Category Archives: Travel

Cambridge

Note: No Book Review Monday today, folks. Just finishing up a good novel, which I’ll write about soon. In the meantime, let’s talk about Cambridge, the cutest little English town there ever was.

Punters, Cambridge

Punters, Cambridge

This past weekend, Al and I took the train from London to Cambridge. Way back in 2005-2006, while I was galavanting around Brazil and overdoing it on mangos, Al was in Cambridge doing a graduate program in economic development. Different strokes for different folks, right? Anyway, I had wanted to see Cambridge, my husband’s old stomping grounds, for a long time, and so I was delighted to spend a beautiful summer weekend there with him.

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We stayed at the slightly saggy Lensfield Hotel, in a room that was so tiny the door hit the bed when we opened it. The extreme tininess of the room wasn’t a problem, though, because we didn’t really spend much time there; we were too busy walking the utterly charming streets of Cambridge. First stop was Al’s old college, Pembroke, which is known for its beautiful gardens.

Pembroke

Pembroke

We also checked out King’s College, St. John’s, Caius, Queen’s, and Clare. One of my favorites was St. John’s, because we got to sit outside the chapel and listen to the St. John’s choir practice. Turns out the St. John’s choir dates back to the 17th century and is now “one of the finest collegiate choirs in the world.” Here’s a little video about the choir, if you want to hear a bit of the music. I can personally attest to the utter beauty of the choral music; I was so transfixed by it, I actually bought one of the choir’s CDs for five GBP. What can I say, I’m a sucker for boys’ choirs.

We spent most of the day walking around and gawping at how cute and old everything is in Cambridge. Then, that evening, we went on a mini pub crawl, stopping first at the Granta Pub, where we looked out over the river and watched a couple of dudes in their underwear punt boats in the rain. Then we moved on to the unfortunately named The Bathhouse, where Al used to bartend. And then… we went home. I guess now that we’re thirty, a two-pub pub-crawl is sufficient for our appetites.

The Granta Pub

The Granta Pub

The next day, we went for a run to go visit the cottage where Al used to live. Then, as is mandatory in Cambridge, we went punting on the river. Well, technically, Al did the punting, while I allowed myself to be punted. It was a pretty chaotic scene out on the river, but we managed to stay afloat, thanks to Al’s excellent punting skills.

View from the river

View from the river

Punter

Punter

Puntee

Puntee

After that, we walked along some beautiful, peaceful back garden paths until it was time to catch our train back to London. Overall, it was a perfect, pretty, relaxing weekend in Cambridge. I’m so glad I got to see it in all its idyllic glory.

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Bye, Cambridge. I liked you.

 

My first week in London

It’s been almost a full week since I’ve arrived in London and I’ve been trying to pack each of my days to bursting. So far, so good, except that it’s really hot here (who knew that could happen?) and there’s no AC, thus no respite from the heat. Walking around sweating and getting a mild sunburn is all fine and dandy if you can dip into deliciously cool restaurants, bars, or even public transportation once in a while, but AC is not a given here, anywhere. To wit: for the first time in my life last night, I was hot in a movie theater. It was like topsy-turvy world! Movie theaters are supposed to be frozen tundras so cold that your extremities lose feeling, Britain. Get with the program. Sheesh.

Before I tell you about my adventures this week, here is a short list of things I’ve learned and/or noticed over the last few days walking around London: 1) always carry your own water, unless you want to fork over the equivalent of your hypothetical child’s first year of college for a bottle of it; 2) don’t shop at Whole Foods — just don’t even go in — the prices are too traumatic; 3) don’t shop at the cute Italian coffee place around the corner, unless you are prepared to pay the equivalent of US $20 for one sandwich’s worth of Parma ham; 4) walk if possible; bus if you can’t walk; Tube if you can’t bus; 5) wear sunscreen (this advice applies outside of London, as well, FYI); 6) Italians are annoying in every context outside of Italy (sorry, Italians — real talk); 7) Brazilians and Americans are everywhere you look (or listen), and they/we are loud. But not as loud as Italians. Again, sorry, Italians. I love your food, your wine, and your country. But going forward, you guys have got to master spatial awareness and volume control.

