A Valentine’s Weekend in Jersey

Months ago, I had seen an advert on TV for Jersey. I wondered where this stunning place was, as surely an island with crystal clear beaches was not located that close to England. A quick Google search proved how wrong I was. I made it known to Richard that I was really intrigued by Jersey and would love to visit at some point. I assumed that trip was a while away as we have a lot on in the upcoming year, but he’s sneaky, and at Christmas, he surprised me with a trip to Jersey to take place over Valentine’s Day weekend…for just the two of us!

For those of you who don’t know, Jersey is one of the Channel Islands and is located to the south of England just north of France. The island is 5 miles wide by 9 miles long and full of some of the nicest people you will ever meet. I’m not joking about the nice people, and that is saying a lot from two people who live in Yorkshire. Everyone was always up for a little chat or available to offer recommendations. We were truly blown away by their kindness and overall relaxed mentality.

We flew from Gatwick for a number of reasons I won’t bore you with, but you can just as easily fly from Leeds Bradford or Manchester. From Gatwick, the flight was about 35 minutes, so I’m guessing it would be about an hour-long flight from Leeds or Manchester. Super easy and super short. Ideal.

We arrived on Friday night to misting rain and darkness, so we could just make out that we were driving along the sea during our quick taxi ride from the airport to our hotel, The Club Hotel and Spa, in St Helier. When we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted warmly by the staff at reception. Richard had contacted them a week earlier for a restaurant recommendation for Friday night as we were eating in the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant on Saturday, so once they knew who we were, we were asked if we wanted them to book us a taxi to the restaurant that evening. The service was flawless from the get-go. I’d highly recommend The Club if you are looking for an adult getaway.

The rooms are spacious and extremely comfortable and fully stocked with everything you could need. When we got to the room, we were greeted with bottles of chilled water by each bed side and freshly baked shortbread. The kettle was there if we needed it and real milk for tea or coffee was only a phone call to reception away.

As I mentioned earlier, the hotel recommended a restaurant, Ormer, for us the first night and it certainly did not disappoint. I should say that we definitely splurged on this trip and went all out on food and drink. We decided from the start that we were going to spoil ourselves and that we did! Ormer was incredible. We both had fish for our mains. Richard loves dover sole, which is traditionally served on the bone, but Ormer served it off the bone in the style of a deconstructed fish pie. He was a happy man. I have such a sweet tooth and I always go for a sweet pudding at the end of a meal, but that night I ordered the cheese board and it was a nice change. I really enjoyed the selection of cheeses that I was given, plus I had a little flashback to my study abroad days in Argentina as they served a bit of dulce de membrillo or quince paste with the cheese board. Exciting!

We were super rock star that night and promptly returned to the hotel after dinner and collapsed into bed. I believe we slept for roughly 10 hours! It was such a wonderful feeling to wake up refreshed on Saturday morning.

That day we decided to wander around St Helier and check out the shops. It was a good idea as the weather wasn’t spectacular, so going in and out of the stores was the best thing for a rainy day. (Plus, it gave Richard a chance to truly enjoy carrying the ultra lovely umbrella the hotel provided us in our room. This is serious. He became a full-fledged umbrella aficionado in one day.)

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Relish, which is this funky little deli that serves these fabulous platters. (It is also a cool shop boasting an incredible assortment of meats, cheeses, antipasti items, and wine. Honestly, we would be broke if we lived nearby as it is was such a great little place full of culinary treasures.) I had the antipasti platter and Richard chose the reuben style one – they were both delicious! The balsamic marinated onions blew both of our minds!

IMG_6597After lunch, the rain had let up a bit and we decided to stroll along St Aubin’s Bay. About 15 minutes into our walk, the light sprinkle became a full on wind and rain storm in which we were both trying to cram under the umbrella. We sought some relief from the weather in one of the little shelters along the promenade until it calmed enough for us to head back to St Helier. It did clear up once more, so we enjoyed wandering around the harbour in St Helier and gawking at the incredible boats docked there. Our walk back to hotel included a stop for a glass of wine at a bar/restaurant where we were served by quite possibly the only unfriendly person in all of Jersey.

jersey1Elizabeth Castle is seen in this photo. When the tide is out, you can walk all the way to the castle. Very cool!

