Bring it on, 2012.

What is everyone else expecting from 2012? Read on.

Click here:

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VACATION DEFLATION

I’m back.

A 9.5 hour plane ride on “Can you give me LESS space for my legs?” Saturday was followed by “Who am I and what is my name?” Sunday.

My first day back at the office was Monday. Strangely, people seem to expect me to “produce” results of some kind during my hours at the office. Crazy, right? Meanwhile, I keep looking at the clock and wondering – “If I was in Wales, what would I be doing now?” Then, out of nowhere, an email pops up demanding my attention, so I mentally wander back from the rolling hills dotted with little white fluffy sheep and throw myself back into the normal work day. 

My normal work day, sadly, does not involve sheep. Or pints. Or cheese. Or castles.

Sigh.

I DID actually manage to download photos from the trip on Sunday, and was able to identify each castle and ruin AND ruined castle. This buoyed my sense of confidence to a ridiculous degree, but those castles DO start to run together a bit. How was it Adrian (a.k.a. Langland Death March Commander from See Wales Tours) referred to them?

Oh, that’s right.  He called them ABC Tours.  

Another Bloody Castle.

An interesting side note to this whole trip is that when people ask, “Where did you go on vacation?” and I say, “Wales,” they say, “Wales??! Why Wales?”

You should have heard the Londoners’ responses when they discovered we had spent our time anywhere other than their fair city. I’m surprised they even let us stay overnight, considering how we betrayed them with the Welsh. “Wales?? Wales?!!”
(We stayed in London Friday night to see a show and prepare for our Saturday flight out of Heathrow, or as I call it, “The Mall That Thinks it’s an Airport.”)

They took great pains to point out the National Museum and say, “Bloody Wales doesn’t have a museum like THAT.”

“They bloody well don’t!” We agreed hastily and enthusiastically. (Self preservation is strong in those being transported at break neck speed by annoyed but proud taxi drivers.)

I think Wales and England might need to have a little “I’m okay, you’re okay,” discussion. Maybe over a few pints. I’d be happy to act as mediator.

Anything to get me away from email for another 9 days.

WE ARE NOT MOUNTAIN GOATS

See Wales Tours picked us up this morning and we drove with five others, and our guide, Adrian, to Langland where we were let off the bus to take a leisurely 30-40 minute stroll along a paved walkway high above the sea.

And just like in the movies, that’s when it got weird. The walkway was blocked off and labeled “under construction.” A paper sign with a big arrow directed us to climb UP what can best be described as a steep, slightly muddy ski slope, to bypass the construction.

After a brief time of spinning in circles and muttering, “You’ve got to be kidding…” we realized we had no choice, as our van would be waiting for us at the end of the “walk,” and it was too late to turn back.

And so, we cautiously proceeded to climb. And climb. And climb. Every now and then we’d try to glance at the view, which was lovely, but found the terrain required our full attention.

Once we reached a point that was a little less steep, we paused. Sandy pulled out her video recorder to begin a message to our loved ones, (just in case) and catch our breath. Catching our breath was difficult, as I began laughing so hard I was gasping for air and tears were streaming down my face. I’m not sure if it’s Wales, or Sandy, or jet lag, but I have laughed until I cried quite a bit on this trip. When and if we share the video, you’ll hear me in the background, cackling like a lunatic.

During our trek we lamented the fact that until that time, we had grown quite fond of our guide, and had been considering packing him and his lovely lilt in our suitcase when we left.

We reconsidered our opinion as we recalled he HAD mentioned a short bit of the trip would not be paved, and wondered if he POSSIBLY knew about this little detour, and was having a bit of fun.

As we trod along the hilltop, with the sea to our left and… a golf course on our right, dodging potential concussive shots from bad golfers overshooting the greens, we finally found another blasted arrow and knew we were on the right “path.” For awhile, we weren’t sure if we had wandered the wrong way, as none of our companions, except the Canadian women with us, had been spotted ahead or behind.

Sandy and I trudged downhill, and stumbled to a stop beside Adrian’s bench, where he sprawled, comfortably soaking up a few rays.

“THAT was just mean,” I said, starting to laugh again at his puzzled expression, and feeling like a lazy American. Sandy managed to clarify the situation, and when he realized what had happened, I have to give him credit. He dropped to his knees on the concrete, grasping our hands and begging forgiveness. He also looked a little panicked about the fate of the others.

Now, I also must report that we apparently broke with tradition, as Americans NEVER finish the walk first. So, we did accomplish something for the good old USA. (Cue the national anthem.)

