Monthly Archives: April 2012

Delays make the heart grow cranky

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“All passengers, this is your captain speaking. This blog is experiencing some technical problems and will be delayed.”

The amount of time I have spent in the last week banging my head against my keyboard can only really be counted by the imprints of keys on my forehead. My friends, I have been crippled by the technical side of my blog this week. I have posts written and ready, but when I attempt to add photos, things slow to a painful crawl as I watch the upload of files progress by 1% at a time and then stall completely at 78% or 14% or (you’ve got to be kidding me) 98%.

I could offer posts to you without photos, but that does not appeal to me at all. I will hammer out a solution. I am bringing in a technical expert. Actually, my sister is visiting and she is so tech savvy it’s ridiculous (I mean, she got our parents to use Skype! I bow down). She will either a) solve this photo problem lickety split or b) solve the world’s problems (where WILL Brad and Angelina get married?) over a few caipirinhas with me. Either way you benefit! You don’t see it that way? Huh.

While on the topic of delays though, let’s talk about my top 3 travel delays!

  • A trip to the Cook Islands and New Zealand in 2000. Our flight was cancelled from Calgary, Canada due to bad weather. We spent hours trying to get rerouted by a desk clerk who wondered if Paris was on the way to NZ. Really? We actually had to refer her to an atlas. With holiday traffic (it was just before Christmas), we only just managed to get a connection through Vancouver and then LAX. All of this meant that around the time that we should have been arriving in the Cook Islands we were actually only in the province next door. Progress! Later, we watched on in-flight entertainment as we flew directly OVER the Cook Islands to get to Auckland (never has a parachute seemed so useful). We then spent 12 meaningful hours at Auckland airport where we napped on a stretch of grass outside the terminal like dogs because we felt like…dogs. We also shopped for clothes in the airport which should never, ever happen because you end up wearing things you would never normally consider just because you are desperate to have a clean shirt. DAYS after we began the trip, we finally arrived. Our souls turned up the following week.
  • A trip to Canada from the Netherlands in 2004. Our flight in Amsterdam was delayed because one of those inflatable emergency exit slides had unexpectedly inflated. We waaaaaited a long time in Amsterdam (6-8 hours I think?) and we were rerouted to Chicago (surprise!). We then missed the connection in Chicago as well so we had a night in a hotel there. I went to Chi-town and didn’t even see Oprah, man. The following day our flight was delayed a further 2 times which meant that I had to call my Mom collect (who does that any more??), I had to drink many Pumpkin Spice Lattes from the Starbucks counter across from our cursed gate, and I had to lay the Rummy smackdown on Matt (I only know one card game – you guessed it – Rummy).
  • A recent trip from Brazil to South Africa. We managed to get from Rio to Sao Paulo without incident, but upon collecting our boarding passes in SP, a kindly man asked to see our Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificates. Our what the fever what WHAT? Here’s the thing: Matt and I had had the vaccination, but you don’t actually need to have it to be in Brazil. And neither do you need it to be in South Africa. But, get this, you need it to TRAVEL from Brazil to South Africa. Don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense because it does not make sense. We were denied access to our flight until we all had the vaccination and the papers.  Cue the Amazing Race music! We leapt into a taxi that drove in typical fashion (i.e. at the speed of light and touching the bumper of the car in front) through the back streets of Sao Paulo to a medical clinic that looked like you would go there to get sick, not get better. In we went and quickly had 4 jabs of the vaccine. Done. Back into the taxi and back through rush hour traffic to the airport. We arrived 30 minutes before our flight and were denied boarding (even though our bags were already on the plane). We spent the next 8 hours perusing the many attractions of SP airport: McDonald’s and the restrooms. At 2:3o a.m we caught the next flight to Johannesburg, only to arrive there without our baggage. We only just made our connection to Cape Town after making a lost baggage report. Our bags dragged their sorry butts into town 3 days after us.