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Once back at the hotel, we took some time to relax as we had big plans for our Valentine’s Day meal that evening! I’ll share about the rest of our weekend in my next post. Hope you’ll come back to read about the rest of our time in Jersey!

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Ox Pasture Hall Hotel: All of The Food!

Not only did we enjoy the hotel and the property at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, but we were extremely impressed with the food. When you read this post, you will think that all we did was eat…and well, it is sort of true! We were spoiled with afternoon tea, an evening meal, and breakfast the next morning. All of which were delightful.

After a visit to Scarborough, we headed to the hotel as we were booked to have afternoon tea at 3 PM. (Booking is required for afternoon tea.) We weren’t exactly sure where tea was served, so we asked Lynsey at the front desk and she told us we were welcome to be seated in the lounge. The lounge boasts a couple of leather sofas, and we cozied up on the larger of the two as we waited for our tea. We browsed some photo albums of weddings held at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel when Lynsey appeared with two glasses of fizz for us to enjoy! It was a welcome treat after being pounded by the wind on the seafront.

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Next, out came our tray of scones, sandwiches, and miniature desserts. It was presented nicely on the traditional three-tiered tray. We tucked into the sandwiches whilst waiting for our tea to be served. The sandwich selection included roast beef, prawn with Marie Rose sauce, and brie with chutney. Richard raved about the prawn sandwich. We both liked the roast beef sandwiches. However, Richard doesn’t like soft cheeses, so I ate the brie with chutney sandwiches. The selection was a bit different than the traditional choices, but they were nice.

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Our next course had us enjoying scones with absolutely delicious and silky clotted cream with our choice of jam. I’m a clotted cream enthusiast and Richard realized he is as well, so we constantly found ourselves adding more and more to our scones. With the scones demolished, Richard dove right in to the mini desserts whilst I took a little breather. There were two of each of these allowing us to indulge in lemon cheesecake, a fudge-y brownie with pistachios, parkin, and a chocolate cake with icing. I most enjoyed the brownie and the cheesecake. The cake and its icing were a bit too sweet for me. Richard had both his and my slice of parkin, so I’d say that must have been good! All in all, we enjoyed our afternoon tea and having a relaxing afternoon in the lounge at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel.

The second food experience we had was the evening meal. We ended up pushing our booking back from 7:30 to 8:15 for two reasons:  1) the afternoon tea left us feeling quite full and 2) the results show for Strictly Come Dancing finished just before 8. Priorities, people! We were slightly early, so we wandered to the bar in The Bistro. We were both planning to order a drink, but before we knew it, the bartender asked our room number and suggested we take a seat on one of the sofas in front of the fireplace before bringing us two glasses of prosecco whilst we perused the menu. We both commented on how we really like it when restaurants give you an opportunity to sit in the bar and have a drink whilst you leisurely look over the menu and place your order for starters and mains before being seated at your table.

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DSC_0084The Bistro

Although you can eat in The Bistro, we were having our meal in the Courtyard Restaurant. The Courtyard Restaurant has been awarded 2 rosettes for culinary excellence and is listed in the Michelin guide as a recommended restaurant, so we were both very much looking forward to this meal. Once we were seated at our table, the waiter brought us an amuse bouche of a delicious tomato bisque. He also came around with the bread basket, and we both opted for a slice of the fruit and nut loaf that tasted like it was fresh from the oven. And, the best part was the pats of butter on the table that were perfectly room temperature to top the bread.

For our starters I went with the Ham, Egg, Peas, which is a mini ham hock with pea mousse and a slice of a a hard-boiled quail egg. It had pickled vegetables as an accompaniment and the tanginess complemented the ham well. This isn’t a dish I typically would order and I’m not sure I would again, but I did enjoy it. Richard went for the Yorkshire Coast Fish Cake topped with a perfectly gooey poached egg. I tried a bite, and the egg really made the dish.

