Monday, 28 March 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??

Sunday, 27 March 2016

NEW Caffi Castell Tapas Bar, 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...

Suz x 

Saturday, 26 March 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 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Brain vs. Body: Going For A Run

I'm 5ft 3inches tall and a size 10.  I generally go from feeling slim and ok to feeling completely gross and overweight.   These feelings very much depend on my mood and often revolve around what I've eaten in comparison to how lazy I've been.

I have days where my diet is excellent and other days where you'd swear I thought shopping in Iceland and subsisting on crisps and wine was a worthy life goal.  I am nothing if not consistently inconsistent.

I'm my own worst enemy and the fighting that goes on between my head and my body often makes me wonder if I have a split personality.  I WANT to work out and be all slim and fit in all my clothes, but I also want to sit on my backside, drinking wine and eating ALL the snacks.  Fat, lazy snack girl is stronger than thin, motivated, healthy eating girl. She sometimes squishes TMHEG so badly, she can't get up for actual days.

Brain Vs. Body: Going For A Run
This is an excerpt of the conversation between my brain and my body every time I consider working out:


Brain: it's going to be a long day.  Pack your running gear in the car, get changed in the office and head for a jog before you get home. You are, after all, a lazy cow and once you unlock that front door, we both know you ain't doing no exercise.

Body:  (in morning):  Yaaaas!  Get through the day, run off the stress with a good run to your favourite tunes and then collapse on the sofa for a well deserved rest!  Excellent: let's DO this!

Body (at 3pm): *yawning*  I'm so sleepy, work is crazy today.   Wait, is that a headache I feel?? Where is that pain coming from?  Is it my back?  Should I be resting?

Body (at 4pm):  pain seems to have gone, but it's raining now.   No one can run in the rain....  You don't want to catch a cold. And besides, it still is kinda dark around 5:30pm and you'll have to run on the road and stuff.

Body (at 5pm):  Go home and exercise on the fixie tonight and then pick up your running tomorrow. What difference does it make?  You're still working out, plus you won't get drenched or worry about fading light or cars mowing you down.   Get home, get changed and get on that bike!

Body (6pm):  *lying on couch in front of Making a Murderer*.  

Repeat until Thursday night.


Brain (11am): you lazy, lazy bitch.  WTAF is wrong with you that you can't even find half an hour a day to run 3 measly little miles?? You're a disgrace.  No wonder you're fat! You eat like a horse and sit around, blogging all night and behind a desk all day.  What did you expect??

Body (3pm:):  OK, let's make up for the failings of the week by starting the weekend off right! It's 30 mins, it'll make me feel great and you will absolutely look all glamorous and fit, like Clarice Starling in the opening scenes of The Silence of the Lambs.

Body (6pm): *lying on couch searching Netflix for The Silence of the Lambs*


Brain: OK, it's nearly a new week!   Let's do it right next week and you'll feel SOOOO much better for it. 

Body:  *goes back to bed*

Am I the only person that has these crazy internal conversations??

Suz x