A Rustic Charmer Called Belvedere Estate

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A short 30 minute drive out of Johannesburg lies this rustic little charmer called Belvedere Estate. It’s mainly a hub for European tourists who spend a night either before or after embarking on South African guided tours but for me and my friends it was a mini-break within the city that we live.

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The Good
It’s easily accessible from OR Tambo and the Gautrain station for your convenience.
It’s in a quiet enclave surrounded by lush gardens making it ideal for relaxation.
The rooms and bathrooms are spacious and comfy.
There’s an outdoor braai area near the pool so you can make the most of your summer evening.
Most of all there’s a feeling of go at your own pace and just unwind. There’s no-one popping their head around the corner every 10 minutes trying to force a conversation or checking in if you’re ok.

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The Not So Good
I’m a foodie and breakfast is important to me so for me it was just average.
Maybe for Europeans finding a pitbull chilling at the front entrance with no owner in sight is ok but for my friends it was “WTF”. Beware of the dogs roaming around.
The service could do with a little polishing up.

The Bad
The pool table was in a room that logistically made it impossible to play pool.
The evening braai was overpriced and underwhelming.
The toilet paper was 1-ply. Surely, it can’t be for a 4 star establishment?

My tip for fellow travelers:
If you’re South African opt out of the braai option unless you’re doing it yourself because braaing is a skill and not everyone has that skill.
Be wary of anyone offering an authentic, local experience that you have to pay for because it rarely is.

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You can find more information about Belvedere Estate at http://www.belvedereestate.co.za

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L&LtakeNYC: the Beginning

I suppose it’s not a good idea to feel almost suicidal when you’re standing in a queue at US immigration. But after crossing 3 time zones spanning 24 hours of travel, a 2 hour wait at US immigration had me teetering over the edge.

I wanted to have a big fat bitch fit, but I couldn’t. Because in order to get that last stamp of approval to enter the ‘land of the free and home of the brave’ you have to be appear to be on ‘happy pills’. You know, calm and relaxed and s t a b l e.

Clearly I showed great restraint because after a question or two, I was in.

In a taxi, in a different mindset and heading into the clutches of an old flame.

As the taxi passed the toll gate and the night lights of Manhattan flickered into view, my pulse skipped and my heart beat.

New York New York, ‘where the streets make you feel brand new and the lights inspire you’.

Our first meeting was in 2000. I was young, hesitant and inexperienced. The city was so daunting back then. The lights so bright. Too bright for a scared girl like me.

We took a while to connect and our love affair was slow to start. But start it did.

From Central Park to 5th Ave and onto Downtown. From Brooklyn to Harlem to Queens and onto the Bronx. I was enchanted. Intrigued. And infatuated.

I always felt like there wasn’t enough time to fully explore the possibilities of a relationship. Like we had unfinished business.

In 2006 I was lured back. This time for a friend’s wedding.

But the season had changed. I had changed.

The winds were icy and so was I.

Not exactly ideal conditions for rekindling a romance. Still, we made it work as best we could. Stolen moments for Macy’s, walking over Brooklyn Bridge and eating Mexican.

I left with mixed feelings. Was this love or not?

Well, in 2012, I find myself back. Back in the arms of my old flame. And boy does It. Feel. Good.

I’m older, surer, and more experienced. I’m fully ready to commit, to explore and to conquer.

I’ve gone bike riding in Central Park, had a taste of Shake Shack, taken a browse through Eataly, bought fruit from Union Square Farmer’s market, munched on cup cakes from Baked by Mellisa, caught a glimpse of Bergdorf’s, found a Starbucks hangout, a place to run on the East river, eyed out a Waffles & Dinges and made a long list of places to eat, things to do and people to see.

I already know that I’m in love. It’s time to find out just how much. Over the next few weeks this blog will cover my love affair with this City.

And the best part is that I get to do it with my best friend and sister, Leanne Tee. Our blog series, as you may have figured out by now, is called, L&LtakeNYC.