British Museum

British Museum

So, where have I gone this week? Oh, lots of places. On Wednesday I walked around Covent Gardens and also spent a few hours at the British Museum, where I saw mummies, Assyrian stuff, Iranian stuff, Greek stuff, European stuff, a cool walrus tusk chess set, and the Rosetta Stone (overrated). On Thursday, I made my way to the Tate Modern art museum. Camille, one of Al’s lovely cousins who we’re staying with, was kind enough to give me her Tate member card, so I got to see all of the private exhibitions, featuring art by Ellen Gallagher, Ibrahim El Salahi, Saloua Raouda Choucair, and Meschac Gaba. Kind of interesting that two out of the four exhibitions were African artists. My favorite exhibition was Ellen Gallagher AxME. Gallagher is an American artist who does a lot of really cool, whimsical collages with photos from old African-American lifestyle magazines, over which she superimposes bright yellow wigs and googly eyes and other things. Sounds kinda crazy, and it kinda is. The permanent collections at the Tate were very good, as well, but less fun to walk around in, since they were all flooded by shrieking schoolchildren. When one is trying to enjoy art by looking contemplatively (or at least quietly) at it, one does not really appreciate the sounds of other human beings shouting next to one’s ear. Or maybe that’s just me?

Cy Twombly (at the Tate Modern)

Cy Twombly (at the Tate Modern)

Actually, I noticed some interesting behaviors while I was strolling through the Ellen Gallagher exhibit, from which I am prepared to draw broad cultural conclusions, because anthropologists always make sweeping statements based on tiny bits of anecdotal evidence, right? So, after observing both British and American patrons at the museum, I noticed that British people are more likely to give each other pedantic notes on pieces of art in a stage whisper (e.g., “You see how the googly eyes are an ironic statement about the underlying dehumanization of the dominant corporatist culture of the era?”), while Americans are more likely to ask their whining three year old toddler what her opinion is of the art (“Do you see that, Madison? It’s a jellyfish. Can you say jellyfish? What do you like about this painting, Madison? Madison, please sit in your stroller correctly.”). Both behaviors are highly annoying, although to be honest, I found the show-offy whispering easier to stomach. To give more detail, there was a pregnant woman (American) pushing her squirming three year-old in a stroller through the private exhibit. This woman insisted on asking, in a loud voice, for said three year-old’s informed opinion about each and every piece of art. As a fellow American, I wondered if I could perform some sort of international citizen’s arrest on behalf of my countrymen, but instead, I just made a silent note to self never to be That Person who assumes that everyone else in the modern art gallery is as charmed as I am by my toddler’s awareness of shapes and colors. Also, that poor kid, right? What three year-old wants to be dragged to a non-interactive art museum? There are probably a million other places that lady could have brought that child that day, none of which involved rooms full of surrealist art. Just saying.

Exhibition brochures

Exhibition brochures

Anyway, I got through most of the Tate Modern but I still need to go back to the Tate Britain, which I will do perhaps next week. I haven’t decided what adventures I am going to get up to today, but the world is my oyster. There is so much to see and do in this city, I could do five different things every day and not exhaust the possibilities. Glorious!

Happy Friday to one and all.

Goodbye, Johannesburg

I can’t believe I am leaving South Africa tomorrow. I got here at the end of October 2012, which is somewhere between yesterday and a long time ago, and tomorrow I’m departing for London. Weird. I thought, after spending over seven months on the ground in South Africa, it would be fitting to write a piece about what I liked about my experience here, what I didn’t like, and what I learned. So — here goes nothin’.

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It’s no secret that I wasn’t a huge fan of Joburg. From the beginning, I wasn’t psyched to move to this particular city (even though I was excited about the adventure Al and I were embarking upon together), but  I was determined to keep an open mind about this place and give it a chance. I think it’s fair to say, at this juncture, that I did give Joburg a chance. I was prepared to let it win me over. It just — didn’t. I don’t want this to devolve into a long list of things that I hate about Joburg, because no one needs to read that, but suffice it to say that this city and I were not meant to get along.

