Thursday, February 25, 2010

#11 Accomplished! World's Oldest Record Shop and Young Welsh Musician

Yeah!  I have accomplished #11 on my list of things to do before I die.  Right now I am back in Brecon for the evening (so I can visit the brewery in the morning before I head home to Boston), and am sitting in a sports pub called the Lounge.

It is getting noisy around me, but I do a good job of blocking out a noisy world to sit in my own sacred space.  It is Football (read "Soccer" for we Americans) Night Man Utd. and West Ham the sign says.

Back to my point:  After last week's near miss with going inside Spiller's Records, I decided to meet Sarah Louise Owen in front of the record store.  Sarah is from Caernarfon (my favorite city in Wales right now), but recently moved to Cardiff.

I am trying to get Welsh musicians to come to the US through Boston, and wanted to talk with Sarah so we met at Spiller's.  So, here's the proof:  I met with Sarah, and went to the oldest record store in the world.

#11 on my list of one thousand things to do before I die is accomplished.  I even bought a couple Welsh band CDs while there - under Sarah's watchful eye, and helpful hints.  I wanted to buy one of her CDs but she insisted on me not doing that so she could give me some of them.  We stayed long enough to experience the store, pencil a check on my list (not really), and go to find a place for tea.
Here's Spiller's on the inside.  It is not so exciting as a shop, but the mystique is cool enough to make it worth it if you visit Cardiff, and necessary if you are an audiophile.  Check #11 off on my list!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Some pics from Wales

These guys became my buddies in Brecon rather quickly.  Then again, the guy to the left is "Skin."  That's what he says people call him.  He has it tattooed on his right earlobe to prove it.  I think everyone in town knows Skin. ;-)  This is The Lounge.  I think I like the Lounge.  I liked Skin too.  They found out I pastor a church, and wanted to sing hymns like good Welshmen, but they couldn't sing worth beans.

  Stopped at Felinfoel brewery.  Now Skin told me about the nickname "Feeling Foul."  Of course, others told me that name too.  Skin says it was because it was a great brew to drink, but it was a bit rough when you left the pub.  Well, I do enjoy Double Dragon.  Look at all the antique beer cans here.  Spent some time with Phil Lewis at Felinfoel - fun stop.  We need more Double Dragon in the US.

Here are some of the students from Atlantic College.  We went to St. Illtud's in Llantwit Major.  Alish with the red hair is from North Wales, and speaks fluent Welsh.  They are looking at a medallion in the stones at St. Illtud's with the zodiac on it.  Jeepers!  You'd never find that in a modern Christian church.

This is what happens to old men who visit St. Illtud's.  They become part of the landscape or the furniture.

And the winner is...

Stephen Nicholson from Swindon, UK.

He figured out what weird thing I was eating with Mike and Jules at the Turkish Restaurant in Walthamstow.  As a pastor of a church there did seem to be be something a bit perverse to eating this dish - kind of like being a television evangelist taking 30 minute offerings, and sending out healing prayer napkins in promise for $100 or more.

But, as Jules said, "Oh these are really quite nice!"

the answer is obvious in the menu photo below.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

#12 See the Northern Lights

What else do I need to say?  Going to far reaches of the north and seeing the aurora borealis is high on my list of things I want to do before I die.

Now Mike and Jules are talking about doing in the next 5 to 6 years, and I am currently sitting with them in their home in Walthamstow.  Of course, Jules also helped encourage me to be part of the eating weird things event at the Turkish restaurant.  Well, okay maybe I don't seriously need a lot of help to do something weird, but she is a pretty good instigator.

So back to the point.  They want me to join them when they go to Norway for the Northern Lights.  Hmmmmmm...not a bad idea.  Then again, Canada is closer to where I live.

Eating weird things in Walthamstow

Mike and Jules are friends I stay with every time I come to the UK.  Everyone who has joined me here has stayed with them as well.  They have also returned the favor to stay with us in Salem, MA.  So, many of you will know Mike and Jules.

