Tag Archives: drink

Sorrento and the Amalfi coast

As I mentioned a few days ago, Al and my parents and I went to Italy for Christmas this year.  It was a big trip for a couple of reasons: first, it was a belated (by one year) celebration of my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary (wowza!), it was the first time I’ve spent Christmas with my parents since 2008 (and the first ever Christmas together for the four of us), and it was a chance for my dad to see the Motherland (literally – his mother was from Italy).  So we were all very excited, and Italy did not disappoint.

We all flew into Rome and met in the Fiumicino airport on Christmas eve day.  Then we rented a teeny-weeny rental car, apparently the only automatic in the entire country, which was so small that my parents had to sit in the back with suitcases and shopping bags on their laps, and we wedged the rest of the luggage in the rearview window.  Not the safest or most comfortable trip we’ve ever taken, but what are you gonna do?  Stuffed into our Ford Fiesta like sardines, we made the three-hour drive to Sorrento, which is a city south of Naples on the Amalfi Coast, and is frickin’ adorable.  To wit:

Sorrento street

Sorrento street

Sorrento waterfront

Sorrento waterfront

Sorrento main piazza

Sorrento main piazza

Sorrento street with Christmas decorations

Sorrento street with Christmas decorations (a bit blurry, sorry)

We loved Sorrento and spent most of our time there consuming delicious food.  Here are some pictures from our Christmas lunch, which we ate at a lovely, garden-like restaurant called O’ Perucchiano:

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My mom and me at lunch

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Dad and Al

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The restaurant

My lunch – amazing

We also sampled pizza, plenty of cappuccinos (cappuccini), Italian cookies, and gelato from a shop that has been frequented by the Pope.  Who knew the Pope even liked gelato?

During our three days in the Sorrento area, we wanted to see a bit of the surrounding environs, so on our second day, we took a drive up the Amalfi coast to Positano, which was stunning.  My dad couldn’t enjoy the sights because he was carsick from the winding roads, so my mom and Al and I trooped down to the waterfront to eat lunch and look at the variety of beautiful cats that live down there, getting fat off pasta donations from tourists.

Positano, viewed from above

Positano, viewed from above

Positano

Positano

Gatto

Gatto

Lunch in Positano

Lunch in Positano

The next day, we took a boat to Capri, a beautiful island that I remember loving when I went there as a ninth-grader on a school trip.  Turns out I wasn’t misremembering – Capri is lovely. We checked out the Roman ruins, Villa Jovis, at the tip of the island, which was a bit of a hike, but worth it.

Capri

Capri

Capri port

Capri port

Villa Jovis, Roman ruins

Villa Jovis, Roman ruins

Skinny tree

Skinny tree

Boat to Capri

Boat to Capri

Capri

Capri hillside

All in all, we loved Sorrento and the Amalfi coast. I think winter is the perfect time to go, because the weather is still nice (50’s-60’s), it’s sunny, everything’s open, and there aren’t the hordes of tourists that you get in the summer.  Highly recommended.

Next post up: Rome!

Wine tasting in Franschhoek

On Saturday, Al and I drove an hour outside Cape Town to Franschhoek (“French Corner” in Dutch), which is considered the food and wine capital of South Africa.  Our plan was to go wine tasting and also check out a few of the area’s restaurants.

 

The day started off cold and drizzly.  Our first stop was a restaurant/wine bar called, appropriately, Bread & Wine.  We got a charcuterie board/cheese plate and two glasses of wine (sauvignon blanc for Al, chenin blanc for me).  Yum.

Cheese plate number 1

Next, we headed to a winery called Leopard’s Leap, which looked from the outside like a cool, European library, and looked on the inside like a trendy boutique hotel that mated with a cool, European library.

The wine was pretty good but nothing to write home about (blogging doesn’t count).

Even though Al was driving and I was free to get as boozy as I wanted, I ended up dumping out most of my wine, since apparently the South Africans believe in very hefty tasting pours.  I think the girl at Leopard’s Leap must have served me the equivalent of 7 glasses of wine. Whoa, nelly.

