Category: Travel

A Slice of My Life – Week 23

June 5, 2012

My week started with a very important shoe purchase.  I bought these wedge sandals.  I was thinking they were cute and slightly comfortable.  As it turns out, they are very comfortable – score!

Wednesday was the opening day for our little neighborhood farmers’ market.  We can walk to it and the boys love getting a quesadilla and listening to the music of the day.  It is our Wednesday tradition all summer.

Spring onions + asparagus + morels + homemade pasta made a delicious dinner.

Randy took this picture of us.  It haunts me.  Who are those big kids?  And where did my babies go?

The big event of the week was a trip back East for my 20th college reunion.  Not hard to leave Seattle with weather like that.

I went to college in Connecticut but I got to spend two days in New York.  I met my friend Darcie for an incredible dinner at ABC Kitchen.  We shared a bunch of plates and everything was truly extraordinary.  The kind of meal where you wish you were a cow and had 4 stomachs.  The highlight was the beets with homemade yogurt.  I’m totally committed to making my own yogurt after that dish.

The next day I was lucky enough to have time with one of my favorite blogging friends, Stacey of Stacey Snacks.  We have met before on another trip to NY and the time just flies by with her.  She brought me to one of her favorite spots, Corsino Cantina, where we had some incredible food.  The highlight for me was the fried brussels sprouts with bread crumbs and chili flakes.  She said they were great and that lady doesn’t lie.

Stacey is a good customer and they brought us some extras, like burrata with grilled bread and this exquisite tiramisu.

My trip continued with a drive up north to Connecticut College which is in New London.  Darcie (on the left) was the fearless driver.  She and I were very close in college but living on different coasts has made the friendship not as present for either of us.  Having a lot of time with her over the course of the weekend was one of the best parts of my trip.  The lovely lady on the right is Victoria, who was my freshman year roommate and my very close friend.  That brave woman went through breast cancer and came out the other side an amazing survivor.

The one full day we were on campus, the weather was terrible.  It is unfortunate because Conn looks pretty glorious in the sunshine.

See what I mean?

Before getting back in the car to head back to the city, Darcie and I snuck into the theatre.  I spent countless hours in that building and the smell of it nearly brought tears to my eyes – so many memories.  This is the room where we had most of our classes and where we staged small plays.  It is also the room I was sitting in when I decided that Conn was the school for me, on a college visit in the spring of 1988.

My hotel view in Times Square.

One more exquisite dinner.  I’ve been wanting to try Locanda Verde for years and finally got my chance.  Again, we shared lots of dishes and everything was delicious.  I have to say, I liked both ABC Kitchen and Corsino Cantina better although the fresh ricotta appetizer and the lemon tart at Locanda Verde were life-changing.

I had just enough time to eat lunch the next day before heading to the airport.  Shake Shack was across the street from my hotel and I glanced at the menu in the pouring rain and did not notice that there is a mushroom burger that is actually a mushroom.  So I didn’t go.  Boo hoo.

Instead I found a sweet Provençal restaurant that had intoxicatingly smooth hummus (I’m a sucker for hummus and grilled pita) and a Moroccan omelet that was so good, I’m making it for dinner tonight.

The Dole Summit

May 25, 2012

(There is, believe it or not, a recipe at the end of this post.  Thank you all for your patience with my lack of food posts lately.  Thank you for your support during this uncertain time.  And thank you to Dole as well for being patient while I took my time writing this post.)

I would imagine that each person who starts a blog has several hopes for it.  Some people might want to make money, others might want to make friends.  Others want to convey a message.  I think I have four hopes for my site.  I want to capture my cooking and my family life as we eat and live it.  I want to share the beauty of homemade treats.  I want to help people see that vegetarian cooking is not about a lack of something but instead a bounty of almost everything.  And I want people to find joy in salad.

