Tag Archives: drink

Charleston

Last week, Al and I decided to go on a mini Southern road trip. We were in Florida, so we drove up the coast on a Friday evening, stopping in Savannah for dinner, and then ending up in Charleston, South Carolina. I had heard lots of good things about Charleston and I had a vague idea of what it would be like before we got there. Despite managing to resist the siren call of the new Bravo monstrosity Southern Charm, which is filmed in Charleston, I still gleaned the general idea of the place. I expected waterways, men wearing polo shirts tucked into colorful shorts, women wearing sundresses, champagne, hanging creepers (the plant!), cobblestones, grits, and general genteelness. I was not disappointed.

Hi, we're in Charleston.

Hi, we’re in Charleston.

Now, I’m going to be honest with you right off the bat: most of our Charleston trip was spent eating. I recommend, if you care to visit Charleston, that you spend most of your time eating, as well, because the food there is really good. The rest of your time you can spend admiring the Spanish moss and going on a ghost tour (more on that in a minute). But if you don’t want to read about all of the things we ate in Charleston, you might want to skim this post. Forewarned is forearmed!

Scrambled eggs at Two Boroughs Larder

Scrambled eggs at Two Boroughs Larder

Al and I got into town late on Friday night and he had to work on Saturday morning, so we started our adventure with a late brunch on Saturday afternoon. We ate at the delightful Two Boroughs Larder, so named because it’s situated in the cool, laid-back Cannonborough/Elliotborough neighborhood. The restaurant, like the neighborhood, is cool and hipstery and feels very local. There were families eating with their kids, older people out for breakfast, and, I suspect, a few dorky tourists like us. Al had a chicken boudin blanc sandwich and I had scrambled eggs. Yum. Also, Al had this beer:

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Blonde Bombshell

Later, we wandered around the city a bit, killing time before our dinner reservation. We went down to the water and took pictures, stopped at a bar to sit outside and watch The Kentucky Derby on a big screen, and admired Charleston’s wealth of skinny old houses and elegant gardens. IMG_6555

 

We ate dinner at Cypress, where we split a cheese plate and a giant “steak presentation for two” (and what a presentation it was!).

Cheese plate at Cypress (with real honeycomb)

Cheese plate at Cypress (with real honeycomb)

After dinner, we had the awesome idea of signing up for a Charleston ghost tour, and it was so much fun! A guy named Roy, a South Carolinian with a history degree and a flair for the dramatic, led us around town, explaining various “hauntings” along the way. It was delightful. I don’t believe in ghosts, as a general rule, and neither does Al, but we both got a big kick out of Roy and his practiced delivery of various spooky Charleston stories. There were a lot of stories that began, “Now, a friend of mine…” We both agreed that Roy subscribes to the Keith Morrison school of narration: lots of dramatic pauses and “well”s thrown in for added gravitas. It helped, I think, that we were both reasonably tipsy throughout the tour (as were the five other people who attended), because it allowed us to suspend our credulity and just enjoy Roy’s creepy tales of vengeful Charleston ghosts. I highly recommend doing a ghost tour with Roy’s company if you’re in town; Al and I both agreed it was the most fun thing we did in Charleston (besides shoving food into our faces).

First course at Husk

First course at Husk

The next day, we stopped for brunch at Husk, a Southern restaurant situated in a beautiful old mansion house. Husk had really good food but they also had really good presentation. I especially loved the beautiful wooden salad plates, earthenware cups, and canvas serving bowls.

Mm, biscuits.

Mm, biscuits.

After brunch, Al and I checked out the old Unitarian graveyard, which is supposedly haunted (along with everything else in Charleston, according to Roy). It was gorgeous, full of stately trees with ghostly Spanish moss hanging from their boughs and old gravestones overrun by flowering plants.

Gravestone at Unitarian Church

Gravestone at Unitarian Church

After wandering around the graveyard, we had to get on the road and head back to Florida. I wished we had had an extra day in Charleston so we could have tried some of the other restaurants we heard about and spent more time wandering around the charming old neighborhoods. But I’m sure we’ll be back! Thanks, Charleston!

