Thursday, July 23, 2015

10 things I have never done:

I have never jumped from a dizzy height – think bungee jumping or parachuting... yeah, that’s NEVER going to happen!


That’s my crazy daughter right there^^ Ohmyshatterednerves…

I have never ridden a motorbike – I have ridden ON a motorbike - in my wild younger days (Note to Roxy and Paula – don’t EVER do something so stupid. Please. Just don’t.) but I have never actually ridden the thing myself.... and yeah, that’s NEVER going to happen!

I have never intentionally killed another mammal. And that is DEFINITELY never going to happen. I don’t eat my fellow mammals either. I find I am much more at peace now that I can look cows, sheep and pigs in the eye without guilt.... I totally do not understand why some people consider hunting, bull-fighting and that sort of thing enjoyable.




I haven’t been to the USA, South America, the Far East, Russia, Scandinavia or Australia and a number of other places in between. I certainly hope to tick those off my list one day.

I have never committed a crime. Well if you don’t count stealing a pecan nut from the Athenaeum tearoom when I was 11 years old ... and yes, I got caught and was gripped by the ear and escorted to the door of the establishment. I am clearly not cut out for a life of crime!

I have never done drugs of any sort. Nope, not even pot. I HATE not being in control, so the thought of being stoned scares me witless. Never going to happen!

I’ve never had a tattoo done. I have wrestled with this one on and off... I even have a Pinterest board dedicated to tattoos. I just have a really hard time committing to one.




I have never given birth naturally. Not because I’m “too posh to push”… I had great ideas of having a home-birth… was just never meant to be unfortunately.

I have never been scuba diving. Gosh no! The thought makes me claustrophobic! Never going to happen.




I have never voted for the ruling party ever. I have always been an opposition kind of gal :)

So, what haven't YOU done?


Monday, July 20, 2015

One day in Paris

So, what do you do when you have only one day to see Paris?

First up, let me say that, in all honesty, you can’t see Paris in a day.  You need at very least a weekend to sample the delights that Paris has to offer.  But sometimes a day is all you have, and you have a burning desire to see Paris…. So what do you do?  You go!  You definitely go!  

Rather see a teeny smidgen of Paris than nothing at all!  Such was the situation when we did a day-trip to Paris while on a trip to Europe in 2012.  Our family had been to Paris a couple of times before, but Paula’s boyfriend hadn’t ever been, we had a day free, so we decided to do a quick day-trip to Paris from London, so that he could have a taste of this magnificent city.  What follows is our itinerary for the day.

Note that I pre-purchased Paris Visite cards (travel cards that are valid on the metro and buses in Paris) as well as Batobus (ferry) tickets before we left home – when time is of the essence you do NOT want to be faffing with queueing and buying tickets.  We also had the map of our travels loaded into Grant’s smartphone – no time for getting lost on this very short trip.  I pre-planned every single detail of this trip - our time was very, very short and I knew that we could not afford to waste a minute, there was no time for indecision or debate!

We caught the Eurostar from St Pancras station in London, leaving at 7:00 and getting to Paris at 10:15.  We arrived at Gare du Nord train station and immediately caught the metro to the Trocadero stop. My reasoning here was that when you see the Eiffel tower for the first time, you want a stunning view of it – something that will make your jaw drop and that will stick in your mind forever – and in my opinion there is no better place for that view than the Trocadero.  (A sunny day would obviously have been infinitely better, but it wasn't to be. Oh well.)



Eiffel tower


From the Trocadero there is a path that leads through the gardens to the Pont d’Iena bridge which leads directly to the Eiffel Tower.   


Eiffel Tower
View of the Eiffel tower from the Pont d’Iena bridge
Time was too short to go up the Eiffel Tower, so we satisfied ourselves with a good look at it and loads of photos and we then made our way down to the nearby dock to catch a Batobus.  The Batobus is a water-taxi that runs on a circular route with 9 stops. 


Batobus


Batobus
Notice the panoramic windows, offering lovely views

I felt that travelling by Batobus was the best possible option with time being so short, as we got to enjoy panoramic views of the River Seine and surrounding buildings while being transported to the next point on our itinerary: Notre Dame. 


Notre Dame

Pont de l'Archeveche bridge
Lovers locks on the Pont de l'Archeveche bridge

We spent some time exploring the outside of Notre Dame (no time for a visit inside on this whirlwind itinerary) as well as the lovers’ locks on the Pont de l'Archeveche bridge before wandering down a little alley to find an authentic French lunch.  Croque Monsieur and French Onion soup were just the thing.

After lunch we made our way back to the Batobus and caught it as far as the Louvre.  We got out and walked over to the Louvre, where we took some photos – we decided against a visit inside.  (This is a toss up - if art is your thing, then it would probably be worth forgoing something to make time for a visit to the inside of the Louvre - it's a matter of priorities when your visit is short.)


The Louvre


We then wandered through the Tuilleries Gardens as far as the obelisk.  




