Thursday, December 28, 2006

Swansea Jack
When we have a day to ourselves, during most weekend days and during the recent holiday period for example, we’ve been taking morning walks on the beach. During one of our walks last weekend we found a touching memorial to one of Swansea’s greatest heroes, Swansea Jack. Swansea Jack is a black Labrador retriever that was born not far from where we currently live in the Swansea Marina’s North Dock in 1930 and was kept by William Thomas.
In 1931 the legend of Swansea Jack began to grow when he rescued a 12 year old boy from drowning in the River Tawe. Only weeks later Jack was seen by a crowd at the marina docks saving another man from drowning, and by the end of his life Swansea Jack was credited with saving the lives of 27 swimmers and 2 dogs. He was awarded a silver collar by the Swansea city council and in 1936 was recognized as the “Bravest Dog of the Year” by the Star newspaper. He received a silver cup from the Lord Mayor of London and he remains the only dog to collect two bronze stars from the National Canine Defense League. In 2000, Swansea Jack was awarded the “Dog of the Century” by the New Found Friends of Bristol who train dogs in aquatic rescue techniques.

Swansea Jack died on October 2, 1937. His name lives on, however, as “Jack” is the nickname given to natives of Swansea. His monument, pictured above, was paid for by the citizens of Swansea and is located on the Promenade at Swansea Bay. It reads, “Ne’er had mankind more faithful friend than thou, who oft thy life didst lend to save some human soul from death.”

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

New Year's Hat-Trick
We're traveling to Liverpool on Saturday to start the New Years celebrations in style. The city of Liverpool is celebrating its 800th birthday with a mass of celebrations including fireworks at St. George's Hall in the City Centre on New Years Eve, but we don't live for fireworks we live for footy! And with 2 matches in Liverpool and a match in Birmingham all between Saturday and Tuesday, who could resist!?!

December 30:
Everton FC vs. Newcastle United
January 1:
Liverpool FC vs. Bolton Wanderers
January 2
Aston Villa vs. Chelsea FC

Happy New Year!!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas from Swansea
A very Merry Christmas to all of our friends and family from here in Swansea.
We very much miss having the comforts of family and friendships today, especially the family we had to leave behind: Pinky, Jenny, Paddington and Trigger…it’s not the same without them. Today we’ll have breakfast and a big lunch here at home after opening some gifts. The traditional British Christmas lunch includes turkey with cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts, roast potatoes and parsnips with Christmas pudding made with currants, cherries, nuts and apricots that is steeped in cognac for dessert. We’ve decided to make prime rib instead of turkey but will keep the remainder of the traditional lunch intact; we even have Christmas crackers and mince pies. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Reading FC 0-2 Everton FC
The road trip to and from Reading yesterday was thankfully uneventful and Angie drove like a seasoned professional.
The countryside along the M4 is beautiful with rolling hills dotted with sheep and horse farms. We didn’t make it to Bath this time but we look forward to more time on the road so we can see more of the UK’s natural beauty….and of course, the footy.

Reading’s Madejski Stadium has a little over 24,000 capacity and some very passionate supporters. Shame we didn’t feel any of that passion yesterday, as it was the Everton supporters that stole the show. We sat at the very edge of the Reading supporter’s section only feet away from Everton’s traveling contingent, some of the most boisterous fans you’ll ever encounter. They filled the stadium with song and didn’t give the Reading fans or the Reading team much of a chance to have an influence on the match. The visiting Everton side left town with all 3 points with a goal from striker Andy Johnson in the 14th minute setting the tone for the rest of the match with Reading never looking like they came to play. Another goal just after half-time put the match away and sent the away fans into spirited song, singing “jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way; oh, what fun it is to see Everton win away, hey!” The match was of particular interest to us because each team had an American goalkeeper, Tim Howard of Everton and Marcus Hahnemann of Reading. After the match, the Everton supporters were chanting “USA!, USA!, USA!” in honor of Howard as he tossed his jersey into the stands.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

On the Road
We’re headed out of Swansea down the M4 toward Reading.
With most of the UK under a blanket of fog that has forced a great many holiday travelers to spend the days leading to Christmas in Heathrow and other airports across the country, we take to the street in the hopes that those who can’t fly won’t turn to driving. The kickoff at the Madejski Stadium is set for 3pm, so we decided to leave around 10 this morning in anticipation of traffic. Our trip to Bath may have to come another time but if all goes well and we make good time we might be able to fit it in.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Strongbow Meets its Match
Those who are familiar with Robert’s drinking habits know that among his favorite drinks is cider. During his first trip to the UK in 2000 his love affair with cider began with Strongbow (who at the time were sponsors of Leeds United FC). Having since tried most every cider known to be sold in the United States, he has come back to the UK and discovered a cider that rivals that love of Strongbow, Magners Irish Cider. Strongbow is a very nice and crisp dry cider that finishes clean with a very light apple and pear aftertaste that is golden in color. Magners is also crisp but slightly less dry with a stronger fruit aftertaste and a color similar to that of a rosé champagne. Both ciders are very refreshing and definitely worth a try. These two similar ciders differ, however, in the way they are served. Magners is a bottled cider that is served with a glass of ice while Strongbow is served on draught or from a can. Strongbow can be found stateside but it is unknown if Magners is available.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