Tada! While writing this I came up with a few other doozies, but if I keep writing about delays you will soon wish you were trapped in an airport terminal with screaming children and announcements in a foreign language rather than keep reading this blog…So I will stop.

Is there an airport that you wouldn’t mind getting delayed in? What has been your longest travel delay? Do you want to play Rummy while we wait for my photos to load?

I’ve got a Krakow of a headache

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Where: Krakow, Poland

Plate of food: I loved the food in Poland because it was simple, comforting, and similar to meals that my German Grandmother used to cook for us: sausages, perogies, and sauerkraut. Luckily we visited Krakow in the middle of a snowy winter, so this type of food was exactly what we wanted to warm and fuel us.

We ate mostly at an outdoor market set up in the main square. There we feasted on grilled sausages and small perogies filled with cheese, potato and onion. We washed it all down with mulled wine, as it was just after Christmas when we visited…and mulled wine goes with everything. Everything except a long bus trip, but we’ll talk about that in a second.

The only things that didn’t rock our tastebuds were cheese logs soaked in a salty brine (go figure) and a bowl of pork fat for spreading on bread (you remember our other encounters with pork fat, right?).

Fat in a bowl, sausages, cheese logs and , no, we aren't blurry - you've just been drinking too much mulled wine.

The best: Wieliczka salt mines, just outside of the city. These mines functioned for 9 centuries. Now there are tours offered 135m below the surface along the 200km network of tunnels.

We took a rickety tram along snow-covered tracks (can you say “slippery”??) out of the city to the mines. Once there, the crowds were organized into large groups to descend nearly 400 steps to the starting point of the tour. The tunnels and chambers were well lit and the salt crystals sparkled. The miners had carved incredible statues out of the salt. There were beautiful scenes depicting fairy tales, Biblical stories and Polish legends. One does wonder how much mining was happening if the miners were busy creating such works of art! They had even created a cathedral underground. Everything from the chandeliers to the altar to the staircase were made from salt. The cathedral was immense with a huge vaulted ceiling, and the floor looked like polished marble, but it was, of course, salt that had been polished to a high sheen by centuries of footsteps.

Incredible underground salt cathedral. A-MAZ-ING!

We only saw a small portion of the mine, but it was awe-inspiring and hauntingly beautiful. We were transported back up to the surface in large cage lifts. 30 seconds later – back at the top!

One more interesting tidbit: the air is so pure down there that they have a sanitorium for asthma and allergy sufferers. You can stay down there for days at a time as part of your medical treatment. I bet you they serve those salty cheese logs down there.

One of the wall reliefs in the cathedral. Talk about hidden talents of miners!

Story that needs to be told: As I mentioned, we enjoyed the mulled wine on offer in Krakow. One evening we went on our very own Mulled Wine Crawl, a lesser-known cousin to the Pub Crawl. Let’s just say this: it should remain lesser-known.

Many of the bars are underground in central Krakow which lends some mystery and coziness to your evening of beverages. They were gloomy, candlelit places bustling with people. Each bar had their own mulled wine concoction which we felt obliged to try in a compare-and-contrast sort of way. We ended up at our old faithful, the main market, for a midnight snack and a few more cups of wine.

Fast forward (not all that far forward) to our alarm going off very early in the morning. We were booked on the first bus of the day to the mountain town of Zakopane. Cue gargantuan headache, bone weariness, and general malaise. Off we went.

The walk to the bus station nearly killed me. The bus trip itself finished me off. We arrived in sunny Zakopane with the day stretching ahead of us and a desire only to fall face first into the snow.

We thought some food would help matters so we found an alpine themed restaurant on the main street. The complimentary dish brought out to every table? A bowl of fat. I said something that made the sweet couple next to me with their toddler glare at me and shake their heads. I apologize.

Once fortified, we rallied somewhat and walked around this picturesque village. I was blinded not only by the sun glinting off the pristine snow, but by the wealthy Germans strolling about in golden full-body ski suits and glitzy jewellery – and that was just the men. It appeared that skiing was not so important for some in Zakopane, but the ski apparel was very important.