Portugal, part three — Lisbon: babies and monks and birds

We spent the third and final leg of our Portugal trip in Lisbon. We rented a little apartment in Alfama, the oldest district in the city.

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Al and I were really into Alfama. In some ways, it felt quintessentially European, with its narrow, cobbled streets,  shrines sprouting out of public walls, and ancient churches. But in other ways, it felt decidedly developing world. There was trash in the alleyways, certain streets in the neighborhood reeked of fish, and the buildings were crumbling and peeling. Alfama reminded me of some parts of Brazil, and even of Mozambique.

The neighborhood

The neighborhood

By the end of our time there, I had decided that Lisbon (and Alfama in particular) looked and felt how I imagine a Southern European city would have looked and felt forty years ago. Not backwards, of course, but not exactly cosmopolitan, either (and I mean that in the best way). Alfama was very neighborhood-y: people yelled at each other from windows, laundry hung out to dry over the streets, kids played in front of their parents’ shops. We saw the same people every day when we left the apartment (most of whom were old ladies in housecoats, doing their shopping), and no one seemed to be trying to sell us anything or otherwise adapting their behavior to accommodate tourists. We later realized that we were staying in the lower part of Alfama, which is decidedly un-touristy (except for a few fado bars), but on our last night, we ventured to upper Alfama, which, we discovered, is where all the tourists had been the entire time. I’m really glad we stayed where we did.

Upper Alfama

Upper Alfama

One of our favorite Alfama experiences happened one night after dinner, when we stopped in a tiny bar near the apartment. When we walked in, the bar was empty except for the bartender (a middle-aged lady) and a monk in full black robes. As soon as we bellied up to the bar to order our drinks, the monk started chit-chatting with us in Portuguese, telling us all about Portugal, port, his life as a monk (which appeared to entail getting up very early but also drinking fairly late at night), and the places he had traveled. When I hesitated over which type of port to order, he told me to get white port because it was “like a woman: sweet, soft, and full of soul,” or something to that effect. Oh, flirty Southern European monk! You sure have a way with the ladies!

At the monk/baby bar

At the monk/baby bar

Later, as Al and I sat there drinking port (and for Al, beirão, a sweet, surprisingly not disgusting herbal liqueur), a family consisting of three adults, a baby, and a toddler came in. Everyone seemed to be regulars (including the kids). I took a video (although it’s hard to tell what’s going on since the bar was dark and noisy, but you get the idea). From there on out, Al and I referred to that place as the “monk and baby bar.”

We did some sightseeing in Lisbon, too — we checked out the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and the Tropical Botanical Garden — but mostly we just enjoyed walking around, admiring the old buildings and the azulejos, and, of course, drinking copious amounts of port. (Oh, how I love port!) We also got to meet up with my cousin Allie and her boyfriend, Marlo, which was fun. They took us to some bars in Bairro Alto, one of which had a bossa nova band (from whom I requested “Chega de Saudade,” obviously).

Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

I also went for some good runs and saw some of the funky graffiti and sidewalk art along the river. In our wanderings, Al and I also encountered lots of caged birds, which was both sad and weird. I’d never before been to a place where people just hang bird cages (filled with birds) outside of their homes and places of business.

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Now, a word on food. Al and I concluded by the end of our time in Portugal that gastronomically speaking, the Portuguese do three things really well: 1) baked goods; 2) port; and 3) preserved fish. I also enjoyed the simple sheep’s milk cheeses and the marinated olives we got everywhere.

Queijo azeitao - scoopable, delicious sheep's cheese

Queijo azeitao – scoopable, delicious sheep’s cheese

Apart from those things, though, Portuguese cuisine struck us as being pretty nondescript. Unless you’re REALLY into salted codfish, you probably won’t come away from Portugal with a strong impression of their food. But if you have a thing for seafood in cans, hoo boy, you’re gonna love this place!

Into preserved fish? You've come to the right place.

Gorgeous packaging on preserved seafood

One thing the Portuguese do NOT excel at, we found out, is food photography. I started taking photos of all the horrendous food photography I saw, usually prominently displayed in the windows of restaurants, because so much of it was so revolting. Here are just two of my favorites, which were actually framed.

