Visits

The day the Grinch made my Christmas

As I may have  mentioned, it still doesn’t feel anything like Christmas here yet.  I’ve been for a walk on the beach today and it was red hot and sunny.  Are you sure its 19th December?

Yesterday, in an attempt to inject some festive spirit into the season, the husband and I pottered off to Williamsburg again.  We started off at the shopping mall, where we were treated to various weird karaoke cover versions of Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody” blasting out of the speakers.  So this masterpiece has reached this country then.  But why are they not playing the original?  Despite having a couple of dedicated Christmas radio stations available, the only vaguely modern festive tunes I’ve heard are Wham’s “Last Christmas” and that hideous Marah Carey screechy thing.  Although, on a different note, they are well into their classic Christmas films over here and I had the absolute joy of watching Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in “White Christmas” last week.  Bliss.  In fact there seems to be a minimum of about 6 different Christmas films on every day at the moment.  Some good, some bad, and unfortunatey a fair amount of Home Alone.

Anyway, I digress.  We managed to find the closest thing to a pub that we have seen since moving out here nearly six months ago.  Before we moved, I dreamed of finding my own local Cheers bar, or Maclaren’s Pub from “How I Met Your Mother”, or at the very least The Brick from “Northern Exposure”.  An actual bar that just sells beer and other alcohol and doesn’t pretend to be some bad nightclub or restaurant at the same time.  Well, in my neck of the woods, this kind of thing just does not exist.  Until I found Oceans and Ale yesterday.  It looks like a traditional bar.  It serves food but for a change the veggie option is a proper meal (I had the fajitas but there were other choices too) and not just some side dishes squished together or, even worse, a main meal where I’ve had to ask for it to be cooked without the meat and then hope they’ve actually done that.  Most importantly, (and not surprisingly, given the name) it sells real ales including six guest ales.  I had a sampler of four beers (served in adorable miniature glasses) including the spectacular Cafe Royale by Alewerks which smelt and tasted of strong coffee with a hint of chocolate.  Amazing.  The only drawback about this whole bar is the fact that it’s an hour’s drive from where we live.  So not exactly my local then.  Oh well.

So after a lovely lunch we had a wander about the shops.  Every year we say that we don’t want presents so we don’t bother buying each other anything, but then we do something like this and end up with a few nice new things anyway.  Not that they will be getting wrapped up as we’re both already wearing most of our new purchases.

I watched The Grinch the other night for the first time ever and I have to say I’m totally on his side, to quote Sheldon “right up until his heart grew three sizes and he gave all the presents back”.  He’s totally right; Christmas should not be about how much money you can spend or how many lights you can put up (oh, and FYI, and if you would like an idea of the amount of Christmas lights people in this neighbourhood put up on their houses, just watch the Grinch and you will get a fair comparison).  Anyway, I was mightily cheered yesterday when my hubby bought me not one but TWO different pairs of Converse hi-tops with the Grinch on them.  Ah yes, I can celebrate my new found love of the Grinch through the medium of Converse.  What’s not to like?  Did I say Christmas was not about how much money you can spend?  These were buy one pair get one 50% off.   It’s the thought that counts.

After a bit more meandering around the shops, punctuated by a visit to my good friends Ben & Jerry, we went into Colonial Williamsburg, which I think makes three visits now this year.  Because it’s an 18th century village, the decorations are very traditional and, of course, non-electric.  Basically they had proper fresh cut wreaths on the doors and candles burning in all the windows.  Incredibly pretty.  Best of all, once it got dark they brought out what can only be described as hanging baskets of fire and left them unattended outside all of the houses.  Unattended, I tell you!!  This would never happen in the UK.  Have they never heard of health and safety???  There were more flaming bouquets in the main square where lots of people had gathered to watch the pipe and drum marching band (all dressed in Colonial army uniforms) playing Christmas carols.  My favourite part was watching chunks of burning embers falling from the pyro-garnishes and landing perilously close to people’s feet/shopping/children etc.  It was refreshing to not have three marshals with fire extiquishers standing next to every open flame for a change.  That’s the Christmas spirit.

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All Creatures Great & Small

We’ve seen quite a bit of wildlife over the past couple of days.  Yesterday we went to the Zoo.  I’ve still not really made my mind up about this.  On the one hand, it’s a great idea for raising awareness and funds for conservation projects and a fair number of the animals would probably not survive in the wild as they have injuries, such as the bald eagles with damaged wings that just wouldn’t be able to look after themselves or hunt properly.  It’s just that, well, on the other hand the animals in the zoo just look so depressed.  They’re usually not in their natural environment with its accompanying geography or climate.  A bit like me actually (but I’m pretty happy about my situation).

