Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Glamping Along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Sunday, September 1st, 2019

About three months ago we returned from a ten day camping trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway, not forgetting the additional sixty miles of Skyland Drive. When my wife reserved the camp sites, one definite requirement was the provision of showers. Surprisingly this necessity greatly reduced the number of campsites that provided this necessary facility. She managed to find three sites that would coincide with our itinerary, but even then the quality of the campsite varied considerably as the following notes will confirm:

Pigsah Camp Site: rest rooms were very basic. Wearing flip flops in the shower is a necessity. Individual  tent sites were too close together. It did provide a food storage bin. The Pigsah Inn was just across the road, and we enjoyed a very palatable meal there one evening.

Julian Price: Camp site was situated overlooking a lake, and definitely the best location during our trip. However, it had no provision for food storage. One piece of good fortune was the discovery of brand new showers and a gigantic stainless sink to wash dishes.

Sherando Lake: Best camp site in terms of space, privacy, outdoor furniture, and food storage. Unfortunately the rest rooms were disgusting. I guess you can’t have everything.

I make no apologies for this blog. It’s not for you if you have no interest in camping. It’s basically a review of our trip and maybe a useful guide for any readers following in our foot steps. Moving on:

Day 1, Friday May 17th

Mt. Pisgah Campground. Met our friends Tom and Bonnie @ Mt Pisgah Inn-whole trout which was filleted at the table. Noisy neighbors from South Carolina @ campground. Highest elevation @ 6000 feet. We were enjoying the idyllic scenery at one of the many overlooks when we were invaded by a car club!!! Final impression of the campground was being surrounded by  Wailers and cacklers and dealing with a broken concrete table.

Day 2 Saturday

Hiking Graveyard Fields, Upper Falls, Devil’s Courthouse. Theresa attempted to make friends with a Four Inch grasshopper in the ladies shower, but her screams reverberating around the camp site confirmed it was not a successful liaison. Built a fire courtesy of Tom’s wood, cooked brats. In that mountain greenery where God paints the scenery….. Views of rolling hills as the eye can see. Spectacular.

Day 3, Sunday

Visited Tom and Bonnie on our way to next campsite. Popped in at Crabtree Falls-insufficient time to explore. Marker for next time. Stopped at Linville Falls. Orange Moon over Julian Price Lake. Quieter clientele thankfully.

Day 4, Monday

Linville Falls leading to Chimney View and Upper Falls. Picnic at Linville Picnic Area. Cone/Flat Manor was a tedious looking building devoid of any character. Even more tedious was the gift shop. I was quite taken by a wooden bowl until I was informed by a snobby sales assistant that I would have to part with $350 to take it home. Missed Grandfather Mountain hike, but drove across Lincove Viaduct.

Day 5, Tuesday

No hiking today. Drove to Blowing Rock for lunch. Attractive little town not far off the Parkway, suffused with antique and craft stores. Adequate number of bars and restaurants to cater for all tastes. Ate at the Sixpence Pub which has a sister pub of the same name in Savannah. Continued onto Boone which is dominated by Appalachian State University. Bit of a tip really.

Day 6, Wednesday

Breaking camp, welcomed by a cool foggy start to the day. Visited Mabry Mill which was very photogenic. Re-enactment Exhibit at Explore Park closed in 2007 in case your guide book is old like ours. Explore Park has nothing else to offer.

Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia is not as mountainous as North Carolina. Attractive vistas but not as dramatic  at NC. Taking a break from camping, and stayed one night at Peaks Of Otter Lodge. Look out for 3 mountain peaks: Sharp Top (4000 feet,) Flat Top and Harkening Hill. Lodge and adjoining Abbott Lake constructed and opened in 1964. Satisfied our purpose, but I wouldn’t stay longer than one night.

Day 7, Thursday

Said our farewell to the Lodge and visited the James River. Why not? Discovered an historic sluice (1851.) Next stop: Natural Bridge and discovered a dead tree that survived until 1980-1600 years old. Arrived at Sherando Lake Campsite. Best campsite pound for pound. Wildlife spotted so far; turkey, fox, deer and black snake.

Day 8, Friday

Hiked up Humpback Rocks, 700 foot rise in elevation from bottom to top in one mile. Met a brother and sister from Richmond. He had just graduated, and was leaving for Togo for 27 months. Why would anyone elect to spend 27 months in Togo?

Lunch at Blue Mountain Brewery. Found a Kroger in Waynesboro which was its only saving grace.

Day 9, Saturday

Drive to Skyland Lodge, and entered the Shenedoah National Park. Experienced our “first bear jam.” Transition from being in virual wild to noisy civilization can only be described as shock to the system. Sky Lodge: room fine, views great, food and service sucked. Clearly understaffed for Memorial Day Weekend, so service was abysmal and food was deplorable.

