Archive | June 2014

A Visit to Wales

The following is taken mostly as I recorded it in my journal. I hope it makes sense!

 

Wales! Wales is so different from England. It is hilly and rocky with trees and sheep. It looks wild and wonderful. Lots of wonderful walking and hiking opportunities.

Where do I start? We stopped in Llangollen (  http://www.new.llangollen.org.uk/) for lunch and a brief look around the town and shops. At the very last minute before boarding the tour bus, I found a quilt shop! So I purchased some fabric with the Welsh flag and another piece with images of London. I hope I can find something from Scotland when we get there so I can make some kind of memory quilt.

We passed through Snowdonia National Park and the scenery was spectacular! Rough terrain, high hills (or mountains), and rocks. Everywhere rocks. I guess a glacier passed through this area eons ago and deposited the rocks. (You can learn more about this stunning place at this link: http://www.eryri-npa.gov.uk/home )

snowdonia

Tonight we go to a home-hosted dinner with a Welsh family in Caernarfon. We are taking a set of corked back wooden coasters from home as a hostess gift.

The Welsh in-home dinner experience…..

The tour company we are traveling with (Grand Circle) has a tradition that somewhere on each trip the traveler will be invited into a local home for a lite meal or a traditional dinner. It’s a wonderful way to meet some local people and find out about their life and culture.

On this trip, our home visit was in the town of Caernarfon, Wales.  http://www.caernarfononline.co.uk/

A friendly Welsh driver took us six of us in a passenger van and delivered us to Bryn Carrog, the home of our hosts for the evening.

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I’ve been on these home hosted visits before and you never know what to expect. Sometimes the hosting family does not speak English, sometimes, the food is of poor or questionable quality, or sometimes it just doesn’t work…for any number of reasons.

So when we were delivered to Bryn Carrog, I held my breath.

We were warmly greeted by our hosts. They were smiling and seemed genuinely happy to greet us to their home. They live in a house that was originally built in the 1860s. The house has been well maintained and updated, with some modern rooms added on. The house and décor matched the owner’s personality perfectly…a very inviting, warm and cozy atmosphere. The house was decorated with cheerful colors, artwork, and other treasures collected from all over Europe. I noticed a lot of hearts, which I think also reflects the personality of the owners.

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What down to earth people! They immediately made us all feel comfortable and at home. They wanted to know about us and how we live as much as we wanted to know about them and their culture. I just loved to hear them talk. They spoke very good English, of course, but it was so charming to hear their Welsh accent and especially the way they roll their ‘rrr’s’.

Let me introduce the family as best I can. The husband and wife have been married for 24 years. He works for the county making sure that the over 150 county buildings are well maintained and secure.

The wife is a fantastic cook, who also has a great ability to make the home warm and welcoming. She works part-time for the local school and tutors a child.

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(Note: The green stuff in the picture above is mashed peas. They were very tasty!)

They have two sons. The 19 year old is studying geography in his first year at the local university. The studies are all done in the Welsh language. He works part time in the local 5-star hotel. The other son is 16 years old and he is a singer. He takes voice lessons and sings in two choirs.

Most years, the family takes a four-week vacation to continental Europe. They have a motor home and enjoy traveling around the various European countries. They are not sure how much longer they will do this, since their sons are old enough to make other plans during vacation season.

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The visit with them is a trip highlight for me! Good food, good conversation, and laughter. And the grand finale was the younger son singing a Welsh folk-song to us. We were captivated by his voice and his willingness to entertain six strangers from the United States.

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What a charming family. What a wonderful evening!

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Of England and Tea

I’ve been remiss in writing about my recent trip to Great Britain. Gone for three weeks, we visited England, Scotland, and Wales. This was our fourth European trip in two years and for me, it was by far the most enjoyable. I will write more posts about what we saw and my thoughts, but this post is about tea!

loose tea background

I’ve never been a coffee drinker. I just never acquired the taste for coffee, although the smell is certainly warm and welcoming. But for taste…ugh. I grew up in Southern California where the need for a hot drink to warm you up just wasn’t necessary. But when I moved to the eastern US and the cold winters, I soon learned that I wanted something to warm me up besides hot chocolate.

So I learned to drink tea. Weak tea. That is where you drop the tea bag in hot water and immediately pull it out again. Barely any color in the water. In fact, sometimes, I would just drink hot water.

A few years ago, a friend introduced me to Chai Tea Lattes at Starbucks. From the first taste, I was hooked. This was no barely colored, weak tea. This was tea with many flavors including peppercorn, cardamom, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and star anise. These spices balance with the milk and a sweetener like sugar, honey or brown sugar, and then strengthened with a strong black tea. It is absolutely delicious and very addictive. Not to mention high in calories.

And so it has been for me for quite awhile. Either the weak tea with a barely dunked tea bag, or the very flavorful chai tea (often made at home with a pre-made syrup).

But that’s all changed. Now I know better.

While in England, we had high tea at a place in York called Betty’s Tea Room. This is how tea is meant to be! A stainless steel teapot for the tea and a second teapot for hot water only, sugar lumps with silver tongs, milk in a cute little pitcher, small cups and saucers, and a tiered plate stand with various scones and clotted cream. I learned how to make tea properly. Just for effect, I stuck my little finger out when I held the small teacup. Ah, yes, this is TEA!

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I collected teabags and loose tea from various stops during our travels in Great Britain. I bought tea bag tongs and a strainer. I bought cute little dishes to put the used tea bags in. I brought home all my goodies and spread them all out in satisfaction. Then I realized that I did not own a TEAPOT! I had gotten rid of it when we moved back to California because it was never used.

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Well, things are different now! I purchased not one, but TWO teapots over the past couple of weeks. One is larger to make several cups, and one is small, just enough for two cups of tea. I have learned to make my tea strong and I brew it in my teapot, using the strainer for the loose tea. I take my tea now with a bit of honey or sugar and I pour my milk from a small pitcher (certainly NOT from the huge milk carton anymore. I’m much too refined for that nowadays!)

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Once I had tea pots, I realized I needed a tea cozy to put over them to help keep the tea nice and hot. I love to sew and so I made one out of some quilted fabric. Actually, I made it out of a quilt that I never quite finished. But don’t tell anyone…if they knew I cut up that quilt to make a tea cozy, they might think I need my head examined.

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It is truly amazing the amount of STUFF you need to make proper tea. But I’ve got it all now. Including some of Oprah’s Chai Tea from Teavana, which is a loose tea. (And by the way, that tea is WAY better than Starbucks!)

Now I go through the morning ritual of boiling a pot of water and then brewing the tea in one of my teapots. I pour it into my cup and flavor it appropriately. I take a sip and say “Ahhh, this is how a cuppa tea is MEANT to be.” And I smile.

Maybe I should invite some people over for a tea party. Mad Hatter, anyone?

mad_hatter_partyBW