Bread at Vovo Telo - one of the best parts of Joburg

Bread at Vovo Telo – one of the best parts of Joburg!

For one thing, you need a car to do anything here. Al and I shared a car, our trusty 2008 Toyota Yaris, but he took it most days for work, since he had to go to clients’ offices and meetings and such, whereas I worked from home. Fair enough. But that ended up meaning that on days I didn’t have the car, I was functionally housebound. You can’t walk anywhere here (no sidewalks, dangerous, etc.), and there’s no viable public transportation. So I spent a lot of time by myself. Inside. And until a few months ago, that was okay. I embraced my inner introvert, I got to know the afternoon TLC schedule (Say Yes to the Dress, Rich Bride Poor Bride, Jon & Kate Plus 8), I cooked dishes that required obscene amounts of prep time (including this one, which I highly recommend if you have an afternoon to spend grinding spices), I knit (oh, did I knit), I wrote (duh), I got hooked on several TV shows on Netflix (Being Human UK: life changing), and things were pretty good, overall.

I got REALLY into knitting.

I got REALLY into knitting.

Then, a few months ago, I hit a wall. I just got sick of not having much of a life outside of my house. Part of this frustration was compounded by the fact that Al and I had not invested heavily in our social network here. We made wonderful friends, of course, but most of them worked crazy hours during the week and traveled on the weekends, which meant that during the weekdays and early evenings, I was pretty much left high and dry if I needed social contact with other human beings. The thing is, I’m not someone who needs a ton of time with other people to be happy. But I do need options. I’d like to have the option of setting up drinks with someone, for instance, or the option to just leave the house and go do something by myself. When I lived in Sao Paulo by myself and my friends were traveling or otherwise not around, I used to take myself to the movies, and I could walk to the theater. But here in Joburg, I couldn’t do that. And after a while, I got pretty sick of it.

A typical afternoon in Joburg.

A typical afternoon in Joburg.

Now, the flip-side of all of this, of course, is that while we were here, we invested heavily in travel, and I am very glad we did. In nine short months (more or less), we traveled to Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Namibia, as well as pretty extensively within South Africa (Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Kruger, the Drakensberg Mountains, Durban, and more). Plus we squeezed in a trip to Italy, and I went to North America twice (first by myself to San Francisco, and then with Al to Ottawa, DC, and Mexico City). So, not too shabby, if you ask me. I am so, so grateful for the experience of living here and being able to travel so widely in Southern Africa and within South Africa, in particular. Joburg, while not awesome itself (in my opinion), is a great jumping off point for seeing all sorts of amazing stuff in this region.

I saw a leopard. With my EYES.

I saw a leopard. With my EYES.

I’m also grateful to have had the opportunity to live in a country — and a part of the world — that I knew pretty much nothing about before I came here. To be honest, I still kinda don’t get it. South Africa is confusing and complex and confounding, but I’ve enjoyed being here and trying to figure out what’s going on around me day to day (that is, when I step foot outside of the house). It’s a country that has a lot of problems (inequality, corruption, wastefulness, racial issues), but it’s also a place with incredible potential and some of the most stunning natural beauty (flora and fauna) that I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s a special place.

Kgaswane Mountain Reserve

Kgaswane Mountain Reserve

I probably won’t miss the experience of living in Joburg, per se, but there are definitely some things I will miss about being here. A short list would include the low cost of living (and especially the cheap, high-quality steaks, nom), the incredible (and cheap) wine, my adorable local knitting store, and the great weather.

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I will miss you, knitting store.

So, all in all, these last nine months have been a rewarding adventure. Even for all of my complaints about Joburg, I wouldn’t ever take back the time we spent here, because it afforded us such incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to explore this region. And I will always remember my kitchen table in Joburg fondly, because this is where I launched my fledgling writing career. Me and this table, we have history now.

And now, off to London, our next adventure. Onwards and upwards. Seacrest out.