The Canadians came in behind us, then the Indians, then the gentleman from somewhere. (Sandy says definitely North American, but we missed specifics.) He had climbed around the barricade, as men tend to do, and been turned back by the workers, so he took a more scenic route.

All in all, it was a great bonding experience. We were out of breath, sweaty, and tired from our leisurely stroll, and we still had several more stops to make for the day.

Walking was wisely kept to a minimum after that.

We saw a 7 thousand year old burial ground, had lunch overlooking Rhossili Bay, then went to a castle that could fit inside the great rooms of the other castles we’ve visited this past week. Still, the descriptions provided by our guide were entertaining and educational. And that LILT! Scrumptious. (No offense, hubby.)

Here are some sheep lounging in the form of a check mark. I’m not sure why, but it just seemed suitable for today. Lost on side of hill? Check. Sheep? Check.

Plus, the drive home to Cardiff was filled with music by Tom Jones, Petula Clark and Shirley Bassey. (Welsh, one and all.)

It was a nice way to end our stay in Wales. Tomorrow, London, where I look forward to seeing a wise-cracking friend, and possibly her equally sharp witted fiancee, before attending a show.

Goodnight, Wales. It’s been fun. Let’s do it again soon.

Just not the whole walking/detour/mountain goat part.

Okay. Here’s the damn “Lost Tour” video. Hubby is not mentioned amongst those we are leaving behind because 1, Sandy was only worried about parents missing us, and 2, I was too hysterical to get much more than one word out. Sandy was in charge of me.

Tour Video.

TIPPING AND TOWERS

Today’s plan went a bit wonky, but we easily caught the train to Caerphilly and toured the castle there. The weather is crazy gorgeous, so there were a few more folks out and about, making photography without people wearing fanny packs in the shots a bit more trying on our patience. We succeeded pretty well, so here are a few shots of Caerphilly. You may notice the giant leaning tower. I had the urge to pose either pushing it over or holding it up, but controlled the urge. (Thank you, Sandy, for giving me THAT LOOK.)

This castle was built mostly for defense, rather than as a royal holding, so it is definitely less glam than others, but it does make one wonder how anyone could get in if you didn’t want them to. Some reproductions of the war engines were also on display. I had a Monty Python moment, imagining cows being hurled at the siege army, but recovered before shouting, “Run away!!”

Instead of traipsing on to Abergavenny, we headed back to Cardiff Bay and the surrounding area for a few trinkets, then settled in for champagne and tea service. Sandy has been drooling for scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, so she is now content.

Aside from a fit of the giggles, we carried it off with some dignity, and no injuries. Why they kept playing Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia” is anyone’s guess. That, and “Me and Mrs. Jones” were on quite an impressive loop.

Also, not to be an uncouth American, BUT, we seem to be dining in France these days, as achieving the check for the meal takes longer than the meal itself. (And we are taking our time at it.)

The staff is lovely, so I do hate throwing myself in front of them to beg for the check, even though we’ve told them we have finished. Hours ago.

I believe I explained we’re only here a couple more days, so we’d like to do more in that time than stare at empty plates and glasses. They are so sweet, though, with their, “loves” and “lovies,” I forgive them immediately.

Meanwhile, despite reports of tips not being expected for cabs, pubs, etc., Sandy is single-handedly determined to tip everyone with whom we come in contact. Cabbies are stunned and grateful, bartenders are bemused, and wait staff blush discreetly. She’s told several young men to “Have one for yourself,” which has been well received. One added on a whopping 1.75 for what must be the cheapest ale in the place.

I am afraid they will all be quite downhearted to see us go.

Tomorrow we visit the coast. Gower, Swansea, Mumbles (how cute is that?) and Rhossili via See Wales Tours. (I always think “Sea Whales” when we say it.)

This is going to require that we wake up and actually get ready on time. (Which has been challenging. We like sleep.)

Since the temperature seems to be hovering near the 80s, we are definitely overdressed for the beach. Pack coats and long sleeves for the 50s, you get a warming trend. “That’s the way baseball go.”

Until tomorrow, then! Or as I like to call it, “When we finally get the check.”

FROM MAX TO MAXIMUS

Good news! We went to bed an hour earlier last night.

Bad news! We got up an hour earlier to get in a cab from the hotel to the station, to catch the train to Newport, to catch the bus to Raglan. Once in Raglan, we walked and walked, and found the dirt road that led to the castle. And some cows. Say hello to my little friends.