Today, however, we went for a cycle around our local wildlife refuge which is an expanse of 9,250 acres that sits on a very narrow strip of land along the coast.  This gave us the opportunity to see snakes (at least three different types, including the venomous Cottonmouth Snake), birds of prey and turtles, lots and lots of turtles (Yellow-Bellied Sliders, in fact).  No matter how small, I think it’s still more special to see real wild animals scuttling past and surprising you than seeing even the most majestic elephant or giraffe that’s been ushered into an small enclosure to meet you.  Especially when you’re not entirely sure whether or not the snake blocking your path is the venomous one you’ve been warned about.  There is nothing quite so heartwarming as seeing a family of turtles sunbathing together on a riverbank.  There’s also nothing quite so pants-filling as standing in a wooden shelter in the woods reading about the dangerous feral hogs when you hear a loud crashing nearby.  Even if it does only turn out to be a squirrel (I swear it was wearing clogs and tapdancing on the roof).

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Wine & Salt

So we went off on part two of our cycling trip around the Williamsburg area, exploring a few places we didn’t get to see last week.  First of all we did a circular route around Little Creek Reservoir.  If last week’s scenery was like the New Forest, this week it was reminiscent of the Lake District.  We parked by the ranger’s office and got a little scared by the buckets of bullets sitting outside, as well as slightly startled by the sight of some of the locals with their guns and nets.  Hopefully they were just off to catch some animals.  Not British cyclists.  This route took us through some lovely woods which were full of cottages backing onto the reservoir, many with rocking chairs on the front porches, thankfully none boasting a banjo-playing resident.  Being a nice sunny morning we had a highly enjoyable trip through the scenic countryside, however we were somewhat pleased that we hadn’t tried to squeeze this trip in at the end of last week’s day of cycling.  We didn’t really fancy being lost out here after dark.

We saw a lot of wildlife on our travels – raccoon, lizard, beaver, birds of prey, deer etc.  Oh, which reminds me, the day before this trip I was lucky enough to watch a school of dolphins playing in the sea at our local beach.  I’ve never seen them in the wild before and they were adorable!

Anyway, next we cycled along part of the Colonial National Historic Parkway that we had driven the week before, this time at a much more pleasant pace which allowed us to enjoy the scenery of the water and the trees as well as reading the boards that tell you the history of the area.  We stopped off at Williamsburg Winery for a tour and a tasting.  Being an east coast winery, they were somewhat disparaging of Californian wines and seemed to prefer the European style of winemaking.  After a wander around their cellars we tasted a good selection of the wines that they produce.  There were a few gems (some yucky ones too, but we all have different tastes), the best being the dessert wine that was basically red wine mixed with raspberry juice.  I also rather enjoyed the Settlers Spiced Wine, which is their version of gluhwein and we drank it cold but I can imagine it would be spectacular hot.  Being on our bikes we were somewhat short of space so we only managed to take home our souvenir tasting glasses and one bottle of wine.

We then cycled onto the Salt Spa, which is a strange but nice place.  It’s in a tiny and unassuming office block behind the Bank of America and it looks just like any other office until they open the door at the back and lead you into a small salt cavern.  It has mood lighting set into the walls and several inches of salt on the floor.  You lay back in a sun lounger which makes you feel like you are weightless and you listen to the usual relaxing spa music while breathing in the salt-infused air.  It does appear to have real health benefits for the respiratory system.  There was a man in there who said he felt like he had a huge weight on his chest at the start of the session, but by the end he could breathe freely again.  I just found it really relaxing and a nice break from cycling in the hot sunshine.

After that we cycled the rest of the way back to Williamsburg including some rather busy major roads, which was a bit of a shock after the peaceful countryside of the rest of the day.  All in all, another very enjoyable day with about 22 miles of cycling achieved, and some spectacularly hot and sunny weather for the end of September.

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USS Wisconsin – 20th July 2012

Today we visited the USS Wisconsin which is an Iowa-Class US Battleship that was in service from the 1940s to the 1990s.  If you’re not familiar with this type of ship, it’s quite a lot like the one in this Cher video.   No such cavorting in evidence today (far too warm for that type of thing) but we did meet a US Navy veteran who had served on the ship from 1944-46 and told us a few tales of how they used to pass the time and make their own entertainment in cramped conditions on the ship.  All very impressive.

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