Going to London

Big news, peeps – I am moving to London for three months tomorrow. Al has been there for almost a week already (for work) and I am thrilled to bits that I’ll be joining him tomorrow.

(Image courtesy of sundaypostcardart.wordpress.com)

(Image courtesy of sundaypostcardart.wordpress.com)

A short list of things I’m excited to do, places I’m excited to see, and comestibles I’m excited to eat in London:

  1. Museums.
  2. Bookstores, including a book store that is ONLY cookbooks.
  3. Fish ‘n chips.
  4. Double-decker buses with plaid interiors. Don’t hate.
  5. Theater — or, should I say, theatRE.
  6. Pubs.
  7. The Tube (wow, public transportation is featuring prominently on this list already).
  8. Indian food.
  9. Friends, family.
  10. Libraries.
  11. Sidewalks — or, should I say, PAVEMENTS.
  12. Pimm’s cups.

I also have vague fantasies about becoming best friends with Adele and her dachshund, but we’ll just have to see how that goes.

adele

 

Anyway, stay tuned for a retrospective post on Joburg. See you soon, London!

Cape Town, for the last time

No Book Review Monday today; I’m in the middle of two very long books and hope to be done with at least one of them by next week. Until then, please enjoy some pretty pictures of Cape Town, Constantia, and Stellenbosch. Also, check out last week’s double-header Book Review Monday if you’re jonesing for some book talk.

Vineyard Hotel and Spa, Cape Town

Vineyard Hotel and Spa, Cape Town

I spent this past weekend in Cape Town with my friend Ali. The visit was packed with food, wine, and beautiful scenery and I tried to soak up as much as I could. This might well be the last time I ever step foot in Cape Town, since Al and I are moving to London for three months starting very soon (I know!).

Constantia

Constantia

Vines

Vines

On Friday night, after a lovely day of wine-tasting in Constantia (a beautiful suburb full of wineries just outside Cape Town), Ali and I met two of her friends, Victoria and Tim, for a winter tasting menu at La Colombe, one of the most well-regarded restaurants in the area. I had been looking forward to eating there for a while and it didn’t disappoint. We all opted for the five-course dinner with wine pairings, and it was pretty spectacular.

Fish course - kingklip and mussel

Fish course – kingklip and mussel

This involved corn and chicken

This was a delicious combo of chicken and sweet corn. Nom.

Cheese plate

Cheese plate

The next day, the four of us, plus Ryan, another friend of Ali’s, embarked on a wine-tasting adventure in Stellenbosch, and it was glorious. We tasted wine at DeMorgenzon, and then had lunch (and wine) at the fabulous Restaurant Jordan, and then went on to do one more wine tasting at the stunning Delaire Graff. (Photos in reverse chronological order.)

Mountain, view from Delaire Graff

View from Delaire Graff

Delaire Graff

Delaire Graff

Delaire Graff

Delaire Graff – view from tasting room

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch

Hand-picked cheese selection at Jordan

Hand-picked cheese selection at Jordan – awesome.

Springbok tartare at Jordan

Springbok tartare at Jordan – that poached egg was perfection.

DeMorgenzon

DeMorgenzon

Stellenbosch

DeMorgenzon

View from tasting room at DeMorgenzon

View from tasting room at DeMorgenzon

At the end of the day, Ali and I were too tired and full of wine to do much more than order in some pizza and watch TV, which felt like a fitting end to an indulgent day. The next day, we went for breakfast at The Gardener’s Cottage in Cape Town and then I hopped on a plane back to Joburg.

Omelette at The Gardener's Cottage, Cape Town

Omelette at The Gardener’s Cottage, Cape Town

Sigh. I’m going to miss Cape Town. There’s nowhere else quite like it, is there? At least I can console myself with Joburg’s many delights, which include…my TV. And my knitting bag. Ah, well.

Stay tuned for updates on our next international relocation, coming soon.