The “incident”of the day, in which we are reminded we sound like hicks, occurred just after this picture. A car pulled up and a woman with a lilting British accent asked if we were locals. Sandy answered, “Unfortunately, not, no.” The woman’s eyes got big and she exclaimed, “Oh, no…no…” as if it had been made abundantly clear with those few words. They drove on. Sandy turned to me and said, “Really?”

“Nails on a chalkboard to them.” I said. “Definitely lacking in sing-songy quality. Although I, for one, adore you.”

Our excitement returned as we approached our destination. Sandy is attached to this particular castle due to her love of the show, Merlin. Apparently they shoot at Raglan on occasion.

Here’s the view upon arrival.

Now, THAT’s a castle. Once inside, we were speaking in hushed tones as we wandered about snapping pictures. The silence was suddenly broken by a little boy with a sense of the dramatic as we heard him call out in his best Gandolf voice, “YOU. SHALL. NOT. PASS!”

Max was his name. We know this because his mother called it repeatedly – perhaps several dozen times, trying to slow him down, or locate him. I believe Max made it up and down the first spiral staircase about four times by the time we’d made it up once.

We were snapping more photos from the top of a tower when we heard him explaining, “If you fell from here, you’d go SPLAT.”

Thank you, Max. I never would have thought of that.

From Raglan, we walked back to the bus to head toward our base camp in Cardiff, but stopped at Caerleon to see the Roman ruins. We visited the museum, the baths, then the amphitheater and barracks.

We actually ate today, which was novel, and had great fun with all our various bus drivers, who were extremely helpful.

Also, we were the youngest people on the bus by at least 30 years, which made us feel quite jaunty.

Tomorrow, Caerphilly and possibly Carmarthen or Abergavenny, again, on our own. Thursday is the official tour day, so all we have to do is make it to the bus and let others worry about getting us where we are supposed to be.

The good thing about going around at this time of year, and without a group, has been the lack of others at the sites. Castle and ruin pictures look so much better without tourists rambling about in them.

Cheers! (See, I’m getting this lingo business down.)

Say goodnight, Max.

“YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

Shut up, Max.

MY LEGS (AND FEET) ARE IN RUINS

Today, we slept in a bit and Sandy, our navigational expert, studied maps and trains and bus schedules so we could find Chepstow Castle and Tintern Abbey.

Here’s the decision of the day: I refuse to visit any other towns built on hills as steep as any you find in San Francisco. Plus, the so-called sidewalk was just wide enough to make you feel as though even if hugging the building on your left, you were sure to get clipped in the back of the head by a truck’s side mirror.

We walked approximately 100 miles, according to the non-existent muscles in my legs.

Chepstow Castle was amazing. Some portions as old as the 11th century, and at one time William Marshall lived there.

Beware spiral staircases. These people obviously had feet the size of a small child’s, because climbing up and down was a bit nerve-wracking, as we wedged our feet sideways to gain a foothold that felt even tolerably solid.

To my dismay, I had no ghostly visions, no invisible hands tried to shove me downstairs, and nothing moved in the shadows. Perhaps they realized I was too fragile to mess with today.

A friendly bus driver teased us as we headed to Tintern Abbey, asking why we wanted to see an old building with no roof. I also had the surreal experience of reading this roadside sign (stolen from the internet, as I was too busy trying to comprehend the warning to snap a photo of my very own.)

So, I guess in the US, we are blissfully unaware of this badger situation in Wales.

Despite missing its roof, the Abbey is gorgeous. The bones are majestic, if a bit forlorn. At one time, the Abbey hummed along with the daily rituals of the religious brethren. The sanctuary was beautiful, and had as a benefactor the owner of the castle at Chepstow.

When I could no longer stand, (seriously) we found our fish & chips meal at Simpson’s and ate on a bench in Chepstow. I thought it would take dynamite to get me moving again, but it only took the promise of the hotel bar.

Sandy is plotting our course for tomorrow, and I believe I will be bedding down WAY before midnight tonight, or I may not make it.

The favorite word of today, was “Ta!” as uttered by our poor bus driver who made the mistake of thinking we knew which side of the street to wait upon his return. You should have seen his face as he passed us by, then stopped and reversed so we could cross to the correct side of the road and climb aboard. I think he may have been pleased to not feel responsible for us anymore. Thus, the “Ta!” as we alighted. I think he “peeled out” too, if a bus can be said to “peel out.”

Getting around is not as difficult as it must be for tourists in the States. Between the trains and buses, it’s really quite simple – if you have a Sandy to direct you and do the research. Just don’t expect her to feed you regularly.