On this 21st of December, all of those who reside in the United Kingdom are coping with the effects of an amazing phenomenon. Christmas officially exploded. It started days ago, with the tremors set to continue for days to come as it would seem. In the weeks before Christmas, offices take half-days off and head into town for long celebratory lunches that seem to never end. Pantomime parties, or 'panto-parties', are also very popular around this time of year. When we arrived last week, Christmas was in full swing and quickly took the form of Halloween in New Orleans. It was a Wednesday evening when we took a walk on Wind Street, Swansea's answer to Austin's 6th Street, and bore witness to revelers puking in the streets while others stumbled out of pubs dressed as Captain America or Luciano Pavarotti. That was 6pm...we didn't stick around for closing time.
Tomorrow is Angie's office party.

But it's not only the drinkers that have Christmas by the throat, the shoppers are absolutely in overdrive. With shopping in South Wales so concentrated between the cities of Swansea and Cardiff, the public transportation and car traffic in and out of the towns is awful. Angie's 20 minute drive to work is followed by an hours drive from work. We hope our trip to Reading this weekend happens without incident.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

As the sun sets on our first week in the UK, we’re starting to feel more at home. But there are a few things that are different, things that we need some time getting used to. We got our car, a Ford Fiesta…very nice and compact, it fits almost anywhere. Angie is our driver for now, she has the most experience and she’s doing great…except the right-hand turns across traffic are a little scary. Our big test is driving to Reading this weekend to see Reading FC host Everton FC. If all goes well, we could make a stop in Bath in the Avon Valley to see the only naturally occurring hot springs in the UK and home to artifacts that pre-date the Romans.

Another adjustment that needs recognition is the size of things. Things are a bit smaller here and we knew that going in. The car is fine; in fact, if it were any bigger it might be a problem. But the one thing that has taken quite a bit of getting used to is the bed. Robert is a light sleeper, like a cat…Angie, like a rock. But if you shrink the bed a bit and put us nearly shoulder to shoulder, everything changes.

We’ve also just learned to use the oven and stove. Our first dinner in our flat that we cooked ourselves was a success...we had steak w/ Stilton butter, roasted herbed potatoes, asparagus w/ garlic and red wine….some things don’t need any adjustment. Next on the list is the washer/dryer combo.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Highlights: Swansea Marina & Swansea Bay

A walk at the beach...

Bay View flats...

The Pumphouse, Marina brew house and wine bar...

Gallini's, our Marina restaurant...

View of Mumbles & lighthouse from Swansea Bay...

Sculpture of Swansea native, writer and poet Dylan Thomas.

The Locals...

Looking West from Swansea Beach...

View of our apartment building (second from left) from Marina.

Modern Art, part of Maritime Quarter revitalization project.

Captain Cat awakens sailors with his morning bell...

Sail Bridge, Gateway to Swansea Marina

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Swansea City AFC 5-0 Carlisle United
We got the sun we were looking for today and started off with a nice breakfast at home and had an amazing lunch at local Spanish restaurant la Braseria before heading off to the match. We went to the Liberty Stadium and saw the hosts Swansea City defeat Carlisle United 5-0. The atmosphere was amazing, and with an almost capacity crowd on hand the Swans took an early lead on 7 minutes and never looked back. Swansea has a team full of decent players and played a very good style of football, making Carlisle look second rate. The win put them in the sixth position in the league. With the quality of the team and the stadium only minutes away we anticipate attending many more matches. Come on you Swans!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Settling In
Today is Friday, day four, and we're beginning to settle. The shift in time has been difficult but manageable and we have the weekend to look forward to. The apartment is nice and has made us realize that we have far too much stuff and are suffering from a bit of packing regret. Robert has locked himself in to the apartment and we've already blown a fuse trying to adapt our electronics. But the sun is trying to peek through the clouds today and from all indications we'll have sun this weekend. Last night we went for a walk into town in search of food and a television showing the UEFA Cup match between Tottenham Hotspur and Dinamo Bucharest. We ended up at The Potters Wheel, where we had a good dinner and even better ale. "Brains" is the signature beer in Wales and we tried two of its offerings: Brains SA, a very nutty amber ale with a smooth creamy finish and SA Gold, a hoppy golden ale that finished dry. Both were excellent. Oh, and Tottenham won, 3-1.