Congealing grease, anyone?

Congealing grease, anyone?

The fact that I can only positively identify 2 out of four of these foods is not a great sign.

I can only positively identify two out of four of these foods.

But you know what? Terrible food photography aside, we ate pretty well in Portugal. And we drank REALLY well. Overall, what I liked most about our time in Lisbon was wandering into cafes and restaurants in Alfama and not seeing any other tourists. We were never bombarded with gimmicks or up-sells or even particular attention, wherever we went, and it was really refreshing. To borrow a phrase from every Lonely Planet guide ever written, the city was very “atmospheric,” and we were sad to leave.

Obrigada, Portugal, por uma visita ótima!

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!

Jozi Craft Beer Fest

Yesterday, Al and I and some friends went to the Jozi Craft Beer Fest. The event was set up in a field, and consisted of a bunch of tents selling beer and food, plus a lot of watered-down, South African hipsters. Lots of brand-name beanies and skinny jeans and “fun” glasses. Bless their hearts; they’re trying.

Hipster alert

Hipster alert

South African craft beer, in my humble opinion, is okay, not great, but the event was still fun. (Now I can’t even remember the names of the beers that I tried and liked, but I think Devil’s Peak might have been one of them? Sorry, South African beer fans. Nothing made a huge impression.) It was just fun to sit in the sun and drink some beer.

Yay beer

Yay beer

It got a little cold

It got a little cold in the afternoon

So, that was our Saturday. Today, we’re off to the Winter Sculpture Garden at the Cradle of Humankind, where we’ll be sampling food and wine (and sculptures, I guess).

Hope everyone’s having a great weekend!

Abstaining vs. moderating

I really enjoy Gretchen Rubin’s blog (and book) The Happiness Project. For one thing, I find Rubin quite inspiring; she’s another former lawyer who abandoned the law to become a writer, and she turned a personal betterment project into an incredibly successful (and lucrative) happiness empire. She also sent me a very kind and encouraging email when I wrote to her telling her that I, too, wanted to leave the law to seek a career in writing, which was so nice.

I think much of what Rubin says about happiness jives with me because she comes at happiness from a bit of a Type A, planner’s perspective, which resonates strongly with me, an ESFJ personality type who loves control and order, and also because one of her fundamental tenets is to know thyself, which suggests that everyone’s formula for individual happiness is going to be a bit different. The idea is that if you know your own preferences, weaknesses, and ways of being, you can better make choices for yourself that will boost your happiness. In other words, one happiness size does not fit all. I love that. It’s so empowering, this idea that we can tailor our choices to maximize our own happiness, isn’t it?

My happy place

My happy place

To help people to get to know themselves better, Rubin offers a number of quizzes that are designed to help identify certain fundamental personality traits that may have a large bearing on happiness. One of these quizzes is: are you an abstainer or a moderator?

The first time I took this quiz, I thought, “I am a classic abstainer. I do really well when I make temptations off-limits to myself, and I thrive on bright lines and rules.” But after the last few months of experimenting with abstention from alcohol and other foods, I’m starting to question whether the abstainer-moderator divide is really so black and white. As I was doing my month-long detox from alcohol, for instance, I felt empowered by its starkness. Completely cutting out booze was not that hard for me, but I felt sure that it would have been difficult to only allow myself one drink at each social occasion, for example. While I still think that may be true on the margins, now that I’m off the detox, I’ve found moderation with alcohol to be far easier than it’s ever been in the past. I’ve lowered my tolerance significantly, so now it’s easy for me on a night out to have one or two drinks and then stop, rather than three or four. So I’d say that alcohol is now firmly something that I’m able to consume in moderation.

