Christmas and New Year in South Africa

I have been so busy the last few weeks that I have not been able to find time to write some planned posts. Covering Christmas and New Year in special posts this late in January starts to feel a bit sad so I will just do a quick review of the holidays.

This year it felt like Christmas was shorter than usual and I struggled to get into the mood. Part of the reason is that I only focused on planning for Christmas after the trip to Dubai which meant less time for Christmas shopping.  Actually I did a lot more online shopping this year.  Also with IT Guy scheduled to arrive just after Christmas I was more focused on that date.  There were also a few job deadlines in December.  Enjoying a work Christmas function is interesting when you have decided it is past time to move on. 

I am sure many of my Northern Hemisphere readers will struggle with the idea of Christmas in summer.  Regardless of the heat, my family, like many others has a big meal on Christmas Day. Having said that the heat does mean we have the option of doing some of our food on the braai (BBQ).

Everyone who attends contributes food.  This year we had gammon, turkey and beef.  There were two types of potato and two types of gravy.  My sister also makes a lovely pumpkin pie and while we eat it as part of the main meal some might think it is more suitable for dessert.  This year the weather was good so we ate on the patio, spent most of the day in the garden and even swam a few times.  

The weather on New Year’s Eve was warm and sunny.  (Last year it rained.) So IT Guy suggested a trip up Table Mountain.  He has been wanting to go for a while because he really enjoyed our previous visit. He expected to be quiet because it was New Year’s Eve but of course with such good weather the mountain was very busy.  We avoided the worst of the queues up by going in the afternoon.

People queuing to go up Table Mountain

We had a walk around the top of the mountain and were appalled by the amount of litter people left.  I really can’t understand why people would travel to a place of outstanding natural beauty and think it is OK to leave drinks cans on the rocks. We stayed up to watch the sunset and caught one of the last cable cars down.

We got home in time to make a brief appearance and my neighbor’s house party. It was a lovely evening for sitting in the garden with a few drinks until midnight. Although it was busy at times I really enjoyed Christmas and New Year.

A Desert Safari

After the excitement of the Grand Prix we managed a few quiet days. Our next big adventure was a Dubai desert safari experience. Other than shopping this is one of the most common tourist activities in Dubai.

According to the travel websites there are a range of options but broadly speaking the more you pay the more you get. The more expensive trips even include gold-colored vehicles, it seems that matters to some people. IT Guy picked one of the bigger Dubai desert safari tour operators because regularly seeing their vehicles around Dubai gave him confidence the company was reputable.

IT Guy had arranged pick up at a hotel near where he lives. Of course bad timing with laundry meant we were watching the washing machine timer when we should have been catching a taxi. This meant a mad dash to the hotel and then of course we sat for 20 mins waiting for our car to arrive.

Our first stop inside the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve was a falconry display and I was amused to learn that the the falconer was South African. Near the end of the display the falcon settled on the dune and I think the falconer starting to worry about getting his bird back, fortunately she returned.

This was followed by dune bashing. For me it was the highlight of the trip but near the end IT Guy was struggling with car sickness. At least one of the vehicles had to stop. Fortunately for IT Guy we soon stopped to watch the sunset.

A picture of cars driving through the dunes
A picture of the sun setting over the dunes

Then onto a Bedouin-style camp. We had our photos taken with a falcons. We also tried out the sandboarding although halfway up the dune I remembered how difficult sand is to walk in, and was regretting my decision. Sadly I can’t say the sandboarding down was worth the effort for me. We also had a short camel ride.

Once we got inside the camp we had just enough time to get a drink and then the starters were served. We found a nice spot around a fire and settled to enjoy our food and drinks. Our package included drinks so there were regular trips to the bar.

After we had eaten we both got henna tattoos. I was impressed at the speed with which the lady was able to draw a delicate pattern on my hand.  Then we watched the end of the belly dancing. Once that was finished, the lights were turned out for 5 mins. A sad reflection of modern technology is that most people turned on their cell phone flashes which I felt spoilt the moment.

There were element of the trip that were very touristy. Still that is expected. Overall I really enjoyed the desert safari and I would recommend going if you visit Dubai.

Soaking up the Atmosphere at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

One of the nice things about the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, at the Yas Marina Circuit, is that you can buy tickets which cover a wide range of events.  We got a package that covered the 4 days starting with the Pit Lane Walk which meant we could see the cars up close.

