Wales’ motto, “Gorau Chwarae, Cyd Chwarae”, transposed into the social media hashtag, #togetherstronger epitomised the dragons’ approach to their Euro 2016 campaign.
The debutants were underdogs from the start, but exceeded all expectations by defeating all odds firstly by toppings their group and then pulling off a miraculous victory against second ranked, Belgium, at the quarter finals, finding themselves just 90 minutes away from a place in the final. But Wales’ dream was cut just short of the line by superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and an invigorated Portugal team at the semis. With the final score set at 2-0 it could have been worse, but Wales didn’t manage to find the spark that they had shown in previous games and were unable to write themselves the fairy tale ending we were all hoping for.
Oh how nice the title of “finalists” would have been, but Chris Coleman’s men exit the tournament a unified and proud collective and returned home to an unprecedented heroes welcome.
The unity that this team has brought to our small nation eclipses anything I have ever witnessed or experience before, and not even Wales’ rugby endeavours has ever come anywhere close.
We are all so very proud of them and there is no question that an entirely new generation of sports men and women will be inspired by what this exceptional group of players have achieved on our behalf.
#TogetherStronger #YmaOHyd #CymruAmByth
Highlights of Wales’ Euro2016 campaign through the medium of gingerbread:
Home coming parade, Cardiff
Wales had already exceeded all expectations at the Euro2016 Finals by playing at the quarter finals against Northern Ireland last week but have now just gone and and surpassed their previous record of reaching the quarter-finals of the 1958 World Cup by securing their place at this tournament’s Semi Finals.
With Belgium ranked as number 2 in the world, no-one was truly expecting Wales to win the game. But the fates were on the Dragons’side on Friday evening, as Wales put in a spellbinding performance to beat the Belgiums decisively by three goals to one.
Hearts across the nation sank as Wales conceded an early goal, but Wales fought back with vigour and pizazz, determined not to let the early set back ruin their night. The equalizer came from captain, Ashley Williams (his first international goal) before half time, keeping Wales’ progression hopes alive. Wales’ fortunes then turned most spectacularly, as Hal Robson-Kanu was elevated to legendary status with what has to be a contender for goal of the tournament, as he befuddled three defenders with his incredible evasive turn to give Wales the lead.
Belgium just couldn’t seem to convert their continued attack on Wales’ goal into points, and the nail was finally hammered into Belgium’s tournament coffin as substitute, Sam Vokes, headed in another spectacular goal.
Wales are now set to take on football’s tournament pros, Portugal, in Lyon on Wednesday with a place at the final at stake. On an individual level, it will be a clash between two giants, Bale and Ronaldo, but everyone in the land of our fathers and indeed across the British Isles will be eager to cheer on the the collective Celtic underdogs in this unlikely of all showdowns.
Whatever the result on Wednesday, Coleman’s Dragons are already heroes, and have served to inspire a a nation with their team spirit and resolute determination against the most impossible odds.
History of the National Park Service
“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst” – Wallace Stegner
With the National Park Service commemorating its centennial in August, it seemed like an excellent opportunity for us to celebrate all things “national park” for this year’s July 4th weekend festivities.
The National Park Service was established to manage an increasing number of public parkland areas, and a corresponding increase in the people wanting to visit and enjoy them. By 1916, there were already 37 of these areas, including some of the most well known of the parks, such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and Mount Rainier, run by different organizations including the US Cavalry. The legacy of the National Park Service owed a lot to the conservationist, John Muir, who rallied like minded folk to ensure the future survival and preservation of the US’ most precious wilderness lands. He played a significant part in the establishment of the very first national parks, and Yellowstone National Park lays claim to being the first of the 59, having been established in 1872 by Ulysses S Grant.
The National Park Service was finally established by Congress on August 25 1916, on the signature of the National Park Service organic Act by President Woodrow Wilson.
Today, there are over 400 National Park Service run sites across 85 million acres, with 59 main large parks. The other sites include National Historic Parks and Historic Sites, National Seashores and Lakeshores, National Battlefields and Military Parks, National Recreation Areas and Parkways and National Memorials and National Monuments.
The Backdrop & Décor
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness” – John Muir
I was keen to capture the spirit of the national park estate across the different elements of the party, ranging from the décor to the food to the activities.
We were fortunate enough to visit Shenandoah NP about a month ago, and were able to source some key supplies during our visit as it can often be a challenge to get the necessary American products here in the UK, although it is getting better with many UK supermarkets now stocking American food and drinks (albeit often at a premium) and the increase in the efficiencies of trans-Atlantic shipping!
