Review From The Cabin

A pattern of travel seems to be developing for me. Fortunately most of my journeys away from home are uneventful, but something generally complicates the trip home. The problem on my trip to France was the nasty ankle, knee and shoulder sprains I sustained the day before I was due to travel home. There as I wrote in my blog, miraculously total strangers materialized seemingly out of nowhere to hoist my suitcase onto trains, and up stairs for me.

On Monday morning I took a Rikki down to the Waterfront from 10-12 to pick up some gifts and then off to dance class at Camps Bay from 3-5. The weather has been almost unbearably hot. Reading about commuter chaos in Vancouver because of snow seems quite surreal. I think I prefer cold to heat because it is so much easier to warm up than to cool down.

As I have may have mentioned, I have been doing genealogy research and documentation for many years and one record type is gravestones. My brother asked me to photograph the stone of our father who had died 24 years ago, a decade after I had moved to Vancouver. So Barry, Carole and I stopped at the Pinelands Cemetery on our way to Muizenberg and I searched for the grave. We had been given the wrong location – it turned out the plot they gave us was the grave of one of his brothers – so we ended up spending a long time there.

This morning I had brunch at the Waterfront with an old friend, Majiec, and his wife, Sandra. I met Maciej about 40 years ago when he and Bob joined IBM. Shortly after we were married, I was still in med school and Bob was working as a chemical engineer when IBM SA advertised for new recruits. Bob ended up joining IBM in sales and Maciej became a systems engineer.

Today’s day time highlight other than a great chacha and samba dance class was lunch with two aunts, Essie and Rosaline, who were my mother’s first cousins, at the courtyard restaurant at Winchester Mansions on Beach Road, Sea Point . I caught up on the details of offspring and marriages for my family tree. My genealogy work sort of got put on hold for the pastg few years but I am slowly getting back to it.

Have you ever heard the term “load shedding?” I had not. It refers to the electrical utility, Eskom, switching off electricity to conserve energy. South Africa has a major energy crisis due to a combination of inadequate infrastructure and a growing population and economy. According to the newspapers and television reports the country spent billions on arms purchases and virtually nothing on expanding and modernizing the energy infrastructure, although well warned of a looming crisis. Actually while I was commenting scathingly to Michael about the problem he reminded me that California had a term for the same thing – rolling brownouts! I guess that would be politically incorrect usage here.
 

I arranged to meet Brin and Sherida downstairs at 7 am so we could drive out to the Boulders and then out to Muizenberg, to swim. Sherida’s mom, Olive, who helps with her in her clothing shop, came along too. We are all cryptic crossword puzzle nuts!

The morning started off with another unpredictable Rikki ride to dance class at 9 am. After it took twenty minutes and several dropped cellphone calls to get through to the dispatch, I was told “ the cab will be there in 4 minutes!”. Ha! So even though I know by now that 4 minutes could be anything from 10 to 20 minutes I rushed like mad to get downstairs. The cab actually arrived in about 8 minutes. Then we went on a majorly circuitous route that got me to the Scout Hall with about 10 minutes to spare.

My morning got off to a slightly slower start than usual as my dance classes were scheduled for 3 to 5 at the Camps Bay Bowling Club. I was picked up at 11 by my cousin, Sandra, and she suggested we visit the Rhodes Memorial area which has a magnificent view of the city- and have lunch at the restaurant there. We sat at a table under the trees, at the edge of the mountain side and caught up on a decade of news.

I realize that most of my photos involve people sitting round a table ready to eat. Or else beaches and mountains. More coming.

Maybe it was just the heat but I was not very impressed with any of the wines that I tasted today. I found the white wines, mainly sauvignon blanc and chenin blancs very thin for want of a better word and I am not much of a red wine drinker. So after the second tasting we decided to go back to Sea Point for a rest and shower before driving back to Stellenbosch to Moyo, the restaurant at Spiers.

The heat here has been unrelenting with highs over 35 degrees. Fortunately the humidity is not too bad. We had planned to drive out to wine country for some tastings and Carole had booked for dinner at Moyo, an African restaurant at Speirs, one of the large wine farms near Stellenbosch. So the idea was to drive out in the morning and visit a number of wineries before dinner. But in view of the extreme heat we decided that we would drive back into town to shower and change before going out for dinner.