Yes.  Salad.  If you have spent any time here, you probably know how I feel about salad.  It is not a way to shovel vegetables in you mouth and it is not a deprivation thing, as in “I will have salad instead of what I really want.”  Salad is a beautiful and delicious thing unto itself.  I truly believe this and perhaps that is why there are currently 53 salad recipes on this site.

So, it made sense to me that when the good people at Dole invited me to Monterey for the Dole Summit, that I should go.  Each time I get offered something because of my blog, whether it is a product to try out, a new tool to use, or a trip, I carefully consider whether it makes sense for me to accept.  In the case of Dole, I did pause.  In the past few years, I have come to really love buying big heads of lettuce from my local farmers’ market.  In my cooking classes, I encourage people to do the same.  Would it be contradictory of me to say one thing and do another?  And then I had to realize that, as much as I do love those big heads of local lettuce, at least half of the year they are not available.  Lettuce still has not made an appearance at my market this year.  So what do I do in the off-season?

Sometimes I buy whole heads of lettuce but truthfully, they are often waterlogged and tasteless.  I’ve realized that I am better off either buying lettuce in a bag or buying the newer clam-shells that hold small heads of lettuce.  Dole has a terrific one with one head of red leaf and one of green and, once you cut out the core, the leaves are perfectly bite size.  Basically, once I got over myself, I said yes to Monterey.

And I’m so glad I did.  I had been to Monterey once in my life, at a time when I was personally very unsettled.  How nice to be back in such a beautiful place in a much happier (albeit a bit uncertain) time of my life.  The Dole folks set us up in a beautiful hotel, The Clement Intercontinental, and planned a lovely and informative two days for me and some wonderful bloggers.  Truthfully, what I like best about these trips is getting to meet new people and reconnect with old friends.

Our time together was nicely split between fun and learning.  We got to visit the Dole headquarters where we learned that this company, which is the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, actually contracts with as many as 9,000 individual farmers around the country.  We learned about the tremendous amount of research that goes into every product they take to market and about some of the science behind the bags.  We got to taste several different salad blends that all tasted wonderful to this savory breakfast fan.  Then they sent us to lunch in Carmel.


I can tell you, without question, that this was the best lunch I have had in a long time.  Perhaps ever.  The amazing people at La Bicyclette put together an incredible spread for us, using Dole’s produce, and every single thing I tasted was amazing.  I happened to be sitting at a table with a number of gluten-free or vegan or gluten-free/vegan folks and the restaurant did an amazing job taking care of everyone.  If you have read any account of the Dole Summit, you have probably heard about the carrot risotto.  Superlatives are not enough praise.  It was to die for.  I had the added bonus of being able to taste the vegan version which was just as good – just different.

From Carmel, we headed to where some of the lettuce was being harvested in the incredible fertile Salinas valley between the mountains.  It was mind boggling to realize that much of our country is being fed off what is harvested in that valley.

After donning our hair nets (Irvin looks particularly handsome in his, don’t you think?), we walked out to where a group of people were, one by one, picking heads of iceberg lettuce and preparing them for shipment.  They worked with assembly line precision although this assembly line was out in the fresh air and sunshine.  I’ve never been a big fan of iceberg lettuce, but seeing them perfectly ripe and tasting them just after picking, I think iceberg can have a place at my table.

We concluded our trip the next day with a beautiful tour of the legendary 17-mile drive, taking us along spectacular scenery of the Pebble Beach Resort.  We stopped for the views, took lots of pictures, chatted about seeing each other all again at BlogHer, and contemplated what we were going to make when we got home.

One of the salads that they served us on that first morning had an intoxicating sun-dried tomato dressing.  They were kind enough to share the recipe for the salad and I made it almost as soon as I got home, with some tweaks.  I am the kind of crazy person who has burrata in my refrigerator (just in case!) so I used that but a good fresh mozzarella would be delicious too.  This is hearty, almost main course salad, the kind that I so advocate here on my site, and I’m thankful to Dole for the inspiration and for a terrific trip.

