Dear readers, I need your assistance…

Sasieology is all about visiting new places and trying new experiences. When I first started this blog, I challenged myself to visit at least one new place and try at least one new experience or activity every year. I have certainly achieved that target in 2015.

In January, I went skiing in Andorra

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

I managed to squeeze in a camping weekend to Watchet in Somerset…

DSC_0180

My big adventure of the year started in Sacramento, CA…

DSC_0284

Before a whirlwind tour of the Northwest coast of the USA, stopping in Portland

DSC_0297

… and Seattle

DSC_0346

Then I chilled out on the deck of an Alaska Marine Highway ferry for three nights…

DSC_0419

When I arrived in Alaska, I visited so many amazing places like Ketchikan, Haines, Skagway, Anchorage, Homer, Seward, Whittier, Valdez, McCarthy, Kennecott, Tangle Lakes and Denali. I also got to try glacier walking, and I took a flightseeing tour over Wrangell St Elias National Park…

DSC_0144DSC_0292

Back in Cardiff, I used my detective skills to give a murder mystery a try…

DSC_0444

And I also chilled out in a massage workshop with my friend Alicia…

DSC_0478_01

Now that 2015 is almost over, it’s time to think about next year. Call me crazy, but I have decided to try and do even more next year. My plan is to visit 12 new places and try 12 new experiences, one for each month of the year.

So, I need your help to generate some ideas. I already have some trips planned, and some ideas of activities that I’d like to try. But, what do you think should be on my list for 2016? I will only consider ideas that are vegan-friendly, and I will probably be staying within Europe, but I would love to hear what you all think. 🙂

 

Murder Mystery Treasure Trail Cardiff

DSC_0444

My friends complain that I’m really difficult to buy gifts for, but they always get me great things. A couple of years ago, my friend Catherine bought me a murder mystery themed Treasure Trail for Cardiff. In all honesty, I filed it away somewhere vowing to get it out and actually do it one day. As the weather was so beautiful in Cardiff this weekend, and believe me that is not something  we have said often this year, I decided to go on that treasure hunt that I had been promising myself.

Treasure Trails have designed hundreds of these handy little packs for locations all over the UK. As you follow the clues to solve the puzzle you are taken on a cultural tour that pushes you to find details you wouldn’t normally notice. It’s great fun if you have kids, although admittedly I followed the trail all on my and it was just as entertaining.

The Cardiff murder mystery trail begins at the National Museum of Wales. A mummified body has been discovered in the Ancient Egyptian exhibition, and it’s been deceased for less than 2 months. My quest was to find out who carried out this crime and how the victim died. The first clue was on the foundation plaque outside the museum, and involved some maths which left me in a bit of a panic. You are allowed to request 3 answers to clues via SMS, and I had an embarrassing vision of me using all three of them on the first 3 questions. After double checking my numbers, though, I was able to figure it out and I was off.

DSC_0446 DSC_0447 DSC_0448DSC_0450 DSC_0451 DSC_0452

Clue 4 is where I came unstuck. After walking in circles around Bute Park for 30 minutes, I remembered that it had recently had a renovation, since my trail was published in fact. Maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long to solve this murder mystery.

DSC_0453 DSC_0454

Over two hours, the trail took me on a gentle walk around the park, castle, the Millennium Stadium and city centre. After living in Cardiff for 8 years, I’m ashamed to admit just how much I haven’t noticed before. I have walked through The Hayes hundreds of times and yet never known that some of the traffic bollards I am rushing past have spy holes with beautiful silhouetted scenes inside them.

DSC_0473

Unfortunately, I’m not the best at following directions and I did get lost/confused a few times. Maybe I should have brought a child along to help me. There was also an amusing moment when I was looking for a clue outside the Hilton hotel. At the same time, there was a crowd of rugby fans waiting for the All Blacks to leave the building. Stood there with my camera and notebook I must have looked like a serious autograph hunter. They all looked a little shocked when, once I’d found my clue, I moved on before the players had even appeared.

DSC_0471

The murder mystery trail is a great, cheap way to spend a couple of hours. I’m definitely going to check out some of the other trails when I’m visiting other UK cities. When I was a kid, there was a popular British TV show called Treasure Hunt. Anneka Rice would fly around the UK in her helicopter, wearing a lycra jumpsuit, and help players to solve clues. I used to love following along at home, and dreamed of one day being on such an adventure. The lycra jumpsuit probably wouldn’t have been appropriate on this occasion and the helicopter would have been a little extravagant, but I got to experience a real life treasure hunt.

My biggest piece of advice would be, unlike I did, to use an up-to-date trail. I resorted to the magic of google to fill in a few gaps, but I did make it to the end. And did I solve the mystery? Well, I can’t give that away can I? You’ll have to come to Cardiff and try for yourself.

It Must Be Courgette Season Again!

