My first time (up Lions Head)

Some people are just fearless.
I’m not one of those people.
I can’t be sure what I feared about ‘the chains’ of Lions Head, but there was a little voice inside me that was pretty certain I wouldn’t manage the climb. In fact, the voice (not so little – more like a shouting one) was scared.

As part of the fitter, faster, stronger resolution (which is more of a goal, and not exclusive to 2014) – I figured I really do need to tackle one of Cape Towns most loved trails. To the top. Including the dreaded chains.

Up at 5.30, I’d been given the advice about the challenge:
“Go early”, “take water, gets hot up there” and “you’ll need free hands” but the best tip was this
@thejollyjammer: The first part is killer. Get up the hill and it’s smooth sailing from there.

Thank God for Kirst. You park, you feeling good, you take a photo of the mountain, the harbour, even a selfie. You set off… And then you walk up a shitty tedious hill. For… ever.

But Kirst was right – it’s smooth sailing from there. We walked, we photo’d , we circled the head that we’ve only ever looked up at from every point in the city below.

Trail runner (type people) are super friendly too – which makes the whole outing give you an even warmer and more fuzzy feeling … That is if the endorphins and view weren’t doing enough.

Yep, there are the chains. And to be fair, I was more than a little nervous as I grabbed hold of the first metal rod stuck into the rock by those who’ve done this a thousand times before me. But the metal steps and the chains are just the beginning of the scramble over rocks (so glad my hands were free), the wobbling knees (stronger is definitely key in the list of resolutions) and the slightly deeper breathing (looks like I’m not kidding about fitter either). The fear however, well that eeked away as I took in the 360 degree views of camps bay, bantry bay, sea point and tamboerskloof.

I made it to the top.
There was only one point when I thought I wouldn’t (it may have involved looking back down to our tiny car below and being just a little scared again).

I can’t say it was spiritual or meaningful up there. But the moment definitely occurred when I confirmed (again) that this is the best city I’ve ever been to. And that Id like to start more mornings this way in 2014.

Overheard at the top
“Yep, I do think dinosaurs came up here”
“Something about it makes me want to jump off”
“Wish I had a parachute”
“Geocaching”

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Me, on lion’s head.. obviously
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The unsuspecting tourist

You need only read a little of my other blog… the one I wrote while spending three spontaneous months in South East Asia (the time there was spontaneous, not the spending of three months there. That was a thought-out calculated decision. Obviously.) to know that being scammed is part of my travel itinerary.
In Thailand it comes with the territory. There are blog posts that talk about the infamous “I’m a lawyer/teacher” scam, the “2 baht tuk-tuk ride” scam and the “this bus is for locals” scam and we fell for them all. Thailand properly dominated the Hawks when we were there the first time.

But this holiday – we were expecting something a little different. And Thailand delivered. No tuk-tuks, no tour operator haggling, no scams. 13 days of 4 & 5 star bliss (minus the small hiccup of a bug and a fever).

It was Dubai that got us this time. Dubai, the city that took what it liked from around the world and made their own. Starbucks, Cinnabon, skyscrapers, beachclub bars, warm (ok hot) weather. Dubai the city that reinvented the word Mall and put the largest aquarium in the world in it. Dubai scammed us.

Walking out of Atlantis (after behaving like children on water-slides all day) we needed a taxi to the Dubai Mall. What we now know is this taxi ride should only cost around 30-40 dirham. A kind and generous woman asked us if we needed help and where we were off to. We told her (this, being a first world city and five star hotel and all). She said it was easiest in a taxi and quickly headed towards a beautiful merc that was patiently waiting for an unsuspecting tourist. I questioned her (aha, so my brain was on) that surely this would be a more expensive taxi than a normal city taxi (I saw one parked nearby I was about to head over to) but she assured me (assured!) that this was a metered taxi and would cost the same as any other taxi. She even asked the taxi driver to show me the meter, and switch it on.