Greens with Sun-Dried Tomato Dressing and Parmesan Cheese
Inspired by Dole
Serves 2-3

For the dressing:
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup marinated sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup water
1 clove of garlic
3 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

For the salad:
5 ounces bagged salad greens
½ pint cherry tomatoes
½ cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
¼ cup shaved Parmesan cheese (a carrot peeler is good for this)
4 ounces burrata cheese, pulled into small pieces (or fresh mozzarella, cut into small pieces)

Make the dressing:
Place the olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, water, garlic, and Parmesan cheese in the blender.  Blend until smooth.  You may need to add more water to get a thinner consistency.   Set aside.

Make the salad:
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Place the cherry tomatoes on a small baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven until softened and starting to brown in spots, about 15 minutes.  Remove and set aside.

Place the olives in a salad bowl.  Shave the Parmesan cheese into the bowl.  Place the greens on top.  Spoon in a bit of the dressing and toss well.  Add more dressing if you wish.  Place the burrata or mozzarella cheese over the surface of the salad and serve with additional dressing on the side.

Walla Walla, Washington

May 11, 2012

If you have heard of the town of Walla Walla, it is probably for one of these reasons:

1)  You read Tom Robbins’ Still Life with a Woodpecker in which he mentions that the Native Americans named the city and “walla” means water.  He goes on to say, and I am paraphrasing here, that if that tribe had continued on to much wetter Seattle, we might have been called Walla Walla Walla Walla.

2)  You grew up in Washington State.

3)  You or someone you know went to Whitman College.

4)  You are a wine drinker.

As a matter of fact, all four of these points apply to me.  In all the years I have lived in Washington (lots) and all the years I have loved to drink wine (lots), I had never visited Walla Walla.  It is in the southeastern corner of the state – about a four hour drive from Seattle and not really on the way to anywhere.  But it is the wine capital of our state and in the past ten years, it has grown from a sleepy farm community with a small wine community and a terrific liberal arts college, to a true destination.

Back in February, the Walla Walla Wine Alliance sent me an invitation to take part in a promotion that they were doing called February Foodies.  I could go to Walla Walla, stay in a nice hotel, go wine tasting, and choose from any number of wonderful restaurants to have my meals.  Sadly, I couldn’t go because Randy was teaching skiing on Saturdays and I didn’t want to go by myself.  They graciously offered to have me come at a time that did work and just a few weekends ago, my little family packed up the car, and set out on an adventure.

So many of our friends make annual trips to the region and we knew we were in for a treat.  My parents now drive out of their way when they go to Sun Valley so they can stay at the lovely Marcus Whitman hotel and eat well in one of the many great restaurants in town.  Now we understand why and we can’t wait to go back.

We loaded up our kids, along with plenty of snacks, some books on CD, and various video distractions and headed out on a Friday morning.  We have traveled plenty with our children but have not taken a long road trip.  We weren’t sure how they would do but they were terrific.  We listened to music, to stories, sang songs, and carried on a continuing negotiation about the snacks.  (My children seem to be capable of eating a tremendous amount when we travel.)  I won’t say the 4+ hours flew by but they went much more quickly and pleasantly than we anticipated.

We had a whole itinerary planned for us with stops at three wineries, a goat cheese farm, and two dinners, but we couldn’t resist a stop at an additional winery.  Randy and I have long loved the wines coming out of L’Ecole No. 41 – one of the original Walla Walla wineries.  The tasting room is housed in an old schoolhouse and a charming child’s drawing of the building used to be on the label of all their bottles.  Now that they are distributing to all 50 states, they have changed to a more, um, sophisticated label but Randy and I both miss the old one.  The wine continues to be lovely and fairly priced.

We literally started laughing out loud when we saw that the tasting, in which you got to try 6 different wines, was $5.  It looks like we are never going back to Napa.  They also had a little chalkboard to occupy the boys.  (Spencer has a perpetual plumber’s crack going.)