Day 10, Sunday

We enjoy a challenge, so we decided to drive the 600 miles home. End of a great adventure.



Jackson Hole Here We Come……….Eventually!!!

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

The few readers of my blog may recall my dissatisfaction with American Airlines when we flew to New Mexico in September. Nevertheless, my wife was determined to use up the remainder of her sky miles as a gold member and fly to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a romp in the snow.

A few Sundays ago (20th January 2019) we were scheduled to leave Atlanta on an 8.00am flight for Jackson Hole via Dallas. We were  mindful of the effect that the Government shut down was having on TSA security agents at some airports, so we rose at 4am to leave at 5am for the airport. By 5.40am we were making our way through security with very little obstruction.

However, upon arrival at our gate we quickly read the sign hovering over our heads: “Flight Departure delayed until The clock ticked slowly towards the appointed hour when the public address system announced that we were waiting the arrival of another flight attendant from an incoming plane, and we would be boarding shortly. It concluded by saying: “Thank you for your patience.” This was a phrase that would resonate with us for the remainder of the day.

We finally left at 9.40am which meant that our window of opportunity to catch our connecting flight in Dallas was severely reduced. We eventually landed at Dallas which left us with very little time to catch our connection to Jackson. To make matters worse, it was the only flight of the day on American Airlines. The flight attendants made no attempt to phone our connecting flight,  but  made a cursory request for passengers on our flight to remain in their seats to allow the hapless few like ourselves  to make an attempt to catch the  connecting flight. Needless to say nobody complied with that request and we wasted precious minutes attempting to leave the plane.

We finally made it onto the concourse and my wife approached an airport employee who was leaning on a wheelchair. I’m not sure what words were exchanged between them, but he offered to push her in the wheel chair from Concourse A to Concourse C where we were attempting to catch our connection. Apparently she told the guy she was fitter and younger than her husband and they both beckoned me to take a seat in the wheelchair. I thought why not? My suitcase was placed underneath the seat and we set off at great speed through the airport. We took an elevator up a couple of floors to the airport train. I was  wheeled onto the train which departed for Concourse C, and  eventually arrived at our gate. To no great surprise the plane had departed.

I stepped out of the wheelchair and the pusher stood expectantly in front of me waiting for a tip. My initial reaction was  not to tip him because our great dash through one of America’s biggest airports had failed. The pusher hovered over me for what appeared to be an interminable time. I finally addressed him, and said: ” I’m afraid I only have a $20 bill.” He replied in a gruff, assertive tone: ” I have change. How much do you want to give?” I said: ” Give me $15 back.” He grudgingly gave me my change and disappeared into the madding crowd.

We trudged slowly to the customer service counter to explain our plight. We were resigning ourselves to spending the night in Dallas courtesy of my favorite airline when lo and behold we came across an American employee who was actually competent. She hit the keyboards on her computer for several minutes and announced: : “I have booked you on a United Airlines flight to Denver, and subsequently onto a connecting flight to Jackson Hole. Thank you for your patience and enjoy the rest of your day.” We landed at Jackson Airport twelve hours after we left Atlanta, bemused, bedraggled, but unbroken.

I wondered whether our checked bag would make the trip to Jackson Hole considering we had switched airlines not to mention two connections. My wife told me to have faith in the airlines’ computer systems, and within a few minutes of standing by the carousel our bag cruised around the corner into my welcoming arms. The vacation in the snow was thankfully back on track.


Our 25th Wedding Anniversary at the Big Sur

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

This post is somewhat at odds with the chronological order of recent entries, but I am the owner and editor of this blog, and therefore I can do what I damn well please.

In June my wife and I celebrated our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Not bad for two middle-aged divorcees. We spent part of our honeymoon at the Big Sur in California, and what better place to celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary. Big Sur is situated on Highway 1 which is arguably the most picturesque drive in America. Moving onto our itinerary:

Friday: Flew to San Jose after surviving a grungy flight attendant. Rented a car and drove to Embassy Suites, Monterey. Had lunch at the Sand Bar Grill near the harbor where we enjoyed “she crab” soup.

Saturday: Visited the famous Cannery Row in Monterey which was a touch on the cheesy side. Fisherman’s Wharf was likewise. My wife had raved about the Monterey Aquarium, but it’s not a patch on the Atlanta Aquarium. Our first hour was relatively  quiet, but it wasn’t long before we were overrun by hordes of screaming kids.

Sunday: Drove to Big Sur, stopping on the way to undertake the 17 mile Pebble Beach Golf tour. I marveled at the golf courses and oceanic scenery the first time I did the tour, but it was a little underwhelming this time and dominated by too many tourists. Why do Orientals assume they can invade your personal space to take a photograph?