The other night we went to a Turkish restaurant around the corner on St. James Street.  A two block walk and we were at a really nice little restaurant in downtown Walthamstow.  The place is called Cinar Turkish Restaurant.  Seriously good food, and great service.

We looked at the menu and laughed at one item.  Then decided to get it, and try it out.  Can you guess what is on my fork?
If you can guess what it is I'll buy you a dish of it at Cinar Turkish Restaurant next time we are in Walthamstow together.  At the very least I will announce you as winner across my various noisy social networking platforms from Twitter to my Blogs, and add links to you as well.

I am not sure I would have thought about adding it to my list, but eating strange things from other ethnic food groups certainly was going to appear on the list.  So this is one of them accomplished - somewhat accidentally.

Near Miss on #11 - Dang.

So there I was in Cardiff.  Looking for a place with wi-fi to connect with Eleri and John.  I needed to touch base about the time we were meeting for dinner at their house.  In the back of my mind I realized I should be quick, because I could accomplish #11 on my list of 1,000 things to do before I die if I had enough time between communicating with people and going to dinner.

Found the Starbucks (a place I hate for internet connections, because I do not like coffee, and am not on their plan, and have to pay for it), connected and talked with Eleri.  Then I made a few more contacts.

I left Starbucks a little after 6pm, and meandered out onto the wonderful market place of Cardiff.  Wide shopping mall lanes, which were once streets, Saint David's Shopping Centre is a comfortable market.  I glanced across the street from Starbucks, and gloriously in front of me was Spiller's Records.

I made haste across the street, and noticed that behind the overly busy windows it looked too dark for browsing inside.  I now stood gloomily in front of the door reading the hours.  Spiller's Records closes at 5:45pm.  Ouch.
If you make it Saint David's Mall and are looking for Spiller's here is their website.  If you find yourself near the Cardiff library you are almost there.  Maybe I will see you there.  I still have to make it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Accomplished #1: Descending and Still Alive to Tell the Tale

Josh asked me if I had a death wish.  Sensible enough question I suppose given the circumstances of life.  Stephen was regularly posting lifesaving devices and weather reports from Cadair Idris, and even sent along some helpful items for the trip.  Jodi just wanted to make sure that I returned home alive.

It is winter and a cold one in Wales with more snow that usual.  Even this morning, 4 days after my sleepover on Cadair Idris I am in Caernarfon and it snowed here on the coast this morning.  Cadair on the other hand is known for wild and wicked weather.  Mountain Rescue spends a good amount of time pulling people off this deceptively dangerous mountain.  It's height of just under 3,000 ft. and it's danger factor are not equal comparisons.

I ascended with waterproof pants, Gortex hat (which got lost on the ascent), Gortex coat, heavy gloves, boots designed for subzero temperatures, under layers for warmth, and a subzero sleeping bag in my backpack.

Now, on the other hand it had turned out to be a decent day.  Ascending was not going to be the problem on that afternoon.  I still had to sleep over in a stone hut.  Hidden from the elements - except the dangerously low cold temps.

Sleeping bag did the job.  Although I was terribly uncomfortable, I was generally toasty through the night.

So, I arose just before dawn to these sights:  A rising sun, lights of the villages below snaking thruogh the valleys, and clouds to the south beneath the mountain top.

 Once i had packed my bags it was time to descend the mountain.  The sights on the way down were as breathtaking as those ascending the previous day.  My hip had not recovered fully from the pinched nerve feeling, and although going downhill was easier it was still a struggle to keep moving.  Stopping to take some of these photos helped.  There were alien snowscapes, beautiful views, and stream to drink from (hopefully not too much sheep poo in the stream, but then these are the waters at the famous Ty Nant.

Once I arrived at the car park I found my beloved Gortex hat by the car.  It had been returned there for me by descending hikers the previous day.  This is one of many reasons everyone should come to Wales - it is a friendly, helpful place in my experiences.  There were other people preparing to ascend as I returned.  Two guys from England, and two Welsh ladies.  One lady asked if I had already gone up and back down that day.  I replied that I only had come down, because I slept on the mountain.