After the Pit Lane Walk we headed for the beer garden for a drink and to enjoy the atmosphere.  We managed to find some food although being late in the day our choices were somewhat limited.  Still there was a really good atmosphere with everyone enjoying themselves.  At some point some of the drivers were signing autographs.

Chilling at the Yas Marina Circuit
Driver Autograph signing

Every evening there is an after race concert starting with Post Malone.  So after eating we headed back to the bus stop to catch a bus to the Du Arena.  We did stopping to get some photos with formula 2 cars.  We got to the Arean there shortly after 6 pm when the gates opened so while the stadium was starting to fill we had to wait till 8 pm for the concert to start.  The first part was a DJ.  I guess we were showing our age because we decided it was way too loud and it was not worth waiting for Post Malone so we left.  Nonetheless the concert was very popular and I’m sure most people would have enjoyed it.

Grand Prix Concert at the Du Arena

On Friday we decided not to attend the F1 Grand Prix.  It was mostly practice races and we were not very interested in the after race concert.  IT Guy had some work to complete and I wanted to catch up on my sleep.  It turns out this was a good choice because security decided to close the gates early and so there were riots with people pushing and shoving so the gates were reopened.  I gather this kind of behavior in the UAE because the authorities are quick to clamp down on any trouble.

On Saturday we had planned to attend the qualifying race but we ended up watching IT Guy’s cricket team.  Then we headed for Abu Dhabi and it seems like everyone was in the Grand Prix spirit with a lot of fast cars and also crazy drivers with aspirations to drive racing cars.  We arrived in time for some Formula 2 racing.  I found it a nice warm up for the Grand Prix because it was a chance to get an idea of what it would be like watching fast cars go round the Yas Marina Circuit.  We quickly learned that there was a good view of one of the corners which was a good spot for overtaking so it was interesting to see which car would come out of the corner first.

Then we headed for the concert area.  Sam Smith was performing and IT Guy was very keen to watch him live.  I enjoyed the concert but I think IT Guy was a bit disappointed because he did not perform all of his best songs and did a lot of talking.

Overall I enjoyed the Grand Prix concerts and the atmosphere.  Even if you are not interested in watching the F1 racing there is still a lot to do and it can be lots of fun.

Paarl and Franshoek

We woke in Tulbagh to find that it had rained a lot in the night.  A pity because there are a few nice hiking routes in the area.  Still like most people in Cape Town I am not going to complain about rain.  We had seen a place in town advertising wine tasting so we decided to head there.  Sticking with the theme from the day before it was closed.

So we decided to head on our way.  Tulbagh is in a valley with a small pass to cross back over the mountain range we had crossed the day before.  Then it was a long straight road with the mountains on the left as we headed through Wellington and into Paarl.  And no, we didn’t feel the need to go to Paarl Mall again.

Instead we decided to head for the Spice Route which has a lot of craft places.  The things to do include wine tasting, spirit tasting, craft beer tasting and chocolate tasting.  We headed for the Barley and Biltong Emporium which I hadn’t been to before.  A great choice for a winters day because there was a fire burning and a spectacular view from the window (I never thought to take any photos.  I will blame the gin from the day before).  IT Guy ordered a platter of biltong and cheese, and some beer.  Biltong is a South African form of dried meat a bit like beef jerky but I believe much tastier.  We also visited the craft chocolate place.

Then we drove to Franshoek which can be translated as a French corner because this is where the French Huguenots settled after escaping persecution for their Protestant beliefs.  These days there is even a Bastille Day festival.  Franshoek is a very pretty town with lots of restaurants and wineries however large parts are very posh and pretentious.

We parked on the main street and went looking for some cake and coffee.  I picked a place based on the fact they claimed to have a chocolate mouse cake only they had sold out.  I had the baked cheesecake but it was a bit dry and heavy so I was rather disappointed.

After cake we continued walking down the high street and then decided to return on the back roads.  Part of the way back IT Guy noticed water running down one of the gutters.  We were curious because it had not rained so we decided to follow the water.  A little further up we noticed a lot of algae growing in the gutter suggesting a constant stream of water.  We followed the water back to the main road at which point the water disappeared underground and we could not follow it any further,  Perhaps someone reading this knows more about the origin of the water.

Then we headed for our guest house for the night.  It had a really nice balcony so we were able to sit outside with a glass of wine enjoying the view.  Then when it got dark we headed inside to watch a movie.  Afterwards we headed back into town for a quick, light meal although we didn’t pick the best restaurant for that.  Still we had a very nice day.