We finally arrived at the Deetjens Big Sur Inn which was to be our accommodation for our stay. In the early 1930s, Helmuth Deetjen, a Norwegian immigrant, purchased 120 acres of land in Castro Canyon and began building a homestead. Before Highway One was completed in 1937, Castro Canyon was a traditional stopover for travelers making their way along the coastal wagon road. The Deetjens welcomed overnight guests, and the Big Sur Inn was born. Over the years Deetjen built Norwegian-style rooms and gave each them a name: we stayed at the cosey Castro Cabin with no WI-FI, no cell phone service  and no TV or radio. It was surreal yet magical. All work was done by Deetjen and friends using locally milled , scavenged redwood.

The Inn exists today because, when Deetjen died in 1972, he left the Inn “to be forever enjoyed by transient guests wanting to experience the peace, friendship, and beauty of this place.” The Inn is a registered National Historic Site. We had dinner at Deetjen’s restaurant and enjoyed a fabulous steak.

Monday: had brunch at Nepenthe where the views from the terrace offer outstanding ocean vistas. Just down the road we visited the Henry Miller Library, author of “Tropic of Cancer.”

Tuesday: We made it to our 25th Anniversary. Drove to Gorda to enjoy all the magnificent scenery that Highway One had to offer. We had our Anniversary dinner at Deetjens, and I was so entranced by my beautiful bride, I can’t remember what I ordered. I know we each had a glass of champagne to celebrate, but it was all a blur after that.

Wednesday: we  decided to take the Big Sur Lighthouse Tour which proved to be very informative and entertaining. The contrast in temperature between the top of the hill where the lighthouse was perched and sea level was incredible. Lunch was partaken at the River Inn which served very tasty baby back ribs.

Thursday: no trip to the Big Sur is complete unless you visit Pfeiffer Big Sur Beach. The shape of the cliffs and archways eroded away by on rushing waves is spectacular. We enjoyed another drive along Highway One, and stopped to have a pleasant lunch at Lucia Bar and Grill. The Henry Miller Library whetted our appetite for a little more culture, and we attended the International Short Film Screening Event.  It was tantamount to stepping back to the Sixties. Hippies, the unwashed and pot smokers were in full attendance strewn around the outdoor theatre facility enjoying the ambience.

Friday: it was unfortunately back to reality as we bade farewell to Deetjens and the Big Sur, and drove to San Jose in readiness to fly home to Atlanta the following day. We walked around San Jose for a while before returning to our minimalist and sterile hotel.  It’s a very disappointing  city with little character to speak of save for a profusion of electric bikes attempting to maim or injure innocent pedestrians. Note to whom it may concern: electric bikes traveling as 15 miles an hour cannot safely share the sidewalk with pedestrians. To paraphrase Ron White: “You can’t fix stupid!!!”

Saturday: Homeward bound. A very enjoyable and memorable trip which enhanced our 25th Wedding Anniversary.


New Mexico-Land of Enchantment

Thursday, October 11th, 2018


Following stays at  5 hotels, 4 flights (including 2 connections) and 1 rental car we completed our wonderful trip to the Land of Enchantment.

“Tell me Dave, what were the high and lows of your trip?”

“Well thankfully, Sam, the highs outnumbered the negative connotations”

“Can you expand on that theme for your readers, Dave?’

“Certainly Sam, I’ll be glad to.”

Best breakfast: Hotel Garden Inn, Albuquerque (ABQ.) It was the only hotel on our schedule which had waitress service. Best lunch: a food truck situated to the rear of a bar in Las Cruces. Best dinner: sizzling beef fajitas served at an authentic Mexican restaurant, “La Posta de Milla” in the historic town of Mesilla minutes from our hotel in Las Cruces. Best dessert: a green chile sundae topped with pecans which was original and delicious from Caliche’s Frozen Custard.

Best shower: Hampton Inn, Las Cruces. It was walk-in shower and very spacious. Most comfortable bed: Hampton Inn, Ruidoso.

Worst night’s sleep: Hampton Inn, Carlsbad. The second floor of the hotel was being remodeled, a construction worker was prowling the corridor outside our room at 4.30am coughing his lungs out while a nearby store alarm joined in for good measure.

Best landscape: The Valley of the Fires is the youngest lava flow in the continental US and is located about 3 miles west of Carrizozo. It measures about 3 miles wide and 20 feet long, and suddenly appeared out of context with the surrounding desert on Highway 380.