People-watching was the perfect remedy for a Mulled Wine Crawl, but then Matt dragged me through a historical museum which was eerily quiet and had dusty displays of hand tools used for ploughing fields back in the good old days. I buckled.

Never has it been so obvious to me that we are not "clever ones".

I spent the rest of our circuitous route lagging 50m behind Matt and whimpering slightly.

Highly recommend Zakopane, though. No, really. Look at this:

C'mon, how quaint and inviting does this look?

“Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.” Kurt Vonnegut

So, a Dutchman and a Prairie girl walk into a bistro…

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Where: Mount Maunganui, New Zealand

Those Kiwis love the Mount! They honour it with beer. As all good things should be...

Plate of Food: I went on a – wait for it – DATE with my husband while in New Zealand this past month. And to honour such a rare, special, no high-chairs/spilled drinks/bag of things to entertain the kidlets kind of a night we went to a wonderful restaurant, The Mount Bistro. You should not read the following on an empty stomach. Go have a cracker and come back. I’ll wait.

I told you in my last post about my menu-stoppers. As soon as I opened the menu at Mount Bistro, I saw PORK BELLY. Done. Menu shut. My dear friends, you will never, ever regret ordering pork belly. Ever.

This particular dish was deliciously composed: tender, succulent pork belly on a bed of julienned green apple, with pork crackling (Amen) and “cider pearls”. Say what? These were translucent beads of apple cider, much like caviar, that burst on your tongue to release their tart, fresh flavour. Oh, man. I don’t know what magic they are doing in the kitchen to make those pearls, but keep doing it!

My main course was salmon which although pleasant, it could not compare with my husband’s meal of rack of lamb. As we always do, we swapped a small portion of our meals so the other could taste it. (You do that, don’t you?) The unfortunate thing was that his was so much better than mine. I then spent the rest of the meal gazing longingly at his plate until he finally relinquished another lamb chop.

The rack of lamb was perfectly cooked and cut into individual thick chops. Alongside was a pea puree with a hint of wasabi, baby potatoes, shiitake mushrooms and spiced, roasted whole macadamia nuts. Everything on the plate had been prepared with such care and creativity. It was simply fantastic. Why didn’t I order that??

For dessert (because when you only go out once a decade, you need to maximize the experience) I did not hesitate to order another of my menu-stoppers: Crème brûlée. This dessert sent me into orbit with how gobsmacking good it was. My spoon tapped on the top and I swooned at the dense sound – the caramel was thick and golden. I broke through to the custard which was cool, smooth, and delicious. At the bottom of the ramekin were some hidden treasures of poached cherries and strawberries. Normally I’m a Crème brûlée purist, but these soft, sweet fruits were a welcome addition. I would eat this every day, for every meal…if elasticized pants weren’t so taboo.

If you are in New Zealand, go directly to Mount Bistro and order the pork belly, lamb and Crème brûlée. If you are not in NZ, don’t worry about the price of the plane ticket, this meal is completely worth it.

The Best: Walking up The Mount. Yup, believe it or not, Mount Maunganui has a mountain. It is actually an extinct volcano, now covered in dense bush, and it sits solidly at one end of the glorious beach. There is an easy walking path up to the summit which I have done a few times. It is not too demanding of a hike, but enough of an effort to warrant Eggs Benedict at one of the cafes after you come back down. You see how this works for me?

It is the view from the top that gets me every time. Stand facing the glittering blue ocean and on your right you see miles and miles of perfect white sand stretching off into the distance. The beach is sandwiched between grassy dunes and white frothy waves. There are the streets and houses all arranged in tidy blocks. Behind you is the bustling port and the quiet blue expanse of Pilot Bay. Off to your left is another peninsula reaching across to you, dark and shadowy with trees. Basically spin me in any direction and I am happy…well, don’t make me so dizzy that I fall off the top. Geez, take it easy.