After that pit stop, we drove right into the center of town to our hotel, a beauty of an old building called the Marcus Whitman.  The lobby has high soaring ceilings and it is decorated beautifully.  It is a little on the dark side, so I wasn’t able to get a good photo of it, but I love that old style glamor.  We had a great room, a suite with both a king and queen bed in separate rooms, so the boys were able to sleep and so were we.  That first night we were treated to an incredible meal at the restaurant in the hotel called the Marc.

(Warm cookies available in the lobby along with juice and coffee.)

In all the eating out I have done in my life (a lot), I had never done a chef’s table before.  I really had no idea what to expect.  How many people would be there?  Would the food be served family style?  What does chef’s table mean exactly?  In our case, we had a table smack dab in the middle of the kitchen, just the two of us, and two completely separate five course tasting menus.  The chef made my all vegetarian and he treated Randy to scallops, pork, and beef – all things he loves.  Between the amuse bouche and the angel food cake dessert and including all the food in between, we were both blown away by the quality of the food and the experience.  The sommelier paired wines with each course and took the time to really tell us about each wine and why he paired it.  We left vowing to bring friends back for another round of amazing food and wine perhaps in the fall.

The next day was a full one.  After a delicious breakfast at the hotel (which is included in the cost – as is parking), we headed over to the beautiful Whitman College campus to take a look around.

(Waterbrook Winery.  They have a lovely deck where they served us a great taco lunch.)

There was a big bike race going on, so we got to watch them zoom by on our way.  We went to two beautiful wineries, Waterbrook and Dunham, and also went to visit a farm where they make goat cheese and got to taste all the goodies in all three places.

(Monteillet Fromagerie.  We got to taste six different cheeses and they were all delicious.)

The landscape in Walla Walla is absolutely stunning in a way that is so different from Seattle.  The Cascade mountains separate western Washington from eastern Washington and they effectively split the state into two different climates and landscapes.  West is wet, green, very hilly, and mild.  East is dry, brown, flat, and more extreme in temperature.  Walla Walla in the spring is incredibly beautiful.  Impossibly green crops against impossibly blue sky and beautiful weather.  We all really enjoyed driving along their country roads.

But for being smack dab in the middle of nowhere, Walla Walla is an impressively cosmopolitan town.  Part of that has to do with the college being there and part of it has to do with the approximately 140 wineries in the region.  Some of the best wine in the country is being made there and where there is good wine, there is good food and culture.  We had another really nice dinner the second night at T Maccarone’s.  The “T” is for Tom and he is the owner and head chef of the restaurant.  He also waited on us that night and made us feel very welcome in his bustling restaurant.  (It was prom night – that made for some great people watching.)

The next day, we hit two more wineries, Va Piano and Pepperbridge, before grabbing a quick lunch and getting back on the road to Seattle.  As we left, the boys said, “Bye bye Walla Walla!  We will miss you!”  It really was a great little trip and the boys are still talking about Walla Walla and how much they liked it.  I wondered why, what it was specifically that they liked so much.  According to them, ages 7 and 5, they liked Walla Walla because of the hotel and they liked the hotel because of the beds and the “delicious breakfast”.  Clearly, they are my children.

(Full disclosure:  The Walla Walla Wine Alliance paid for our hotel, dinners, and wine tasting at Waterbrook, Dunham, and Va Piano.  Also the goat cheese tasting.  All the opinions and enthusiasm are my own.)

South Africa Part Two: Zulu Nyala

May 1, 2012

Do you ever realize that you have been carrying around an opinion about something without ever realizing you even have one?  Maybe, for instance, hearing that an acquaintance was going on a safari and wondering, without ever really formulating the thought, “Why would someone go all that way, spend all that money, go somewhere that hot, just to see some animals?”  Traveling to sub-saharan Africa, going on safari, was never on my bucket list.  If not for my husband, I would probably have gotten old(er) and gray(er) without ever visiting that continent.  As it happens, I found myself on a nine hour plane flight, and then holing up for a five hour layover, and then on another twelve hour flight which leaves a lot of, um, time to think about these things – I realized that that was my opinion about going on safari.  Why go?