Worst nightmare: Unquestionably flying with American Airlines. Our plane was delayed leaving Atlanta. We were not given any snacks or drinks during our three hour flight. On our arrival at Dallas we were informed we had 10 minutes to catch our connection. There was nobody at the desk when we arrived at the gate, and an employee ignored our pleas to open the door at the gate, so we could catch the plane. Luckily a gate attendant standing at the plane’s door saw my wife frantically waving her arms  to attract her attention. She mercifully returned and opened the door and told us to run down to the plane as they were just about to close the door to the main cabin. They must have known there were passengers attempting to make the connecting flight, but made no attempt to accommodate us until we took matters into our own hands.

Most spectacular experience: There are two candidates for this category both of which can be considered two of the most outstanding natural wonders of the world you are likely to see. Carlsbad Caverns are home to 500-800 thousand bats which every evening at dusk emerge from the caverns and spiral up into the sky and return next morning. The caverns themselves resemble a fantasy land of wondrous shapes and colors. Our 31/2 hour visit barely scraped the surface.

Most disappointing experience: New Mexico State Fair and Rodeo at Las Cruces. We originally planned to spend two days there, but it was very hot, the State Fair was mediocre saved only by the “Frisbee dogs,” and the rodeo was like watching Double A baseball which on occasions resembles watching paint dry.

Best historical places visited: Chloride, a genuine Western ghost town; The City of Lincoln where Billy The kid and Pat Garrett had their little dust up; Fort Stanton features more than 155 years of history ranging from its initial creation as a military garrison to its significance as the first tuberculosis hospital in the state, to an internment camp for German sailors during World War 11., and the 400 year old San Miguel Mission in Soccoro.

Most scenic route: The drive from Las Cruces to Cloudcroft where desert merges into mountain greenery.

Most Bizarre Moments: Excuse my ignorance, but I didn’t realize that New Mexico was a substantial oil producing state. Situated in a very industrialized area dominated by oil we passed through a little town called Artesia on our way to Carlsbad and it reminded me of Port Talbot, South Wales. Apparently Port Talbot inspired Ridley Scott to film “Blade Runner.”  Win, Place and Show Tap House was a bar recommended by a local guide pit, and only receives a mention because  the barmaid didn’t know how to make a margarita, and there were several different brands of tequila sitting on the shelves obviously resigned to being ornaments.

Memorable mention: White Sands Monument which has 275 square miles of gorgeous white sand complete with 40 feet high dunes.

Surprising delights: Dave’s Café in Cloudcroft where they served a splendid beer, wine tasting New Mexico wines also in Cloudcroft, and strolling through the farmers & crafts market in downtown Las Cruces on Saturday morning.  It was lively, colorful, and entertaining highlighted by a parrot that could imitate a dog or cat and play dead at a stroke. We attended the Manhattan Short Film Festival in Mesilla in the evening which more than compensated for the hapless rodeo.  Since our trip to California in June, we have become short film aficionados probably because they only require a short attention span.

Off Key Moments: Hubbard Western Museum in Ruidoso was okay, but I was expecting more on the Wild West considering its location in New Mexico. The Booth Western Museum in Cartersville, Georgia is far superior. Almorgordo’s  Museum of Space History was a little ragged around the edges, and is in need of an update. Dusty Boot’s Café in Cloudcroft had great reviews in Yelp, the BLT was good enough, but was the overall ambience was overrated. Smokey Bear Historical Park near Capitan is a waste of time.

“Do you have any other memories of the trip you would like to share with us Dave?”

Two factors spring to mind. I was impressed by the sheer size of New Mexico. The desert rolls on for hundreds of miles until they hit mountain ranges. On our way to Cloudcroft the desert scenery gently merged into green forest and orchards. The transformation from grey and spartan scenery to cultivated pastures and pine trees was breathtaking. It’s the fifth largest state in America but sparsely populated. Total population is only half the size of Los Angeles.

The roads that run through the heart of Southern new Mexico are long and straight with very light traffic, and were a welcome relief from the congested highways and byways where I live and work in Atlanta.

“Thanks again Dave for sharing your travel experiences with your loyal readers.”

All Along the Panhandle

Saturday, April 21st, 2018

It seems quite a long time ago now (no, not in the galaxy) but it was in the month of February that we spent a fortnight (two weeks for American readers) traversing Florida’s Panhandle. What we like about the Panhandle is that some of the sections remain “old Florida”, and have not been engulfed by multi-storey condos and hotels,  and festooned with night clubs and bright lights.

We made three major stops on route, and I decided to make the remainder of my post into a diary, primarily because my memory has more holes in it than the common to garden, or should that be kitchen, sieve.

Day 1-Panama City Beach. Ate at Hook’s Pier Bar and Grill. Excellent gumbo and fish tacos. Great view of gulf and pier.

Day 2– Watched pelicans from  the beach having  a feeding frenzy. Then the heavens opened-cozy though snuggling up in our beach house.