I call this picture “Ghost Pillar”

After Leopard’s Leap, we checked out Rickety Bridge winery, which had the best wines we tasted all day.

The tasting system there was interesting: you sit down at a table, a waiter comes up, you tell him which wines you want to taste, and he brings them.

Theoretically, you could taste all the wines on the menu with no charge, but there seems to be an underlying assumption that you will purchase at least one bottle at the end.  We bought a couple of bottles to take home and our second cheese plate of the day.

Cheese plate number 2

Then, we headed to Grande Provence winery, which was in a really beautiful space and had an attached gallery full of contemporary South African art.  Pretty cool.

Gallery

Grande Provence tasting room

Statue

Our favorite part of Grande Provence was the fireplace.

Our last stop was The Kitchen, a restaurant attached to Maison winery.  Another very cool space.

Our hosts in Cape Town, Hillary and Alfred, had recommended The Kitchen for having great food, but when we got there (close to 4), the kitchen was closed and they were only serving – you guessed it – cheese plates.  So, we had our THIRD cheese plate of the day, plus two glasses of rose. Nom.

Cheese plate number 3

By the time we drove back to Cape Town, I was conked out in the car.  Al took a picture of me while I was sleeping and left me in the car to go show Hillary and Alfred. Thanks, honey.  I won’t post that one, but I’ll share this one instead:

Wine tasting makes us happy

Overall, I was impressed with the wine and food in Franschhoek, and it was a really beautiful, peaceful place.  As we drove around, we kept comparing the surroundings to other places: Sonoma, Krems an der Donau (Austria), even Virginia – but it was actually pretty unique. We both really loved it.

I think it’s safe to say we’ll be coming back here again.

Neighbourgoods

No, I didn’t temporarily lose hold of my senses while trying to spell “neighborhoods” – Neighbourgoods is a fun, partially enclosed market in the central business district (CBD) of Joburg showcasing local merchants selling all manner of goodies: organic wine, raw chocolate, French cheese, thin crust pizza, empanadas, fresh baked bread, fruit smoothies, raw honey, homemade hummus, and the list goes on.  It’s a paradise for people like me and Al (i.e., gluttons).

Neighbourgoods is one of three places in Joburg that I’ve been told I simply “must” visit to experience vibrant city life in this city of malls and walls.  And it was very fun – but true city life, it’s not.  It was more a safe gathering place for hipsters, foodies, and people who enjoy a cold beverage on a hot day.  Al and I sort of fit into two out of three of these categories, if we’re being generous, so we enjoyed ourselves greatly.

We met up with one of my new friends here, Mare, and one of Al’s colleagues, Kitso, for some pizza, oysters, sparkling wine, beer, eggs benedict, and other delicious bites, including beetroot hummus, goat haloumi, and gelato.  We sat outside on the baking roof, ate, drank, and listened to music.  A very nice way indeed to pass a Saturday morning.

Gotta love this beer:

Now we’re back at the apartment, resting up and watching crime shows, until we head out again to watch the Harvard-Yale game somewhere tonight.

Enjoy your Saturdays!

Drakensberg Mountains

This weekend marked our first real weekend away from Joburg, and it was all I hoped it could be.  Al and I and three friends (Josh, Ken, and Elli) spent the weekend hiking, braai-ing, and drinking in the Drakensberg Mountains and, let me tell you, it was glorious.

The Drakensberg Mountains run along the western edge of the KwaZulu-Natal province and also border Lesotho.  There are a lot of resorts in the Drakensbergs, but we decided to stay in the Royal Natal National Park, which, according to my guidebook, “is famous for its exceptionally grand scenery.”  This turned out to be no joke.