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Next up, our mains were delivered to our table. Richard went with the pork, which had belly pork, stuffed tenderloin, and homemade black pudding. I ordered the cod, which was perfectly cooked and served atop fondant potatoes, chorizo ratatouille, and a red pepper coulis. We both agreed the main courses were absolutely delicious, and I can say without a doubt that we both would order them again. All of the pieces of our meals meshed extremely well together in terms of flavor.

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Although we were both feeling full after two courses, we can never pass up dessert. After a peek at the menu, I decided on the apple and pear crumble. It was served delightfully warm with vanilla ice cream on the side. Richard chose the Caribbean Cocktail, which was a platter of four tropical desserts. He surprised me with his decision because if sticky toffee pudding (and it was!) is on the menu then he will usually order that, but he was so happy with his choice. I stole a small bite of the piña colada and it was a great blend of tropical flavors without it being too overwhelming on the coconut side as I find tropical-flavored desserts to sometimes be. We returned to our room incredibly impressed with the food and the service.

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When we went to sleep that night, we both wondered how we would manage to eat breakfast the next morning, but we did. Breakfast was served in the Courtyard Restaurant and we had a lovely table beside the windows overlooking the courtyard.

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For breakfast, there is a buffet of cereals, fruit salad, croissants, yogurts, and fruit juices plus you are able to order a cooked meal. We both ordered tea, and toast and jam were soon brought to our table. Richard went with the full breakfast, which was definitely one of the most well-presented full breakfasts both of us have seen. He said it was extremely tasty as well. I am not a fan of the full breakfast, so I ordered the goats cheese and tomato omelette. The fluffy omelette was cooked to perfection with cheese oozing in all of the right places. The breakfast was the perfect end to a great visit at Ox Pasture Hall Hotel.

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Our dining experience at Ox Pasture Hall was impressive. We particularly enjoyed the evening meal and the breakfast. I feel they truly excelled at those two meals, and the evening meal at Ox Pasture Hall is definitely one we would be glad to indulge in again. It was a fabulous 24 hours of food!

Our stay and our meals were kindly provided to us by Ox Pasture Hall Hotel for the purpose of review. All of the opinions are honest and all photos are my own, unless otherwise noted. I promise to always share my honest perspective when doing reviews. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions. Massive thanks to Ox Pasture Hall for the opportunity!

{Road Trip} North Berwick, Scotland

When it came time to book a hotel for Edinburgh Marathon weekend, we checked out hotels in the Edinburgh city centre and they are all nice, but the ones we were most interested in were completely booked. (We have previously stayed at the Apex in the Grassmarket, which I would recommend for a clean, well located, and reasonably-priced option.) Ultimately though, we decided to stay outside of Edinburgh and we were both really happy with that decision this past weekend.

We had to go into Edinburgh when we arrived on Saturday afternoon to pick up the Brit’s running vest (he ran for MacMillan and has raised over £1000!). Our original plans included spending some time walking around the city we love so much (we really do!), but after 4 hours in the car, we were ready to be at the hotel and for some relaxation.

So, we headed out to North Berwick, which is about 30 miles to the east of Edinburgh and is located right on the sea. We chose to take the coastal trail drive out to North Berwick and it was absolutely beautiful with the sun shining the entire way. We were booked in at the MacDonald Marine Hotel. And, when we arrived, we got to chatting with the front desk attendant who was running the half marathon on Sunday. He had run the full marathon before, so he gave us some pointers about the course. I’m quite sure he really enjoyed speaking with us because when we got to our room we had definitely been upgraded. I know for certain that I booked us into a standard double room (and the price we paid reflected that booking), but we walked into a suite that was larger than the downstairs of our house — king size bed in a bedroom with double doors, a full sitting and living room, and a massive bathroom! Regardless, we enjoyed every moment of that suite (and the Brit made sure to watch his share of the England cricket match on the satellite telly)!

Part of the sitting area of our room was in the first level of the small turret in the right of the photo.

We walked into North Berwick along the golf course and ended up on the beach that was full of people enjoying the British summertime. It was so nice to soak up the sun and the fresh sea air. It was the perfect temperature for shorts, so I couldn’t help to chuckle at the little kids running in and out of the freezing sea water in their bathing suits. It was just the perfect afternoon to be on the beach.