Day 3- Bike rides over to Bay River Bridge. Stopped for lunch at BFE, hole in the wall place. Best Food Ever-great brisket sandwich. Their barbecue pastrami wasn’t too shabby either.

Day 4-Checked out Shell Bay, St. Andrews State Park. Visited the in -laws for  appetizers and drinks in their 21st floor condo. Watched the  Opening ceremony of Winter Olympics while continually stifling a yawn.  Gee whiz, we’re missing the Senior Prom which apparently is a special event in these quarters. Make a note of  Det Cajun Place for future visits.

Day 5- Martin Theatre for the Mersey Beatles. Bayou Joe’s for lunch. Funky Mermaid for nightcap. Pastrami sandwiches for supper. This was a mixed bag of events, akin to a selection of liquorice allsorts, but it all dovetailed perfectly. As an added bonus, my wife picked up a leather jacket for $20. What a bargain!

Day 6– heavy rain, stayed indoors. One walk along the beach in between the deluge. Our kindles came into their own once again.

Day 7– left for Cape San Blas. Drove through Tindall Air Force Base, continued onto Port St. Joe before arriving at our destination. Stayed at a Studio apartment which was compact but very comfortable. Excellent beach sunset, great boardwalk over the marshes to the bay. The only downside was we couldn’t see either views from the apartment windows which was contrary to what was described in the rental advertisement.

Day 8- Kayaking on the bay  at Sand Flea Rentals. Made friends with Ossie, a mix of collie and Australian Shepherd. My wife is a natural kayaker leaving me in her wake while I thrashed around like a beached sea lion. Visited St. Joseph Peninsula State Park which has a beautiful white sand beach with sand dunes thrown in the mix. It reminded me of how Port Eynon in Gower used to look like when I was knee high to a grasshopper.

Day 9- Valentine’s Day. Walk along the beach for good measure. Visited Indian Pass Raw Bar which specializes in oysters. Their baked oysters with butter, garlic and parmesan cheese toppings were excellent. Scallop Republic, a relatively new bar, resembled God’s waiting room. Dinner at Sunset Grill in Port St. Joes. I had the deep fried whole flounder which was excellent. My wife had  shrimp and grits which she gave an 8/10 rating. Night cap at the Thirsty Goat which provided a cozy and pleasant atmosphere.

Day 10-Leave CSB for Orange Beach. Uneventful trip to Perdido Key (41/2 hours.) where we were renting a condo. Very luxurious, but arrived to drilling from another apartment. Beautiful views of Gulf from 5th floor balcony.

Day 11– Woke to a sundrenched day. Went for a dolphin cruise around Orange Beach, spotted about a dozen dolphins along the way. The late Fara Fawcett’s beach house got a mention bringing a wry smile to those who remembered the seventies. Had dinner at Flora Bama Bar, so named because it’s located on the state line. Food was okay. Very unique bar with several bands playing continuously in different rooms.

Day 12– Lunch at Sea & Suds. Good location on the beach at Gulf Shores, but a highly recommended gumbo specialty was very average. Played golf at Lost Key Club-delightful course for the money. Ordered takeaway at Lilian’s Pizza. Very good. Threw a wobbly outside Flora Bama Bar and returned to base.

Day 13-Return home with mixed feelings. We loved the remoteness of Cape San Blas and the immediate area, but didn’t care for the overdevelopment and commercialism of Orange Beach and Panama City Beach. At the end of the day (excuse the cliché) it’s all a matter of personal taste and choices.




A Voyage With My Son, Part 2.

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

Day 3: It was a normal grey morning for Swansea, and undaunted we drove towards Gower, 64 square miles of beautiful scenery  and designated the first AONB (area of outstanding natural beauty.) I like to think that I contributed in some small way to conserving its natural beauty. But first we paid a visit to Pennard Castle where my parents’ ashes are scattered. How many golf courses have the ruins of a medieval castle within their boundaries, and affording panoramic views of a coastline second to none?

We continued our journey towards Rhossili which  has a magnificent curved beach ideal for sand yachting, if you don’t mind negotiating a difficult access. The scenic gem is Worm’s Head which extends sublimely from the mainland into the English Channel. We decided to have lunch at the Brittania Inn located in the picturesque village of Llanmadoc. It also houses a 12th Century Church where my wife pictured us getting married nearly 25 years ago. Unfortunately, the pastor refused to marry us because we were both divorced, but ignoring the fact that the Church of England was formed because of Henry v111’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon which the Catholic Church refused to acknowledge.

The planning laws in Gower are very strict much to the chagrin of many farmers, but one of my pride and joys was initiating the conversion of redundant barns into living accommodation. I showed my son many examples of barn conversions, and I hope he wasn’t too bored with the reminisces of a retired town planner.