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

We had a bumper crop of courgettes at Plasnewydd Community Garden this weekend:

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

After what felt like weeks of eating only courgettes last summer, I didn’t think I could come up with a new recipe involving them. However, using some vegan pesto, mushrooms, olives and gnocchi, ta daaaaaa…

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

Playing on the mountain in Austria

DSC_0680

As you know, it is one of my missions to try at least one new activity every year. I’m fortunate to say that I usually get through a few before winter comes around.

Sometimes you plan new activities months in advance. They’re dreams, items to tick off your bucketlist. You’ve read articles about them, heard accounts of experiences from other people and you can’t wait to try them for yourself.

DSC_0578And sometimes, new activities get thrust upon you by surprise. That’s what happened to me last week when I was in Austria visiting family. Muttereralm, just outside of the city of Innsbruck, is home to a 5km toboggan run in the winter. Ever efficient, the local Austrians couldn’t just let the track sit there all summer not being used, so they’ve turned it into a mountain carting track. My brother has three young children, and had been wanting to try out the carting with the eldest two for a while. However, the logistics of looking after three children between two adults meant that he hadn’t been able to. So, when I arrived, he asked me if I would come along and have a go too. I’d never heard of mountain carting, I had no idea what it was or what I was required to do, so of course I said yes straight away.

The carts, or buggies, are fairly basic, just a frame with three wheels, two brakes and a DSC_0678low seat. After some safety instruction from one of the team at the top of the mountain, we were off. I had my niece on my knee and my brother was in front of us with my nephew.

I’m not really an adrenaline junkie, but I have to say this experience was so much fun. I will warn you that it’s a bumpy ride, in fact I’m convinced that they dig out extra ruts in the track for the buggies because I’m sure the toboggan run in the winter is much smoother. My niece, holding on tight to the cross bar, was bouncing up and down on my knee as we bumped along the off-road path and negotiated hairpin turns. She was also laughing her head off all the way down, and I am so grateful that I got to share such an amazing and fun experience with her.

DSC_0889At only 10 euros each, I think mountain carting at Muttereralm is really good value for money. It works out about the same as catching the gondola back down the mountain.

Whilst I was in Austria, I also got to go rock climbing with my niece and nephew. Climbing is not a new activity for me, and pretty much everyone in our family has climbing experience, but we never get to do it together. Sharing a sunny afternoon together and having fun was a highlight of the trip for me. As an added bonus, my mum also joined in with the climbing. Climbing with my mum is another first for me, and I never thought I would get to say that I belayed my mum!

New Activity Alert!: Kettlebells

Water Bottle

We’re only in Febuary, and already this year I have visited one new place (Pila) AND I’ve tried a new activity. Yesterday, I went to my first kettlebells class. For anyone who doesn’t know, kettlebells involves doing exercises that work the whole body with a massive weight in your hands.

There were only six of us in the class, so unfortunately hiding in a corner wasn’t an option. The instructor worked us hard, but wasn’t too cruel. He put us through a really good mix of lunges, swings, arm raises, leg raises and squats. I can definitely feel the toning effect on my muscles already today, although getting my bike going at spin class tonight was a little tougher than usual because my legs were a bit sore!

Going Ape in Bournemouth

Apologies that I have been a bit absent on my blog recently. I have been super busy for the past few weeks, and I’ve got lots of great adventures to share with you all (as soon as I get time to sit down and type what’s in my head!). I’ve also been struck down by the dreaded hayfever that seems to have taken over Britain since the weather got warmer. Personally, I’m blaming London. Hayfever is always worse in the city, and since I visited the capital I’ve had an itchy nose, a tickly throat and my voice in the mornings makes me sound like a teenage boy. For three days last week it took all my energy to drag myself to work. As soon as I retuned home, all I wanted to do was sleep. As everyone knows, I hate being ill, and I’m really happy to be feeling better and ready to get going again.

So, where were we?

A couple of weeks ago I shared with you some of my photos from my recent trip to Bournemouth to celebrate my friend’s hen weekend. As well as getting to visit a new place, I was also lucky to try not one but two (yes, TWO :)) new activities in one day.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA
Me and the Hen

The whole weekend was organised brilliantly by Kirsty. I didn’t envy her job. Cath’s friends range from those of us who are at our happiest in the great outdoors sleeping in a tent, to some girls who are more used to comfortable hotels and beauty treatments. To please us all, Kirsty arranged for us to spend the day at Go Ape.

The first activity was the tree-top adventure. I was more than a little nervous, as I have a fear of heights. I took up indoor climbing a few years ago to overcome my phobia, and although I’m more comfortable at the top of the wall now and I’ve learnt to trust the equipment more, it’s still a fight everytime between my mind and my body. I was determined to not let the tree top adventure get the better of me, though, and I knew that I’d be disappointed if I walked away without completing the challenge.