One of the great perks of this hotel was the pool and indoor/outdoor jacuzzi, so when we got back from our walk (and enjoying some delicious ice cream from a nice Scottish man who once lived in northern Pennsylvania), we took full advantage of the jacuzzi and pool. It had been such a long time since we both had a chance to relax like that together. It was just so nice.

The hotel has a fine dining restaurant called John Paul at the Marine and also the option of ordering food in their bar area. On Saturday night, the Brit was in the mood for fish so we decided to book in at John Paul at the Marine. The food was very good. The Brit had a salmon and lobster ravioli for his starter and turbot for his main while I enjoyed the monkfish cheeks for my starter and the basil gnocchi for my main. We were both tempted by the desserts and normally we would order two separate things, but the apple and rhubarb crumble with ginger ice cream appealed to both of us so we each ordered our own. (We are not so good at sharing when it comes to dessert.) So delicious. We do ‘carb loading’ in our own special way…haha!

We booked the ‘bed and breakfast’ rate, so we had breakfast in the morning before heading into Edinburgh. They had a nice breakfast buffet with cold and hot food, but my stomach is touchy when I run so I couldn’t eat much off the hot buffet. I had four pieces of toast with jam, a banana, and a sausage — breakfast of champions!

After the marathon, it was so perfect to come back to more than just a small hotel room. We could spread out and lounge on the sofa in the living room while we watched television. For dinner on Sunday night, all we had on our minds was a massive hamburger with chips (chunky fries) and a few pints. Unfortunately, there was no burger on the bar menu at the hotel so we inquired at the front desk if they could recommend a place for a burger, and we were really happy when they said that anything on the room service menu could be ordered while seated in the bar. Oddly, there was a burger on the room service menu, so we were overjoyed not to have to walk far to get what we were craving.

Let me just say that these burgers were 21-day aged Scottish beef and absolutely amazingly delicious. Oh my. Also, it was the most expensive burger I’ve ever eaten at £14 (roughly $21), but we both agreed it was worth every penny (or shall we say, pence). I had two pints of cider and the Brit had two pints of lager during the meal. When we finished I had remembered seeing a little placard for their drink special that sounded delicious, so we ordered one to take to the room and share. It is now quite possibly my favorite drink — a cucumber collins with elderflower juice. Wow. So, so good. Both of us enjoy our gin and tonics, so I figured this would be something we enjoyed and it definitely was. I definitely plan to learn how to make this drink!

I’m pretty sure the drink after the 26.2 miles helped us both to fall asleep before 9:30 PM and bring to a close what was truthfully a great weekend. Despite running the marathon, both of us said multiple times how relaxed we felt, and I’m so glad we had a chance to get away for a few days.

{Road Trip} The ‘Great’ North

Two weekends ago, we road tripped further north to Durham on Saturday then to Newcastle-upon-Tyne on the Sunday. This weekend away was prompted by the Brit’s participation in the Great North Run. (Does the post title make more sense now? :))

It just so happened that the Brit’s friend was also running the race, so he and his wife took the train up from London and we all made the trip north together. I love road trips with friends because the time just flies by as we’re chatting away and catching up on each other’s lives. The two and a half hours was gone in a flash.

We (really the Brit) were in charge of the hotel for Saturday night and they were in charge of the hotel for Sunday night. So, for ‘our’ hotel, we stayed at the Durham Marriott Royal County right in the city center. Upon entering, the staff offered us a glass of wine plus canapés. We all indulged in a glass of wine…we were on a short holiday, after all! After enjoying some more chit-chat in the lounge, we made our way to our rooms, which were nice, clean, and spacious plus with a jacuzzi tub for two in the bathroom. Not that I was surprised, but the Brit had made a great choice!

We strolled around Durham for a bit and towards the Durham Cathedral. To me, it’s a city that personifies what I always pictured of Britain before I visited for the first time in March 2010…cobbled stone streets with not many cars, little shops lining the streets, a castle and a massive cathedral overlooking the city. It was this perfect combination of quaintness and beauty that made Durham so charming.