We climbed in and had the most pleasant comfortable ride of our lives (Mercedez ofcourse) spending every last dirham in our wallet to get to the Dubai Mall. It cost us double what it should have.

Why? Why are there hotels or operators that allow reps to represent their hotel and blatantly lie to tourists who are just there to enjoy the city. Why rip us off?

It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth when something like that happens. Yes, its only money and it really wasn’t that much in the greater scheme of things (when 20 dirhams buys you a coffee) but its just plain annoying that these days wherever you go, you aren’t able to trust the general ‘helpful’ person on the street.

Cape Town – I hope there aren’t reps like this commissioned by hotels to lie and scam tourists to our beautiful city.

That is all. Dubai was otherwise very nice 🙂

Kimhawk at Atlantis
Before the rip-off. Enjoying Atlantis 🙂

Meandering in the Midlands some more

The second day of our five-star holiday and our meander through the Midlands.

After a cosy night in our amazing suite (the underfloor heating goes a long way in 7 degree temperature), we started our day with what became our favourite spot of the Meander: Blueberry Hill. Lounging in the big leather chairs, the gorgeous 360 degree view of the rolling hills of the Midlands in front of us we indulged in their speciality Blueberry Cheesecake. Sitting next to the fire, blankets over our knees we read our books for an hour or so. Blissful holiday mode. A quick browse through the gift store next door (no space in our luggage or on our credit cards to buy anything) and we were off to the next little stop!

Blueberry Hill cheesecake

We popped into Lavender Trout farm, a farmstall filled with old and new odds and ends. The type that look great in shops, but rarely would suit anything when you take it home: Old Ouma rusk tins, ribbons, old tin cups and sauces. A bicycle attached to a wall, a couple of chickens running around (as cold as we were). There’s even a dam stocked with trout for days when the temperature isn’t in single digits, much to Mark’s delight (and dismay as there was little chance of me hanging around in the frost while he fished).

Quaint

As there wasn’t much activity going on we hopped over to Nottingham Road Brewery for a bit of a beer tasting. Fascinatingly the pub was empty (where was everyone?) which unfortunately made for a rather sad and lonely beer tasting. But taste we did!

Beer tasting at Nottingham Road Brewery

Lunch! Aah, the highlight of the midlands, and my personal must-see of the trip. It’s the spot I’d been waiting to visit since I’d first heard of it back in London. Granny Mouse’s Country House. Mostly where people get married when they “get married in Midlands”. It’s this gorgeous lodge that is cosy, comfortable and oozes with charm. It’s picture perfect from an old bed-time story – Hanzel and Gretel type cottages, pretty rose gardens and autmumn-coloured upholstered furniture. Warmly welcomed after our squizz at the chapel (yes, perhaps a reenactment of a walk down the aisle, it never grows old) we were shown around the lodge including the cellar and fine dining room. Not bad at all! A quiet day and with no other tables in their bistro restaurant they offered to serve us lunch in the lounge. Next to the fire. Perfection! A glass of red in hand (I have a suspicion it was Uva Mira – but it has been a while) I ordered the Grilled Local Trout, served on braised leek risotto topped with rocket and red onion salad (R80) and Mark had the Ribs and chips (R80). Amazing!

The picture doesn’t do the dish justice
Pose much?

Full, satisfied and oh so cosied up, we spent the evening in our suite. With its underfloor heating. Ordering room service. Five star holiday. This is what it’s about.

Rome, and it’s wine bars

The same friends that needed tips on Paris, are also going to find themselves in Rome. Having been there too (yes, I do like to reminisce. Really? Have you not realised by now?) I thought I’d share my highlights and tips with them on this fabulous city too. Rome isn’t exactly known for it’s wine, but I did find myself drinking a fair amount while I was there (that shouldn’t really come as a surprise either).

I’m only mentioning the sights that are worth seeing if you’ve never been there before. You can spend days and days in Rome. But here are my highlights. If you’re not interested in sights, make sure you visit Antica Enoteca (near the spanish steps and mentioned below). Amazing!