Not much to report other than the heat. Although my dance class started at nine it was already hot. Had a great class- worked on rumba, samba and foxtrot and really felt I was making progress.

That evening I asked Barry and Carole to join me at another dinner theatre show downtown. The venue was a club called On Broadway. It’s a long room with a row of tables on a raised dais lining each long wall and many more tables in the central well of the room. We were about three tables back from the raised stage and had an excellent view. The show was called “Strictly Come Jazz”, a play on the title of “Strictly Come Dancing” which is the UK and SA version of our “Dancing with the Stars”.

On his way to work, Barry dropped me off at the Scout Hall for my dance class at 9. I was sitting on a bench trying to figure out the cell phone Carole had loaned me when Edwin arrived. He gave me a strict warning about never using the cell phone in the street or in an exposed environment. Apparently it is a very common occurrence that phones will be snatched out of one’s hands. Nice. And I was just beginning to feel a greater sense of security.

Caught a Rikki out to Orange Street for my dance lesson at nine. Brin took a day off work and picked me up at the hall. Two hours of very vigorous dance ending with jive, in the Cape Town heat - and I thought I really needed a shower to cool down and re-energise. So after a stop over at the flat we headed back into town to visit the newly enhanced South African Jewish Museum, and the Holocaust Centre. Amidst the photos and documentation of that awful stage of history, what sticks indelibly in the memory are the first hand testimonials of survivors, recorded on video.

So apparently one of the things one MUST do as a tourist in Cape Town at the moment is go to Madame Zingara’s. Newly relocated in a huge tent near the Canal Walk area, this is dinner and a circus-like entertainment. The original restaurant gained fame for its signature dish of Chocolate Chilli Steak. I must say I had my doubts- the combination of chocolate and steak is not something I would routinely fry up at home.

Headlines in this evening’s paper are about a failure of the cable car that takes people to the top of Table Mountain. It seems that, following a power failure, the cars got stuck and it took hours or so to get them moving again.

Time is speeding by – I have already been here 6 days. I decided to take some quiet time so Barry and Carole headed off to work this morning and I sat down with my coffee and my PDA phone list to try to contact old friends who I have not seen for a decade. But before that I finally managed to get through to BA at Cape Town airport, who did not seem at all surprised by my tale of suitcase theft. In fact they have a section for “pilfered” luggage! Sad isn’t it. I wonder if the same thing exists at YVR and Heathrow. Its just that the items stolen were so petty!

Barry and I were out on the beach front just before 8 this morning. It was the perfect temperature, warm but not humid, sea breeze. We passed joggers, walkers and people walking their dogs. The sea was that deep violet blue, almost black, that brings to mind Homer’s “wine-red sea” and the surf was crashing against the rocks. We just don’t get that sound of crashing waves in False Creek.

Barry and I were up and off for our beach walk at Langebaan quite early this morning. The wind was not quite as strong morning but for the first part of the walk along the water’s edge the wind was in our faces. There is something about the tang of sea air that is not like any other wind. Maybe it raises vestigial memories of the waters our progenitors emerged from millions of years ago. Have I got my time frame right? I know it’s not 6,000 years – oops, no sarcasm, this is a travelblogue not a polemic on evolution and intelligent design. Anyway for whatever reason, wind blowing off the sea is specially invigorating.

Ok I have here neither my copy of Lear nor access to Google but I think that was how he began his rant - sort of. Suffice it to say that the wind on the west cost howls like a banshee. Undeterred however, Barry and I set out early to walk down to the beach and had a brisk invigorating stroll (hmmm… can you stroll briskly? Oxymoron? Oh whatever) - a brisk invigorating stroll along the seemingly endless white sand. It was packed quite firm – a nice smooth hard surface – like a dance floor. Maybe tomorrow my IPOD will accompany me and I can get a nice workout on the beach.

