Sunday, November 30, 2008

Closing November.

I can't believe its November 30 already. This means that it was just 4 months ago that I was eating at Maggiano's with my family, enjoying my last night in the US. I can't believe 4 months have flown by so quickly and that I'm 1/8th of a way through our time here. To say that we've loved it here would be a major understatement - I guess that's why time flies by so quickly!

It also means December is almost here! I've already started my addiction to Christmas music (p.s. Harry Connick Jr. and Tony Bennett both have new Christmas CDs out this year which are FANTASTIC!). We're getting our house painted tomorrow (no more cream walls!) and once the paint is dry, we will put up our Christmas decorations. I can't wait! Will has agreed to be Father Christmas for when we go visit our housekeeper's town. We're going to give gifts to the orphans she takes care of there. We're excited about it. It also means I need to get started on my Christmas cards...

Thanksgiving went super well. Will made the best turkey on our Big Green Egg - it was amazing! We had traditional cornbread dressing, mac & cheese, and green beans for sides (we realized no mashed potatoes, but oh well!). Steph made a derby pie and I attempted a pumpkin swirl cheesecake, which came out a-mazing if I do say so myself. All in all, it was a low-key Thanksgiving and we were thankful to spend our first Thanksgiving as a married couple with family and friends.

On a side note, have I mentioned the pumpkins here are white and the sweet potatoes are purple on the outside and white inside? Weird!

Last night was the Marine Ball here in Pretoria. We had so much fun getting dressed up and dancing the night away! Pictures soon...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cape Town, part deux.

This is my second trip to Cape Town. In November. Its true.

As I boarded the plane and patted the plane my "for good luck" two times on the right side (so what, its my thing), I wondered, "How many times have I flown?" And I realized, I may have traveled a lot. Whether it be a flight to D.C., NYC, Florida, Alaska, California, Texas, Wyoming, Egypt, Tanzania, Zambia, or South Africa (to name a few), I've flown more times than I can count. And this, my friends, was the first time I've ever flown for business and managed to pack everything (including a laptop!) in my carry-on suitcase. Wooohooo.

I'm here to speak at a Youth Prevention conference, which I have always thought is an interesting name for a conference. They mean HIV prevention in youth, yet it sounds a lot more like they want to prevent youth in the first place. Anyway.

I'm staying somewhere completely different than the V&A. Let me just say that everything about this place makes me crave the V&A. I may be on the beach, but the view from my room is of another building, I sleep in a twin bed in an extremely boring beige room, I'm at least 10km away from actual Cape Town (i.e. I'm in the middle of nowhere on the beach), and there is sand on the desk where I sit my laptop. I had to pay for my internet and did I mention everything in this hotel is beige??? The only good thing about this trip is finally being a good sister and taking a picture with "flat Christopher" on behalf of my sister's students' project (like Flat Stanley).

See here:
Yes, that's me holding up flat Christopher to the back drop of Table Mountain and Lion's Head. And yes, its very windy in Cape Town, in case I never mentioned it before.

Luckily, Katherine and Heidi, two of my friends from work, are here this week for training so I went out to dinner with them both nights. Last night we went to Andiamo at Cape Quarter and had a fab time and tonight we went to Caveau Wine Bar and Deli for some before dinner drinks and apps (WONDERFUL!) and the 95 Keerom for dinner. Everything is "small plates" and I had fabulous porcini mushroom linguine, canneloni, and creme brulee with fresh berries. Yum. Yum. YUM.

That's really it from here. Just wanted to log the most recent trip to Cape Town, albeit short, but good.

And what would a Cape Town post be without a fantabulous picture from the top of Table Mountain of Mr. Will and myself? Here we are, enjoying fabulous J.C. Le Roux champagne at sunset on the top of Table Mountain, Everyone should take the opportunity to enjoy the view from this mountain as you will see other fabulous craggy mountains, oceans, and a glittering city below.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cape Town ate my curlers

That's really the only negative thing I have to say about Cape Town. Granted, I've had these hot rollers for about 5+ years so its quite possible that they were on their last leg anyway and decided to ka-put while in one of the most marvelous places in the world, but who knows. They're gone and I just ordered more off (I love Amazon Prime!).