View from our hike

However, reaching the park was no easy feat.  The drive from Joburg was a harrowing five-hour ordeal involving a two-lane highway full of slow moving trucks and fast-moving cars, long stretches of unsealed/unpaved roads littered with potholes, and, for most of the trip, pouring rain.  Oh, also, we left Johannesburg at 7 pm – probably not the wisest choice, in retrospect.   We made it, though!

We stayed right in the park in the uber-charming Thendele resort.  The five of us rented a self-catered, six-person cottage with a fireplace, TV, kitchen, and, most important, outdoor braai area.  Priorities!

This was the view from our cottage’s back patio.

Our cottage:

It was okay, I guess.

After staying up until 2 am on Friday drinking wine and eating biltong, we got up at 9 am on Saturday, ate a filling breakfast, and then set out on what ended up being a rather epic four-hour hike.  The hike took us past several waterfalls and required that we scramble up wet, moss-covered rocks and ascend a chain ladder.  For those of you who have never climbed a thin, swaying chain ladder set against slick, wet rocks, go ahead and skip it.  We all pretended we weren’t scared by it, but I’m reasonably sure we all secretly thought we were going to die on that ladder.

View from “The Crack”

On our way back down from the midway point of the hike, we were passed by a group of very tough looking Afrikaner guys wearing compression leggings and huge backpacks, who informed us, quite gravely, that “the pressure is dropping” and that we needed to get back down the slippery rocks before it started pouring rain. Then they jogged up the rocks and we lost sight of them.

When they passed us again ten minutes later, going back down, one of them – in his eagerness to outrun the dropping pressure, I imagine – slipped on the rocks and fell so hard on his back that we all gasped and cringed, sure that we had just witnessed a spinal fracture. “Are you okay?” we all asked him.  “Fine,” he said cheerily, as he popped back up, brushed himself off, determined that he had no broken bones, and continued on down the rocks at a brisk clip.  These Afrikaners don’t mess around.

After our hike, we uncorked some wine and settled in for a braai – salads, steaks, sausage, garlic bread, grilled veggies, corn on the cob, and even cookies for dessert.  Stuffing myself silly with wine and food has become my main weekend activity here, but what am I supposed to do, not partake in the local delights? That would just be culturally insensitive.

This guy, and his friend, decided to join us for our braai. He was very bold:

Guinea fowl?

After stuffing ourselves with food, we went inside and started a fire, and, of course, drank more wine. Are you seeing a pattern here?

The only thing missing? S’mores.  I’m thinking s’mores need to become a braai staple. I also realized this is the second blog post in which I’ve mentioned s’mores. I might have a problem.

Some other highlights of the trip, for me, included several baboon sightings and this sign warning us not to feed said baboons:

I also saw this in the park’s “curio shop,” and had to really make an effort not to buy it.  By the way, what do we think – is headache powder to be snorted, or applied directly to the head? I couldn’t decide.

All in all, a great weekend.  South Africa is feeling more and more live-able every day.

The Elusive Joburg

I’ve been in Joburg for over a week now and I am still trying to get a sense for the city.  It’s difficult, since, as I mentioned, until we get a car, I’m effectively housebound and can only explore on foot the small radius of shops and restaurants immediately surrounding our apartment complex.  And a girl can only visit the Pick ‘n Pay so many times before things get a bit stale.

But during my two weekends here, Al and I have gotten into our rental car and tried to see some of the city.  The weird thing is, we’ve only actually driven into Joburg itself once or twice.  The rest of the time, we’ve stayed in the suburbs (one of which, Craighall Park, we live in).  The suburbs are quite spread out and the gathering places, for the most part, seem to be fancy shopping malls.  Consequently, my experience of Joburg so far has largely consisted of driving from one fancy shopping mall to another.  The malls are lovely, but I crave an actual city with a street life and neighborhoods and freestanding shops and restaurants.  I know this must exist somewhere in Joburg but I haven’t found it yet.

On Friday night, for example, Al and I went to a shopping center called Melrose Arch for dinner.  We chose a restaurant called Meatco that specializes in – wait for it – meat.  After an absurdly long wait for our food (over an hour), we found ourselves drunk on red wine and starving.  When our steaks finally came, we devoured them like animals.