It started with a fabulously vintage-esq invitation created by the lovely Katie Barnes Studio on Etsy, with matching craft envelopes.
The colour scheme was inspired by the National Park Service’s arrowhead crest, which is made up of brown, orange and green. The use of logs and wood grain serve wear a tribute to the ancient forests of the National Park estate.
The small coasters are ancient bristlecone pine purchased from the Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite, and a selection of pinecones collected from our California and Washington trips (but not taken from within the national parks or national forests, of course!). The light box highlighted the centennial hashtags, #NPS100 and #FindYourPark.
But my favorite addition to the décor was my National Park tree, made up of fabulously vivid and colourful vintage felt tourist pennants from a section of the parks and monuments we have visited over the years. (NB: If anyone sees one for Yosemite, North Cascades or Olympic, please do let me know!).
“The mountains are calling and I must go” – John Muir
The sack lunch station was inspired by the wonderful tradition at many National Park lodges for preparing sack lunches for intrepid hikers. The best, I think, was the one we had at Drakesbad Guest Ranch in Lassen National Park, California. It made the trek up the Cinder Cone volcano all worth while!
It wouldn’t be an Independence Day Party without the now legendary three cheese Mac ‘n Cheese courtesy of Martha Stewart and whatsgabbycooking.com’s pulled pork sliders. These All American classic dishes were supplemented by a Southern Pimemto cheese dip and a glorious flower salad (made with flowers from Greens of Devon) inspired by the spectacular wildflower meadows of Mount Rainier’s Paradise, Washington State.
For pudding, we had baked pistachio cheesecake and key lime pie cupcakes representing the Everglades and made with real imported key lime pie juice, no less.
Our favourite national park activity was recognised in our colour co-ordinated trail mix, which contained, peanuts, almonds, pretzels, raisins and peanut M&Ms. The caramel and apple taffy was another timely purchase from Shenandoah NP.
And despite the heat of the afternoon, we all enjoyed the task of perfecting our s’mores techniques over the cast iron fire bowl, with a varying degree of success across the guests.
The chocolate graham crackers were bought in New York last month, along with the Ghirardelli chocolate squares, and this time introduced to home made caramel marshmallows. This activity in particular made me feel as though I was back at Quinault Lodge, where we enjoyed a few nights sat beside the lakeside bonfire.
A Swiss Miss hot chocolate was then enjoyed in a tin cup just before bedtime.
It wouldn’t have been a party, of course, without a well-stocked bar, and this time we kept up the American theme with a selection of imported beverages.
I manage to source the aptly named, Crater Lake American craft gin from the Bend Distillery in Oregon, from which we made some wonderfully refreshing Basil Greyhounds with a mix of basil leaves and grapefruit juice. Goose IPA and Brooklyn larger added to the mix, as did the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, a tipple we first discovered during our California Road Trip back in 2014. One of our thoughtful guests brought with them a bottle of Riesling from Walla Wall in Washington.
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin” – William Shakespeare
Hiking trail signage led guests to the garden area where activities awaited!
One of James’ favorite part of visiting the parks is the sheer wealth and diversity of the flora and fauna living there. Sadly in the UK, our native species were decimated sometime in the middle ages, where ancient forests were logged to extinction, along with many of our larger mammals. Not so in the US, where it is a pleasure to behold the multiple squirrel species, chipmunks, marmots, elk and of course, the bears!
To incorporate this passion for nature, the kids were given vintage style bear masks and enjoyed running around the garden play fighting. Here is the most recent picture of our bear sightings – this fine specimen was sighted along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah, Virginia:
I also found these fantastic nature activity backpacks from the local National Trust site, and these also proved very popular with the little ‘uns. The use of a retro-inspired Fuji-Film camera and a vintage monkey bean toss game was also enjoyed by guests.
“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it” – Lyndon B. Johnson
People always ask us why we love visiting the US so much, and our answer is always the same: Because of the National Parks. And here are just a couple of our favourites, having now visited 10 (Yosemite, Lassen, Death Valley, Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Olympic, Everglades, Grand Canyon (and got engaged here), Zion and Shenandoah).
Their scenery is magnificent, often otherworldly, their vastness incomprehensible to the extreme. But above all else, they give you a feeling that can’t be experienced anywhere else, and that is a difficult feeling to describe. Whether you find yourself in the scorched desolation of the desert, or whether you wind along the wild and rugged coastland of the West coast, you find yourself at one with nature and entirely free from the stressful bussle of our modern lives if only for a moment. You find yourself lost amongst the ancient forests, amongst nature’s oldest living giants and realize how tiny and insignificant we humans really are.