This is why.  This and more.  There is something about going so far away, just about as far as you can possibly go, that changes you.  I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I didn’t even really miss my children.  Them and our life in Seattle seemed so impossibly far away that I almost felt like, when thinking about them, I was viewing my twin sister’s life.  (I don’t have a twin sister.)  Getting away from everything, living a life so different from the everyday, in a landscape and surroundings that are almost impossibly different from the familiar, is an experience whose value I would never have known.

And the animals.  Each time we came upon them, no matter who they were, I gasped.  And got goose bumps.  It’s not like going to the zoo.  There is nothing like coming around a corner and watch out! there is a rhino.  And her baby.  In all their prehistoric glory.

(I got these amazing shots of the hippos on our first full day.  Every other time we saw them, they were hidden in the water – eyes and tops of snouts visible only.  I feel lucky that we saw them in their full glory.  Our guide quizzed us on our first day – what is the animal that kills the most humans in Africa?  You might think lions or leopards but technically it is the mosquito (malaria).  Second place goes to the hippo.  They are violent vegetarians.  They might kill you but they won’t eat you.  Later in the trip, we went on a boat ride and got to hold a hippo tooth – it was incredibly heavy.)

Our situation was kind of unique.  Because we bought this trip at an auction, we did virtually no planning.  Our package included six nights at a private game park with all meals and two game drives per day included.  Because it was all set, we didn’t look into other options – we didn’t investigate what else is out there in the world of African safari.  In a way, that was liberating.  We just showed up and had the experience rather than trying to choose the best possible option for our time and money.  We both had very modest expectations of what our experience would be but we did assume certain things.  I thought we would be in a small global village.  That we would be a couple of maybe a handful of Americans surrounded by people from all over the world.  In fact, except for one French couple who bore the distinction of not talking to anyone and eating truly incredible quantities of (very bad) food, everyone at our park was American.  Not only American, but Americans who had bought the trip at an auction, just like us.  (And, we were dismayed to overhear, many had paid a good deal less than we did.)

Our little Zulu Nyala, a 3,000 acre game park about 3 hours north of Durban, had found its marketing niche in American non-profit auctions.  (The park is named after the nyala – pictured above – which roam all over the park.  They are related to impala and are one of the food sources for the big cats.  They are beautiful and graceful.)

So, no global village.  Fine.  The upside was that everyone spoke English and that there were several small world scenarios.  The downside was that, since the park catered to Americans, the food was terrible.  After eating divine food in Capetown, I subsisted on bad starch for the six days we were there.   Our very first night, when I passed by the meat carving station at the dinner buffet, the carver asked me if I wanted anything.  I told him I didn’t eat meat.  He told me they were expecting me and were making something special.  A few minutes later, out came a hubcap sized bowl of pasta, covered in several pounds of cheese and dotted with – wait for it – rounds of sausage.

And that is basically the only negative things I have to say.  Upon arrival, we were assigned to a guide – one who we stayed with our whole trip.  Rohan (pronounced Ro-wan) was a 21-year old South African with a slow delivery which belied his intelligence, his incredible depth of knowledge about the wildlife we saw, and his wicked sense of humor.  Fluent in four languages (English, Afrikaans, Zulu, and Swahili), Randy asked him, “What is your favorite language?”  He took a good twenty-second beat, enough time that I thought he had not heard over the roar of the diesel engine, then he finally answered, “Body language.”  Awesome.  (The photo above is Rohan with the remains of an impala after a cheetah kill.)