A note to my hubby: Thank you for encouraging me to do this.

And again, much better pictures are available via Sandy. I’ll eventually get them posted upon my return.

A CASTLE FULL OF CHEESE

As I begin this post, I am on the terrace deck at the hotel, sipping a Chardonnay and thrilling to the fact I am off my feet. We arrived at the infamous Cheese Festival around 11:00 AM. A drizzling rain was falling, which allowed me to wear Sandra’s fabulous rain cloak with hood. I felt very dramatic as we walked the Cardiff Castle grounds, cloak billowing in the breeze. We were one of the few who braved the weather, and were greeted immediately by a young man at the cheese tossing area who asked where we were from. Apparently Sandy’s “Hello!” was a dead giveaway that we are not locals. He tried to entice us to toss a large block of cheese to each other. This is performed by one person taking a giant step backward after each successful toss and catch, and repeating the process. Luckily, we had enough sense about us to refuse on the grounds we were each afraid our competitive natures would lead us to potentially render the other unconscious or with a broken nose from an overexhuberant toss.
We did watch others, though…

Cheese Tossing.

The jokes of the day? “Stay Stilton!!” and “I Camembert the pressure.” (Jokes courtesy of the cheese toss referee.) Got complaints? Talk to him.

We visited the museum, then purchased our tickets for the castle tour. Premium, baby. Your own tour guide and all. He was a charming older gentleman who could climb the 51 steps to the chamber level of the castle far easier than I. Sandy has taken some great pictures, again, but I took a few with my phone. Items of interest? The castle had central heat in the late 1800s. And, it is still working today.

 

These were taken in the dining hall. Princess Diana, Prince Charles, and Nelson Mandela have all dined in this room.

We also climbed to the keep, which was amazing, and spotted the peregrine falcon perches in the distance. Note to self: add “Falcon” to Christmas list this year.

The Keep.

And of course, what’s a Cheese Festival without cheese? It’s just a festival, that’s what.

We sampled cheese until we couldn’t stand it anymore. I had visions of trying to sneak a ten pound block of cheese on the plane in a baby blanket, like the episode of I Love Lucy, when Lucy and Ethel have to try to eat the entire cheese before they get charged for another ticket.

We resisted the urge. However, we will be googling and ordering cheese upon our arrival back home.

A couple of bands played as well, but our favorite was the Severed Limbs. (I am not making that up.)

The sun came out this afternoon and everyone lit up with smiles. It was warm and absolutely perfect. Apparently we have brought some Texas warmth here, and temps are expected to continue into the mid and even upper 20s C.
Gorgeous. Now, I will have nothing to wear.

Tonight, we enjoyed a steak, red wine and bacon pie at a nearby pub. Tomorrow,we attempt to be our own tour guides and find some ruins to visit. Caerleon, here we come!

CRUISING CARDIFF

Bad news last night:  Our tour of Romans & Ruins was canceled. We will regroup and arrange to see those places on our own now.  Plan B was to attend the Cheese Festival. We decided to skip to the previously non-existent Plan C, due to the chance of rain today. Plan C turned out to be AWESOME. And by awesome I mean it involved more yummy food, a pint, and a freezing cold and windy ride across the viaduct which resulted in that panicky kind of hysterical laughter that happens when you think you are going to turn to ice and break into a million pieces.  Sigh. Good times.

First, we walked over to Cardiff Castle, where we realized we better be on queue first thing in the morning, as the Cheesefest is POPULAR.

There, we boarded a tour bus headed for interesting sights around Cardiff.

Click HERE for Sandy’s intro.

It was a hop on-hop off type tour, so we did just so at the Millennium Centre. Sandy took a jillion pictures, which is great, because I took approximately 6. With my phone. I figure hers are better because 1, they were taken with a REAL camera, and 2, it’s impossible to be a worse photographer than I.

We wandered about Cardiff Bay, where we found a carousel…

Please click CAROUSEL to view the Cardiff Bay video.

Lunch was rarebit – bread, cheese with ale sauce, plus a pint at Brains.

We walked around Millennium Centre’s gift shop where I came perilously close to purchasing this book. Warning: Best title EVER.

Then, we visited Cathays Park where we saw some amazing wildlife. Making no sudden movements while stealthily tracking them, Sandy was able to snap this pic of the seldom seen “Flamboyant Trio.” (Or as Sandy calls them, Harry Potter gone bad.)

We ate a subdued dinner since we were – Whoop whoop! It’s the word of the day: KNACKERED.  (Very tired, exhausted.)