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Worcester, Ceres and Tulbagh

The morning after the chocolate festival we woke early.  We had been warned the night before that the power would be off for most of the day.  Typically just after it went off IT Guy realised his phone had not charged.  I felt bad because if I had known I would have put his phone on charge after mine was done.   

We headed to a nearby wine farm for breakfast.  Officially they had power because of solar panels but we could hear a generator running.  We had a nice cooked breakfast and booked a hotel for that night.  After breakfast we once again headed for Paarl Mall to get an in-car charger.  I have never felt the need for one.  Given that IT Guy’s phone often runs out of power at awkward times it did get me wondering if one reason guys need lots of gadgets, is because they are less organised.     

After shopping we got on the main road (N1) heading out of town and it wasn’t long before we reached the Huguenot Tunnel.  The Huguenot Tunnel goes through the Du Toitskloof Mountains and is 4 km in length.  It feels like a whole new world when you emerge from the other side.  More remote and chilled.

We headed for the town of Worcester which a farming town.  By this point I was getting tired and was hoping to find a nice coffee shop for a drink and to stretch my legs.  Of course being a Sunday virtually everywhere was closed.  Then I remembered the Karoo National Gardens on the outskirts of Worcester.  We got there to find the restaurant was closed and that there was a charge to get in.

Fortunately IT Guy had spotted a golf club on the way and suggested we stop there.  It is not somewhere I would have thought of but I figured it was worth a try.  It worked out really well because there were some lovely views, the the people were friendly and welcoming, and it was fun watching a people on the golf course. 

A view of the golf course in Worcester
Worcester Golf Course

We then headed for Ceres.  It is a lovely drive with beautiful scenery and mountains.  I had hoped to stop at a winery for some wine-tasting and maybe some food but of course they were all closed, such a contrast to the other side of the mountain.  In the end we stopped for lunch next to a place that does ziplining.  The zipline consists of 8 slides totaling 1.4 km down a mountain valley so the views are spectacular.  It was great to learn that IT Guy also enjoys this sort of thing.      

A view of the valley from the Ceres Zipline
Ceres Zipline

Then we headed for Tulbagh and our hotel for the night.  We have decided this was our favorite hotel so far.  We spent a few hours in the bar because they were showing the England cricket game that IT Guy had been following.  Fortunately for me the bar also stocked 19 different craft gins.  The food was also very tasty.  Chilling out in the hotel bar made a nice end to the day.

A glass of gin in the hotel bar in Tulbagh

The Chocolate Festival

Of course with so little notice of IT Guy’s arrival we did not have much time to make plans.

The first morning of his visit I needed to take care of a few work things before making some plans for his visit.  He was keen the Chocolate Festival in Stellenbosch and I found a Jazz Festival the following day so I suggested we spend a few days in the area. Normally I would aim to go to an event like the Chocolate festival when it opened but by the time we were ready to leave it was too late for that.  There there was a long queue to get into wine farm where the festival was being held.  I think we queued for about 20 mins to get parked.

Which of course meant that there were crowds everywhere including for the food vans as it was lunchtime when we arrived.  We headed for the building which housed the chocolate festival and after a bit of pushing and shoving we managed to get some chocolate covered strawberries from the fountain.  Then I had a cheese platter, it was very tasty but I would have liked more bread or crackers.  IT Guy had opted for a pie when we stopped for petrol, which seemed a bit wrong to me. Typical of many of these things there was not enough seating so we had to eat standing up.

We found a stand doing very nice gin cocktails based on various flavors of tonic.  There didn’t seem to be enough choice of chocolate to justify the title but maybe this was because I was already familiar with most of the brands (maybe I shouldn’t admit that) although I did find a very nice chocolate spread (without nuts) and some tasty chocolate.  So I ended up back at the chocolate fountain for a waffle.  Then we got some drinks and IT Guy found a table because the placed had started to empty a bit.  We sat for a while enjoying each other’s company, the good weather and the atmosphere.

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Our guest house was only about 10 mins away so we stopped there briefly to check in and they recommended Paarl Mall for some food.  After snacking on various things we were definitely in need of a decent meal.

It was lovely day and while this kind of festival can get a bit expensive I the weather and the atmosphere made for a very nice day.

 

Another visit from IT Guy

‘They gave us Thursday off so I took Sunday and Monday as well and my flight lands at 6pm tomorrow’ (Friday).

‘Wait you mean tomorrow?’

