Monday, November 26, 2007
To my right thoroughbred horses glisten in the light that is breaking through the clouds this morning. The vineyards around them are bursting with leaves and the last of the spring flowers add a splash of colour here and there.
I’ve driven along the R44 through the Stellenbosch Winelands so many times. It’s always beautiful but during early summer everything is so lush and green and washed clean by the winter rains. The Cape got a lot of rain this winter. The dams are full to the brim.
Today the skies are not able to contain itself and as I pass the horses at Avontuur Estate the rain pours down like a moment of joy.
Even the scarecrows at the strawberry farms along the way look like they are laughing. It’s no wonder as it’s the perfect time for strawberries. They are sweet and fresh right now – a perfect accompaniment to Simonsig Brut Rosé which I pick up at the farm where this sparkling wine is produced, just on the other side of Stellenbosch.
Perhaps I will come back another day and stop at Simonsberg in Stellenbosch for French cheeses and pick up some plump olives at L’avenir to have with Laibach’s organic wines.
There is a real sense of abundance in this part of the world… the freshest produce, the best wines, some fantastic sparkling wines and a beauty that is too much to take in all at the same time.
When the skies clear the bright sun highlights the visual pleasure that is the Stellenbosch area. Sure, Tuscany has its charm and Champagne is enchanting, but the R44 between Somerset West and Paarl is simply the most beautiful drive in the world.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Perhaps I am not the best person to judge the cluster of skyscrapers along this magnificent stretch of beach. Firstly, I am not a surfer and secondly I generally shy away from all things artificial.
To top that, I visit Surfers Paradise on a slightly rainy day which means I cannot be seduced by the white beach sand and the sun on my skin, or even the humpback whales that pass by here between June and November every year.
Nevertheless, I have always wanted to see the Gold Coast and my travel companion, Jacqui, wants to take a walk down memory lane as she spent a few years living here in Surfers Paradise, serving ice cream and partying at the numerous bars and clubs along the streets.
I guess this could be a tourist’s dream. Beach as far as the eye can see, parties of note and an endless array of amusement parks, zoos and putt putt type entertainment. The only thing one may not find here while on holiday is some peace and quiet.
Well, that’s not entirely true, as the Hinterland close by is a scenic treat. It’s the perfect place to escape all the noise, peroxide and fluorescent lights for just a while.
For now we’re here to see Surfers Paradise though and after lunch at Toscani’s (exceptional sandwiches, not-so-great salads), we head for the shopping centre under the Hard Rock Café guitar.
Jacqui is taking us to “this really cool surf shop” and, admittedly, 'Between the Flags' is a brand that can only be found in the Gold Coast and therefore makes for a perfect memento. Even better is the fact that the brand raises money to support the lifesavers here. So while this laid back beach gear is truly unique, someone may just be alive because people buy it.
What else is cool about Surfers'?
There’s the Surf Club, says Jacqui, a café next to the beach where all the surfers and lifesavers hang out. From there it’s easy to stroll to the bars and clubs but it’s perhaps better to shower and dress up before heading for Melbas – the coolest night club here.
For a perfect view of the Gold Coast, there’s no better lookout spot than Q1, the world’s tallest residential tower. Spectacular. Still, I don’t really feel wowed by this place.
But - if I was a surfer looking for an unlimited supply of waves, alcohol and pretty babes, it would indeed be paradise for me.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
“What is that smell?” asks my travel companion as we enter the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. She wrinkles her nose.
“It’s the koalas,” answers another.
We’re at the world’s largest koala sanctuary just outside Brisbane in Australia and I am childishly excited to see koalas and kangaroos for the first time. The pungent animal smells don’t bother me too much, having spent a lot if time on farms in South Africa during my younger years.
First up on our left we spot the lorikeets. It’s impossible to miss these birds with the bright red, green, yellow and purple feathers. We stop and stare. They are exquisite.
As we continue along the path, the smell becomes really stinky and soon it’s clear why. There’s a gate that would lead us into the farm animal section of the park. My companions decide against entering as they cannot stand the smell. For me sheep and pigs are nothing new, so we keep walking until we find the kangaroos.
They move in the strangest way, these kangaroos, using their knees. It looks somewhat uncomfortable. The little baby pouch on the belly also doesn’t look like the easiest thing to have as the little ones go wild inside there. They play and dive in and out of there like it is one big game. I am sure the moms must get hurt sometimes, or at least suffer a few scratches.