Good Hope Seminary was the all girls high school I attended for my last two years before matriculation. I was sent to boarding school in standard 9 (the equivalent of grade 11) by my exasperated parents in the hopes that I would forget about being a social butterfly – well I was wild about dancing even then – and once again become the academic star I was before I discovered boys! It worked. There was really nothing else to do at boarding school but study, so during my sojourn at Good Hope my grades improved so much that I made it into UCT Medical School.

After a long walk on the white sand beach, occasionally letting tiny icy wavelets ripple over our bare feet, we met up with surfer dude and headed off to Jimmy’s Restaurant for an excellent lunch. I had grilled calamari and shrimp, and I confess – the chips/fries that were cooked to perfection. SA knows its chips!

Emerging from Customs into the warm slightly humid Cape air, I wondered how I would feel. My first visit to the place of my earliest memories, in almost 10 years  and the first time returning alone to Cape Town. Would there be a sense of returning home? Probably no. Vancouver has been home for a long time now.

Headed down for a leisurely breakfast (continental included in the room fee). The staff are from everywhere but England – Polish, Russian, Middle Eastern, African.- and very pleasant and efficient. Its not a bad breakfast and the coffee is vastly improved from the last time I stayed here. It’s buffet style. For an extra 6 pounds or so you can have the egg/bacon stuff but the buffet was more than adequate. They had a good plain low fat yogurt, excellent fruit salad than was not all just melons, good cheese selection, and really good croissants and breads.

It was quite interesting to compare the configurations of the seating in Club world with the newly configured seating in the AC Executive Class. Both have seats that recline to fully horizontal and for a petite frame they are quite a comfortable length. While AC has chosen to incline the personal spaces in parallel, BA alternates them sort of like a yin and yang arrangement.

It will be really interesting to see how the Vancouver Airport-downtown line alters passenger patterns. My transport here from downtown London to Heathrow was really smooth. Taxi arrived promptly at the hotel at the exact time it was ordered. The drive to Paddington took not much more than 16 minutes although the lady cabbie warned that the rain and the traffic may make it take longer.

Having carefully observed the changing street names I made my way back to the hotel in a record 25 minutes. Part of the reason was that it was really cold and despite my hoodie, the wind made my head ache – like eating ice cream or drinking really cold water too fast!

Turns out that when they said 12 to 12 they actually meant noon to noon not midnight to midnight.

Woke at the very respectable hour of 8 am (maybe my jetlag plan is working) to the sound of wind driving rain against the window. My breakfast assignment was for 9:40 so I took my time getting dressed while working through the mechanics of signing up for wifi internet service from my room. The cost is horrendous but then London is extraordinarily expensive – more later about that! They charge 6 pounds an hour or 15 pounds for 24 hours but the 24 hours runs only from 12 to 12.

I decided to pick up some fruit and go back to the hotel before heading out to the show so called in at Sainsbury to pick up oranges and nuts - loading up on vitamin C and E. On my way I stopped at the Wyndham and picked up a ticket for The History Boys for Monday night.

I am impressed. We went into a holding pattern around Heathrow but still landed almost on time. For about ten minutes we circled around. I could see the green crazy patchwork of fields and hedges, like a jigsaw puzzle without any of the round protruding pieces. I had one of those pink fast track folders so went through immigration in about two minutes, my suitcase was out in about five minutes and I was heading down the ramp to catch the Heathrow express which takes you into London in 15 minutes. Cost about 29 pounds for a return ticket. – actually why am I impressed? - that’s about 62 dollars, not cheap.

Packed, downstairs, and chatting to my neighbours while waiting for the cab at 3 pm, I was feeling much more relaxed than my usual bleary-eyed 6 am-to-the-airport-self. The flights to Europe usually seem to be late afternoon so theoretically one should sleep for the nine hours and arrive refreshed and happy, thinking how wonderful the trip was, and book again with the airline for your next trip. Ah, but what about those of us who don’t sleep easily on planes?

As my once excellent memory now needs regular tune-ups and then still does not work too well, I found that checking some information from my last blog of travel to London and France came in quite helpful. I decided it was worth making a few notes for future travel.