1. The Collosseum is probably the most impressive ruin you’ll see in Europe. Grand statement – I hope it lives up to it. I was blown away.
The Q’s in Rome are a nightmare though and that especially includes the big attractions. You can get a ticket to the Colloseum at Palantine Hill which allows you entry into both attractions (although don’t bother with Palatine if you have limited time) and there’s hardly a queue at Palatine Hill. So head over there, get your ticket and head back to the Collosseum.

These directions may help to The Palatine Hill ticket office. If you stand with your back to the Colosseum Metro with the Colosseum on your left and the Arch of Constantine in front of you, you will see an old cobbled road (Via Sacra) on your right. Go up there, pass to the left of the Arch of Titus and you will come to the ticket office. Usually there is no queue here. Once you have your ticket, go back to the Colosseum, where you can bypass all the people in the queue (they will be waiting to buy their ticket, not waiting to get in), put your ticket in the turnstile and away you go.

Do an audio tour or an actual tour of the Colloseum if you can – and if you’re into history. If you’re not – skip this tip. Hmm, maybe skip the Colloseum then too.

2. We had the most amazing carpaccio at Cavour 313 (which is close to the Colloseum and obviously why I mention it at this point). In fact, the cover photo of my blog was taken here! It is my idea of heaven. Wine bottles everywhere. When you order your bottle, they reach up into the open rafters above you and bring it down with a long hook type thing. Every wine imagineable. It was awesome. Try the boar carpaccio if you’re daring! Closest station is Colloseo (and address is Via Cavour 313).

3. The Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica.
The first tip for this attraction if you go, is make sure your knees and your shoulders are properly covered. They won’t let you in at all unless they are!
The second is… well, you’ll get there and realise there’s a HUGE queue (you seeing a trend here?). There will be a few art student type tour guides who walk around and sell their services to guide you through the museums and talk you through all the art. Not only this, but with them – you skip the Q so it’s worth joining one of these tours. Keep your flash off in the Sistine Chapel – and be sneaky as its completely illegal to take photos. Its exquisite though!
At St Peter’s buy the ticket that allows you to climb all the way to the top (550 stairs) but worth it. Also don’t miss the toe on the bronze statue of St Peter – worn down by years of kisses (quote: lonely planet)!
Doing all of this will take a full day!! If you’re going to choose only one of these three, pick St Peter’s.

Us, outside St Peter’s Basilica

4. I loved the Pantheon. And especially as it was also part of the Dan Brown movies, it’s pretty cool to see. But we visited before Dan Brown rocked to superstardom and when Rome was just referred to as ‘not being built in a day’. Visit it if you have time. Architecturally its a goodie.

5. Indulge in the BEST Gelato at Giolitti (Via Uffici del Vicario 40, 00186 Rome) as Audrey Hepburn did in “Roman Holiday”. Try something different here! Everything is sensational. The Q is worth it and it moves quickly don’t worry.
Directions: Follow Via Del Pantheon (right side of Pantheon, facing it from its front), which after 100 m becomes via della Maddalena. About 200m further you will get to Via Degli Uficci del Vicario. Turn right, you’ll find Giolitti on your left.

6. The Spanish steps is an awesome way to people watch in the masses and in the sun. Everyone does it. It’s pretty cool. Also its right at the top of the road that has the best shops. If thats what you fancy doing in Rome (all designer labels).

7. Whats even cooler is this wine bar just down the road from the steps called Antica Enoteca (an enoteca is a wine shop or wine bar. If I ever open a wine bar I’d call it Enoteca).
It’s this gorgoues wine bar with a looooong bar where you can sample wines and get tipsy. Probably the highlight of my trip to Rome.
Via del Corso (metro: Spagna)

8. The best tip we were given about Rome is the “apertivo hour”. Between 6 – 9pm some bars offer buffets free if you order a drink. Yep, have a drink at the bar and you get a whole host of goodies for free. Enough for dinner! We went to Gusto and were impressed (granted at the time we were budget type travellers). It’s up in sort of the same area near the Spanish steps etc.