So here's my Cape Town weekend re-cap:

On Friday night, I met up with Will and we had a drink on the V&A waterfront, where it was chilly but fun to sit outside and watch the boats come in to dock. Afterwards, we went to the Whisky Festival, which was really fun. It was all types of whisky - blended, single malt scotch, Jack Daniels, and even Bailey's. Will stumbled across at least two new single malt scotch brands that he really liked (BenRiach and one more...) and I tried quite a few single malts, only finding a few that I could say "That's nice" after a very small sip. At the end of the evening, I walked out with a big bottle of Bailey's (a gift to the ladies in attendance) and Will and I decided to eat Italian on the waterfront.

Saturday we woke up and enjoyed the extensive breakfast included in the hotel rate. It is a-mazing. It is a huge breakfast buffet of fruits (raspberries - yum!), pastries, deli meats (SALAMI!), cereals, and all sorts of juices (strawberry! mango! guava! pineapple!). In addition to the buffet, you order off the menu so you can get eggs, omelettes, french toast, etc. Every morning I got a fried egg with bacon and potatoes (my fave breakfast), which meant if I ate late enough, there was no need to eat lunch. Good planning, huh?

Beth and Adam were also in Cape Town for the Marine ball so on Saturday and Sunday we spent time with them. We were all set to go on a whale watching tour, but due to the extreme windy weather and the whales leaving Cape Town, we decided to skip it in favor of the wineries in Franschhoek. We visited 4 wineries (Chamonix, Dieu Donne, Grande Provence, and Franschhoek Cellar) with the most expensive tasting costing $2.50/person.

Franschhoek Cellar: Our first visit. An amazing space and nice tasting room. The most expensive at R25/person (about $2.50) for 6 wines (3 white, 3 red). All the wines in the tasting room were on sale for about R10 ($1!) and the most expensive being R50 ($5). Unfortunately, we weren't big fans of the wine and didn't buy anything here except a magnet.

Per their recommendation, we went to Chamonix next, which is a great rustic wine farm with fantastic wines. Their tasting was R20/person for 5 wines, but they were all very very good.

Per their recommendation, we went up the road to Dieu Donne, which was amazing. Here it was R10/person for 5 wines and the cheese plate for 4 people was R120 ($12) so each of us enjoyed wine and cheese for the low price of $4/person. The wine was great, but the cheese was incredible. The platter had swiss, cheddar, feta, and mozzarella along with strawberries, tomatoes, cucumber, and other veggies. It also had two amazing cheeses - a soft farm cheese made with berries and then this AMAZING spring onion cream cheese that was heaven on earth. I'd drive back there just for the cheese. The best part about this winery is that you sit outside among these amazing mountains and its just so beautiful.

Per their recommendation, we made our last stop at Grande Provence, which is AMAZING. It reminded me a lot of Napa in terms of how the wine tasting room was set up and their food pairing. It was truly gourmet. Again, the tasting plus food pairing was R50/person and it was amazing stuff to eat with the wine. I loved it here. We bought enough wine to have it shipped back to Pretoria. We will definitely return here, potentially to stay a weekend to spend more time in wine country.

That evening, we attempted to go to Table Mountain, only to find gale force winds at the top (pics of that excursion soon). Instead, we went to Lion's Head and watched the sunset over the ocean. We then went to the beach and took some more windy pics.

For dinner, we attempted a place on the beach, but screaming babies and black colored tuna in the sushi made for a hasty departure. We then used one of my grantee's recommendations and went to Tank in Cape Quarter for amazing sushi. We really liked Cape Quarter as its this courtyard set up underneath this huge tree so you can sit outside and enjoy dinner under the stars but not along a busy street. The sushi was similar to what we'd have in the states. I'll admit it wasn't the best sushi I've ever had, but I liked the variety of the sushi rolls which you don't really find here. Plus it was fresh fish, which is sometimes hard to find in sushi places. Plus our total bill came out to $60, which for starters and about 8 rolls of sushi, is pretty incredible.

