Saturday, May 31, 2014

SA day 2: chocolate and wine

After falling asleep on Tuesday evening, I was awakened (which is saying something considering the length of time it had been since my last sleep) by the wind and the rain outside the house.  Being from AZ, I find it hard to conceptualize rain that lasts more than 30 minutes, but it proceeded to storm all night and into the morning.  I’m sure the locals were less than thrilled, but this desert rat was delighted. 

We decided to breakfast at the café at Woolworth’s which was delicious and I regret not taking a photo.  I had scones with jam and cream, which I’ve not had since our days of High Tea in the Queen’s Room on the Queen Elizabeth, so it was a nice treat.  Eric had something with a poached egg which became one of our main conversation topics.  I’m not sure how many of you out there have serious opinions on eggs (I seriously do not like them and that’s the extent of my opinion on the matter), but we were trying to decide how to properly poach an egg, and why in the world one would poach an egg hard in lieu of just boiling the thing?  If you have thoughts on this I would love to know because my life is just really interesting and I need to know things about eggs. Also, is it more advantageous to use the egg-poaching-tool-thingy as opposed to just a spoon, or is it just a ploy by William Sonoma to get us to buy something?  I apologize for the intensity of this topic, my thoughts are deep, what can I say? ;) 

Following breakfast we headed out on the wine route (like Route 66, but better, for obvious reasons), and my compadres enjoyed a tasting by the fire at Warwick Vineyards. 

The day continued to be on and off blustery and rainy which I found to be increasingly delightful.  Who knew clouds could cover one place so long? Capetown and its surrounding so far is like a mix of places… sort of like Ireland meets San Fransisco meets Southern California.  There are hilly green pastures that are covered in fog, and everything grows like weeds.  In Capetown you have a garden automatically, you either cultivate it on purpose or just let it happen. 

We drove through the fog and fields for a bit before stopping at the Spice Route, a small conglomeration of uniquely local artisanal shops and a vineyard.  This place is pretty awesome in that everything is grown and cultivated on site (the grapes for the wine are hand picked!), and you can taste everything from cured meats to wine to chocolate (also known as heaven on earth).  The chartucerie supplied some spicy sausage for our dinner…

And we lunched with this beautiful view overlooking the hillside.

 The flowers that grow here are unreal!

Afterward, we indulged in a chocolate tasting.  There should be chocolate tasting in every city in America – we should pass a law (call your local representative). We learned all about how the beans are grown, harvested, dried, roasted and then made into chocolate, and we got to sample varieties made from beans grown in Madagascar and Uganda to Bolivia and Chile.  YUM.  

They also serve this little cup of drinking chocolate which has the magical power to turn any crap day into a delightful one, or at least it tastes like it could. In other news, whoever does their branding is brilliant because their packaging just makes you want to buy the stuff.  They had these posters hanging in their tasting room and I adore them!

We asked if they were sold as prints, and told that they were not.  But the shop owner suggested we take a high-res photo of them and have them blown up, because that would be cheaper – I love this country. I’m out of wall space in my house, but I’m going to have to make some because I need to see those prints every day.

Our chocolate tasting cost a grand total of $2.50, which brings me to another point.  Food and experiences are FANTASTICALLY CHEAP in South Africa.  We have had two gourmet meals thus far and each has run us only about $12/person.  Wine tastings are unbelievable as well. Eric bought a basic tasting of 7 wines today for a grand total of $4.  Inexpensive wine and cheap chocolate – I’m ready to move!  We hear from our hosts that clothing and home supplies are substantially more expensive than the USA, so I guess that’s one reason to stay state-side.  Fuel is also more expensive.  In fact, we have yet to visit a place whose gas/petrol is less expensive than America, yet we always seem to be complaining about gas prices, why is that?

I must say that everywhere we have traveled, I find myself frustrated with the food scene in America.  In both South Africa and Europe we have been able to eat out at nice restaurants with quality, real ingredients, and pay relatively low prices for it.  Why can America not do the same?  It can’t be because sourcing the product is easier because France is not really agricultural, and shipping anything to Capetown costs roughly your entire bank account and first-born child.  It can’t be because the value of the currency is lower because EVERYTHING ELSE in France was extraordinarily more expensive when compared with the dollar.  I don’t think I’m saying anything new here when I say that the food system in America is jacked up, but I guess I don’t understand why we too can’t make a decent crayfish risotto with truffle oil and only charge $10. First world problems…

Upon returning home...