The address: Piazza Augusto Imperatore 9.

9. Trevi Fountain
You’ve seen it in the movies and also in that cheesey Pizza ad on TV. This is the Fountain that if you toss a coin (backwards over your shoulder just for effect) it ensures a return visit to Rome one day (hmm… hasn’t happened for me yet). Ofcourse, maybe I’m re-visiting Rome just by writing this. Fate, destiny and serendipity are weird like that.
Its a crazy piazza – the fountain is beautiful but there are thousands of people pushing to get their moment (plus photo) with the fountain. Its nice though…

And that’s Rome!

Paris in the Summer

I’ve been to Paris 3 times. It was one of the last European cities we visited before we decided to come home (in fact, it was supposed to be the last European break we went on but instead we dashed off again to Sardinia which became the very last European destination we went to. I think).

A friend of mine and her husband are doing Europe this summer and especially asked that I give them some recommendations that weren’t touristy but rather let them soak up the vibe. After I wrote the tips to them I figured there may be other people out there that might want to know a few basic things before they jet off too.

So here they are, my top tips of Paris if I were to visit again!

First tip – don’t be afraid of the Metro system. It is the most efficient system in the world. It may seem daunting to navigate, but it’s not and once you get the hang of it you’ll be sorted. Careful at night though (as with London) – there are some dodgy folk in the tubes and tunnels that run underground. Phones away, bags close and keep walking. No matter what. (First hand encounter with police and some dodgies on our last trip to Paris).

1. Obviously the Eiffel Tower, even though it’s touristy, you have to pay it a visit.
Take the underground to Trocadéro (line 9 & 6). This is the best view of the Eiffel tower and you want to see it for the first time from here. Go once during the day and once at night. When you go at night, make sure you watch it for long enough for the sparkling to start! When you go during the day, maybe take some picnic-y food with you as there are gardens next to the fountains where you can go and chill if the sun is out. There’s a big square at Trocadero and sometimes there are groups doing breakdancing or shows of some sort. Watch your bag.. as wherever there are crowds, there are also pick pockets.
If it’s a pretty day and you haven’t done it before – go up. For the most cost-effective way walk up and take the lift down. We only went up once on our first trip and it’s worth it to tick the box. You can take the lift all the way to the top which is worth it – there is a restaurant up there  as I recall (pretty expensive) but its nice to see Paris from the top like that.

2. While you’re doing the night time thing, take the tube to Charles de Gaulle Etoile and just watch the madness of the traffic around the Arc de Triomphe. (You can actually do this during the day too, but the lights are awesome at night). Put  your camera on a slow shutter speed and take a brilliant photo!

3. Laduree. This is the most beautiful french pattisserie on the Champs Elysee. In case you don’t know, the Champs Elysee is where all the shops are. Every face of every shop is supposed to be white, and its the only place in the world where the M of MacDonalds isn’t yellow but white. Not sure if it’s still the case, but it was when we were there! Go to Laduree for macaroons, some cake, some tea or just to browse. It is AMAZING and you’ll feel SO french! It’s the most girly moment you may have in Paris.

4. The Sacre Coeur is the most beautiful church in all of Europe in my opinion. I fell in love.
Go when the sun is still up, but in the late afternoon. (stations: Abbesses or Anvers). The view from the church perched high up on the hill (you can walk up, or take the funicular) is spectacular. See the church from the bottom first, then head up and enjoy the crowds on the steps. There’ll be music, I think there may also be people with their own wine. It’s just a spot to go and watch the city from high above as the sun sets. If you’re into it, go and take a look inside the church – its spectacular (maybe do that first before the sunset). Head around to the back of the church for “The Artists’ Corner” of Paris (this whole area is also called Montmartre). There you can browse art, and have your portrait drawn etc. I think there also some cafes around the square that you could have a coffee at. (oh, think its only open during the day – so you may need to go to the Artist’s first.