And so IT guy’s next visit to Cape Town in August was confirmed.

 

When we first talked about the next visit the idea was for me to go there.  Then he suggested that he was thinking of coming to Cape Town at the end of the month.  It seems there was a Muslim holiday at the end of August but the dates are only confirmed close to the time because it depends on the moon.  He was waiting to see what dates would be announced as holiday for private companies.

Typically this coincided with the deadline for an important project report.  I had sent the report to my boss for his comments on the Wednesday so I was waiting to see if he would require more changes.  On Friday morning the boss emailed to say the report was submitted so I figured it was safe to head out for an hour and sort some things for IT Guy’s visit.  Of course as soon as I left he called to say there was a problem with the submission and I ended up agreeing to sort it when I got home.

There were a few problems with the submission and for a while I thought that I was going to have to sort it on Monday.  I really didn’t want to be thinking of work after IT Guy arrived.  Just as I was stressing an email came through from my work colleague asking for stuff.  It wasn’t clear what she wanted and I started to stress about getting it done before leaving for the airport.  In the end I managed to submit the report and accept that I could not help my colleague.

It was later while I was at the airport waiting for IT Guy that I realised I always find some reason to stress before seeing IT Guy.  Perhaps some if it is down to seeing IT Guy.

It was a lovely evening so we decided to head for a collection of restaurants on the beachfront.  We went to a place that does good African food.  It turns out that the set menu special is not as good as the main menu.  It seems this is definitely one case where the reduced price reflects a reduced quality so the food was good but not great.  Apart from the food it was a really nice evening.  Great to be able to see each other again and have a proper face to face chat.

After a few stressful weeks and a very stressful day I was able to start to relax and enjoy some good company.

Heading back to Cape Town

Finally the last installment of IT Guy’s visit in June.  A combination of short posts and the time job hunting means it has taken a long time to cover this, long enough that there has been another visit from IT Guy in the meantime.

I realized when I started to write this post that the last post on this story ended rather abruptly.  No doubt because I was rather tired and stressed about my dental implant.  I briefly considered changing it, but I think picking up the story from where we left off is better.

After watching the movie we decided to head out and get some food.  I decided it was my best chance to get dressed up.  One thing I am finding with this long distance relationship is that it can be difficult to make time to get dressed uo to go out.  When he is here we are together all the time and this means we are generally out doing something during the day.  So by the evening we are tired and often go with a lazy meal solution.

We ended up going back to the same restaurant as the night before.  The food looked good, there was not a lot of choice at the hotel restaurant and there didn’t seem to be many other places.  While there was some life in the restaurant on the Friday night we were the only guests on the Saturday night.  I think we were also the only people in the hotel on the Saturday night.  I guess weekend visits to small South African farming towns is not common in the winter.  Plus there was rugby on so many people would have stayed home to braai (BBQ) and watch the game.

Most of the smaller farming towns are dominated by the Christian church.  You can generally find the down centre by following the church spire.  It also means that pretty much, unlike the bigger cities and towns, everything is closed on a Sunday.  So we decided to head slowly south and back to Cape Town.

Our first stop was Citrusdal.  Strangely enough this is a major area for growing oranges.  Also everything was closed.  We tried to stop at Die Sandveldhuisie which is described as a quirky little art house.  Certainly it looks very interesting from the outside but it was closed.

The next stop was a farm-stall.  This particular farm-stall was well recommended in a local travel magazine.  They do the most amazing light and fresh chocolate cake.  Then on to the winery we tried to visit a few days earlier.  This time we managed to do our wine and our wine and biltong (dried meat) pairing.  We also managed a tasty late lunch.  Then home where we chilled out in front of the cricket.  IT Guy really likes cricket.

Sadly the following day it was time for IT Guy to leave it was a rather sad and stressful day.  We had a really amazing time and looking back on the photos I can see how the relationship evolved over the week.  I have a photo of use together on his first full day in South Africa looking rather awkward together in comparison to the last few days where we were much more comfortable with each other.

So it seems that by the end of this holiday the relationship was going well and a good chanced to learn more about each other.

 

 

 

Paternoster and Clanwilliam

For the last part of IT Guys visit we decided to head north.  As far as I can remember I have never been to the Cederberg region but it sounded like it was worth a visit.   