The experience starts with a training session, and you get ALOT of training because you’re going to need it. I always assumed there would be instructors up in the trees with us, but once they’re sure you are safe, you’re on your own. The course is split into five areas which are spread out amongst the beautiful woodland, and on each one the obstacles get harder and higher.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

Out of our group of 11, 7 of us attempted the first two areas. When you’re up there, it’s scary to know that your safety depends totally upon yourself. If your equipment isn’t clipped in properly before you set off over a balancing beam or down a zip wire, it’s entirely your own fault.

When I started to get over the heights issue, it occured to me that this was a really physical challenge as well. The obstacles (between the trees) weren’t easy, and climbing up rope ladders and cargo nets is hard work.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

Five of us continued on to the final three areas. As we progressed through the obstacles and got used to the equipment, my confidence grew. It really helped to have four great women on the journey with me.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

The biggest challenge for me personally turned out to be just before the end of the course. In the final area, there is a MASSIVE tarzan swing where you have to attach yourself to a rope, jump off a platform and swing into a huge cargo net. There is another option to avoid the swing, but I knew it would make me feel proud to accomplish the jump. We’d done a much smaller tarzan swing earlier on in the day which had been really smooth because when you jumped you were already at the full length of the rope. I innocently assumed the bigger jump would just be a bigger version. How wrong I was. There was a lot more rope still to give on this one, and as I stepped off the platform I dropped a good few feet before the swing kicked in. My friends very rarely hear me scream, but on that day some of them got to.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

Each area ended with a zip wire, something I never thought I would have the nerve to do. During training, our lovely instructor Kerry had told us that when you land forward on a zip wire you should start running in the air and then continue as you reach the ground. However, she added, you are much more likely to come in backwards or sideways. In which case you should relax your body and drag your feet through the wood chip they put down for a more comfortable landing. Everyone in our group landed at least one each forwards, except me. On every landing, not only did I come in backwards but I bounced along the ground three or four times before I eventually stopped. I even lost my shoe at one point. I had wood chip everywhere. It was in my underwear, my jogging bottoms, my shoes and my socks. When we returned to the hotel, I left a trail of the stuff from our room to the swimming pool.

I’m so proud of myself for not only attempting, but completing, the tree-top adventure course. I never in my wildest dreams thought I could conquer my fears like that.

Our other activity that day was also quite scary, although for different reasons. Segways are a very different and fun way to zip around the forest. It’s a strange feeling to control a vehicle using mainly pressure from your feet, but I’m glad I got to give them a go and I can see why they are so popular for city tours. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to carry cameras on the segways, so I don’t have any photos to show you. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind a segway for beating the shopping crowds in Cardiff on a weekend 🙂

Roath Lake and my 5k training

DSC_0321

I’m not going to lie, I’m terrible at running. I always have been. I used to dread cross-country at school. I had no stamina, and I would usually end up falling in a ditch (my old school is surrounded by them as our whole village is built on reclaimed marshland). Come to think of it, my form weren’t good at sport at all. Our form teacher was just glad if we turned up for sports day. The school had a rule that students could only compete in three events each, to give everyone a fair go at participating. They had to make an exception to the rule for our form, because we didn’t have enough girls willing to compete in anything. I remember one year when only three of us turned up on the day. One girl had to run the first and last legs of the 4x100m relay.

This year, my aim is to do more and one of the ambitions on my list is to run a 5k. I’m aware that 5k sounds like a pathetic distance to most people, but as you can see from my (non)athletic past, to me it is a challenge. Besides the fact that I am just plain terrible at running, I also have problems with my feet that cause me pain on a daily basis. I’m sure you don’t want to hear the details, but basically I have flat feet, short calf muscles and odd shaped bones. In most people, the bones in your feet slide past each other effortlessly without ever touching. In my feet, they scrape against each other and make it feel like someone is holding on to each end of my foot and twisting with all their might.

I’m not sure which 5k I’m going to do yet, or where, but I started training for it properly in January. I am incredibly lucky in that I have the perfect training ground right on my doorstep – Roath Park. Twice a week I run around the park – past the football and rugby pitches, the children’s playgrounds, the rose garden and the stunning Roath Lake.

Although I have to dodge the geese when I get to the lake (I had a bad experience with one that bit me at Lake Windermere when I was a child), there isn’t a ditch in sight for me to fall in.

DSC_0075

The light house on the lake was built to commemorate Captain Scott’s ill-fated voyage to the Antarctic from Cardiff in 1910.

DSC_0481

There are about 100 swans that live on the lake, plus lots of geese. I do my best to avoid them, including running off the path in big semi-circles. They also leave ‘deposits’ on the footpath that can make jogging interesting!