5. Now that its dark again, its time to take a walk to the Moulin Rouge (that is, if you’re not going to a show!). The closest tube is Blanche – ofcourse, you can really really walk from the Sacre Couer and you should. It’s pretty cool to see the Windmill in real life! This is the red light district, but grab dinner around this area and just watch the people-traffic. If its warm (I hope it is) it’s just awesome to experience the street life in this part. There are also a few clubs and stuff in the area.

6. The Latin Quarter is the best place to be in the day. Take the underground to the Notre Dame station and browse around the two islands that sit in the middle of the Seine. Buy some cheese, biscuits and a bottle of wine and find a bench and watch the world go by on the river. There’s an amazing Ice Cream spot (I can’t recall the name, but you’ll see the Q for it) and its all cobble stones, students and bicycles. The Notre Dame is pretty cool too – only went in on our first visit to Paris.

7. There are some sights, that need to be seen – for their beauty and sometimes only from the outside. One of them is the Opera House (tube stop Opera: Lines 3,7,8). The other is the Lourve (which once inside, you’ll be gone for 3 hours!). Walk through the gardens next to the Lourve and bask in the sun with a crepe around one of the fountains. Don’t be scared of the Parisians, but they may be half-naked as they catch a tan while they read the paper.

8. I can’t say why but I love the Concorde. I think because of its Egyptian obelisk (and I loved Egypt). It’s just this really big square in the middle of the traffic. It’s just Paris for me. I think it was used in a movie as well (Dan Brown perhaps?). It’s below the Champs Elysee. But please don’t be tempted to walk from here to the shops – its further than it looks. Yes, we have walked it!

All over Europe they have “menu’s” especially during the week where you can get two course meals for very cheap – I recall it being about EUR13 or so. Just have to keep your eye out on sign boards outside restaurants. Try and avoid eating anywhere near the Seine, or near the Eiffel Tower… You will pay a lot and it won’t be nice. Don’t have steak in Paris… unless you’re prepared to pay for it.  Unfortunately we weren’t as in to good food as we are now, so I can’t recommend anywhere except for  Pastapappa. If you’re on a budget it’s affordable (very!) but better than MacDonalds. I remember it being cheap and easy (but it has been 3 years!)

 

I know I know
I know I know

A meander in the midlands

I’d heard of it. People got married there, mostly people from Natal, but some natalians married Stormers, I mean people from Cape Town and so their friends (also from Cape Town) travelled there for said weddings. But I really didn’t know too much about the Midlands, or the Meander until dinner with (Natalian) friends when they were visiting Cape Town. They sold me on the idea of quaint decor shops, antiques, the outdoors and coffee stops. I really love a coffee stop.

Funny, they never mentioned the freezing cold nor mist. But anyway.

Dinner, talk of the Drakensberg and coffee shops, an obessession with visiting a 5 star (but malaria free) game reserve found us spontaneously booking a trip to KZN.

After a night in Umhlanga visiting the beautiful Oyster Box for a drink, the Shark tank for the necessary rugby and kuier (except they wouldn’t call it that there… as Afrikaans isn’t a language understood by many) we were off to do the Midlands Meander. Our first stop, Piggly Wiggly. Like a child in a candy store, I was an adult in a farmstall/deli… too many delights too oooh and aah at, but first a much-needed spot of (no, not coffee) lunch rather.

Piggly wiggly Jam
All the goodies at Piggly Wiggly

Being a Saturday it was full with kids and oldies. Being April (which makes it completely unexpected) it wasn’t long after we finished lunch that the skies opened up and the rain came down. Rain isn’t really something worth mentioning at the best of times, but the lightning storm that accompanied it was! Cracks of bright light filled the sky as we took cover at Sterlings Wrought Iron. After a good old chat with the owner, we drifted between dry spells to the linen, book, clothing and decor shops. Possibly everything you could wish for in one stop on the Meander. Naturally, I spent a fair few warm moments marvelling the wines on offer at Meander Fine Wines (a surprisingly good selection – glad to see the Natalians choose good wine) before visiting Hides of Africa, Mark’s stepbrother’s shop and deciding that yep, a hide will be purchased in our near future (it still hasn’t been bought.)