Friday morning after a slow start we headed to the local shopping center so that IT Guy could get himself a woolly hat before setting out on a weekend away.  We decided to follow the coast road and stop in Paternoster for lunch.  The town is well known for seafood.  Something IT Guy struggles to get in Dubai.  Actually I think he is mostly wary of getting good seafood because of the heat.  I was told that you need to book in advance to be sure of getting a table.  As usual we did not make time to properly research the restaurants.  I figured that we should be able to get a table on the Friday lunchtime before the start of the winter school holidays.  

It turns out the place is so quiet that a lot of the restaurants are closed.  Fortunately we found one on the way in that was open.  It was part way up the hill so we had a lovely view of the sea.  After lunch we had a nice walk along the beach.  Paternoster is a very pretty town and I can see why people would go there for holidays but I’m not sure it would suit me as it seems the main activities are the beach and seafood.   

A view of Paternoster

Then on to Clanwilliam.  We stayed on the coastal road which was very pretty with plenty of holiday places.  Clanwilliam is a small farming town and the centre of the rooibos (redbush) tea industry.  By the time we arrived it was dark and I was tired.  After checking in we went to find the restaurant recommended by the hotel.    We weren’t very hungry having had a bit and late lunch so we just had dessert.   

The main tourist activities in the Clanwilliam-Cederberg area are hiking and other outdoor activities.  I even found a place where you could herd sheep.  We decided to visit the Sevilla Rock Art Trail which included driving over the very pretty PakHuis pass.  It was a 6 km walk over some rocky terrain which I enjoyed.  Also being winter it was very quiet and there were parts where it felt like we were miles from civilization.  Once we got back we stopped for a light lunch and a well-deserved drink at the farmstall where you can also buy the permits for the walk.     

On the way back we decided to extend our drive to check out the local dam.  You could see that while it was starting to refill the water levels were still very low.  It turns out there is not a lot to do in Clanwilliam on a Saturday afternoon.  One website mostly listed tea rooms but it was not that long since lunch.  Instead we went back to the hotel and managed to find a good movie.  After all the main point of the visit was to spend time together and chilling in front of a movie is a good way to spend a cold Saturday afternoon. 

Long distance communication challenges

I’m sure it is a common challenge developing good communication when you are in a long distance relationship.  Well any relationship really but some of these challenges are greater when you cannot see each other on a regular basis.

I recently had a good Skype conversation with IT Guy.  There were some connection problems and elements were rather chaotic but that kinda made it more fun and relaxed.  Particularly when he decided to show me his laptop only he had trouble opening it and had to investigate.  While it was great just watching him it was also very frustrating because I was not able to touch him or hug him.

There are so many difficulties finding time for a decent conversation.  There is a 2h time difference and the weekend in the Emirates is Friday and Saturday.  Things are often chaotic when I get home so I find that by the time things settle and I am ready to chat he is tired and heading for bed.

There are days when he is very quiet and it can be frustrating waiting for him to reply to a message.  Sometimes I start wondering if he really is committed to this relationship.  Wondering if it is too soon to focus my job search on Dubai.

What is a reasonable expectation for staying in touch and how does this fit with our particular situations?  After-all I can’t expect him to chat just because I am bored and I want to.  Do I really want to insist he stays home and chats on WhatsApp instead of joining friends for drinks?

Actually it is silences that I find the most difficult to deal with.  Especially those evenings he fails to say good night.  It is the not knowing that comes with silence.  It allows uncertainty to creep in.  This isn’t helped by the memory of other guys how have let me down recently.  Particularly Guy 0 who messaged less after he met someone else or the ghosting from Import-export guy.

In contrast IT Guy reappears after a short while.  Sometimes he apologies and explains if he has been quiet.  Phone batteries die, people fall asleep and guys can’t multi-task (certainly this one can’t).  Last week I just got regular cricket updates.  One evening he reappeared to say he had just ordered some books I told him about.  Various things he has said, including during the Skype, which have given me insight into why he sometimes struggles to chat on WhatsApp.

I have found a good strategy to cope when I start getting stressed by the silences.  I remind myself of the examples which show he cares and wants a future together.  He made the most of a trip to South Africa when he wanted to to go to Italy, asked for my input on an important decision, he cares what I think of some artwork wants. Sometimes the reminder is a simple as a picture of a nice restaurant in Tuscany,  The list is growing steadily.  ‘How is your day going?’ works well to understand the reason for the silence.

So while there are still challenges with communication, made more difficult by the distance, I believe we both want this to work.  Relationships take effort and I probably need to find a way of explaining that I would prefer ‘tough day, need sleep’ to no message.