I hope you have your popcorn ready.

Will it end in hot sex or a hot mess?

A Very English Girl Passing Through A Very Afrikaans World

If you are from Bloemfontein and are sensitive or defensive, PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS.

All Afrikanerism definitions from Wikipedia. I did not make them up. I promise.

Traveling is a wonderful thing. I love it. I love my country. I love traveling in my country. I love the diversity of the landscape and the people.

Sometimes though, just sometimes, like when you’re sitting in a sports car, and your face is Vogue ready and you’re wearing your Karl Lagerfeld’s and you’re looking pristine, and some moegoe (silly/stupid person) sticks his face through the car window and says, “Heita ousie (hello maid/black female)”, you just have to wonder whether you passed a border post and didn’t realise it.

These are just my thoughts, the thoughts of a very English girl passing through a very Afrikaans world, Bloemfontein.

If there is one thing traveling has taught me, it’s the good sense to differentiate between a language and an attitude. I have no issues with Afrikaans as a language; it’s one of the easiest and most expressive languages in the world.

I do have issues though with the attitude of some Afrikaans speaking people.

On entering the city, of roses, mind you, I felt like I was in a 1980’s South Africa, like someone had pressed rewind on the politics, culture and clothing. Like Nelson Mandela had never happened. Like vellies (veldskoens – traditional Afrikaans outdoor shoes made from hide) were still in fashion.

I felt like Posh Spice in the heart of Boerfontein (farmer’s land). Jislaaik! (Oh the horror).

But at least I cracked a smile.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when you travel, and you find that you’ve crossed the invisible border post, and you are in the middle of some sort of time lapse, you just have to pull in the bum and push out the boobs, and “gooi” (throw your weight/attitude/bitchiness) with the best of them.

When I was out in public, my laaitie (younger person, esp. a younger male), kept saying to me, ‘get ready for the stares’ and I said, ‘Don’t worry, 2 years in Korea prepared me for stares’.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when you travel, and you find yourself in an adverse or annoying situation, feel it, deal with it and move on. It’s the Universe preparing you for another situation. And because you have already been prepared for it you won’t feel the need to skop, skiet en donner (kick, shoot and beat people up) over it.

Just march on like the laanie (boss) you are!

If it sounds like Bloemfontein is a kak plek (crap/shit place), ag shame man, it’s actually not.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when you travel, you need to get past certain things and focus on the positive, and then you’ll enable yourself to just enjoy the experience.

Bloemfontein does have the most amazing skyline. It feels like you can reach up and touch it.

The streets are clean and the gardens pretty.

I got to run, walk and hike in a beautiful, quiet and peaceful wildlife estate.

 

Photo: The wildlife estate

I got to enjoy some quality time with family (great conversation, good laughs and lots of delicious food)

I satisfied my craving for pap ‘n vleis met a bietjie chakalaka on the side

 

Photo: Boerewors, lamb chops, pap and chakalaka

Bloem is mos a ander plek maar ‘n goeie plek. (Bloem is an ‘other’ kind of place but a good place)

This ‘ousie” may not be back in a hurry, but still, one love. We cool. Like that.

Ons sal weer om dieselfde vuur sit. Miskien.

Photo: Sunset Clouds

 

The Homecoming and Reverse Culture Shock

12 days ago I was at Incheon airport in Seoul paying for overweight baggage, desperately just trying to get on the plane to Hong Kong.

3 and half hours later I was in Hong Kong being whisked away by security in one of those airport-golf-carts in a mad dash to get from one terminal to another for my connection to Johannesburg.

13 hours later one of the Mama’s at customs at OR Tambo International was scanning my passport and saying ‘welcome home’.

Yes, I had made it. I was here.

It felt surreal to have my feet planted on home soil again. To look around and see familiar faces. To stand near people and not just overhear their conversations but understand it as well.