(this is the backyard of the home where we are staying with friends)

...we took a little time to rest (and blog!), before whipping up soup with sausage for dinner!  We felt substantially more rested tonight, but still were ready to hop into bed pretty soon after dinner.
Tune in tomorrow to hear about how the rain ruined everything and nothing all at once, how we learned to drive a manual transmission on the wrong side of the road, and why Malfa pudding should come to the USA.

Gooodnight for now! 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Coming to Africa - the southern bit, that is.

Greetings from South Africa! I haven’t updated this blog in ages – not since we were last abroad, in Paris!  I’ve told family and friends to check here for updates on our travels, so if we haven’t chatted for a while here’s a brief re-cap of our life: Eric is still working in construction tech at Sundt, I finished my last year as a teacher, and we are expecting a baby boy in the fall.  I think that about sums it all up =) Oh yeah, and we’re in Africa on vacation.  

We are now on our second full day in Capetown, but let’s re-cap our travel days, shall we?  First off, there are two main ways of getting to South Africa by plane: Phoenix – London – Capetown, or Phoenix – Atlanta – Johannesburg – Capetown.  We chose the route with fewer stops, but both flights are LONG.  I’m not sure how I didn’t think about the fact that the longest travel time we have done previously is 15 hours, and that this would be more than double that: 36 hours from door to door.  We had a fancy plan to help us sleep on the planes and then be in great shape when we arrived at 10AM Tuesday morning and of course that worked out perfectly went to crap.  We had a few little adventures worth recounting on our way over. First off, flying pregnant is awesome and also it sucks.  It’s awesome in the fact that we were given SO many privileges: we got to pre-board, ensuring that our bags were immediately above our seats (one of our flights was oversold and many people had to gate check their luggage), the stewards and stewardesses treat you like a queen, you get free treats, etc.  It sucks because… you’re pregnant.  But in all honesty, the discomfort wasn’t too intense until the end of each flight. 

We found that flying British Airways was a nice experience – nicer than Southwest (go figure), but not nearly as nice as Air Canada, our reigning fave.  Again, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you choose the veggie options when you order your airplane food. The meat is often poorly cooked and nearly unrecognizable (Is this chicken? Beef? Raccoon?), but spinach and cheese ravioli is always yum.

We also managed to pack in carry a carry on again – go us!  I think we’ve finally mastered the technique.  As long as you have access to laundry, we bring 3 bottoms and 4/5 tops each as well as a sweater, jacket, scarf, hat and 2/3 pairs of shoes.  Everything has to go together, and nothing can be high maintenance (dry clean only, handwash, etc.).  Add some unmentionables, toiletries, and an umbrella and you’re pretty much set!   For me it helped that right now I can only wear maternity clothing anyway, so that helped to narrow my choices substantially (every cloud has a silver lining).  Once we are home I’d like to do a post outlining exactly what I packed and why, but since that’s pretty boring, I’ll save it for later.

Our first flight was largely uneventful, apart from the Finnish woman sitting next to Eric who found it extremely amusing that Eric’s reading light was on her armrest (it wasn’t), and she proceeded to toggle it on and off several times while giggling to herself (weirdo) as Eric tried unsuccessfully to sleep. 

Once we arrived at Heathrow, we had intended to head into Windsor via taxi to explore the city.  We decided we were too tired to do that, so we opted to catch a little shut eye on the ultra-comfortable benches, like so…

When we travel, I have a strategy (Me? Strategy? Who would have thought… ;)) for packing my personal item… I try to pack my personal item as a purse, usually a medium sized black or brown one, with another smaller purse inside the other.  I pack my wallet (emptied of everything but essentials, my passport (in a cute holder!),