My biggest achievement in town planning of which I am most proud was advising a retired dairy farmer to convert his treasured acres into a golf course. Mr. Jenkins, the farmer, was a bigger than life character, and thought I was crazy suggesting he apply for planning permission for a golf course on his land. Twenty years later the Gower Golf Club is going strong. Sadly, Mr. Jenkins has passed away, but the dream that turned into reality continues under the tutelage of his son and daughter.

We couldn’t leave Swansea without a visit to Underhill Park in Mumbles. I played many a game for Nalgo in the friendly confines of Underhill Park. I was primarily a defender, but I once scored a hatrick there. On another occasion, I was summarily sent off for the only time in my career. Underhill Park contained many happy memories for me which I hopefully shared with my son.

We ended our visit to Swansea with a meal with my friends, Phillip and Marian, at the King Arthur in Reynoldston. King Arthur’s stone is situated about a mile from the pub on Cefn Bryn which was arguably the cornerstone of Camelot. Make of it what you will. I hope this journey down memory lane encourages some of you to visit Gower, but hopefully not too many. I like the remoteness.

A Voyage with My Son, Part 1.

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

I’m not sure how this pilgrimage transpired, but my son and I agreed to spend two or three days travelling around my home town of Swansea visiting various landmarks of my childhood and some dubious haunts that played a role in my formative years. Perhaps it was an opportunity to discover what made his old man tick. He left Swansea when he was nine, but nevertheless he said he was excited to partake in the exploration.

Day 1: Landed at Heathrow Airport around 11.00am. Rented a car from Enterprise, picked my son up from Fleet and drove to Cardiff to stay the night with my brother. On the way we stopped for a snack at a service station and I enjoyed fish and chips courtesy of Harry Ramsden. It cost 6 pounds and change to cross the Severn Bridge into Wales. No wonder Englishmen have a low esteem for the Welsh.

We dined at a Lebanese restaurant which was devoid of alcohol much to the disappointment of my son and I. My lasting memory of the restaurant was  a particularly noisy fruit juice machine which made conversation nearly impossible.

Day 2: The next morning my brother served up a wonderful Welsh breakfast comprising lava bread, cockles, bacon and all the trimmings. Fortified by an exquisite start to the day we bade our farewells and headed for Swansea, home of Dylan Thomas, Katherine Zeta-Jones and Harry Secombe.

We were welcomed by a bleak overcast morning as we hit the outskirts of Swansea, and I was surprised by the number of pubs that were now vacant and boarded up. Ignoring the negative vibes I quickly gave my son a tour of the houses I lived in from about the age of 5, quickly followed by two schools I attended, Gwyrosydd and Penlan Comprehensive, that had a huge impact on making me the old crabby cynic that I am today.

Penlan Comprehensive is no longer with us today, but the building which could easily be mistaken for Stalag 17 now houses a Welsh speaking Secondary School. I believe it rained most of the seven years I spent there, and I recall trudging up the long narrow driveway only to receive a soaking by various teachers’ cars kicking up spray as they sped for safety of the staffroom, and then having to tentatively attempt a crossing of a sea of mud. Happy days!

My friends Phillip and Marian graciously gave us lodgings for two nights, and we fed on a Chinese Takeaway which included my favorite, crispy duck. We washed it down with a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau, which curiously is championed by the pubs and bars of Swansea, and it just happened to be first day of its arrival in the Principality. I don’t know what all the fuss is about because its a very mediocre wine and very overrated. Earlier, we had lunch at the Westbourne which has considerably ascended up market since my days in the Guildhall. You can’t possibly visit Swansea without having a Joe’s icecream, but I didn’t realize I had to use my weekly allowance to pay for one.

Ah, the Guildhall. I spent 28 years in the corridors of power of local government, initially as a Bob Cratchett impersonator in the Treasurer’s Department, and latterly as a poor man’s Hippodamus or to pay homage to the Garden City movement, Ebenezer Howard. We drove to Pantycelyn Road in Mayhill which gives the visitor a panoramic view of the City and the Bay, and marveled at the mess we planners made of a once “Ugly, Lovely Town (sic Dylan Thomas.)