We asked a million questions, he gave a million answers.  He took out his camera and was shooting alongside us when we we witnessed the incredibly lovely and moving spectacle of the largest land mammals swimming – with grace and incredible good humor – at the watering hole.  His excitement mirrored ours.  (I had tears in my eyes when I took that last shot.  I had just read a book about elephants and how social and intelligent they are.  This is the baby elephant – actually a nine year old – reaching out to her mommy.)

And exciting it was.  Our first day, we couldn’t get enough of the impalas and zebras.  By day six, we asked him to just drive right by those creatures, now as ubiquitous as deer in North America.  I learned so much about animals that I didn’t realize I cared about at all.  I only felt afraid three times.  One, and this might surprise you, was because of this guy.

This is a buffalo.  They are considered one of the “Big 5”, meaning they are one of the hardest big game animals to kill.  Game hunters used to come to Africa hoping to kill the Big 5, now tourists just hope to see them.  (The others are leopard, lion, black rhino, and elephant.)  The buffalo is mean, huge, and really one has one small spot that a bullet will penetrate – just between his eyes.  We came upon a large group of them and they ignored us, like most of the animals in the park.  They see the truck as just a herd of something so they do not run and they do not charge.  We had been warned not to stand up in the truck, not to get out, and to keep our voices down.  Just to show why, Rohan got out of the truck, walked to the side of it, and pawed the ground with his foot.  All 20 or so buffalo stopped eating and looked right at us.  I stopped breathing.  They sniffed and went back to eating.  He pawed the ground again, they all stopped again and a few of them started walking closer to us.  Suddenly, I got very fearful.  I mean, the guide knows what he is doing, right?  But these are wild animals after all and just one of them could have turned over our truck without much effort.  This cutie pie scared me a little too.

Just a kitty cat, right?  A cheetah kitty cat.  Did you know they can run 60 miles an hour?  There were a pair of brothers in the road and three trucks were stopped near them.  Everyone was snapping photos and gabbing away and all the guides, tired of sitting, were outside the trucks.  Again, I had to wonder – do these guys know what they are doing for real?  Are we safe here?

Do I look nervous?  By the way, my hair was incredibly curly in Africa.

Being in a landscape so different from what I expected (green rolling hills lots of vegetation and trees – not flay dry savanna) did not make it any less awe inspiring.  The beauty was incredible.  Seeing the sun everyday and feeling the heat of that sun, after coming off winter in Seattle, was very life-affirming.  We are so busy at home, both Randy and me, balancing work and kids and family and friends and each other.  It felt very luxurious to have hours upon hours to just sit and read.  Our typical day started early with a 5:30am wake-up call for the 6am game drive.  After bouncing over the rocky roads for a couple of hours, we would head back to the lodge for breakfast.  After that, I would sit on our little terrace and begin the day’s marathon reading session.  Lunch was around noon, and then more reading and several dips in the pool.  At some point in the afternoon, we would set up in the lobby, the only place where we had internet access, and check in briefly back home.  The afternoon game drive set off around 4pm and we were back for dinner by 7pm.

(This is a warthog.  We were in the truck when I took this shot.  Later in the week, I was walking to the lobby area when I came face to face with one.  We were about six feet from one another.  We both froze.  We looked at each other in the eyes for a moment and then I moved to keep walking.  He lowered his head, gave me a low growl, and then turned around and took off.)

After a few days of this routine, we both started to feel a little antsy.  Yes, it is lovely to relax but we had flown so far and our little park, filled as it was with amazing animals, was starting to feel a little small.  Fortunately, Zulu Nyala counts on you feeling that way and has some wonderful optional diversions.  More on those next time.

South Africa Part One: Capetown

April 6, 2012

When we bought our Safari in South Africa package at the Boyer auction over 15 months ago (story here), I knew we would not be going for just the six nights included in the safari.  I didn’t think it made sense for us to fly 10,000 miles for a six night stay.  It takes two days to get there and two days to get back, so it almost didn’t seem worth it.  I said to Randy, just minutes after we found ourselves in possession of this trip, “We have to go to Capetown for a few days”.