She replied, "Are you pulling my leg?"

"No, I slept on the mountain last night."

"Are you pulling my leg?" she replied again.

"No, I slept on the top of the mountain last night."

The guys responded at this point, "Well, you have our respect."

I am hoping to get a little decent poetic prowess over this - that's all.  Or maybe, having a good story to tell my future grandkids, or spin in a pub someday will be good enough.

for information on climbing Cadair Idris, and it's various routes see my initial post on the mountain.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Accomplished #1: Climbing Cadair Idris

I pulled into Dolgellau later in the day than I had planned.  It was about noon, which meant that I would not begin my ascent of Cadair Idris until 1pm.  This would turn out to be perfect timing.  Since I was in Dolgellau I chose to take the longer, easier route up the mountain, which was also the closest to town.  This is called the Pony Path, and begins just outside Dolgellau at the car park for Ty Nant.  Above is the picture of the mountain looking over the farmhouse at Ty Nant.  Cadair Idris is an imposing sight despite it's smallness as a mountain.

The Pony Path is one of the easy routes up the mountain, but being out of shape and carrying a large pack with my sub-zero sleeping bag and other overnight needs I was definitely stretched even in some of the early parts of the walk.  Somewhere along the second half of the climb I was having some significant pain in my hip, which felt like a pinching nerve.  This caused me to have to stop every couple hundred yards as I neared the top, and slowed my progress sufficiently enough to wonder if I would be okay with this crazy plan to sleep on the mountain in the winter.

To make matters worse I had dropped my beloved black gortex hat somewhere along the path while rearranging my gear, and it was too late to go back for it by the time I realized what happened.  There were other hikers going up and down the mountain, and I asked them to leave it at the car if they found it on the way down, but I gave up seeing my old hat ever again.

I reached the summit as the last people descending were leaving.  Between stopping for the many photos I took and to sit down and rest my hip it was a long slow climb.  It was clear for most of the climb.  This is somewhat rare for Cadair Idris I am told, but as I reached Pen-y-Cadair (the summit) a bank of gray clouds rushed in from the west like a fast moving train, and enveloped me, and the top of Cadair.

Just below the peak was a stone hut, which is used by campers to spend the night.  Needless to say I was the only one there on this winter night.  So, I hunkered down in the hut, and set up my sleeping spot on a wooden bench which was frozen with an thin ice sheet across it's top.

This darn mountain had better make poets out of madmen, because I was sleeping on an ice sheet like a madman and the legend that sleeping on the mountain will make you mad or a poet was going to be at least half true by the time the night was over.

Below are some of my many photos of the climb:

a passage up the mountain between some craggy barren trees.  The land of Wales so often reminds me of the stories from J.R.R. Tolkien's stories The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  It is such scenes as this which bring this to mind.
As I came to the top of the first section of the walk a couple was standing on the mountain.  People of all ages, couples, friends, runners, day hikers, and those on a daily regimen workout were coming and going.  This was not a large number on this winter day, but I can imagine that the numbers do grow large in the summer months.

In the second section of the climb this was the first real view of the summit.  If you click on the picture you will see the monument cairn which marks the Pen-y-Gadair (the top of the chair) Cadair Idris means The Chair of Idris - for more on the name see my post here

The Pony Path winds close along the edge of steep cliffs as it nears the top.  In the winter it is not recommended to stray to close to the edge as ice shelves, and snow banks can give way and go plunging down the face of the mountain.

The cairn at the peak as seen in winter from the Pony Path.

My humble abode for the evening.  Toasty and accommodating looking isn't it?  This is surely a five-star resort.  I'd better get some good poetry coming out of me after staying here!

This is my comfy little set up on a frozen bench in the Pen-y-Gadair hut.  Of course the flash on my camera is making look a lot more inviting than the reality of arriving just before sunset with a gray cloud bank chasing me up to the summit.

The dramatic rush of deep gray clouds which enveloped me can not be captured by still photography, but here you can see the front edge of the cloud bank as I near the summit.  The mountain went from bright and sunny to gray and dreary in moments.