DSC_0070

One of my favourite features of the park, and there are many, is the sculpture inspired by Roald Dahl’s The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me situated in one of the children’s play areas. Dahl is one of my favourite authors, and a local hero here in Cardiff.

DSC_0083

A classic bit of British memorabilia. We don’t have much call for them anymore (excuse the pun), but I wouldn’t like to see them disappear from our landscape.

 

 

Rainy Sunday

scan0004

One of my big things this year is to do more. I don’t want to run myself into the ground, but I do want to get involved in as many community activities as possible. I’ve got lots of exciting events coming up over the next few weeks that I can’t wait to tell you about.

Yesterday, I ventured into a Cardiff neighbourhood that I hadn’t really been to before and visited one of our local community gardens. Projects like the community garden are perfect for people like me. I really want to learn about growing my own food, but no plant will live longer than a few days in my damp, mouldy, one-bedroom apartment. Yesterday I helped to plant some daffodils, which will hopefully be blooming ready for St Davids Day at the beginning of March, but generally there isn’t too much to be done in the garden at the moment. I’m really looking forward to when the weather gets nicer and I can get stuck in to some of the fantastic projects they have planned.

New Activity: Pottery Workshop

Today I got to try something that I have wanted to do since I was a child – pottery. We did have a kiln fitted at my high school a couple of years before I left, but for some reason I was never allowed to use it. I think maybe my sewing teacher had spoken to the art teacher and told her I was the one who kept (accidentally) breaking the sewing machines, and I was probably best kept away from machinery. On the plus side, I did get very good at hand-sewing whilst I was at school.

Anyway, back to the pottery. My local learning centre (the same place where I studied Welsh at night school) sometimes organise one-day courses in selected subjects such as arts and crafts, cookery and plumbing. When I learnt that today’s one-day school included pottery, I couldn’t wait to enrol.

Pottery is generally a very lengthy process as you have to wait for things to dry and be fired in the kiln in between the various stages. As we only had five hours, our instructor suggested we try making some slab pieces and plates because they are realistic to achieve in a day.

Slab work is when you cut the clay into pieces (or slabs), mould them into the various shapes you require, and then finally stick them all together to form the final object. So, for example, if you wanted to make a cup you would cut a slab for the main body of the cup, wrap it around something circular to create the right shape, cut another slab for the base and then attach a handle. We made the plates by pushing the clay into plaster moulds.

Making pottery look good really is a skill. The clay is nice and soft when you first bring it out of the bag, but it drys really quickly when it comes into contact with the air and is a lot fiddlier to handle than I imagined. Also, the clay in very sticky. When you’re rolling it out you have to keep moving it around so that it doesn’t stick to the table. Our instructor showed us how to imprint patterns into the clay using scraps of embossed wallpaper. I tried to do this on a vase that I was making, but then as soon as I tried to do anything else on the vase I ended up with my fingerprints all over my pretty pattern!

By far the part I enjoyed the most was decorating my pottery. You paint the clay using slip, which is basically watered-down clay with colourant added. It’s not the easiest thing that I’ve painted with, but I think I managed to pull it off. When working with pottery, it’s hard to tell how things are going to look once they’ve been in the kiln. I get to collect my pieces at the end of the month, so I’ll let you know the results. In the meantime, here’s a picture I took of one of my projects before it gets fired. It started off as a mug, but I was struggling to make the handle and it turned out a bit bigger than I thought. So, I decided to leave it at the pot stage. If it comes out of the kiln OK, I might use it to keep my paintbrushes in.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

Go Devils!

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

Still no snow here in Cardiff. There are rumours that it’s going to start this afternoon, but it’s already almost 5pm and the sky looks empty to me.

We don’t need the snow to experience the frozen world, though. Last night I took my seven year old godson to see his first ice-hockey game. I love watching ice-hockey, and I was really hoping that he would take to the new activity too.

Our local team are the Cardiff Devils, and last night they were playing the Fife Flyers. I have to say, fight wise, the match was quite tame compared to others that I have seen, but the game itself was really exciting. The Devils got off to a good start by scoring in the first third, and then again in the second. It looked like Fife might make a come-back in the final third when the score reached 2-1, but then Cardiff smashed in a third goal and it was all over.

As always, it was hard to gauge what my godson was thinking during all the action. I long ago gave up trying to second guess what he might and might not like, and his interest in things tends to come and go. As far as I could tell, he was more interested in the slush puppy he was drinking than the ice-hockey.

As we got into the car to drive home, all the thoughts that had clearly been filling his head for the previous couple of hours suddenly burst out of his mouth – ‘What was that number in the middle of the score board? What was your favourite part of the match? I had two favourite parts. One was when the Scottish player knocked the goal over, and the other was when that player broke his stick. Why are the other team called visitors on the score board…?’ and so on. It seems he’d been paying a lot more attention that I thought. It just goes to show, you should never underestimate kids!