To drive on roads mapped to my memory and breathe in the expanse and beauty of the landscape. To be hugged by the warm Highveld sun and smiled upon by the clear blue African sky.

It all felt so dreamy for the first 24 hours. Until the realities of trying to get myself re-integrated into the daily business of South African life started hitting me all upside the head.

For the first few days my mother became my conjoined twin because in order to exchange money, buy a sim card for my phone, buy airtime to make calls and buy a data bundle for internet connection I needed to have proof of a South African address, which I did not, for obvious reasons, possess. Mother dearest to the rescue.

Leaving a land of fast internet connection and access to wifi literally everywhere and coming to a land of slow internet connection and literally no wifi access anywhere, is hard. And frustrating.

Leaving a land with a fast, efficient and friendly service industry whether it is government, business or private and coming to a land with “I’ll take your money and fuck you” service industry whether it be government, business or private, is hard. And shocking.

Sitting in a restaurant or at a family dinner table and suddenly being tuned in to every conversation going on around you and trying to keep up, is hard. And overwhelming.

Trying to catch up with friends and close a 2 year gap is hard. And sometimes impossible.

Being in public and making sure your handbag is closed at all times or keeping your eye on your cell phone that you left on a table or making sure that your car is locked properly, is hard. And annoying.

I was really looking forward to coming home. I wanted to come home. I made the choice to come home.

There have been fleeting moments when I’ve felt frustrated, shocked, overwhelmed or annoyed, where I questioned whether I made the right decision. When doubt set in.

But a conversation with my sister and nephew recently, made me realise that with the all the things we want or desire in life, with all the things that make us happy, we mostly have to make certain sacrifices to get them. Sometimes little sacrifices and sometimes big sacrifices.

For me to live in my country with such an abundance of beauty, with the choice of mountains, forests, beaches, safaris, wine farms, and big open space and an abundance of activity to go with it, I have to make certain sacrifices.

So the question is not about want or desire or happiness, it’s about sacrifice.

And the willingness to do it.

Am I?

Not sure yet.

Are you?

For Phili She Pines

It’s this time of year when I start stripping. In the privacy of my own home I mean, and maybe for a few of my neighbors. No-one’s complained yet so I’m guessing its all good. We are well into averaging 30 degree Celsius weather now with a good dose of humidity, just in case the heat alone wasn’t enough. I mean sweating before 9am just isn’t pretty. In my previous post I spoke about how this weather makes me wish for a beer and gets me thinking about holidays. Well, here is another good place to enjoy a beer:

In the Philipines, a San Miguel in hand. If Mozambique is an African paradise then the Philipines is an Asian paradise. We spent 2 days in Manila, I would skip that (unless you enjoy a seedy kinda environment then by all means do your thing) and transfer directly to Puerto Princessa.

There are many things to do in Puerto Princessa, namely the Underground River which is now one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World or something along those lines. That was ok, but even more spectacular though was the food at Kinabuch’s restaurant. You can tell what my priorities are, can’t you? Please have the garlic prawns, pretty pretty please.

After a short stay in Puerto Princessa, and a horrific 6 hour mini bus ride on gravel road we arrived in a little piece of heaven and our REAL holiday began.

 

Due to the difficulty in getting to El Nido, not that many tourists venture there. Possibly also because there is no electricity between 6am and 2pm. We had no bookings, no accommodation and no plan. No problem. Head straight to the Art Cafe where all central intelligence is held.

We stayed at Rosanna’s Cottages. This is the view from our deck:

Here’s how you know you’ve had a good holiday:

finishing a book under a palm tree ( kafka on the shore by haruki murakami)

walking along old streets that haven’t had a modern make-over:

chilling on a private island

pinocaladas, fresh barbecued fish on the beach, chatting to old friends & meeting new ones

some adventure

 

finding secluded beaches

having too many cocktails which nobody ever needs to know about

and watching sunsets (which speak for themselves)

P A R A D I S E!