Our North American sojourn

Last night, we got back from our whirlwind trip to Ottawa, DC, and DF, and boy, were we tired. Al calculated that our total flying time for this trip was 54 hours, with at least six additional hours of airport time (looking at you, Dulles, you monster), which means we traveled an average of five hours for each day of our trip. Yikes. But you know what? It was SO worth it. We had so much fun, and we packed each day to the gills with friends and family, which was the whole point of this North American adventure.

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Here, in brief, is what we got up to on each leg of our trip.

Ottawa

In Ottawa, we attended the lovely wedding of Tom and Kristy. Tom is one of Al’s closest friends from high school in Canada, and Al was a groomsman in the wedding, which ended up meaning zero responsibilities and lots of perks for him and his fellow groomsmen, since the bride and her attendants were totally on top of things. Lucky guys.

Al and me at the wedding

Al and me at the wedding – Brittania Yacht Club, Ottawa

The bride and groom

The beautiful bride and handsome groom 

We were lucky enough to hang out with the newlyweds and some other friends after the wedding and we also got to spend quality time with Al’s brother Calum and his adorable cat, Mick Jagger. This cat is seriously The Cutest. Look at these photos of Jaggy and her lion haircut and look me in the eye and tell me she is not the CUTEST cat in the world. I dare you.

Watching the Real Housewives of Orange County

Watching the Real Housewives of Orange County

Chillin'

Chillin’

All in all, Ottawa was fun and relaxing, and after five years of visits to the city, I finally got to see it not covered in a solid foot of snow and ice. It’s much nicer in the summer (and I can go running without my ipod literally freezing!).

DC

In DC, our main goals were to see as many of our friends as possible, and to buy things. Well, maybe that second one was just my goal, but I succeeded handsomely! I pretty much raided Forever 21, snatching up anything vaguely nautical, including a pair of not-so-vaguely-nautical sailor shorts. I wore them to the bar to meet our friends, and as we were walking there, I asked Al, “Am I too old to wear these?” He said no, but I’m still not sure. I sort of just choose to ignore the whole “21” admonition built into Forever 21. I think it should be renamed Forever 30-ish, so ladies like me can feel good about buying cheap clothes there. Anyway. DC was great! We saw lots of people, ate lots of good food, and enjoyed the hot, muggy weather and low-level chaos that makes DC DC.

DC breakfast

DC breakfast

Seeing our friend Tanya at The Passenger. Note my nautical attire.

Seeing our friend Tanya at The Passenger. Note my nautical attire.

DF (Mexico City)

The final stop on our North American tour was Mexico City, where we attended the beautiful wedding of Anna and Íñigo. Anna is one of my closest law school (and DC) friends, and she and Íñigo are some of our favorite people to go salsa dancing with. Their wedding was held at a gorgeous museum called El Museo Franz Mayer, in the heart of Mexico City, and included awesome food, tiny jugs of Mezcal, and lots of salsa dancing. So much fun.

At the wedding

At the wedding

While in El DF, Al and I also got up to some sightseeing. We were staying at a hotel in a very hipstery neighborhood called La Roma. Just how hipstery was it? Well, our first night there, we went to a Japanese restaurant where people sat outside on kegs and a wandering gypsy band played klezmer music as we ate, so… you tell me. Also, Al wore this, just to blend in:

Just hanging out in La Roma.

Just hanging out in La Roma.

We also spent an afternoon sightseeing near the Zocalo, downtown, where we wandered around  the Templo Mayor, the ruins of a prominent temple in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (right on top of which the Spanish built Mexico City — how considerate of them). I was especially interested in seeing the Museo del Templo Mayor, where they keep such gory Aztec relics as “face knives” and other accoutrements related to human sacrifice. It was fun to celebrate the part of my heritage that involves ripping out people’s still-beating hearts and sacrificing them to the sun god. You know how it goes.

Stone skulls

Stone skulls, Museo del Templo Mayor

Cool door

Cool door

Me and a giant Mexican flag

Me and a giant Mexican flag

Helpful pamphlets at the Cathedral downtown. Our favorite was "100 questions for a Mormon."

Helpful pamphlets at the Cathedral downtown. Our favorite (not pictured) was “100 questions for a Mormon.”