However, there are some things that I absolutely cannot do in moderation. Frosting, for example. Non-organic peanut butter. Honey-mustard pretzels. Raisins. (I once had a run-in with a Sam’s Club industrial sized bag of raisins at a friend’s house during a high school study group session. Oh, the stomach cramps.) The list goes on (unfortunately). With other foods, though — chocolate, cookies, candy — it’s easy for me to have just a little and then stop. This strikes me as odd, because it seems that the part of my brain that allows me to have one bite of chocolate should be the same part of my brain that regulates peanut butter consumption, and yet, put me in a room with a jar of peanut butter and a spoon, and all hell will break loose. Why can’t my brain work the same way across foods? Dammit, brain! There’s undoubtedly some deep, dark psychological reason for this inconsistency, but it honestly might just come down to the fact that peanut butter is so gall-derned delicious.

In any case, thinking about abstention vs. moderation is a useful exercise, not only when trying to lose weight, but when thinking longer-term about happiness. I know that in the longer term, I am much happier when I cook healthy meals at home, even though going out to a restaurant for a decadent meal may provide a very short-term happiness boost. Learning to balance the enjoyment I get from going out to eat with the satisfaction I feel from eating wholesomely at home is one of the things I’ve gotten better at over the past several months, and that’s a good thing. I consider it a sign of progress that I am able to float between abstention and moderation, choosing one strategy or the other depending on the situation. But there are still slip-ups. To err is human, right? Anyway, I guess this is all part of growing up. One of these days, I’ll figure it out (hopefully before I die of a peanut butter overdose).

So what are you, an abstainer, a moderator, or something in between? And am I the only one who loses my sh*t around those Snyder’s honey-mustard pretzel bite things? (Thanks Gretchen Rubin for the food for thought!)

Stellenbosch

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the past three days in beautiful Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. Stellenbosch has something for everyone: amazing food, outstanding wine, and stunning scenery.

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch is the second oldest European settlement in South Africa (after Cape Town). It was founded in 1639 (!) by a man named Simon van der Stel, who was governor of the Cape Colony (incidentally, Stellenbosch means Stel’s Bush, so the ever-humble van der Stel named the town after himself). It’s sometimes easy to forget how long the Dutch have been kicking around South Africa, but in places like Stellenbosch, you realize that they’ve been here a super long time, making wine and playing sports and generally being rugged.

Anyway, Stellenbosch has come a long way over the last 374 years and is now a beautiful, touristy university town situated among various mountain ranges.

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Art at Tokara winery

Art at Tokara winery

IMG_4261It’s the ideal spot to launch a wine tasting weekend, since many of the country’s best wineries are right here. We did just that, arriving on Thursday night and setting out bright and early on Friday morning to begin quite the decadent weekend of all-out wine and food gluttony.

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch

Al’s mom is a sommelier in Canada, so she had a professional interest in going to some of the best wineries to try their wares. I won’t try to summarize all of the wineries we visited (I’ll leave that to the expert, my mother-in-law), but we went to a lot of beautiful wineries and had some excellent wines.

Tokara winery

Tokara winery

 

Some of my favorites, both for scenery and wine, were Thelema, Tokara, Boschendal, and Winery of Good Hope, where we had a private tasting of FOURTEEN WINES with the winemaker. We fairly stumbled out of that one and had to spend the rest of the day recuperating.

The remains of the day

The remains of the day (Boschendal winery)

The highlight of the weekend was probably our dinner at Rust en Vrede (“Rest and Peace” in Afrikaans), one of the top restaurants in South Africa. We opted for the six-course tasting menu with wine pairings and holy crap, it was awesome. It actually ended up being more like nine courses, what with all of the amuse-bouches and pre-desserts and post-desserts and mid-desserts, and every course was spectacular (with the notable exception of the meat course that included beef tongue and sweetbreads, blech).

Cheese course, Rust en Vrede

Cheese course, Rust en Vrede

Everything about this dinner was impeccable: the food, the wine, the service, the atmosphere. Afterwards, we spoke to the chef, John Shuttleworth, who looked to be approximately 15 years old, and congratulated him on a job well done.

Rust en Vrede

Rust en Vrede

Rust en Vrede

Rust en Vrede

Today, we’re off to another top South African restaurant, Jordan, and I can hardly wait. Then Al has to go back to Joburg (noo!) while I stay in Cape Town to meet up with two of my friends, Elise and Allison, who are visiting from DC (yaay!). Should be a good time! I will try my darndest to write another post or two during my vacay. In the meantime, hope everyone’s having a fabulous weekend, and happy Sunday.