Capetown.  What do you know about this city?  After he graduated from college, my brother Michael spent almost a year in Capetown so I knew, from him telling me, that it is beautiful.  Did you know that?  Capetown is breathtakingly beautiful.

In fact, it is so beautiful, so majestic, so awe-inspiring that I found it impossible to capture with my camera.  The only city that I think could come close is Vancouver, B.C. with its similar mountains-right-up-to-the-water landscape.  Vancouver has much better architecture (Capetown’s has a vaguely Soviet Bloc feel), but Capetown is right on the Atlantic Ocean and the mountains are truly awe-inspiring.


(This guy is gigantic and is made out of Coke cases.)

There are several snap-shot memories of this trip for me and the first one was on the plane.  The flight from London to Capetown is 12 hours during which I got a few hours of sleep.  I woke up and groggily turned on my screen to see how long was left in the journey.  That silly little graphic they show, the one that approximates where the plane is in its flight pattern, showed it about half way down the west coast of Africa.  Africa!  Somehow seeing our little plane against that massive continent made it finally feel real that we were going on this trip.

We landed at 6am.  Too dark to see the landscape during touchdown.  My first glimpse was from the taxi heading in to the city.  At the same time I was marveling at Table Mountain, Randy pointed out his side of the cab to the townships that line the highway.  Thousands upon thousands of tin-roofed shacks.  Tall metal posts with lights and wiring stringing every few feet.  Some painted bright colors, some sprayed with graffiti, some looking solemn and terrible.  We later learned that each shack has a number on it which represents where that particular family is on the waiting list for a home.  After the end of apartheid, the government committed to providing electricity, running water, and toilet facilities to the townships, and to ensuring everyone eventually has a home.  So far, they have built over 3 million homes but they have a long way to go.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we stayed at the Westin.  This was our view.  The hotel runs a shuttle every half an hour that takes you to the waterfront, an area that used to be strictly industrial but is now a major part of Capetown life.  There are tons of restaurants, shops, a ferris wheel, and lots of opportunities for day trips.

We decided to go to Robben Island that day.  This is a small island a few miles out from the city where various people have been imprisoned ever since Capetown was settled in the 17th century.  Its most famous prisoner was Nelson Mandela who spent over 20 years on that rock.  The tour takes you to the island in a small boat.  The barf bags everywhere and stains on the seats and carpets clue you in to the fact that the sea can often be rough, but fortunately our ride out there was fairly calm.  The boat leaves you on Robben Island for several hours.  We loaded on to a bus where a colorful guide took us around the island for the various sites, including several houses of worship and a cannon that they began construction on during World War Two, but did not finish in time to actually help the war effort.  Once we got to the actual prison, a former inmate gave us a tour and also a sense for what it was like to live there.  He was imprisoned for taking part in a demonstration and spent over ten years sleeping on the floor, crammed into a room with 100 other men.

Our ride back was a little rougher – think roller coaster in a dense wall of fog.  As I desperately tried to hang on, Randy’s head lolled from side to side as he napped.  Having been in the Navy, rough seas don’t impact him at all.

One of the delights of Capetown was the food.  We had gotten some restaurant advice from a few different people, including a reader of mine who lives there.  The two truly memorable meals we ate where on her recommendation.  But all in all, I had fabulous salads and wonderful fresh pastas, nothing boring or second rate about any of it.  We were shocked by the prices – shocked in a good way.  All the goods we encountered in South Africa seemed to be on par with what we pay here, but food and drink were seriously cheap.  Our meals out were about half of what we would pay in Seattle.