We also ate lunch at Pujol, number 17 on the current list of the world’s 50 Best Restaurants. We were expecting great things from Pujol, but we walked away a bit underwhelmed, for a few reasons. First of all, if lunch is going to cost $260 USD, you want it to be spectacular. Not just good, but spectacular. Lunch at Pujol, though, was just okay. Some of the dishes were superlative (for example, their reimagined tres leches dessert was to die for), but others were just meh, and still others were downright, well, gross. Okay, so maybe I’m not the most adventurous eater, and call me old-fashioned, but if I’m eating at a fancy restaurant, I don’t want to be eating ant larvae. Yet, guess what I ate at Pujol? An ant larvae taco. (Note to self: next time, after lunch, don’t google the taco ingredients you didn’t understand. Escamoles are not a vegetable, turns out). We also ate a soup made out of ants. Which begs the question: was there a sale on ants at the market that morning, or were they just messing with us? Or both? Also, I could have done without the fried frog leg, bone still in, which was one of the courses. Blech.

But, some of the dishes were nice (and photogenic).

Delish dessert

Delish dessert

Tiny, very expensive, very cute fish taco

Very tiny, very expensive, very cute fish taco

After our Pujol experience, Al and I decided we’re kinda done with tasting menus for a while. Especially considering that the rest of the food we ate in Mexico was outrageously good (and affordable). I wanted to stuff tacos and queso fresco and frijoles in my bag and bring it all back to South Africa, the land where they think this is an example of authentic Mexican food:

"Da border?" Really, South Africa?

“Da border?” Really, South Africa?

So, now we’re back in Joburg, it’s freezing cold (I’m wearing a hat indoors), and I’m missing the sunny climes of my home continent. I’m really glad we took our trip, because it was a great reminder of the wonderful people (and food, and public transportation, and cheap clothing) that we have to look forward to when we eventually move back to the US. For now, though, I’m going to enjoy my remaining time here in SA by eating a lot of steak and biltong.

Hasta luego!

What I like about DC

We’re back in DC after more than eight months away (holy moly!) and being here after so long is throwing this city into sharp relief for me. Suddenly, I’m remembering all the things that drive me bat-poop bonkers about this place (see, e.g., the Red Line), but also all the wonderful stuff that makes DC the place I want to live permanently.

I have a love-hate relationship with this.

I have a love-hate relationship with this.

Last night, after a great dinner with some of our best DC friends, Al and I walked back to our hotel and talked about what we miss about this place. We both agreed that we’re glad we’re doing this stint abroad (with more international adventures still to come over the next year!) but that we’ll be very glad to head back to Our Nation’s Capital when the time comes. There’s just a lot of things to love about this place.

So here, without further ado, is a short list of things I like about DC:

  1. Weather. Yes, summers tend to be muggy and, one might fairly argue, swampy. Literally. Like, the city was built on a swamp. But you know what? It’s temperate! There are seasons. And Shorts Weather lasts for a long time, which is really all you can ask for from a place.
  2. Monuments. I’m talking huge, in-yo’-face, impressive monuments. Every time I come back to DC after being away, I marvel at much the city looks like a movie set, with all of these big, famous monuments just crammed together. It looks fake — but it’s not. Although, contrary to what TV would have us believe, people don’t actually conduct business meetings at the feet of the Lincoln Memorial or while dipping their feet in the reflecting pool. Sorry.
  3. Walkability. After being cooped up at home in Joburg for so long, there’s something deliciously liberating about being able to walk places, by myself, when I please. You know what I’ve really missed? Sidewalks.
  4. Food. Over the last few years, DC has evolved into a great food city, and it feels like there are still new restaurants and new chefs popping up all the time. And dang, this city does a good lunch salad. I missed you, Chop’t.
  5. Friends. Al and I have a great group of friends here and we miss them. Can’t wait until we can hang out with them again on the regular.
  6. Location. DC is so convenient. You can get anywhere on the East Coast easily, either by flying or driving, and it’s midway between Europe and California. After having lived for the past eight months in a country that feels impossibly remote from everything and everyone, I now really appreciate DC’s accessibility.
  7. Happy hour. This city runs on happy hours. It’s basically like one of those Brazilian cars that runs on alcohol. And now that I’m no longer chained to a desk at a law firm, I may even be able to enjoy the DC tradition of meeting for early drinks, often on a rooftop somewhere.
  8. Culture. Gotta love a city that has the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, theater, and live music. You never have an excuse to be bored here.
  9. International influence. DC has to be one of the most international cities in the world. Period, the end.
  10. NPR. I’m a public radio junkie and I love that NPR is based right here. It also makes me think my ultimate life goal of becoming best friends with all of the hosts of Pop Culture Happy Hour may eventually become a reality. Here’s hoping.
  11. Family. DC seems like one of the rare big cities in the US where you could theoretically raise children without them automatically becoming entitled, privileged monsters. Just my impression, although I’m not ruling anything out at this point.
DC Metro. Sure, the occasional person dies on the escalator. But at least there's public transportation.