Tea at the Westcliff

One of my friends here, Mare, had a birthday tea today at The Westcliff, a hotel with great views of the leafy top of Joburg. The Westcliff, being fancy and a wee bit colonial (awkward), serves a lovely high tea, complete with finger sandwiches, scones, sweets, and, you know, tea.

View from the tea room at The Westcliff

View from the tea room at The Westcliff

They didn’t have the kind of tea I normally go for (i.e., boring, Irish tea) but they did have all sorts of exotic, flowery things, including one tea that opened up into an actual flower when placed in hot water. I went with the least exotic kind of tea. Nothing flowering, blooming, or otherwise germinating in my tea, thank you very much. The serving implements were quite pretty and I felt very fancy pouring tea out of an individual glass pot being kept warm by a votive.

Tea, steeping

Tea, steeping

Tea, steeped

Tea, steeped

I ate some finger sandwiches, a mini quiche, and some fruit salad, and valiantly avoided the scrumptious looking desserts. They even had red velvet cupcakes, a particular weakness of mine, but I resisted.

Toward the end of our tea, it started to get cloudy, and by the time we left, it was pouring down rain, monsoon-style.

Clouds overhead

Clouds overhead

View from inside the car - crazy rain

View from inside the car – crazy rain

All in all, a nice little getaway for a Monday afternoon. Now I’m home, listening to the rain bucket down, and feeling inspired to get back to revising my novel (again).  Sigh. See you tomorrow, and happy Monday.

 

 

Cradle of Humankind and karaoke

This weekend was, and continues to be, packed, hence my lack of blogging.  On Friday, we went to a lovely dinner party at our friends’ house and woke up terribly hungover on Saturday. That afternoon, we bundled off to the Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site where they discovered some super old (2.3 million years!) bones from an early human species, Australopithecus africanus.  So I guess it’s the cradle of humanoid-kind, but okay.

We went there for a birthday picnic for a friend. This wasn’t the kind of picnic where you spread a blanket on the ground and eat some sandwiches. It was this kind of picnic:

 

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Schmancy!  The Cradle is very pretty, so it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.

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After lunch, we drove back to Joburg and immediately went to dinner with some new friends, which then led seamlessly into a trip to our local bar, The Colony Arms, for some karaoke.  I didn’t sing (I just wasn’t in the mood, and I’ll be danged before I’ll half-ass karaoke), but Al sung “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks, and despite the fact that he and I were probably the only two people in the entire place who had ever heard that song, it was a hit.

Drinks list

Drinks list – remind me to try the Suitcase before I leave South Africa

And now we’re off again, to a lunch at another friend’s house. Who knew we were so popular, right? As we speak, Al is baking some honey-wheat bread to bring along (whereas I am just bringing my sunny personality).

This weekend has been great, full of new friends and nice food and booze, but it’ll be nice to have a chill night in tonight and, hopefully, to plow through the last two episodes of Season 3 of Downton Abbey (no spoilers, but holy crap, Episode 5, you guys).

Happy weekend to everyone!

 

Rome

And now for the final post on our Italy trip.  After the Amalfi coast, the next stop on our adventure was Rome.  The last time I was in Rome, I was in ninth grade and spent most of my time there eating gelato, buying crap, and not appreciating being in Rome.  I mean, I appreciated it as best I could for being fifteen, but I think seeing Rome as an adult is a different, richer experience, mostly because I’m less of an idiot now.  But I still like gelato.

Also making this trip better than my previous trip to Italy was the fact that I wasn’t stuck eating terrible meals at crappy restaurants pre-selected by a tour company.  Hooray!  In fact, my family took eating in Rome very seriously, and we had some truly memorable meals.  Probably the best meal we had was at Taverna Trilussa, where we all shared a fantastic cheese plate and then several sumptuous pasta dishes served in the metal pans they were cooked in, followed by a few lovely (but unnecessary) meat dishes.  We also had great meals at Osteria della Gensola (seafood pasta and a great bottle of Pinot Blanc), Dar Poeta (pizza), and various other little eateries around the city.  We consumed a frightening amount of fresh mozzarella cheese, red wine, and cappuccini (<– I speak Italian now).