However, I was not too knackered to try for a quick photo of one of the lovely freshers strolling (stumbling) around in the rain. However, it is not as easy as one might think to look “not guilty” while trying to take a photo with which to mock someone. So, this was the best I could get tonight. I have a few more nights to try again.

Tomorrow, the Cheese Fest. Really. That is Plan A, B and C. Stay tuned. EyeonWales tells us it’s brilliant, and we can’t wait!

OMG! There’s cheese tossing!

PLANES, TRAINS AND WELSH HOOCHIES

We have arrived! Hello, Cardiff!

Most of the plane awakened around 5:30 AM in preparation for landing at 6:30. Sandy and I stumbled off and somehow made our way through customs without incident. We then found the Heathrow Express (not to be confused with the Hogwarts Express) and arrived at Paddington Station. There, we began our vacation officially with a delicious traditional pasty. (Beef, potato, onion and swede, a.k.a. turnip, in a yummy, flaky crust.)

Afterward, we wandered over to Plat 9 to board the Swansea train that would take us to Cardiff. At this point, I was operating on 3 hours sleep and Sandy had just a little more. We were foggy, disoriented, and worried about being where we are supposed to be. At the same time, we felt pretty pleased that no major catastrophes had occurred. We had our luggage, our limbs, and a pasty and chips under our belts. For our introduction to Paddington, click here:

Sandy and Ann at the station.

Here we are on the train. You know that statement about being so tired your eyes are crossing? That was really happening if I sat still for more than a minute. So we had to amuse ourselves with more photos.

We DID end up with the best cabby ever and arrived at our hotel to see a lovely room waiting for us. It looks like this. Ignore that it appears to be one large bed. It is, in fact, two beds we are rolling apart lest we kick each other to death as we run after trains in our sleep.

We went to a nice dinner this evening, but noticed something strange. There appeared to be a hooker convention in town. Young women teetering around in high heels on cobblestone streets, yanking at the hems of their “dresses” so as to keep their most private parts covered. Barely. The concierge informed us the young ladies are in fact “Freshers” beginning school at Cardiff University. Apparently the first few weeks are taken up with sowing a few wild oats. Rest assured we will deliver some of these fashion disasters to you tomorrow.

Now, we are going to bed. Say goodnight, Sandy.

Good night all!

THERE’S NO WALES WITHOUT A LITTLE PAIN

I am writing this at 3:00 AM. I’d like to say to those who told me international flights have more room – even in coach, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”

As we rocket across the “pond” I am reminded of…camping. My ex husband, God rest his soul, loved camping. And I was young enough and dumb enough to go along. (He’s not dead, by the way, but I always wanted to kill him after our camping trips, and it’s 3:00 AM. And I’m loopy.)

Anyway, we’d go camping and I’d lie there trying to sleep, feelinG some stray rock lodged right under my shoulder-blade. I’d toss and turn, praying for dawn when we could get the “duck” out of there.

After what seemed like eons of torture, I would open my eyes and think, SURELY, SURELY, at least 4 hours have passed, but NO. I had slept twenty minutes. 20. Minutes. I’d say to myself, “Gee, only 7 more hours of this hell to go.” And “Maybe a divorce really isn’t that terrible a thing…”

That’s what this is like. My knees are smashed into the seat in front of me. I have slept twice, twisted sideways and contorted into a position I dare Cirque du Soleil to match, and awakened both times to neck pain.

I am pleased with the As Seen On TV travel pillow, though. Without it, I think I would be a very unhappy camper. (Hubby got one out of two right. Pajama Jeans-no. Crazy round donut of a travel pillow-yes.)

I know Wales is going to be a blast. I just hope I can keep my eyes open to enjoy it. Not sure what to do for next 3 hours of flight. I already had 2 glasses of wine and half a Valium. If I DO manage to sleep, I’d like to be able to wake up and be functional. Eventually.

Hopefully, all my tossing and turning hasn’t disturbed Sandy. She’s managed to create a nest in the corner against the window. She looks so peaceful.

I hate her. But I’ll get over it.

At least one of us will be sharp enough to negotiate our way to Paddington station. Sandy promises me a shop there with bacon and cheese pasties. I can overcome my jealousy of her sleep skills – and pretty much wipe away this whole 9 hour torture fest – if there’s bacon and cheese involved.

Not sure when I will be able to post this, as wi-fi availability is undetermined as of yet. I’m sure by the time you are reading this, I will be in a much happier place, both mentally and physically. But at this point, as I complete this post, I know you people are sleeping too, and I hate you all.

Love,
Ann