DC Metro. Sure, the occasional person dies on the escalator. But at least there’s public transportation here.

Of course, there are things about DC, as I mentioned above, that make me want to wring its figurative neck. But that’s going to be the case for any city, anywhere in the world. Nowhere’s perfect. But DC is a pretty good match for me, and I’m looking forward to living here again, after our international sojourn. See you next spring, DC!

America

These next two weeks will be light on blogging because Al and I are going back to North America today for two weddings: one in Canada and one in Mexico. We’re also stopping in DC for a few days, so our itinerary is Ottawa –> DC –> Mexico City, which I like to think of as The Greens’ North American Capitals Tour. I’m especially excited to go back to America and be reunited with normal tasting Diet Coke, roads without potholes, sidewalks you can actually walk on, public transportation, H&M, gummy vitamins, the Eastern Standard Time Zone, and other luxuries. I’m also excited to finally see Ottawa in the summer (I’ve heard good things) and go back to Mexico City for the first time in over ten years. So, I’ll try to update you guys when I can, but things’ll be fairly whirlwind, so don’t expect frequent posts.

north america

In the meantime, for those of you who aren’t aware, I have been writing for a great new TV website, Previously.TV, covering one of the hottest perennial messes on the ABC lineup, The Bachelorette. If you’re inclined to enjoy fairly unforgiving TV snark, please check out my posts here.

One other thing to keep you guys occupied while I’m gone: this genius tumblr that has been making the rounds of the internet: Hipsters Who Dress Like Jackie from Roseanne. Incredible.

Okay, so I’ll see you guys when I see you guys!

Lesotho

This past weekend, we went to Lesotho, which is a tiny kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa (unlike Swaziland, which is just almost surrounded by South Africa).

map-of-lesotho

 

The initial impetus of the trip was to help our friend Elli deliver some school uniforms to the Maseru office of Kick 4 Life, an NGO that does HIV/AIDS prevention and other types of community outreach, including social enterprise, with vulnerable youths and women in the community. So, we set out from Joburg bright and early with bold intentions to get to Maseru by two PM, which seemed reasonable, since it’s only a five hour drive. You’d think, after seven months in Africa, that we would have figured out by this point that road trips NEVER go as planned, ever, but I guess we’re just indefatigable optimists-slash-actual crazy people who do the same thing over and over and expect different results each time. Anyway, long story short, we arrived in Maseru at eight PM, i.e., it took us SIX hours longer than we anticipated to get across the border. Siiiiigh.

After dropping off the uniforms with Kick 4 Life, we drove on 40 minutes to Morija, where we stayed at the Morija Guesthouse, which has gorgeous views of the surrounding hills.

