Monthly Archives: August 2013

The power of a picnic

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SA Snapshot 

*I am slowly sharing snapshots from my trip to South Africa. If you want to linger over your cup of tea, you can read other posts about The Kitchen or Root 44 Market.

There is a place in South Africa that I can’t get out of my head. I thought the best way to tackle this problem was to tell you about it so that it plagues you, too. You’re welcome.

Gardens

Tucked away in the Cape Winelands, down a broad tree-lined avenue, is the sprawling estate belonging to Vergelegen Wines. We intended to eat lunch at their acclaimed restaurant, The Stables, but it was fully booked. The fact that we had neglected to make a reservation only briefly registered on the guard’s face at the estate gates before his professionalism took over and he warmly invited us to enjoy a picnic instead.

Heading off to pick up a picnic basket, we felt like we were settling for a distinctly “second choice” lunch option. With the kidlets in tow, though, perhaps eating sandwiches on the grass was the best we could hope for….Turns out that the best we could hope for was WAY better than we expected.

View

Our picnic basket was expertly loaded up with fresh gourmet food while we chose a bottle of wine from the vineyard’s list. Already this picnic was looking much better….

I was eyeing a patch of grass nearby, considering it for our picnic, but before I could sit down, a lovely woman offered to lead us to our lunch spot. She guided us a short distance into a forest of elegant Camphor trees where we came upon – a table! And chairs! And a wine holder! Picnics be praised!

Camphor trees

As she dressed the table with linens, cutlery, and parcels of food, we gazed around at the magical woodland: trees towered above us, wide pathways led off in different directions, autumn leaves carpeted the ground, and interspersed through these enchanted woods were tables and chairs for picnicking – Vergelegen style.

Picnic

As I sipped my wine in these fairytale surroundings, I changed my entire opinion of picnics. This was no “second choice”; this was, most definitely, the first and best choice.

I could have wept with joy at how Vergelegen got so many things so very right: the food, the service, the stunning grounds, the wine…. Instead of weeping I just swore that I would be back to do it all over again. Until then, a few love letters to Vergelegen:

Thank you for infusing your cream cheese with truffles to create a spread fit for woodland Gods.

Thank you for hiding my kidlets’ desserts in a tree stump and giving them a treasure map to find it. I’m thinking of doing that for all of their meals….

Thank you for packing Coronation Chicken in our picnic basket. It is an undervalued lunch dish; but chicken, curry, apple, and raisins are all good in my books.

Thank you for protecting trees that were planted in the 1700s. Jeepers, what a treasure.

Thank you for an experience that made me feel like all was right in the world.

Tree

“Pleasant it was, when woods were green,
And winds were soft and low,
To lie amid some sylvan scene…”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Time flies when you’re…wrong

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Where: Iguazú Falls, Argentina

Iguazu

Plate of food: The breakfast buffet at our hotel was a huge affair including tropical fruit, smoked salmon, caramel crepes, and even a diet section which as far as I could tell consisted of apples, turkey, and non-fat yoghurt. The way I felt when I looked at that section of the buffet is strangely the same way I feel about diets in general: nauseated and cranky.

I discovered a traditional section of the buffet full of earthen ware pots with the most delicious smells wafting out of them.

One item was puchero which is a rustic meat stew with as many variations as there are people in Argentina. This one contained tender pieces of beef in a thick gravy with peppers and onions. It was served with a homemade pasta/dumpling dish (very similar to “knepfle“, if that helps at all!). Never have I had a heartier start to my day, or tastier for that matter.

Hotel view

Plus, it went surprisingly well with a Mimosa.

If you can pour yourself a glass of orange juice at a buffet without topping it up with the bubbly conveniently sitting on ice, then you are a better person than I am. I, however, am completely content being lesser than because, guess what, I get a Mimosa out of this deal.

The Best: Those gosh-darn waterfalls. Criminy, they will take your breath away.

Falls

Iguazú Falls are shared by Brazil and Argentina. They span 3km and are split into many drops – the most dramatic being The Devil’s Throat (there could be no better name, could there?).

Devil's Throat

There was something so powerful and exhilirating about walking through dense jungle with butterflies and birds flitting around, hearing the rush of water get louder, until finally you are standing on the edge of a thundering waterfall with spray on your face and your heart in your throat.

It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever laid eyes on. Truly magical.

Thundering

Story that needs to be told: I feel as though this trip highlighted a few reasons why I should not be dispensing travel tips…

Firstly, we functioned in our own time zone for the majority of our trip. I don’t mean that we ditched our watches and consciously decided it’s “holiday time”, I mean that 4 adults all remained totally unaware of the fact that we had crossed into another time zone.

This had a number of repercussions: we were confounded as to why the dining room was never open on time, we marveled at how quiet the breakfast buffet was, and we cursed the tardiness of the jungle train with its complete disregard for the schedule.

It was on our final day that the time warp was corrected, and days of mysteries were suddenly solved: “Oh! So, that’s why….”

Webs

Secondly, we naively had no Argentinian pesos on us when we arrived at the national park gates…in our hideous rental van…in the middle of the night.  The guards helpfully directed us to a cash machine at the main gates. But when they said ‘cash machine’ they meant a small windowless hut on the edge of a dense, looming jungle. Not surprisingly it was not working because, well, that whole JUNGLE thing.

We were then led to the “commercial hub” of the park where there are small shops and restaurants, and supposedly access to another cash machine.

I will tell you this: there are fewer things more butt-clenchingly fearsome than your husband and your father-in-law walking off into the darkness of a deserted national park with two armed guards.

Fact.

They were gone a long time. Long enough for me to listen to the entire nocturnal repetoire of the jungle creatures. Long enough that the kidlets started softly snoring. Long enough that I decided pesos were the LEAST of our worries.

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And, then, out of a darkness so deep it looked tangible, came our men and the guards. Breathe a sigh of relief with me.

You know, come to think of it, maybe they weren’t gone so long after all….we cannot be relied upon for proper time keeping.

“Adventure is worthwhile.” – Aristotle

Friday Photos

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Hellooooo! Sorry for disappearing on you for the month of July. I was in Canada with my lovely family, and although I ALWAYS think I will have heaps of time to blog, I never, ever do because the choice between typing something worth reading and having a cup of tea with my sister is an easy one. Needless to say, there were many cups of tea consumed (thanks to the delightful DAVIDsTEA).

Other than being very well hydrated, I also did many other wonderful things in Canada, and I will endeavour to share those with you as long as you all agree that Canada is the loveliest country in the world (and one which puts a ‘U’ in endeavour).

I’m kidding! (But, seriously, LOVELIEST.)

To whet your appetite for all things Canadian, here are some photos of the incredible Alberta skies. They will wow you, even more so when I say that I have done nothing to amp up the colours – all credit goes to Mother Nature herself.

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“…up north it’s saddle broncs and it’s hockey and honkytonks…
And he may go to Hell or even Vancouver
He’ll always be Alberta’s child”

“Alberta’s Child” by Ian Tyson