We saw some cute little tuk-tuk vehicles and decided that we just HAD to catch one to the Arc de Triomphe.  It was so much fun haring up the Champs Elysee in a funny little tuk-tuk. (You see, as much as I like to plan our trips in detail, I'm all for a good dose of spontaneity too!)



Arc de Triomphe


We got out at the Arc, had a look around, marvelled at the crazy traffic circling the arch and then wandered a little way back down the Champs Elysee, ogling the fancy shops...and sports cars. 




We popped into a restaurant for a Berthillon ice-cream - something I'd wanted to try for years

Next we hopped on the metro to Blanche station in Montmartre.  I love Montmartre and personally feel that no trip to Paris – no matter how short – is complete without a visit. 

On exiting the metro, we walked over to the Moulin Rouge for a photo and then caught the “Little Train of Montmartre” to the Place du Teatre, where we wandered around, soaking in the decidedly French atmosphere.  


Moulin Rouge




Basilica of Sacre-Coeur


We took some photos of the view over Paris and the beautiful Basilica of Sacre-Coeur before catching the furnicular down to the Abessess area, where we had a fun dinner in a small restaurant, opting for a Plat du Jour - the menu of the day, with a choice of starter, main and dessert - it was lovely.  Finally we made our way to the "I love you" wall - a wall with the words "I love you" written in every conceivable language including Zulu and Afrikaans by the way :)



I love you wall


On that note, it was time to catch the metro back to Gare du Nord and the Eurostar back to London. 




We were exhausted, but very satisfied with our whirlwind visit to Paris.

As I said before, a day-trip to Paris is certainly not ideal, but the itinerary I have detailed here does pretty much tick all the boxes as regards “must-see” places and it definitely whets the appetite for a more detailed exploration.

Next time I will post our itinerary for a week-end trip to Paris.

Friday, July 17, 2015

5 on Friday

I love reading blogs, it's a bit of an obsession.  Because I follow a lot of blogs, I find it helps to use an app of sorts to organise and keep track of my favourite blogs.  I use Feedly and find it very user-friendly.  My feedly page is chock-full of blogs and I seem to continuously be adding yet more blogs to the list.

Today I thought I'd share the links to five blog posts that tickled my fancy this week.

This post on Angel's Mind - I've been following Angel's experiences as she raises guide dogs for several years now and it has been eye-opening, there is SO much more to it than you would think.

So this post is technically not something I saw this week, but I felt I had to include it, because I keep going back to this post to have another look.  This makeover on Maskcara.  As far as makeovers go, this one takes the cake.  Wow!  I have been following Kate's blog for ages and love her fresh, feminine look, but seeing the end result of the makeover, while not her usual look, it blew me away!

I love Clementine Creative, mainly because I am rather obsessed with stationery and she regularly posts free-printables.  This week she posted these cute chalkboard style tags, that I thought were adorable.

And finally I love this blog, where you can download the most gorgeous desktops each month, that I found through this fascinating blog written by a woman who is living in China for a year.

So there you have it, my bloggy finds for the week :)



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Travel Planning

Travel Planning

I love to travel, it is one of my very favourite things to do.  I get such a thrill from visiting new places and returning to old favourites, experiencing different cultures, tasting local foods, listening to foreign languages and seeing amazing landmarks.  It's the best!

I personally believe that half the fun of a trip lies in the planning and have been known to begin making plans 18 months in advance of the holiday!  Fortunately my family are more than happy to leave all the planning up to me, so I get to research and make plans...cancel plans...adjust plans... and generally immerse myself in all the details for months at a time.  I thrive on it! I do make sure to have regular "meetings" with the family about our plans, so that everyone is included and has a say in what we will be doing.

I have planned several overseas holidays and over the years have devised a system that really works for me, I thought I'd share a little about it on the blog today.  A word of warning - I can get very rather anal about planning, I prefer a trip that is planned down to the last detail, I know this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it's how I operate, so use it or lose it, I won't be offended :)

Spreadsheet

The first thing I do when we have decided to go on an overseas trip is to create a folder for that trip in Dropbox and I create a spreadsheet to go in that folder.  Typically my spreadsheet would have the following tabs: Itinerary, budget, savings, flights/rail, accommodation, excursions, visas, to do list and packing list.  I generally also create a tab for each city we will be visiting.  At this point we usually sit down as a family and decide exactly where we want to go and each family member usually gives me some idea of any particular things they would like to do etc and I take note of all these things.  

Itinerary

Then the fun part starts!  I research, spend loads of time on Google Maps and mess around on the internet for hours and hours, until I come up with a workable itinerary.  Below is a portion of our itinerary for our trip to the Med in 2014 (I blogged about it here)


vacation spreadsheet

Budget

I then work out a detailed budget and ensure that we can actually afford to do all the things I have dreamed up.  It's at this point that reality usually bites (and the exchange rate does me no favours!) and I have to tweak things and basically make it all work together.  When working out my budget, first up I will get a general idea of the price of flights, typically looking on Travelstart, the Emirates website and our local flight website.  I snip the relevant bits of information and add them to my "flight and rail" tab.  If we are cruising or doing a tour, I'll look online and get prices for those as well.  I also work out the logistics of how we are going to get from A to B.  We enjoy traveling by train from place to place, so I add those train trips into my budget too, as well as to the "flight and rail" tab.

