travel

As I revisited my stories from my travelblogue on Food and Wine Writing in Languedoc-Roussillon 2006 to compile them into book form, I realized that it ended abruptly with no explanation of where the Kindness of Strangers post came from

A light Vancouver rainfall dripped from my umbrella as I crossed the street to enter the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. I was wishing I could be enjoying the blue skies, turquoise seas and white sand beaches of the islands of the Bahamas but no matter how many times I clicked the heels of my chic black boots together the grey sky of Vancouver was still shedding rain drops.

It's official - six months after spine fusion and I am back to normal. Well maybe even better than what passed for normal  for me before recurrent lower back pain morphed into incapacitating sciatica  - cured hopefully forever by the application of cutting edge (ooh  bad pun) spinal surgery.

Day 3 in  Chicago- July 2009  was the only free evening I had to see a play. Fortunately we were able to get two tickets to Up at the Steppenwolf theatre. The show time was early - 7:30 - and my friend was driving in after work, so I would be dining alone. I decided to see if I could get a table at BOKA, across the street  and a little up (no pun intended) from the theatre. After an excellent dinner the night before at  Perennial, their sister restaurant  I had checked out the BOKA  web site and the menu of executive chef, Giuseppe Tentori, looked great.  

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of  yogurt, homemade granola and berries, with coffee brewed in a very impressive looking Miele Coffee maker, and set off early on our explorations. First stop was McCormick Place, the largest convention centre in North America. This was the main site of the conference, although meetings and events were also scheduled in several of the downtown hotels. I had pre-registered but wanted to pick up my registration materials and programs to check out times and places of the events I planned to attend. 

Chicago is one of my favorite US cities to visit - a feast for the eyes, the heart and the mind.  Stunning architecture and man-made green spaces complement  the natural beauty that comes from its location on the south-west shore of Lake Michigan.  As I wrote on my last visit to the city in 2006, Chicago has a  theatre scene that rivals New York or London - (Why Chicago dominates American Theatre, Part I  and Part II) - and it is also a paradise for foodies. Reluctant as I was to leave Vancouver at this glorious time of year, I was anticipating my five day trip to Chicago with excitement. 

It is always great when you can get a recommendation for great food from a local resident. One of the ports of call on my recent  West Coast Ballroom Dancing Cruise was Astoria, Oregon. Rather than an organized tour, at this stop  I chose to take a drive with some new friends down the South Oregon coast to Tillamook.

It is six am on a bright California morning. Tomorrow my family will drive me up to the cruise ship terminal at San Pedro where I will embark on the Sapphire Princess for a seven night cruise from Los Angeles to Vancouver. With shore excursions for winery tasting and a gourmet food and wine tour in San Francisco, this cruise promises to provide most of my favorite activities - fine supping, great sipping and a different travel experience. But here is the number one reason I decided to try it - Ballroom dancing.

Xcaret (which means small inlet in Mayan) was once an important port for the Yucatan Peninsula and also served as a Mayan ceremonial centre. Today it has been developed into an aquatic recreational park where you can float down underground rivers, swim and snorkel in pools and lagoons, and see turtles, dolphins and even sharks up close and personal. While one can drive to the park and just pay the admission fee, from the hotels it makes sense to sign up for one of the tours which gets you ground transportation in an air conditioned bus and admission to the park.  For US$110 we took the XCaret Plus package which also includes a buffet lunch at one of the many restaurants, a locker, snorkeling gear and a towel.

This will be the index of postings to the Travelblogue that documents my visit to London and Cape Town. The nature of blogging results in the latest posting appearing first on screen, so that later events appear first. This Travelblogue index will list the postings in chronological order from leaving Vancouver to the termination of the trip, as a guide to your reading. Until the index is complete note that the story commences with this post.
 

As I planned this trip I really did not know what to expect in terms of my emotional reactions. The thought of returning alone to Cape Town, ten years after my last visit there with Bob, engendered a real concern that I would find the experience very painful. And perhaps because of that, uncharacteristically I did not do my usual meticulous preparations, bring my family research files, make lists of people to see, and things to do.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Being away for nearly a month, I was concerned about keeping up my level of fitness and not putting on weight – what with no gym, no dance classes, and having to try all the new and exciting restaurants in Cape Town . I was also concerned about withdrawal symptoms from my growing dance addiction. So being a trained researcher and all that, I used the Internet back in Vancouver , to find a dance instructor in Cape Town who taught international dancing. I found someone that sounded promising and gave Brin his cell phone number.

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!

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.

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 a surprisingly chilly Sunday evening in Southern California, one of the brighter spots of the Oscar show was the performance of Jack Black, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly (my favorite - didn't you love Mr Cellophane in Chicago?) bemoaning the fact that dramas usually win out over comedies for Oscar nominations. That got me thinking yet again about comedy and humour.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

LONDON: England: The difficulty I had with Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" when I first studied it about five years ago was not resolved when I saw a Vancouver production that same year, and today's production at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre in fact exacerbated the problem.

With nothing special planned till this evening when I go to see “A Voyage round my Father at the Wyndham’s Theatre, some more sightseeing was in order. With a limited amount of time, I thought I would take a tour and see where I wanted to spend my last free day in London tomorrow.

The first English class I took when I went back to do my BA at UBC five years ago was a six-credit evening course on Shakespeare. So naturally one of the to-dos on my list for London was to see the recreated Globe Theatre. I decided to catch a Wednesday matinee of Antony and Cleopatra, one of the twelve plays and numerous poems I actually studied for my class.

Just to clarify. This column is not about rabble rousing, greenhouse gases or salacious sex but I will get to the hot beds later. The column is however about something that has perplexed me since I last stayed in an English hotel, in Hull more than eight years ago. The question goes something like this...

LONDON: England: Voyage round my Father" is an autobiographical play by John Mortimer, English barrister turned prolific novelist and playwright, and probably best known for the books and TV series "Rumpole of the Bailey". I really did not know what to expect but was interested to see that the audience was significantly different in age from that at the two previous productions that I saw.

In that strange unpredictable mix of physiological traits that our genes produce for everyone there are positives and negatives. In my case my hair resolutely refuses to do the usual ageing thing and go grey or white. Instead it sends out tiny silver threads every now and again so in certain lighting it looks as though I have very subtle highlights. Saved me a fortune in hairdresser bills. That’s a positive.

Despite seemingly endless procrastination about getting organized for the trip and despite many welcome phone interruptions, here I am in the Air Canada Lounge more than two and a half hours before the flight. And in answer to those who habitually have to grab the tail of the plane as it is lifting off and who tease me about getting to the airport days before the flight crew, I say “well guess who has time to make a real head start on her travelogue (or travelblog, if you will).”

Does anyone actually get packed and organized days before they are due to leave on a trip? Somehow each time I vow I will plan more efficiently and then I find myself scrambling at the last minute to get everything finished.