It is a few days before I leave to visit London and Cape Town. This trip I decided to be very organized- no frantic packing at the last minute. So I made my list, checked it twice- and began to implement. First thing was to sort out travel arrangements to my hotel in London, and next to check out what shows are on in the West End.

On my way back, gazing skyward to admire some of the buildings, I heard an urgent "pardon, mademoiselle". Delighted at the "mademoiselle" bit, rather than madame – well, people have been saying I look years younger since I retired - I stopped abruptly, just in time to avoid a huge pile of something I did not want to step in. After thanking the men for the warning, I kept my eyes on the ground on the way back to the hotel.

Although to quote an oldie (song that is) "I enjoy being a girl", there are certainly times when I wish that testosterone was a little more evenly distributed between the sexes. Muscles are really useful for hefting heavy suitcases. Although I arrived with my unexpanded suitcase and really minimal clothes, thanks to some irresistible market temptations (brightly coloured provencal plates and tablecloths, and an incredible passion fruit vinegar among other things) my bag is expanded and heavy.

Six years of high school French and a “Learn to Speak French in only One Hour a Day” course on compact disc have not prepared me for the verbal challenge of investigating the booths set up at the Hazelnut Festival in the village of Lavelanet in the Midi-Pyrenees Region of southern France.

I wake this morning to a sky that is grey with the promise of rain. Before breakfast I walk outside and round the block to check if the café/bar is open yet. It is not. Today is a “day off” from the travel part of the course and time for us to focus on our writing. Sydney and Stephanie decide to go for a long hike. I decide to write.

The sudden banging of a wooden shutter somewhere in the house wakes me at 4 am. The branches of the tall palm tree outside my window scratch at the surface of the glass as the wind drives them wildly up and down. The weather is changing. Wind and rain will punctuate our visit to le marche in Limoux today, in contrast to the sun that beat down on the dry soil of the vineyards at Brugairolles.

Today’s agenda was to visit two wineries at Brugairolles, 26 km from Carcassone, capital of the Languedoc-Rousillon region. We drove through Fanjeaux, a hilltop village, pausing briefly outside a Benedictine church to survey the surroundings. The Benedictines were the Catholic order that slaughtered the Cathars.

We are based in the tiny village of Leran which is located roughly midway between the larger towns of Mirepoix and Lavelanet, in the Ariège department of the Pyrénnées-Orientale region of France. It borders on the Languedoc Roussillon region and our food related adventures encompass travel in both these regions.

Although I love most foods there are a few that are on my hit list and I shudder at the thought of them. One is cilantro. Another is half of the entire group of legumes. Since accuracy is important to a nonfiction writer, I looked up legumes in the on line “Cook’s Thesaurus”. There a legume is defined as “plants that have pods with tidy rows of seeds inside. This category includes beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts”. For some bizarre reason, nature or nurture – don’t know, while I love peanuts and peas, beans and lentils are among my least favorite foods. Actually pea soup is also something I dislike. It’s something to do with texture, I suspect.

Today we visited the Chateau Abbey at Camon where Peter and Katie Lawton have created a welcoming environment and exquisitely decorated bedrooms in a restored 16th century Benedictine Abbey. Parts of the building date back to the 9th century. From a terrace there is a panoramic view of the green fields and trees of the surrounding valley.

After my somewhat traumatic day of travel yesterday I slept like a Jill-in-her-great-bed in Vancouver. In other words I was in bed by just before midnight, read for about half an hour and then I finally realized why people say out like a light. It was a toss-up whether I or the bedside light were out first.

I absolutely should not have sat back complacently in the comfortable Gatwick Express seats and thought how smoothly my travel has gone so far. For sure the little travel demons read my mind and said “aha – definitely time to stir things up”.

Of course, just as I have begun to feel comfortable moving around in my “hood”, it is time to leave. Some thoughts on departing from London today.

Of the major English Romantic poets I generally prefer the work of John Keats to that of Percy Shelley- but not when it comes to hairdryers. Think about it. When you are impatiently trying to brush and comb your wet hair into some semblance of dryness and order, what would you prefer?