Playing cards, a small book (I have yet to convert to an e-reader, I like to turn pages), lotion (after passing through security), an empty water bottle, my phone and charger, earbuds, earplugs, and a sleepy mask.  The last two are VERY helpful if you find it difficult to sleep sitting up. Or if your want to take advantage of the posh benches (insert sarcasm font here) at Heathrow airport. 
**If you are traveling through Heathrow and have a long-ish layover, here’s a helpful hint.  They don’t post your gate until 90 minutes before your flight, forcing you to hang out in their “mall” area in Terminal 5.  If you have time, head to Gate 55C (via the inter-terminal transit).  The C gates are usually dead, and there is a huge Starbucks there with multiple couches and pillows.  I was full of nap-regret upon seeing these and figured I’d help out a future traveler.  It’s OK, you’re welcome.**

Anyone else out there travel through Heathrow regularly?  Maybe it’s just me, but my experiences there have all been dismal.  Security lines are long and more inefficient than any other airport I’ve been through (save El Paso because… El Paso.), and something odd happens to me every time (like being accosted by transients, or accidentally smacked in the head by large Croatian women – that’s a good story), and this time was no exception.  After our 8 hour layover, we finally get to the gate for boarding and are told that our plane cannot approach the jetway (are they arguing or something?), so we will be shuttled to the plane.  Serously – this is one of the best known and biggest airports in the world, and we are walking across the tarmac in the rain to a city bus?  

(This is the view from our bus.  We had to stop for a plane because this isn't a road, it's a runway - odd!)

Allllllrighty then. Once on board, we were delighted to learn that the plane was only half full, suh-weet!  This is like a happy accident where you paid for coach and got upgraded to first class, because everyone just spreads out to take up his or her own row so that you can lie flat or watch two episodes of Pawn Stars at once. Winning. This was our longest flight at 11:50, and we didn’t sleep much despite the extra space. Failing. We had a bit of an odd experience when about 2 hours into the flight they started paging any passengers that might happen to be a GP.  No Bueno. I’m not sure what the procedure is for sick people on planes but thankfully it wasn’t an emergency landing because I’m doubtful that quality medical care could be easily found in any of the small African cities over which we were flying.  This continued throughout the flight and upon landing they brought the paramedics aboard.  Prayers to whoever that was, and thanks to God that it wasn’t us – how scary! When we had to go back to our assigned seats for landing, we discovered we were sitting next to a mom and daughter who were coming to SA to do long term missions – cool!  Upon descent to the runway, she did say, “Wow, it looks like we’re landing in the Lion King,” so there might need to be some cultural sensitivity training there, but at least she was excited. ;)       

 After landing, our friends Dustin and Hallie who are living in SA for a time with their son, Graeme, drove us back to their home just outside Capetown in a village called Sommerset West.  The house have approximately 27 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms (just kidding… kind of).  They use it to house short term mission teams when they come over from churches that partner with their ministry (check out Orchard Africa!), and then in our winter (South African summer), the home will be used as an income producing B&B – brilliant idea. 

When we travel across multiple time zones we find it best to make ourselves overly tired on our first day so that we sleep well and are all ready for our second day.  This meant that when we arrived in Capetown, we were needing to go and do something active so that we didn’t fall asleep standing up while drooling on ourselves have to take a nap.  We headed out to the second oldest wine estate in South Africa, Veregelegen, for lunch, sightseeing and wine tasting. 

(The oldest camphor trees in SA - planted over 300 years ago!) 

(Saw this Gemsbok just running around - it's like living in the zoo!)

(Eric's meal - delicious fillet of beef and sauteed veggies)

(My meal - cold roast beef with caramelized onions and sun-dried tomatoes and marscapone on french bread)

This was followed by a trip to Woolworth’s Grocery, which I would describe as the more European offspring of a Trader Joe’s and a Sprouts, with a killer café and a mean cappuccino.  We picked up dinner ingredients and coffee (decaf, sadly). And after a monumental battle against sleeping on the ride home (I may have lost), we whipped up an easy dinner, and FINALLY collapsed into bed approximately 50 hours after our previous night’s sleep.  At least having a baby won’t be THAT bad in terms of sleep-loss ;)

Tune in tomorrow to hear about poached eggs, driving on the wrong side of the road, rain (that water that falls from the sky in places that aren’t Phoenix), chocolate tasting, and how we might just decide to live here forever (not really… but maybe).

Goodnight for now!