Africa-shaped steak (unintentional)

After dinner, we walked to a pop-up bar in the same shopping center.  I found the experience rather disheartening.  The bar, which had the potential to be interesting and different, was filled to the brim with cookie-cutter douches in expensive clothes.  Perhaps that sounds judgmental, but I’ve found that the specific breed of douche that exists in highly unequal societies (see, e.g., Brazil, South Africa) tends to be much douchier than your run-of-the-mill douche.  I am a student of douches, and this is my studied conclusion.

But the drinks were good! And scientific!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to this weekend because, first, we should have our car by then (a used Toyota Yaris) and, second, we have lots of fun, interesting Joburg-y things planned. We’re planning on going to a famous farmer’s market in the city and we’re having dinner with one of Al’s mom’s friends, who works for the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria.  Should be interesting to get his perspective on this place.  Lots to look forward to and lots to discover.

The Colony Arms

Al and I are the type of people who think, if we’re gonna live somewhere, we’re gonna have a neighborhood bar.  We were roundly unsuccessful at finding a Neighborhood Bar in Woodley Park, where we lived for the past three years in DC. The closest thing we had to a Neighborhood Bar there was a foul little establishment called Medaterra whose only redeeming quality was the cheapness and largeness of their martinis.  We went there maybe twice a year.  Not exactly “Cheers” material.

But here in Joburg, it’s going to be different, by gum.  Last night, in search of a good Neighborhood Bar here in Craighall Park, we traveled a block up Jan Smuts Avenue (which Al has taken to calling Jan Smut Avenue given its large number of sex shops) to legendary local bar The Colony Arms.

The Colony Arms, in all of its strip mall glory.

When Al first got to Joburg a month ago, numerous people stressed that he simply must go to the Colony Arms for a “John Deere,” which is a potent concoction of sugarcane alcohol (much like my beloved Brazilian cachaça) and – you guessed it! – cream soda.

(Side note: they LOVE them some cream soda here in ZA.  Al points out that Canadians also love cream soda.  Must be a Commonwealth thing?  God bless the Queen and cream soda?  According to the (highly essential) Wikipedia page on cream soda:

“In South Africa, Creme Soda is often referred to as the “Green Ambulance” (predominantly by students), as it is believed to alleviate the effects of hangovers. Creme Soda is also used as a mixer with cane spirit (an inexpensive alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented sugarcane). This is commonly known as a “John Deer” (cf.John Deere and its green logo), “Cane Train”, or “Green Mamba”. Cane spirit is chosen due its ability to go relatively unnoticed.

Gotta love that. All of that.)

Anyway, we popped into the Colony Arms expecting great things, given the amount it had been talked up, but it was pretty meh.  Despite an advertisement promising two-for-one drinks on Foxy Ladies’ Thursday, we paid two-for-two for our beer and glass of wine.   We stayed for the one drink and then trundled on home.

In doing some research today on The Colony Arms, to see if it had any storied history I should be aware of (it doesn’t), I came across this hilarious article, entitled “Where The Girls Aren’t: The Colony Arms,” which describes the feel of the establishment thusly:

The Colony Arms, or ‘The Colonic” as it’s known by to its denizens, is not high on atmosphere; it’s in a shopping mall for God’s sake. With its bland as tupperware interior, tiled floors and bare walls, the place gives you the impression it gets hosed down the morning after, not swept. The bar staff are friendly enough, and service is quick and attentive.

That pretty much sums it up.  It was fine.  But nothing life-changing.  Not necessarily Neighborhood Bar material.  Then again, on Saturdays they have karaoke, so I could be swayed.  And, according to their website, they also have beer pong.  Despite incorrectly conflating beer pong with Beirut, which is a DIFFERENT AND SUPERIOR GAME (just ask the entire West Coast of America), I like The Colonic’s attitude. This place could win me over yet.