The next post will cover waking and descending Cadair Idris.  The verdict is still out on my insanity or my poetic prowess.

part two of the photos and story

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sleeping at St. Donat's Castle

#9 on my list of things to do before I die was accomplished a couple days ago.  Friday, Feb. 12th I was asked to be the guest lecturer for the Atlantic College students for their Friday evening lectures.  I also had the opportunity to sleep over in the "Lloyd George room" so named because the famous Prime Minister slept there.  Supposedly Charlie Chaplain once took a bath in the huge tub in the room as well.

This castle is one of the oldest castles still being inhabited in the UK.  William Randolph Hearst bought the castle and it become his playground for a time.  Other ancient building were dismantled and brought to Llantwit Major in the most southerly part of Wales to enlarge the castle.  The room I lectured in was one of these rooms.  Known as Bradenstoke Hall it was once Bradenstoke Abbey.

Special thanks to all the students I hung out with for the two days there.  I had a blast.

The bathroom in the Lloyd George room was a bit outrageous.  Even the toilet was named "The Venerable"  That reminded me of St. Bede, but I probably shouldn't have had that thought in my head.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My trip through Wales so far

I have been in Wales four days now.  It has been a whirlwind of a tour so far.  Pictures will come soon, but until then here's the quick of the story:

Stayed at Llanover chapel and experienced an evening service on Monday night with students from Korea.  Apparently over 500 Koreans a year pilgrimage to Hanover Chapel (English spelling) because Robert Jermain Thomas was martyred in Korea as a missionary, and the Korean Christians come to honor his memory at Llanover chapel.  My friend Stephen Price and his wife Stella purchased the parsonage and are fixing it up for people to be able to stay there.  They could use your help - check them out here.

The next day I was taken on a tour of Cardiff by the recently retired CEO of the Cardiff Council.  Byron Davies is quite proud of his city and gives a great tour with political/historical insights.  That evening we had a Welsh North American Business Chamber meeting at the Cayo Arms Pub in Cardiff with about 50 people.  Byron and I lead the meeting, and Connie Parry from Tomos Watkin Brewery provided free beer.

Yesterday I was in Swansea, and while at Starbucks (never really a good place for internet access) I ran into someone I knew from serving at the Gorlan in the Eisteddfod at Maes B.

I have since the traveled to the brewery,  gone to the Penderyn Distillery in the little village of Penderyn at the foothills of the Brecon Beacons, and I am writing from a pub/coffee-house called The Lounge in the city of Brecon right now.  It is the best place I have found yet for a American to get easy internet access from his Mac.  BTOpen does not always make it easy.  Plus The Lounge is just kinda cool.

I have been all across south Wales so far from Abergavenny (Y Fenni in Welsh) to Swansea, and am headed to the Felinfoel Brewery in Llanelli this afternoon.

I will be here until the 20th, so there are going to be more tales to tell.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Boston's Freedom Trail

A red line snakes through the city of Boston. Like a child enamored with a grade school teacher your imagination rushes through stories learned in your youth. The trail leads through graveyards with names like John Hancock, and the Old North Church where Paul Revere held his lanterns to declare "two if by sea."

Wisely one begins the Freedom Trail at Faneuil Hall, where John Adams called for independence. Upon returning - your head bursting with history, your heart beating with the wild fight for freedom, you sit down in the marketplace behind Faneuil Hall. In the cradle of liberty you take your lunch break among rows of culinary options, and digest your day in the belly of freedom's birthplace.

Boston is just a four-hour trip north-east from your New York City break. For an adventure all its own you can capture one of the Chinese bus lines (Lucky Star, or Fung Wah) for $15 for a one-way trip. They typically run all day and night beginning in New York’s China Town and dropping you off near Boston’s China Town at South Station.

The Freedom Trail packs loads of history in a small space, and is set among other places of interest such as The North End (Boston’s Italian community and a culinary theme park), the New England Aquarium, and the Holocaust Memorial.

I live near Boston. This is one of my one thousand things, which I have returned to many times.