Streets of Durham

Durham Cathedral is completely awe-inspiring. We toured the interior with mouths agape for most of it. (Sadly, we could not take photos inside, but check out the photos on the web site.) The stained glass, the spires, the tombs, the organ, and the overall attention to intricate detail…it was just phenomenal.

The center spire of the Cathedral.

The view from our hotel room window as sun shines upon Durham Cathedral on Sunday morning.

Durham Castle overlooking the River Wear.

That night, we enjoyed a delicious and fun meal of tapas at La Tasca. The guys probably drank a bit too much wine the night before a big race, but the four of us had a wonderful time laughing and eating!

The next day, we enjoyed the hotel breakfast, which was included in our room price. Of course, the typical English breakfast was being offered with bacon, eggs, beans, tomatoes, potatoes…you get the picture. But, the runners chose wisely and avoided those foods (as did I). Hilariously, after the Brit finished his porridge, he went to get some toast and as soon as he sat down to the table, I was overwhelmed with the smell of garlic. He had actually toasted garlic bread and put jam on it! He didn’t realize until I mentioned it smelled of garlic. Awesome morning selection! 😉

Soon, we were off on the 30-minute drive to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where the Great North Run would start. Luckily, we were able to find the hotel, so we could leave the car and our bags there until we were able to check in. You could tell the guys were getting a bit nervous as we started the long walk to the start line. It was a nice way to enjoy a little tour of the city, though I think I was the only one actually looking around! (I’m not afraid to admit I can sometimes be a bit of a tourist!)

Situated at our place for the start... This run is apparently the world's largest half marathon. I don't doubt it. There were masses of people everywhere.

We said our goodbyes to the guys and wished them lots of luck. We met up with another friend whose girlfriend was running the race and had just come into town for the day. Once we found him, the three of us situated ourselves close to the start to try to spot our runners at the beginning of the race. Immediately before the start the Red Arrows, which are the Royal Air Force’s acrobatic team, did a fly-over and then the elite male runners were off followed closely (but only for a short while!) by the rest of the pack.

The Red Arrows at the start...quite cool!

In the throngs of people, I caught a glimpse of the Brit, but we didn’t see the other two. So, after waiting for quite some time to see them, we decided it was likely we missed them and took off to South Shields via the Metro train to hopefully see the three of them as they finished.

The Brit is in the blue shirt and black shorts almost exactly in the middle of the photo right before coming upon the blue column thingy.

It was wishful thinking to believe we could make it from where we were to the finish in enough time to see them cross the finish line. We were still on the Metro when I got a text from the Brit’s mum saying she just saw him finish on tv. (This race is such a big deal that it was broadcast on BBC!) Mr. Speed Demon totally surpassed his goal time! Once off the train, we still had about a 20-minute walk to the finish. So, a solid 25 minutes after he finished we found him and gave him his jacket and change of clothes. We tracked the other two runners (they also did awesome!) down shortly after and walked to the pub for a celebratory pint…or three.

Happy guys, after the race!

So proud of this guy!

Soon, we said goodbye to the two friends who had just come up for the day and we headed back to the hotel. The Hotel du Vin, which our friends chose, is quite posh. Our rooms had two levels with the bathrooms complete with claw-footed tub and enormous walk-in shower, which were situated upstairs. The toilet and a very small sink were downstairs. (There was a large sink in the upstairs bathroom area.) I wish that I could remember the name of the room (it started with a ‘Y’, I think) we stayed in, but each is named after a brand of wine. Our room was situated in the new section of the hotel, which you can see in the photos below.

The downstairs in our room.

The bathroom area upstairs.

This is the courtyard of the hotel -- the main entrance is to the left, the Bistro is directly in front, and the building we stayed in is to the right.

Since the hotel is a little outside the city center, we chose to eat at the hotel bistro that night. According to our friends, the Hotel du Vin chain is known for its attention to food and wine. The food was good, but the service could be improved. We received the best service from the sommelier, who not only knew the wine list impeccably, but also the entire menu. Of course, he was not serving us, but did help us quite a bit. It was a night to celebrate though, so we brushed off the service and enjoyed each other’s company!

Overall, a great weekend with friends! Big congrats to the Brit for his incredible finish in the Great North Run!