On Sunday, we decided on a late brunch and then walked down to the water front to do a speed boat tour along the coast of Cape Town. It was so fun, plus we saw dolphins, penguins, and seals in addition to getting an amazing view of Cape Town at 70mph. Afterwards, we hung out on the waterfront where a fun Irish festival was going on. Irish music, irish wolfhounds, irish dancers - what's not to love?

That evening, we decided to go to Table Mountain at sunset, which to our surprise, is a buy one-get one free event so it only cost Will and I $14 for a cable car trip up the mountain. At the top, we enjoyed champagne while watching the sunset. So incredibly beautiful - I can't wait to share pics! We also saw a guy wearing an Atlanta Braves jacket, which then resulted in us meeting a whole group of people from Atlanta. I asked if anyone had a Chick-fil-a chik'n biscuit in their pocket, but no one did. Boo. Ironically, these people attend the same church as Christy and Steph - what a small world! Anyway, Table Mountain at sunset is an absolute must. I just could not believe how amazing the view is from up there!

Afterwards, we headed back to Cape Quarter to eat at Andiamo, a great little outdoor italian restaurant. I got soup and spaghetti with meatballs and I must say - it was delicious! I have yet to have spaghetti and meatballs (or meat sauce for that matter) that was similar to what I'd get in the states and this was spot-on perfect. We'll be back. The best part? All 4 of us had soup and a main course plus wine and the total bill - with tip! - was $40. WOW. $10/person for an amazing dinner.

I must point out there is a Tapas place in Cape Quarter that has a spanish style menu so we may head back there to try their guacamole, nachos, and other spanish style food (chorizo! yum!).

All in all, I gotta say - Cape Town is amazing! It is so relaxing there plus I feel safer there than I do here in Pretoria (although I feel pretty safe in Pretoria). It seems less expensive than Pretoria too. I love the variety of activities and the beauty of the town and surrounding region. If I could move there, I would in a heartbeat.

When we come back, I think I will prefer to stay on the waterfront, especially in fall/winter, just because I felt like it was centrally located with plenty to do there without needing a car. Plus cabs were readily available and the hotel we stayed in was so nice and included a breakfast so good, you could take away the cost of breakfast and lunch from your budget. We're staying more downtown during the New Year, but now we know our way around town a bit and know that you can spend a great day entirely at the waterfront.

P.S. Domestic flights in South Africa don't have the crazy liquid rules, which means I carried my wine purchase onto the plane with me, no problem!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

heck yes

Welcome to Cape Town.
I am in LOVE with Cape Town. This may be my official favorite place on earth. I remember the first time someone told me about the fabulousness of Cape Town. I was in Zambia on safari and had made friends with an Australian couple at the lodge I was staying at. They said of anywhere on the planet where they had traveled (which was practically everywhere), Cape Town was their favorite place by a landslide and that I mustmustmust go there.
And here I am. And I can confirm - this place is AMAZING.
What's so great about it?
For starters, its stunningly beautiful. Amazing craggy mountains set against beautiful bays and coastal waters. I feel so silly I drive around town as I keep exclaiming, "That is so beautiful!" over and over. But it is. I can't help it.

