Monday, December 29, 2014

There's a Flag on the Field

During our recent trip to Baltimore in December, and as a birthday treat for Hubby, we went to our first American Football game - the Baltimore Ravens versus the Jacksonville Jaguars (correctly pronounced "jag-wires").

I'm not a sports-fan of any description, so if you're looking for a blow-by-blow account of the game then you're in the wrong place.  But it was a spectacle to watch the pre-game entertainment, the cheerleaders (looking a little cold in their purple sexy santa outfits), and the marching band.  And bits of the game were interesting at times, if a little long-winded and drawn-out! (imho).  Cries of "There's a flag on the field", "de-fence" and "move those chains" (?) (still no clue) made for crowd participation, as well as regular standing up and cheering.

It was freezing cold, and we were sat right at the top of the stadium, and although we'd wrapped up well I was still grateful for my newly purchased purple Ravens bobble hat!  We munched on the obligatory pretzels, bought bottles from the lads who balanced crates of beer on their heads and ran (yes, ran) up the steep concrete steps of the stadium, watched tail-gaters stuffing their faces in the car parks, and generally absorbed the atmosphere of "the game"! 

Apparently Hubby has now seen an advert for an outdoor ice hockey game - now that will be cold!

Saturday, December 20, 2014


Baltimore was a fun city to visit - even just the relatively small bit of it we saw in mid-December.  The city sits barely 90 minutes' drive from our home in  Pennsylvania, across the border in to Maryland.  Our hotel was based in the Inner Harbour area - the perfect spot for exploring some of the key sites during our short stay. 


Not knowing much about the area, I had no real expectations of Baltimore, but I loved it - it was very friendly with plenty to see and do.  And although its historical background was still there, it wasn't the "in yer face" version of history that was so prevalent in Boston.  Baltimore played a part in the American Revolution, and it was the city where the Star-Spangled Banner was first written as a poem by Francis Scott Key, after the city had defended its harbour from the British.  It reminded me of both Portsmouth and Cardiff Bay - areas that had historical significance, and after a period of decline had been invested in and redeveloped to their advantage.  And there were some small reminders of home - the Lightship Chesapeake, which echoes the one docked in Cardiff Bay, and the historic ships (normally) on display - the USS Constellation, the submarine USS Torsk, and the Taney, the last surviving warship from Pearl Harbor.
On our first afternoon, we visited Fells Point - an area along the harbour with a surprisingly English feel to the quaint cobbled square, brick built terraced houses, boutique shops and myriad pubs / bars.  In the fading afternoon sun it looked quite atmospheric with the twinkly Christmas lights.  Returning later that evening to sample some of the pubs was a slightly different story - there appeared to be an Ugly Christmas Sweater competition going on, with inebriated drinkers spilling out of every bar - it made for interesting people watching!

We were disappointed that the USS Constellation had been taken away for "essential repairs", but that gives us another reason to visit - perhaps in the Spring / Summer when the harbour will really come into it's own.  We also didn't make it over the Fort McHenry, partly because the ferries weren't running for the winter season.  However, we were blessed with (mostly) good weather - chilly but clear and bright.  There were enough shops close by the Harbour to keep me occupied for a couple of hours (chain stores and cute boutiques), and plenty of lovely eateries, including the too-tempting Cheesecake Factory (it would have been rude not to have sampled their fare).  We also ate a lovely meal in Flemings one evening - perfect service, perfect steaks, and some lovely little extra touches in acknowledgement of Hubby's birthday.

As it was Hubby's birthday, we also had tickets for our first American Football game - the Baltimore Ravens versus the Jacksonville Jaguars.  We also visited the National Aquarium - amazing exhibits of underwater life around the world from tiny seahorses to huge ominous-looking sharks and playful dophins.

We both loved Baltimore - and as it's relatively close to us, I have a feeling we will be back.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pennsylvania Snow

Last week, just before Thanksgiving, we experienced our first proper Pennsylvania snow. 
DewCatDesigns Snowman
Now I'm a southern English girl - born and brought up near Portsmouth (near the sea) and then moved and settled in Cardiff in South East Wales (near the sea).  So snow hasn't really been a frequent occurrence, other than on more recent skiing trips to Andorra (and because you're skiing, you kind of expect the snow, and the ski resorts are built for it and cope rather well, unsurprisingly).  Don't get me wrong, a few years ago in Cardiff we had one or two particularly heavy snowfalls which made getting to work a bit of a nightmare, and caused the usual inconveniences, but it didn't hang around for that long and it's not a normal occurrence.  And it tends to get grey and sludgy pretty quickly.

The weather forecasts here in the US are something on the dramatic side - often they're given by the [dramatic voice] "Storm Watch Team".  But whilst they tend to over-dramatise things, they're actually quite accurate.  So when hubby sent me out on a mission for snow shovels and ice scrapers on Monday because snow was forecast before Thursday, I thought it was perhaps a bit of overkill.  However, early on Wednesday morning, as we drove to the gym, it started to rain / sleet.  Within half an hour, it was snowing lightly.  By the time we left the gym, it had started to lay in the car-park.  Driving home through swirling snow "flakes" the size of tennis balls is interesting.  So we holed up at home in the warm and cosy and watched as the scenery gradually whited out.

Within 45 minutes, everything was covered.  It was actually quite beautiful.  It snowed for the rest of the day - a good 4-6 inches.  Whilst the snowfall stopped late on Wednesday night, the snow itself hung around in our back yard for the rest of the weekend, only really disappearing in the rain yesterday.  Luckily we didn't have to go anywhere, and the two of us had our inaugural Thanksgiving dinner looking out onto pure white.

The roads were cleared really quickly, and when I went out again on Friday morning, despite having to clear 3 inches of frozen snow from my car, the world was moving once again perfectly normally, despite piles of snow 6 feet deep in all the car parks (cleared very promptly for all the Black Friday bargain-hunters).  And seemingly none of the grey sludgy stuff to contend with.
We've been warned about the winters here - the last few have apparently been particularly bad - so this may be the first snowfall of a recurring theme for the next few months!