The only thing that dampened my enjoyment of our trip to Rome was the fact that I was suffering from a number of ailments, including a sore throat, cough, headache, and stomachaches.  But I powered through and self-medicated with plenty of pasta and red wine.  One week and four pounds later, I’m still kinda sick, so I guess that didn’t totally work, but man, it tasted good.

We weren’t overly ambitious sight-seers in Rome, partly because I was ill, and also because we wanted to make time for our real priorities: food and shopping.  However, we did take half a day and go to the Vatican.

No wrestling singlets or 1920s bathing costumes allowed inside the Vatican.

No wrestling singlets or 1920s bathing costumes allowed inside the Vatican.

We started out in St. Peter’s Basilica, which is just as impressive as one would expect it to be.  The light in there is breathtaking.  Seriously.

Holy light!

Holy light!

There were also some unexpected surprises, like a couple of mummified Popes.  Because why not?

Just a mummified Pope dressed like Santa, NBD

Just a mummified Pope dressed like Santa, NBD

We wandered around the Basilica and observed a fair amount of pushing and shoving in order to get closer to the creche to see the baby Jesus, which struck me as a *tad* ironic.  Then my mom got told off by a priest for stepping on the wooden step of a confessional booth while a procession of singers was passing through.  Well, you know what they say — you haven’t truly been to the Vatican until you’ve been yelled at by a clergy member!

After the Basilica, we wanted to see the Sistine Chapel.  Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that the Sistine Chapel, despite being directly next to the Basilica, is actually part of the Vatican Museums and thus requires something like three hours of standing in line to get in.  So, dumbly, we got into a long line for an attraction that we believed to be the Sistine Chapel, but actually was not.  Turns out, we were waiting in line for the Vatican Cupola, which requires climbing 550 steps to the top of the dome over the Basilica, which admittedly provides some nice views of Rome.   Oops.

View from the top

View from the top

I had read about “climbing the dome” in my guidebook, and I remember thinking, Who the hell would want to do that?  Again, oops.  My dad, who makes a habit of avoiding exercise of all shapes and forms, was not pleased. But he made it!  We also got some cool views of the Basilica from above, and saw some lovely mosaics.

St. Peter's from above

St. Peter’s from above

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Coming out of the Vatican, I got a kick out of the tacky religious articles shops, including this one that was selling a decidedly crazy-eyed baby Jesus.

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After browsing in one of the less tacky religious articles stores, we stopped in its attached cafe for some (terrible) mulled wine for me and Al and coffees for my parents.  At the table behind us, some French people were feeding a chihuahua at the table.  The waiter caught wind of this and was so disgusted that he yelled at them in Italian and then took the plate the dog had been eating off of and threw it dramatically into the trash, while muttering angrily under his breath.  (Hey, no one ever accused the Italians of being passive-aggressive.)  Alas, the French people were undaunted and seemed entirely unfazed by this display.

Another highlight of our trip was Al’s Italian haircut.  His hair was getting really shaggy and he wanted to get it cut, so we wandered down the street from our apartment and found a salon that looked promising.  The girl who cut his hair spoke no English but Al’s Italian is good enough that he managed to convey what he wanted, and he came out looking like a red-headed Italian model, which I approved of.

Before

Before

During

During

After

After – in our apartment building’s tiny elevator

The salon was also home to two tiny, barking chihuahuas, one of whom was named Ercoles.

Hercules (Ercoles)

Hercules (Ercoles)

Pretty cute.

All in all, despite my various illnesses, Rome was a huge success.  And I hope one of these days I get to go back and actually see the Sistine Chapel, rather than climbing a giant dome by mistake.  Anyway, here are a few other photos of the trip, just to end on a high note.

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Piazza Cafour

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(F)atto Vannucci

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Quasi-Romans