From the peak of the Mount, with main Mount beach on the left and Pilot Bay on the right.

Story that needs to be told: There is no earthshaking story that comes out of my many visits to Mount Maunganui, but let’s just have a couple of humdingers…

  • A group of Dutchmen were dining at Mount Bistro that same night as us. They obviously had menu-stoppers too, but they were all on the WINE menu for they were heavily intoxicated. Their evening ended with one of them shouting and gesticulating to his fellow countrymen, then drunkenly swinging his arm directly into the face of the guy next to him and – get this – knocking one of his teeth out. The tooth and the mouth from whence it came were shown, with what could only be pride, to the staff of the restaurant. Photos were taken. Now, imagine if that had been how my night ended. Do you ever do that? Imagine the most embarrassing possible circumstance and then snicker…no? Just me then? What if I had delicately licked the last of my creme brulee from the spoon and then shrieked at Matt, “Who?! Me! Who, who, huh? Me! Me! Me!” (this is a direct translation of what the man was shouting. No joke). What if I had followed that eloquent gem with a backhanded slap across the face for not sharing more of his rack of lamb, then stumbled out the door, but not before veering dangerously into the plastic curtain wall of the patio (this, too, happened. I thought the whole place was coming down.)…? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time…
  • Years ago, we were enjoying an afternoon on the main beach at the Mount. The day was hot and sunny, and the water was so inviting. A girl from the Prairies, however, does not know what to do when faced with a wave. Cow tipping? Yes. A wave? No. So I was promptly knocked over by a wave and then dragged up onto the beach in a seated position by the force of the wave. This deposited approximately 3 tonnes of sand inside my bikini bottoms. Not wanting to be stranded up on the beach with what appeared to be an unfortunate bowel movement, I crab walked back into the surf (yes, I would have paid money to see that, too). I crouched in the sea and waited for the swirling waters to remove the grit from my nether regions. Ahem. Like I said, Prairie girl.

Rather let this be the image left on your mind after that little story...

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure.

There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”  Jawaharial Nehru

Where women glow and men plunder

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Where: Burleigh Heads, Queensland, Australia

This flag means that there are approximately 35 things in the water that can kill or maim you...or maybe I am making that up.

Plate of food: The morning we arrived we plunked ourselves down for a snack which swiftly turned into full-blown brunch when I saw the following menu item: Zucchini and Sweetcorn pancakes with bacon, asparagus and Hollandaise sauce.

There are certain foods that cause me to stop in my tracks and look no further on a menu. Bacon, asparagus and Hollandaise sauce are all menu-stoppers (so is pork belly…or rhubarb…or truffles…or salt & pepper squid – you get the idea). It was a culinary holy trinity.

The pancakes were golden and savoury, stacked high with slices of back bacon between them. The asparagus spears were balanced on top, perfectly cooked and vibrant green. The sauce was velvety and rich. I ate in complete rapture, not even disturbed by my son pouring salt on his blackberries. You’re 2! Throw caution and your blood pressure to the wind, my boy!

To elevate this meal to yet another level, I drank 2 large flat whites, which is the Antipodean way of saying milky coffees. Happiness on a plate. Happiness in a cup. This meal made me smile. And gain 3 lbs, but who cares?

The best: My, but this country has some fine beaches! It’s no surprise that an area known as Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast, Sunshine State, etc is going to have stunning beaches, but WOW! We stayed a few steps away from a beach that was clean, pristine, and so beautiful.

The water varied from bright blue to bottle green and formed perfect white waves that curled and crashed as if offering a tutorial to all the world’s waves on how to be outstanding. The sand was white and fine; it squeaked as you shuffled your feet. It was dotted with smooth, dark, round pebbles and shells that ranged from dusky pink to deep purple. The hunky skilled lifesavers jogged in groups along the beach while I tried to distance myself from my mania: my daughter obsessively collecting every blessed shell on the beach and my son shouting at the waves “IT”S A BIG ONE”. Huh? What kids?