It makes you realize and understand above all else, that we have a duty to preserve our planets most beautiful and awe-inspiring landscapes. And it is at times like this that you truly appreciate the service that the Park Rangers and advocates of the National Park Service have given, not only for the United States, but in acting as the standard for the rest of the world.
I didn’t exist the last time the Welsh football team competed in a major tournament. Indeed, esquires Neil and Buzz hadn’t even set foot on the moon when Wales last competed on the world stage at football. Wales’ last appearance was, in fact, at the 1958 World Cup, where they were knocked out of the championship in the quarter finals, by the boot of a young Pele and the ultimate 1958 World Cup champions, Brazil.
It has been a disappointing and frustrating period since then for Welsh football, which is probably why the nation has generally gravitated towards its national rugby team for international sporting glory, which has, over the past half century played a prominent role on the world sporting stage.
And so, the nation was, to put it mildly, increadibly excited to find itself qualifying for the European championship to be hosted by France in 2016.
And here we are. Summer 2016. The first match played, and the result was more than any of us could have imagined or ever thought possible. A decisive win over fellow debutants, Slovakia, with World legend Gareth Bale and team mate Robson-Kanu both scoring Wales’ goals. It is an interesting fact that Bale’s first international goal for Wales was against Slovakia back in 2006. Maybe it was meant to be.
Not only did Chris Coleman’s men manage to secure the coveted full 3 points, England’s draw with Russia has meant that Wales sits atop Group B’s table at the end of first weekend, putting them in pole position for progressing through the tournament.
Not a bad start at all for the Dragons. Not bad at all.
Next up a derby clash against ancient foes, England!
For the first time in as long as I can remember I have failed to make my traditional Welsh Cakes! Shocking, I know, but here is last year’s blog with details about how to make your own versions of this peculiar yet delicious cake!
*from GingerBreadOfHeaven Super Bowl 50 was certainly not pretty, and the Superman vs Sheriff showdown proved notably lacklustre compared with the hyperbolic build-up.
“Superman” Cam and failed to find the spark that had characterised the Panthers’ regular season, and it was not veteran Peyton Manning’s leadership that won it for the Broncos. Instead, the Golden Super Bowl had the defense teams calling the shots, with offensive play taking a disappointing back-seat. There were, however, some impressive performances from both sides, but MVP went to Bronco Von Miller.
The Denver underdogs didn’t allow Cam Newton room to breathe, and harassed and pounded the quarter back throughout the game to match a seven sack Super Bowl record. Newton’s overthrows, interceptions and lost fumbles pretty much handed Peyton Manning his second Super Bowl title. But the half time show by contrast was spectacular, as Coldplay, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars performed a moving mashup featuring fifty years of Super Bowl halftime shows.Whilst this may have been Manning’s final rodeo, there is no doubt the charismatic Cam will return and make amends.
Tonight’s Super Bowl 50 clash is being hosted by the tech spectacular Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. It is quite fitting really, that the Golden Super Bowl is being held in the US’ Golden State.
We were fortunate to have the chance to watch a football game at the stadium back in 2014 as part of our Californian summer road trip. It was the first football game at the new stadium (not the first game, which was a soccer game a couple of weeks before), and weirdly saw the 49ers hosting the Super Bowl hopefuls, Denver Broncos, in what turned out to be a horribly one-sided pre-season affair in favour of Peyton Manning’s experienced side.
Although we were staying in San Francisco at the time, the trip to the 49ers home involved a 40 mile train journey to the sunnier climes of Santa Clara. The temperature difference was incredible, which saw us leave a grey and gloomy San Francisco only to arrive at the Great America station later in the morning with an urgent need to acclimatize to the 10 degrees hotter climate. The route was very easy: We hopped on the Caltrain at 4th Street, changing at Mountain View to get on the VTA for the final leg. The trains were efficient and comfortable, and the ride itself was cheap and cheerful, jam-packed full of football fans. The stadium itself was incredible, putting out UK equivalents to shame. It had free wi-fi, fully stocked cocktail bars and plenty of food options. Each seat had drink holders and we had a great view to watch the game in the sunshine.
Those travelling to the stadium today for the Big One are certainly in for a treat!
6.30ET for Super Bowl 50 Kick-Off – May the best team win!
Some Recommended Post SB50 San Francisco Bars
21st Amendment Brewery, http://21st-amendment.com/
Jaspers Corner Tap, http://jasperscornertap.com/
Hard Water, Pier 33, http://hardwaterbar.com/
Bouron & Branch, James/O’Farrell, http://www.bourbonandbranch.com/