Second, it is incredibly diverse. At any given point, I could close my eyes and open them and think I am in San Francisco, Florida, or even Zanzibar based on what it looks like to me. The people are also diverse - every culture is here, which is so nice to see. I just love it.
Third, I happen to be staying in an amazing place. My hotel is on the waterfront, which I happened to realize tonight is in a really spiffy location full of shops, restaurants, and of course, great views. And everything is CHEAP. Well, food at least. Albeit tonight I got "take away" Thai food, last night I ordered room service and the whole meal (I even got dessert) with tip cost less than $10. Find me a fancy hotel anywhere else in the world where you can get an entire yummy meal plus dessert plus tip delivered to your room for that price. Plus the bed sleeps like a dream and it has a fantastically awesome A/C. Me = happy.
In sum, get on a plane and come see me here!!!
The only downside is that I am here for work which means my days are filled to the brim with meetings, meetings, meetings. Its good though as I'm meeting lots of folks I've known over the phone/email for the past year. I love putting faces with names. Its a bit exhausting though. I spent the entire all-day meeting talking and/or answering questions. Very tiring. Lucky for me there's a fabulous spa with weekly specials that I decided to take advantage of this evening so I could relax!
I am staying through the weekend as I have meetings well into Monday so Will is joining me on Friday evening and will stay through the weekend with me which I am SUPER excited about. I almost don't want to explore any more than I already have because I want to experience this amazing place together.
Our plans for the weekend are quite loose as we'll be here again at the end of the year for a week and can plan that trip out as much as we want (wineries, Gordon's Bay, Robben Island, penguins, etc.). We really just want to get a feel for the town. On Friday night, we may go check out the Whiskey Festival being held at the Cape Town Convention Center. Why not? Its bound to be interesting... On Saturday we are going on a whale watching tour and I really hope we see some great white sharks. I have always been fascinated with great white sharks and the chance to see one from a boat, let alone a breaching great white, would be insanely awesome to me. I could seriously check off a life goal if we see one. On Sunday, weather permitting, we may head up to see Table Mountain. Its one of those things you gotta do on a clear day and if its cloudy, you might as well pass.
I would be remiss if I let the day pass by without mentioning the election. Its been interesting to live out an election overseas. I think the newspapers have interesting headlines here anyway, but they've been particularly amusing lately. Yesterday's said something to the effect of "Voter ambush feared" which is a funny thing to say, right? Today the town is plastered with Obama's face. Two of my taxi drivers yesterday sported Obama stickers and everyone wanted to know how I felt about the election. Its been interesting to hear their views and how they interpret what is going overseas back home.
This election and the upcoming South Africa election have the potential to make incredible impact upon my work so naturally all of my grantees are curious about what electing Obama as President means. If only I had a crystal ball, right? I think you could reasonably assume that he will support the HIV/AIDS initiative in Africa more than President Bush did while he's been in office (note to diminish in any way what President Bush did with PEPFAR and PEPFAR II, but I've always been of the belief that there could be so much more that we're doing here...). I'm not sure how much more, but I think my grantees can be assured that Obama won't take away PEPFAR II (which goes until 2013) - if anything, he'll either add more money to the initiative or expand it.
p.s. Just to add to the list of amusing acronyms Africans use not realizing what they are saying when they say them, someone asked me what I thought about GAS* today. Hmmmm.
*General Accounting Standards

Monday, November 3, 2008

some adventure

I am ecstatic to announce that I am married to the South African chili champion! Woohoo! Okay, maybe not for all of South Africa, but Will entered a chili contest at the embassy for the Halloween contest... and won! When we showed up for the contest that was supposed to start at 5:30, we found out they couldn't wait to eat/start the contest, so they began at 4:00. When we arrived at 5:00ish, all of our chili was gone! And I mean ALL. Every one else still had chili left, but ours was scraped clean. Yay Will!

Saturday was a very disappointing and sad day for a Georgia fan.

Sunday Will and I hosted a birthday brunch for our friend Beth. Will figured out how to make breakfast sausage (this incorporated having spices sent to us from my parents plus Will placing a special order with the butcher for ground pork) and I must say - it was AMAZING. And it made the best breakfast casserole! We had such a fun time celebrating Beth and having yummy mimosas.

On Sunday afternoon, we drove to Magliesburg to combat my dislike of heights by doing a zip line tour! I was really scared at first and on my first time across, my gear was too tight and it hurt. I also lost my glove which resulted in me saying "helpmehelpmehelpme" as I pulled myself barehand on the steel cable. NOT FUN and resulted in surprisingly, only two blisters. By the third zip line, I finally was able to look around and enjoy my ride across as opposed to just being in absolute fear of not making it to the other end. Unfortunately, on the 6th ride across, I was sent too soon and faced with the choice of either knocking my husband off the platform on the side of the mountain or just myself crashing into said platform, I chose the latter, resulting in a massive bloody knot on my leg. Yuck. Overall, I had a great time and would do it again, just because I know I can. I love it when I do something I think I'm scared of and then do it anyway.

I leave in the morning for Cape Town and can't wait! More news from there soon...