Tomorrow we'll be heading just north of town to the Liberty Stadium to see Swansea City FC host Carlisle United and on Sunday we're heading west of Swansea and traveling along the coastline of the Gower Peninsula, the first area of the United Kingdom to be designated as an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Since I have a lot of time to look around during the week I thought I would do some highlight photo blogs that concentrate on areas of Swansea or Wales or wherever we may be that is of particular interest. Although the weather is not ideal for the best of photographs I’ll try to give you a good visual collage of what makes this place so special. Check in later this week to see the first highlight: the Swansea Marina.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

At Home in Swansea (Abertawe)
After a long day of travel we arrived in Swansea. Long story short: avoid Chicago at any cost. Pictured above, the view from our third floor apartment overlooks the Swansea Marina. The harbor is full of sailboats and swans a’swimming and is surrounded by pubs and restaurants. That night we went to dinner at Gallini’s, a restaurant recommended by our realtor that is a five minute walk across the harbor. We had the most delicious fresh fish and some of the most well cooked and amazingly flavorful mussels we’ve ever had. We went home and fell asleep to the sounds of the wind whipping through the masts of the sailboats in the marina.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Off We Go
Bags are packed, house is clean, pets are gone and we're out the door. When we arrive in the UK it will be Tuesday morning and having watched an incredible match between Arsenal FC and Chelsea FC yesterday, the country may still be buzzing about the result. We can hardly wait to get amongst the people, the history and the culture. But for me, I can't wait until we head into town on Saturday to the Liberty Stadium to see Swansea City FC play host to Carlisle United.

For now its hours of planes, trains and automobiles for us...

Friday, December 08, 2006

One Last Jog
Angie, aka "Little Fundamental", takes her Thompson's Gazelle-like strides to Dallas to take part in the 35th Annual Dallas Marathon events on Sunday. She will be running the half-marathon with Baton Rouge friends Holly and Dane who just last weekend ran the half-marathon held in conjunction with the 8th Annual Baton Rouge Beach Marathon.
The forecast calls for around 45
°F at the start of the race with a 30% chance for afternoon showers. Good luck guys!

Sunday, 10 December: Angie has returned from Dallas having completed the half-marathon in
1:57:14. Congratulations!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

We Have an Address
We were beginning to get a little nervous. Only four days until we move and we had no idea where in Swansea we were going to live. But today we got the long-awaited email. We'll be living in the Swansea Marina area. An apartment overlooking the Marina and only minutes from a train station is enough to get the butterflies working. It hasn't hit us quite yet, but the excitement of what is to come is creeping in. The rigormoral of getting our house and pets ready has gotten in the way of really thinking about what were actually doing. We're moving to Wales!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Not a Short Sleeve in Sight
Packing for a 5-6 month trip to Wales in wintertime isn't fun. Jackets, sweaters, pants and shoes take up a significant amount of space. So here we are, 6 days away, and we have 2 carry-on bags, 4 bags to check and 2 boxes full of winter gear to send via mail. It is yet to be seen if we can trim any of this off and pack lighter.
I am reminded of our friends Suneel and Melinda and their Round the World Trip and the bags/backpacks they must have taken. They surely couldn't have packed as much but we're interested to know what they didn't pack. Check out their blog, what a journey.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Breaking Up is Hard to Do
For the first time in 4 years our group of beloved pets will be separated. Leaving them behind will be bittersweet for us, but we leave them in very capable hands. True to form it is friends and family that have come to us and offered their homes to them while we're away. The dog, 11yr. old Trigger, will be spending his time with Robert's parents while the cats, Pinky and Jennifer, will take their naps with longtime friend Jeffray. Our outdoor cat Paddington will remain here at home, just the way he likes it.

We're not looking forward to being without our animal friends but know that they don't share quite the same enthusiasm as we do when it comes to world travel. And they don't pack well.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Official Supporters
Yesterday we received our membership cards for Premiership team Reading FC. Relative to Swansea, Reading is the closest side in England's top division and home to American players Bobby Convey and Marcus Hahnemann.
Our member cards entitle us to greater access to tickets to see some of the best football in the world. Teams like Liverpool FC, Newcastle United, Portsmouth FC, Aston Villa and West Ham United will visit Reading during our time in the UK.
Our first purchase was tickets to see Everton FC visit Reading's Madejski Stadium on December 23.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Change of Venue
Angie and I have had a dream since the beginning. The dream of living abroad in the United Kingdom, living amongst the most passionate fan base in world football. Four months after we met in 2002, we were in England traveling by foot, bus, train and plane to see 5 matches in 9 days. Matches in Leeds, Liverpool, London and Newcastle were enough for us to know where we wanted to be.

We vowed to come back and do it again.

Our dream has been realized. This time however, we have over 5 months to experience not only the football in the UK, but the culture and lifestyles of the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe. We'll be based out of Swansea (Carmarthenshire, South Wales). Angie will work on assignment in nearby Llanelli and I will serve, among other things, as our travel guide. Our trip begins with a long travel day on December 11th that will take us to Chicago, Dublin, Birmingham and finally Swansea...our new home.