{Road Trip} Abersoch, Wales: Part I

Not long after the Brit and I started dating, he sent me a cell phone picture of the coast of the little seaside village of Abersoch. He always spoke fondly of Abersoch as it’s a place he grew up visiting with his family and we talked about visiting during my 5-week stay this summer. So, when it was decided Abersoch was where we would be celebrating his sister’s 30th birthday, I was really excited!

Welcome to Wales...

The roughly 2 1/2 hour drive (or 2 hour drive when the Brit is driving!) was quite beautiful as much of it follows the coast. Soon, we had arrived at the boat yard in Pwllheli (pronounced puth-HEL-ee) and we were off on the boat to meet the rest of the group. We really  enjoyed the boat ride to Pwllheli, even though it only takes about 15 minutes. The weather was surprisingly good (much nicer than expected) and the views are stunning.

My mom asked me if there was snow on that hill. I should probably start speaking better about the weather in the UK (or learn to take better photos)!

Abersoch is just past that cliff....along with 10 million jellyfish.

We dropped anchor off the beach in Abersoch and all I saw were jellyfish. A lot of jellyfish. Keep in mind, we still had to wade in waist-deep water to get to shore. I’m not usually one to shy away from jumping into water (okay, that might be a small white lie…I am terrified of sharks and other random creatures lurking below), but no way was I getting off that boat and risking a jellyfish sting!

So, the Brit waded to shore narrowly avoiding the sting of no less than 1,000 jellyfish. Meanwhile, I’m on the back of the boat waving to everyone. Ha. Finally, I got the courage to jump into the water and another jellyfish floated by right where I had planned to jump. This happened roughly 5 more times before the Brit took pity on me. He waded back to the boat and proceeded to carry me piggy-back style to shore while I yelled about the jellyfish coming right at us from every direction. Real smooth, Yank, real smooth.(I realize I’m not doing a good job of selling Abersoch. I swear the jellyfish are not always there…only once in awhile. In fact, most of them were gone by later in the afternoon!)

Half of the beach in Abersoch is for swimming and the other half is for boats and jet skis to anchor offshore. The boat-friendly half of the beach is also car-friendly, so people actually launch their boats and jet skis from there. It’s quite a neat system they had set up. The weather was absolutely beautiful that day, so we enjoyed time on the boat and sitting on the beach. It was actually quite hot, but the sea breeze kept you at a perfect temperature.

The Brit showing off his mad wake boarding skills!

After our afternoon on the beach, we were all ready for a shower and a rest. We had arrived too early that morning to check into our hotel, so it was perfect timing for us to take the boat back to Pwllheli and head straight to The Venetia. We received a warm welcome from one of the staff members, who was actually an American woman married to a Welsh man! She took us to our room and showed us where everything was and how our keys worked. Of course, once in the room, my eyes went straight to the tray of freshly-cut strawberry slices and homemade chocolate truffles. (The Brit and I finished those off in 0.2 seconds…so yummy!)

Such a cute place...we stayed in Room Due which are the windows on the top left.

The Venetia is a boutique hotel with five charming and amazingly modern rooms. The rooms are impeccably clean as are the bathrooms. After long days out and about, it was so nice to return to such a comfortable space and fall into such a fabulously comfortable bed, too.

The Venetia boasts a fabulous in-house restaurant. Breakfast is included in the room cost and is delicious. (We also had dinner at the restaurant one night, which I’ll talk about in the next installment!) I’m completely blanking on what I ordered on the first morning, but I know for certain I had the lemon and sugar crepes the following morning. Wow. They were perfectly balanced in flavor with sweet and sour. The crepes were perfectly thin, light, yet surprisingly fluffy in texture. For those craving the traditional English-style breakfast, that was an option as well.

We all had a good chuckle when I ordered water for my drink and the waiter thought I had asked for a latte! I said water a few more times before the Brit just said it and then all was cleared up. The waiter even laughed at that point! (I wish I could say this was the first time that has happened as I attempted to order water! Oh well, it goes with the territory! :))

This is getting quite long, so I’ll continue in another post tomorrow!