Colorful rocks and sky

Colorful rocks and sky

 

View from the back of the Guesthouse

View from the back of the Guesthouse

The first night, we sat in front of the fire, drank red wine, ate chicken, and then went to bed. The next morning, refreshed, we hired a local guy, Kefue, to take us horseback riding around Morija. Kefue was an interesting character. He was missing some teeth, but he spoke perfect English and told us about his second career as a freelance journalist. He also got into a lively debate with one of our traveling companions, Jed, about Robert Mugabe. Kefue offered a spirited defense of Mugabe’s leadership, which kinda baffled everyone (and pissed off Jed). Anyway. We went on a pony trek and then did some hiking, and then settled in again for a night of wine, chicken, and sitting around.

Here are some photos that Al and I took during the hike and pony trek:

Cow

Cow

View from our hike

View from our hike

Al on top of a rock with dinosaur prints

Al on top of a rock with dinosaur prints

Lesotho is a very beautiful place. I see why the Basotho people are proud of their country, its geography, and its history. Unfortunately, Lesotho has some serious problems with HIV/AIDS, with a staggering 23% of the population HIV positive, as of 2011, which is the third highest HIV prevalence rate in the world. The countries with the two highest prevalence rates, Botswana and Swaziland, are also in Southern Africa, and South Africa has the fourth highest prevalence rate. I spent time this weekend thinking about these statistics and wondering why this part of the world is so susceptible to the spread of HIV/AIDS, and what the best way to tackle it might be. Almost makes me wish I had a degree in public health, instead of that dumb law degree.

But let’s not end on a depressing note! Here are a few more photos of the beautiful Lesotho.

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Namibia

For our one-year wedding anniversary, Al and I took a long weekend trip to Swakopmund, Namibia, and it was definitely one of the most unique places we’ve been in Southern Africa.

A Namibian tapestry

Namibian tapestry

On a Thursday morning, we flew from Joburg to Windhoek, the Namibian capital, which is a very slow-paced little capital indeed. It has a distinct small-town vibe to begin with, plus, for reasons we couldn’t figure out, everything was closed when we visited, including all of the museums. It was kind of creepy, actually, walking around this capital city at ten AM on a weekday and seeing almost no other people on the streets. I turned to Al and asked if there had been some sort of apocalypse memo that we missed, and he wasn’t sure. Jury’s still out.

Corner of Michael Scott and Fidel Castro.

Did I mention the street names in Windhoek are also weird? See, e.g., corner of Michael Scott and Fidel Castro.

We did manage to visit one of the few landmarks that was actually open, the historic Christ Church, a sandstone Lutheran church built in the early 20th century.

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We spent most of the rest of the day sitting at the open-air Zoo Cafe (a curious name, given that Windhoek does not have a zoo), and then eating and drinking at a nearby beer garden, which had some of the most delightful German-to-English menu translations I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Like, such as.

Like, such as.

That afternoon, we caught a shuttle to Swakopmund, a beach resort in northwest Namibia that’s smack in the middle of the Namib desert. Swakopmund is this weird mix of Germany (it was founded in 1892 as the main harbor for German South-West Africa) and Africa. It has something for everyone: palm trees, desert, beach, wiener schnitzel, beer, wine, pastries, game meat, surfing, adventure sports, seafood — you name it. Al and I were particularly excited about the food: Al ate wiener schnitzel at least once a day, and I ate a lot of fresh fish and steak. Yum!

Brauhaus, Swakopmund

Brauhaus, Swakopmund

Pastries at Cafe Anton, the cafe below our hotel (Hotel Schweizerhaus)

Pastries at Cafe Anton, the cafe below our delightfully 1970s hotel (Hotel Schweizerhaus)

Since Swakopmund is surrounded by desert, we decided to try a desert-based sport: sand boarding. Sand boarding is exactly what it sounds like: you get on a snowboard and go down a sand dune. It takes some getting used to — it took me two runs and several falls on my butt/head to get the hang of it — but once you can balance and glide down the sand, it’s super fun.

Me, sand boarding

Me, sand boarding – doesn’t look like I am moving, but I am. Trust me.

And Al discovered he has a hidden talent for flying down sand dunes on a piece of plywood. He got some serious air, dudes.

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Overall, we loved Swakopmund and wished we had been able to spend a bit more time there. But I’m glad we got to see yet another country in Southern Africa before our time in this part of the world is up.