Makes for a pretty picture!

After a look around the antique store filled with old Ouma Rusks tins and similar goodies that look great in a shop, but would probably look more like junk and not as cool in my kitchen, the temperature started to dip and we got back into that whole meandering vibe. Swissland Cheese was our next stop. A long, wet and muddy road took us straight into deepest Switzerland, well – you know what I mean. Welcomed by a queue of goats about to be milked, and an electricity cut we were in for a cosy cheese tasting.  Our very own Heidi cheese assistant spoke with a soft German accent and treated us to all that was available. Cheese, cheese and more cheese as the generator kicked in to milk the goats and we craved a glass of red.

Somewhere between Swissland Cheese and Nottingham Road, I actually thought we had stepped into Wales. Green lush fields surrounded us. Stately homes (ok, more Surrey than Wales). Grey skies. And let’s not forget that 7 degree temperature. I was starting to freeze and it was time to get to the first of our five-star establishments that would make up our 5 star holiday!

Mark and I often talk about ‘that grand entrance’ – the term first used when we were looking for a wedding venue and obsessed that the entrance to the venue needed to be spectacular (not sure for what?). Well, Fordoun Hotel & Spa  has that Grand Entrance. Autumn colours lined the drive with a hazy mist setting in. Spectacular! And as we were warmly greeted by smiling staff, we knew our stay would be a comfortable one. Our suite was divine, with underfloor heating throughout. I only mention the heating because by now I’m pretty sure it was about 4 degrees and the coldest I had been in years. A view out of the lawn, and down to a dam far beyond. Just gorgeous really. Gorgeous, fresh and just a little chilly.

Autumn Colours and a Grand Entrance of Fordoun Hotel & Spa

Cozying up next to the fireplace in the lounge we settled in to our books with a cup of coffee to relax. Ok, let’s be honest. I was just trying to defrost. The mist settled in as well and when it came to pop out for dinner, we couldn’t see our hand in front of our eyes. A pizza at the first spot we could find and back to the coziness of our room for our first night in the Midlands.

Isn’t that cosy?

The crazy things

I realise that this blog is not supposed to be about reminiscing. It’s supposed to be all about food and wine.. and wine and food (although did I dictate that, or is that all life consists of these days? She ponders before continuing…) and I really do have some glorious food and places to talk about. This time last month, I was discovering the delights of the Midlands Meander, but right now I’m remembering, The last couple of weeks I’ve been finding myself doing it a lot. Playing music that reminds me of my days in London, craving starbucks coffees and old friends. But best of all, remembering some really good… and crazy times over the last few years.

Sometimes I shock myself when I think of the things I did while travelling… on reflection, these couldn’t be safe.

Jumping off the cliff of a mountain in Turkey with nothing but a turkish man and his parachute attached to my back? Diving to 25m in the Similan Islands when you’re only qualified to dive to 18m… but getting to see a guitar ray (that looked remarkably like a shark) while I was down there. Or me, a foefie slide and a river after numerous buckets in Vang Vieng, Laos. Ah Laos…let’s not even talk about the pre-booked tour to white water raft from one town to another. This was just stupid, not crazy.

Anyway, before I go into over-thinking the crazy times… and reminiscing at length about the places we’ve been, people we’ve met and seen… I wanted to post this picture. I just love it. Yes, those are my legs. And that’s Olu Deniz in Turkey beneath me (said Turkish main is making sure we don’t crash).

And yes, I felt like a bird. A scared bird. But a bird.

Actually now that I am thinking about it. All the crazy things, are actually just scary things. Until you do them. Then they’re either crazy or stupid.