To be Continued:


Unanswered Questions

Friday, April 14th, 2017
  • Why do some people smother their steaks with ketchup?
  • Why do some Atlanta drivers refuse to use headlights when the visibility is almost zero?
  • Why do some Atlanta drivers feel that using blinkers is an affront to their masculinity?
  • Can you define the  word “schism” and use it in a sentence?
  • Why does hair sprout from unusual places but ceases to grow on your head when you are older?
  • Why didn’t my parents warn me to take better care of my body to offset the wreckage of old age?
  • What is the difference between refugees, asylum seekers and migrants?
  • Do Germans and Greeks really dislike each other?
  • Why do I regard myself as Welsh first, British second, and European a distant third?
  • Who is John Ossoff and why has he been foisted on people living in the Sixth District of Georgia when he doesn’t even live here?
  • Why are spectators referred to as Patrons at the Masters?
  • Why does CBS’s Jim Nantz assume everyone is his friend?
  • Would I rather be ugly and rich, or poor and good-looking?
  • Would you rather always lose or never play?
  • Would you rather be forgotten or hatefully remembered?
  • Would you rather get even or get over it?
  • Would you rather kiss a horse or lick a cow?
  •  Why did it take a homeless person to do what transit planners, engineers, and consultant could not do…..get the attention of politicians to start looking at transportations options in Metro Atlanta.
  • Why aren’t Americans familiar with the phrase “curate’s egg?”
  • Why do Swansea City’s American owners remind me of Steptoe and Son?
  • Why did the Atlanta Braves win only one world series  when they had three Hall of Fame pitchers in Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux?
  • Does 14 successive Division (which only comprises 5 teams) Titles  achieved by the Atlanta Braves define success, mediocrity, or missed opportunities?
  • Why is Easter, the most important event in the Christian Calendar, no longer a public holiday in America?
  • What is more important to the average sports fan, a winning team or a “state of the art” ultra modern stadium?
  • Why don’t we have a colony on the moon bearing in mind Neil Armstrong landed there in 1969?
  • Why are my compatible with certain individuals, but not others?
  • What is the criteria for defining a good friend?
  • Which of these three songs has been covered the most by other artists: George Harrison’s “Something,” Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday,’ or John Lennon’s “Imagine?”
  • Which is most likely to happen in my twilight years: Swansea City returning to the Premiership, or the Atlanta Falcons winning the Super Bowl?
  • Why is my neighborhood in Atlanta beginning to resemble Puerto Rico?
  • In an attempt to avoid the dreaded drop, will the Swans go gently into the good night, or fight the good fight?
  • With apologies to “The Clash,” should I stay (in America) or should I go (to Wales?)

A Beach Trip

Friday, September 30th, 2016

I love road trips. I love the anticipation of  driving to the destination. I love the relief of arrival. And I love  acquainting myself with the new location, but it always amazes me how humans adapt themselves so quickly to new surroundings. We had rented a 5 bedroom house juxtaposed to the sand dunes at Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Cocoa Beach is normally an eight hour drive from Atlanta, but we broke up the journey by staying the night in St Augustine. For all its history and Golf Hall of Fame the town is quite unremarkable, and I was quite happy to hit the road the following morning.

We arrived just after 2pm and the owners were waiting to welcome us to the house which would be home for the next seven days. Now Cocoa Beach is a mere 5 miles from Cape Canaveral, and as luck would have it we were in time for a rocket launch which was taking place at 7pm. We grabbed a couple of chairs at the appointed time and sat on the beach sipping a couple of glasses of wine watching the rocket soar into the sky.

The house owners had informed us that we were in the middle of turtle mating season and if we were lucky we might catch the odd turtle or two crawling up the beach to lay their eggs. As an added bonus they also  advised us to take a short trip to the locks at Cape Canaveral where we would enjoy the sight of manatees cruising through the water. Unfortunately neither creature materialized during our stay.

Three of our grandchildren along with their parents joined us on Saturday, and proving their energy knows no bounds, they jumped out of their dad’s van after a nine hour road trip and headed straight for the beach, shoes and socks thrown to the sea breeze.

We spent most of Sunday on the beach with the grand children. Monday, the parents drove the kids to Disney World for the day, and my wife and I decided to hold sports day on the beach: bogie-boarding, a game of  bochi ball, flying a kite, throwing a Frisbee, taking a 3 mile bike ride to the pier. Wow, where did all that energy come from?

The following day, the tropical storm came ashore and it rained incessantly well into the evening. Nevertheless, there’s something magical about watching huge waves crashing onto the shore while heavy rain lashes against the windows of the house. Braving the rain, we ventured out late afternoon and took refuge in  a quaint Irish pub, Hogan’s, partaking in a pint of Guinness or two.

We had our fair share of seafood on this trip. Fish Lips was a reasonable restaurant for haddock and chips while the shark bites left a lot to be desired. There were two decent fish markets in the port area, one for fresh shrimp and the other for beautiful fresh swordfish. It was also the first time I’d tried smoked mullet and concluded it was also the last.

The grandchildren left the day before us and we spent what time was left doing laundry, tossing out the trash, putting all the toys and games back in the cupboards, and packing in readiness for the trip back home. The dishwasher was a godsend.