Randy and I debated about whether or not to rent a car.  His inclination was yes and mine was no.  In my experience, driving a car in an unfamiliar place, especially one where they drive on the other side of the road, brings unnecessary stress into our relationship.  But we knew there were sites to see in and outside of Capetown, so we booked three tours.  The first was in Capetown proper.  It was helpful to get a sense of the city but truly the only part we really enjoyed was the ride up Table Mountain.

There is often a series of clouds brewing behind the mountain.  At over 3,000 feet, Table Mountain usually stops them from actually coming into Capetown proper, but they often drape over the top.  They call it the tablecloth when that happens.  Unfortunately, the tablecloth was in place for most of our time up there but the views were still spectacular.

The next day, we boarded another van to take us to the Cape of Good Hope.  This is the very tip of Africa, where the weather and the seas have shipwrecked thousands of ships.  It is not, contrary to what many people think, where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean converge.  That meeting point is a little farther down the road.  We started our journey heading out of Capetown towards Camps Bay, a kind of suburb of Capetown with a beachy feel, great restaurants, and billion dollar views.

Just after these shots were taken, I started to feel unwell.  At first I thought perhaps the decaf I ordered had possibly been caf, then I thought I was just a touch carsick.  While I was willing it to be just that, I realized I needed to get back to the hotel.  We were far enough away at that point that we couldn’t turn around and ruin the trip for the rest of the people.  We stopped in Hout Bay for a half hour look around and we asked the driver if he could possibly help us find a ride back for me.  We were counting our money, realizing we didn’t have enough for a cab, when the driver said the tour company was sending another car for me.  The tour needed to leave to stick to its schedule and Randy asked if I wanted him to stay with me.  The Cape of Good Hope is a very important symbol to anyone who has every spent any time on the ocean and to anyone who knows naval history – Randy is both of those people.  I couldn’t take that from him, so I told him to go ahead.  The driver said to me, “A man named Sharrif will come for you.  He has a description of what you are wearing.  He will bring you to a white unmarked Toyota and take you back to the hotel”.  And they were off.  As I stood waiting in the coffeeshop, surrounded by smell of dead and decaying fish, pacing, trying to keep the nausea at bay, hoping I wasn’t going to have to throw up in the overly air-freshened bathroom, I realized I was living one of my worst nightmares.  Sick, alone, about as far from home as I could be, waiting for a man named Shariff to come get me in an unmarked car.

It sounds like the plot of a short story, or a bad film, but it ends well.  Shariff did come.  The road back to the hotel was windy and bumpy and I was silently begging myself not to throw up the whole way.  Once back at the hotel, I took some nausea medicine and, as is my way when I am stomach sick, laid down and did not move for 24 hours.  Randy took the rest of these photos.

Invisible Dana.

The next day I was exhausted and shaky but came around fairly quickly.  I actually don’t remember much of what we did that day.  I slept for a lot of it.

The following day, we went on our wine country tour.  South Africa produces the 7th most wine in the world and we went to three different wineries to taste some of their best.  If we came from a state other than Washington, we probably would have been more impressed with what we tasted.  But we have excellent wine in our state and while we liked everything we tasted, nothing blew our minds.  Again, we couldn’t get over the prices.  Just having been in the Napa Valley last spring, where every winery we visited had a $50/person tasting fee, we were overjoyed to see the prices so low.  This winery did a wine and chocolate tasting that was lovely.  The chocolate all had amazing flavors infused in them (white chocolate and lemon verbena anyone?) and the whole thing was $7/person.  It was also nice to not have sales pitch at each place.  They let us taste and then sent us on our way.

We stopped for lunch and a look around in the town of Stellenbosch.  A friend who had been to Capetown gave us the advice to take some of our time and stay in Stellenbosch instead.  We opted to not do that but once we got there, we were a little sorry we hadn’t taken his advice.  It is a beautiful small town with tons of shops and restaurants – totally walkable.  our time there was too short but I’m glad we got to see it.

The following day, the second part of our journey began.  Stay tuned.

« Older Posts Newer Posts »