In one direction was a headland that loomed over a collection of cafes that could fulfill my need for flat whites/good food. In the other direction was the pretty skyline of downtown Brisbane which I imagined as a ghost town because surely no one works when there is a beach nearby like this one.

Brisbane beckons in the distance, but I'm not going anywhere!

For all this loveliness, it must be said that it is my belief that you will die if you swim in Australian waters (please refer to sharks, jellyfish, poisonous fish, sting rays, rip currents, and – for fresh water – crocodiles). My first trip to this fine country involved me pouring over a book that outlined all of the deadly things in the water and on land in Australia (bad idea to let me loose in that bookstore). I have decided that you can only truly be free from harm if you are in the air. So, I don’t swim. But I LOVE the beaches!

Story that needs to be told: Sometimes crappy things happen when you travel.

Someone came into our holiday apartment while we were asleep and stole our things. I KNOW! Take a moment.

It was the 4th night of our stay. Matt had gone to bed while I stayed up late checking emails and critical celebrity gossip. At some point I felt uneasy and locked the patio door which led out to the communal garden area of the apartment complex. The kids had slept from 2:30 p.m due to sheer exhaustion and were still asleep. I brushed my teeth and settled into bed at 12:08 a.m (gotta love digital clocks burning the exact time on your memory).

At 12:20 I was just drifting gently towards sleep when I heard the patio door open. I lay perfectly still and listened intently. All I could think was that it was IMPOSSIBLE that the door opened because I had locked it. Then I heard the pile of coins we had left on the kitchen counter clinking together. Everything came rushing together into one pinpoint of panic.

I shook Matt hard. Twice. Then I whispered, “There’s someone in here” which is something you only want to hear while watching a horror film.

Matt launched out of bed and went down the passageway where he saw someone at the door holding our laptop and our backpack. His still-asleep brain struggled to make sense of the scene. The guy was so dumb/drugged up/hearing impaired that Matt walked right up to him and grabbed his arm. The intruder turned and screamed in such an animalistic and frightened way that, for a brief moment as I sat in bed with my heart in my throat, I thought that maybe it could be just a curious Australian marsupial who…managed…to open…a door. Like I said, it was a BRIEF moment.

Then I found myself propelled into the passageway by fear and I screamed because it seemed like a good way to make an entrance. Poor Matt thought that I was in danger behind him so he turned and the guy ran off, jumped the fence, and was gone.

That pinpoint of panic then exploded and crashed around, barreling through my veins and around the room. Not pretty.

Luckily the goon had dropped our laptop and backpack at the door as he fled, but we quickly took note of the other things missing: Matt’s wallet, a lot of a loose cash, and my watch. We also took note of things that he had strangely left behind: an iPad sitting on the couch, Matt’s watch, Matt’s phone. Did I mention that he was dumb?

The next few hours were a blur of phone calls, police reports, cancelled credit cards, cups of tea and more tears.

Matt found my watch outside on the grass. Thank you for sparkling in the moonlight. Thank you for having the eyesight of a fighter pilot.

After processing all of this over many days I have this to say:

  • I hate that little punk –  he was all of 16, Matt reckons – for being so brazen, for lacking in morals, for feeling so entitled, for scaring the crap out of us, for violating our space, for shattering our bubble of security, for walking right past my sweet babies’ little shoes by the door – heartless git.
  • It is cruelly ironic that we live in Rio de Janeiro where this kind of stuff is, dare I say, commonplace, but it happened to us while on vacation in suburban Australia.
  • We were complacent. We left all that stuff out on display on the countertop. Lesson learnt, but I still maintain that we were in a pretty low-risk area.
  • I ache with regret that when I locked the door the latch did not catch because the patio door was slightly misaligned on its tracks. Ah, I love the “What if” game…
  • We are so very grateful that he only got away with cards and cash. It’s a huge hassle, especially when there were cards from 4 different countries in the wallet, prompting the police officer to ask Matt if his name was Jason Bourne, but it is all replaceable. I shiver when I think that he was mere steps from our room, from our kidlets’ room. So grateful that he was dumb rather than aggressive.
  • This does not make me fearful of travel or of being in other countries. It makes me fearful of people. That’s a bit of a stinker because I know some people who are incredibly lovely, but it makes me wonder about what is happening in society. And, man, that is a slippery slope if you let yourself ponder the state of humanity. Give me 10 minutes and I am rashly deciding to homeschool, live in a bunker, trust no one, x-ray the mail, and have a royal taster suss out my food first. Wowzer.
  • Banks need to stop asking for the card number when you report a card stolen. Because I don’t know the card number. Because my card was stolen. Shall we go round one more time?
  • Doofus was wearing a hoody. I mean, can we get any more cliché? Is there not a young delinquent out there who dons something more unique or imaginative? Seriously, people, just because you are a deadbeat doesn’t mean fashion has to go out the window.
  • I feel no shame in hoping that this guy had to change his shorts when he got home. That kind of scream can set off a rapid chain of events that no sphincter can keep up with, y’know?

All this to say that we had a terrible fright, but we are all fine and feeling thankful more than anything else. I have nothing against Australians in general, except for the mandatory hatred of the Wallabies rugby team based on my husband’s rugby affiliation.

I think the sad truth is that this kind of thing can happen anywhere. So be vigilant, be careful, but keep traveling, keep looking people in the eye, keep enjoying the adventure. Just don’t wear a hoody, okay?

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey.” Barbara Hoffman

Who needs credit cards when this is out there?

Get ready for Blog Bonanza!

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Hello! How are you/the kids/the dog/the job/the weather? I hope it is all as it should be, but selfishly I hope you also need a wee escape from all that kids/dog/job/weather business. Because I am back, baby! And I have some posts up my sleeve and they will be coming at you at a pace never before seen: perhaps as many as, brace yourself, FOUR this week! I will be fueled solely by imported New Zealand wine and left-over Easter chocolate. I do this for you.

There are a few random items to attend to first:

  1. I managed to smuggle out 2 jars of Marmite from NZ, a nation in disbelief and despair in the midst of the Marmite Crisis. For those who don’t know, the Sanitarium factory in Christchurch that produces Marmite was damaged in an earthquake. Due to aftershocks and subsequent closure of the factory, there are no more Marmite supplies in the ENTIRE country. The shelves are bare. There is a Facebook page offering support to Marmite lovers. People are selling half-eaten slices of toast spread with Marmite on Ebay. It. Is. Bad. I only eat NZ Marmite because it is not as beefy as Bovril, not as sticky as British Marmite, and not as tangy as Vegemite. My ideal vehicle for Marmite is one slice of brown toast with avocado, sliced tomatoes and freshly ground pepper. I very nearly did not find any Marmite to replenish my supplies. My father-in-law found some in an airport duty-free shop and graciously bought me 2 jars.  This was a bigger deal than when I married his son.
  2. I discovered Feijoas. I am not sure how this delightful fruit escaped my palate during all of my time in NZ, but it had. No longer! I ate them fresh off a tree, I ate them with apple in a baked crumble, I drank them as a flavoured lemonade… I love their flavour which is part pear and part lemon, but wholly unique and complex. Gooood!
  3. In the past month, I’ve been on 12 flights, slept in 6 different beds and 3 airline seats, crossed 11 time zones and then crossed back again, and spent quality time in 7 airports in 4 different countries. Who said travel isn’t glamorous?! Oh, the people who do all of that with 2 children…Aw, shucks, who am I kidding? It is exhausting, but I love it and I feel privileged to do it. But now I need a nap.
Right! On we go! Thanks for checking back in after all this time. You would be justified in thinking that this blog should be called A Year of No Posts. So, let’s get traveling…