Our time was up, and our beach living was at an end. We left with the consolation that we had made a decision. Atlanta traffic is horrendous and we have been attempting to decide whether to move to the mountains or the beach. This trip was the determining factor. Our next abode will be near the beach.

Twenty Years Living in America

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

I emigrated to USA in 1996, and settled in Atlanta, Georgia. A couple of months later the Olympic Games descended upon the City, and I might have attended a few events, but the whole experience was  just a blur as I came to terms with my incongruous decision to move across the Atlantic. A little Frenchman told me it would take approximately two years to settle down, and he was spot on. Twenty years later, the adventure continues. Based on my time in Atlanta I’ve listed below things I like or liked about living in America and conversely things I dislike or disliked living there:

20 Things I like/liked about living in America

  • Blue skies with not a cloud to be seen.
  • Hot Wings and baby back ribs. My favorite places for those culinary delights are Taco Mac (the original location in Virginia Highlands,) Three Dollar Café and Wild West Wings, and Blue Ribbon which also does a mean martini.
  • A big house, bang for the buck which we couldn’t possibly afford if we were still living in the UK.
  • Health care, and I’m not referring to Obama Care.
  • NBC coverage of the Premiership. I can watch more Premiership games live than my son can living in London.
  • Air Conditioning
  • Variety of places to travel in one big country: mountains, desert, tropics, beaches where the water is actually warm. Alaska and Hawaii would have been difficult to reach if I still lived in the UK.
  • Visiting Monument Valley at sunrise was breathtaking.
  • Touring the national parks in Utah was a truly awesome experience.
  • Learning another language; American-English. I’ve battled for twenty years to master the dialect, but I’m afraid it’s a losing battle. Allow me to apologize to y’all. For example,  Atlanta is embracing the merits of the roundabout, but have labeled it the traffic circle.
  • Visiting Great American cities; Washington DC, New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Savannah, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Los Angeles to name but a few.
  • Our dog Tiger, was an unusual mix of chow and collie  who passed away in 2007, aged 17. He was probably my  best friend in America. He was  brave, strong, loyal, loveable with a sense of mischief.
  • Open air concerts at Chastain Park ranging from Harry Connick Jr., Tony “Bleeding” Bennett, Ringo Starr All Star Band, Huey Lewis and The News, BB King (God rest his Soul,) Chuck Berry and Ray Charles.
  • Grilling out on the Big Green Egg for nearly 10 months of the year.
  • The High Museum of Art. I had the  privilege of viewing an Impressionist exhibition, a Norman Rockwell collection of originals, and Elton John’s photography collection by several famous photographers.
  • The opportunity to attend four different professional sports in one city: basketball (Hawks) ice hockey (Thrashers now extinct,) baseball (Braves) and American football (Falcons.) a Major League Soccer team, Atlanta United, will be playing here next season.
  • Visiting Hawaii and Alaska both of which provide breathtaking scenery. Active volcanoes, bears catching salmon, a flight around Mt. McKinley were just a few of the highlights.
  • Chick_Fil_A, easily the best fast food restaurant chain in America.
  • Lightning bugs and humming birds in our backyard.
  • Close proximity to an international airport.

20 Things I don’t like about living in America.

  • Traffic where the increasing number of tractor-trailers intermingled with idiots make driving conditions extremely difficult not to mention driving on the wrong side of the road.
  • Dog days (excluding Tiger…) of summer when the humidity is at its highest and most unbearable.
  • Political correctness.
  • Lack of community spirit.
  • Sense of entitlement of certain racial ethnicities.
  • Deteoriation in customer service in stores, restaurants and bars.
  • Insularity. I’m afraid the “special relationship” that supposedly exists between the UK and USA is grossly exaggerated. Millennials don’t relate to  World War 2 or the British Pop invasion in the ’60s. As one local talking head put it so succinctly: “Britain is that little island off the west coast of Europe.”
  • Total bias of major TV and radion networks whether it be conservative or liberal. The media has become propaganda machines favoring one party over the other unwilling to give the public objective commentary on current affairs.
  • Eighteen months of personal mud slinging campaigning to earn the right to be the presidential candidate for your Party. And boy have we ended up with two humdingers in Clinton and Trump.
  • Sixty feet high trees falling on my house and in my yard.
  • The fallacy that I could reinvent myself in USA.
  • Noisy restaurants. I can’t understand why people need to shout and scream at each other across the table.
  • Roofs (shingles) which only have a shelf life of 15-20 years. Where is the good old Welsh slate when you need it?
  • The South’s obsession with college football. Alabama doesn’t have a professional sports team, but the Crimson Tide (University of Alabama) attracts 90,000 to home games. They enjoyed a similar attendance for a practice game last season. (14)
  • Sports radio stations in Atlanta, and the irrelevant pre-season NFL football games.