I touch one of the babies that are walking around with its mom. Its hair is so very soft and it does this wiggly thing as I tickle its neck, almost like something a cat would do when purring. My heart melts – and I haven’t even seen the koalas.
So we keep walking and find the koalas sleeping with their arms around the eucalyptus branches like they are never going to let go. They look so peaceful and happy just holding on like that.
I envy them for that. While I am always restless they are happy to simply have a branch to hold and some leaves to eat when they wake. I later find out that they sleep for twenty hours per day and that it’s something in the eucalyptus leaves that keeps them so tranquil and happy.
Suddenly we are feeling as lazy as the koalas and its time to head back to our hotel. When I get there I hold onto my pillow. Perhaps one day I will also find my eucalyptus branch.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
After a fantastic nap with the European rain lulling my dreams, my stomach is rumbling.
My friend Caroline prepares some traditional Frankfurter food for me: ‘handkäs mit musik’ (hand cheese with music) served with ‘bauernbrot’ (farmers’ bread); and ‘grüne soße’ (green sauce) with hard boiled eggs and potato. We enjoy some delicate, dry Riesling from the Rhine region in the area while we chop and chat.
I tried the handkäs on it’s own after our trip to the supermarket and it tasted the way heel balm smells. Now I am quite curious and, well, nervous, to try it ‘mit musik’. The official version is that ‘mit musik’ refers to the sauce. The unofficial version is that ‘mit musik’ is the flatulence that is caused by all the chopped onions.
The sauce of vinegar, oil, onions and cumin makes all the difference to the balmy taste of the cheese and the flavourful ‘bauernbrot’ is a perfect companion. ‘Handkäs’ is completely fat free and therefore quite healthy. The ‘grüne soße’ is a light mixture of yoghurt and herbs. I prefer to eat it with my Frankfurter sausage (which tastes more or less the same here as anywhere else) than the traditional way, having never really been a fan of eating potato and eggs together. We wash it all down with the fresh taste of ‘äbbelwoi’, while recalling memories of previous adventures.
I wanted to try my hand at baking the traditional Frankfurter cream cake for dessert but when Caroline phoned her mom to get the recipe, Mrs Braun exclaimed that ‘it’s really old-fashioned and so not cool!’ and suggested that we make ‘bethmannchen’ instead. Yet we don’t end up making the Frankfurter marzipan sweets, or any other dessert for that matter.
Which is a good thing because by the time we finish the food and the wine, we are so feasted out that there is not a spot left for a sweet tooth. I guess that will have to wait for another visit.
The first time I went to Frankfurt I planned to merely spend one night there, round up my German friends and then travel with them to other, more interesting, parts of Europe.
That night my Frankfurter friends, Caroline and Susi, took me to a little tavern for my first taste of apple wine, or ‘äbbelwoi’ (pronounced ‘ebbelwoi’ - fast and slurry if you want to talk like a local). Given a choice between sweet and bitter apple wine, I chose the latter and expected cider. Yet the flavour of real apples surprised my tastebuds and the dryness tickled my tongue. That one night ended up lingering in my mouth and left me wanting more.
This time around I am making sure that I get to sample all the local delicacies that Frankfurt has to offer. Susi offers to take me to Rewe (the supermarket) soon after my arrival. I grab a freshly baked ‘bredzel’ from the bakery on the way and devour it in an instant, almost getting driven over by a cyclist for walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk.
I am all eyes when we reach the supermarket, enchanted by the ‘feldsalad’ (seasonal salad leaves) and ‘mini cresse’ (looks like miniature watercress and tastes like horseradish). Susi insists on introducing me to a local cheese called ‘handkäs’. I choose some Frankfurter sausages, curious to find out whether they taste any different in their place of origin. In the dairy aisle I find beautiful glass bottles filled with milk and yoghurt. The Germans are obsessed with food safety, which explains the glass option as opposed to plastic.
In fact, the Germans are so dedicated to food ethics that they are struggling to keep up with organic food supplies. Just down the road from Rewe is an equally big and way more expensive bio supermarket called Basic. It sells everything from mushrooms to mascara, in organic form.
We fill up two big shopping bags at Rewe and just like that we are ready to prepare a German feast.