Accommodation

Tied in with the budgeting is the choice of accommodation.  I rely heavily on Tripadvisor and Booking.com when planning our accommodation - I read lots of reviews on both sites to help me choose hotels that tick all the boxes i.e. they appeal to us, are ideally located and fall into our price range.  I have found some outstanding little boutique hotels this way - we way prefer small, characteristic hotels to the big chains. 

Excursions

A big chunk of our budget goes to excursions. Here again, it's a matter of personal preference, but we like to go on private (just our family) day-tours with local companies when we visit a city for the first time.  I do a lot of research into tours and tour-operators (again, I rely heavily on Tripadvisor) and have come to depend on some tried-and-trusted tour operators in the various countries we have visited.   If we are cruising (which is something we really enjoy) I also use the forums on CruiseCritic for pointers with regards to places to go and things to see.  I spend lots of time researching the places we are visiting, to establish what the "must-see" things are, before I book any excursions.  While doing this research I will post all sorts of snippets of information and links into that city's tab on my spreadsheet.

To-do list

It's at this point that I will start creating the "To Do List" on my spreadsheet.  Here is a snippet of the list I created for our 2014 holiday:






Packing

I also begin my packing list early-on in the planning stages.  I have a standard packing list that I use (I'll blog about that some other time), so I paste that into my spreadsheet and then as the trip gets closer, if we think of things to add to it I do so - by the time we actually have to pack, the packing list is completely sorted.

Trip Binder

About 3 months out from the planned trip I buy 2 binders (I usually use these Flip Files).  I print out a copy of the itinerary, our transport (flights, rail etc) and all other relevant documentation such as accommodation confirmation and tour details and store a copy in each Flip File.  I file it day-by-day so that on any given day, all I need to do is grab all the contents of that day's pouch, slip it into a plastic sleeve to carry with us for the day and off we go.  I keep one Flip File in my luggage and Grant keeps a copy in his.  That way if one file gets lost there is a spare as back-up.

Visas

When I create the Flip Files mentioned above, I also make a binder for our visa applications as a lot of the documentation I put in the Flip Files is required for our visas as well.


So that is pretty much the process I use.  The spreadsheet is the key to all my planning.  Once our trip is over I keep the folder in my Dropbox and I find I often refer to previous spreadsheets when planning future trips.


Hope this is helpful!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Morning in the Midlands

My sister-from-another-mother, Lisa, came out from the UK to spend a week with us in May.  An unexpected and lovely treat! We did all sorts of fun things during that week, including a brief visit to the Midlands.

We started our morning with a visit to Piggly Wiggly Country Village in Lions River.  I highly recommended this stop on the Midlands Meander.  

Piggly Wiggly
Piggly Wiggly

There are loads of lovely shops, a superb deli, a couple of restaurants and plenty to entertain the kids, including Putt-Putt, a jungle-gym and on certain days a little train.






For lunch we made our way to The Farmer's Daughter.  

The Farmer's Daughter




We've been to The Farmer's Daughter several times now and I have somewhat mixed feelings about it.  There is lots to like and the food we've had has always been excellent, but I have a couple of gripes too.  

On the positive side - the restaurant has a quirky, whimsical, almost Alice in Wonderland feel to it, it's very appealing.  If the weather is good I would strongly recommend booking an outside table (booking is always recommended as they fill up quite quickly by the look of it).  The outside tables are dotted on the verandah and in the charming garden.  





It's the perfect spot for children, with a small animal farm, a large bunny hutch and a trampoline, as well as some kiddie-sized furniture.

We were served complimentary mugs of  sweet/savoury (hard to explain!) seeds once our order was placed and these were delicious, very moreish!  There are a variety of freshly squeezed fruit/veggie juices on the menu as well and milkshakes and soft drinks.  This is not a licensed venue (well it wasn't when we were there, perhaps that will change) but people at a nearby table had brought their own wine and there seemed to be no problem with that, I'm not sure about corkage fee. 

As far as meals go, on this occasion some of us chose Eggs Benedict and the others lamb burgers and we were all satisfied with our meals - the eggs benedict in particular were really good. In the past I have had the Harvest Platter, but that wasn't available this time.  There were a variety of cakes, lemon meringue pies in a jar, and milkshakes for dessert.

Now for my gripes - firstly, we have generally found the waitrons to be lacking both in their English skills and with regards to knowledge of the menu and secondly, we have found that a large number of menu items have not been available each time we have visited The Farmer's Daughter.  On this visit my daughter ordered a milkshake - it wasn't available, she then chose another - it wasn't available, at which point she asked which shakes were available and was given a list of about 3 shakes.  I think it would be much better if they had a chalkboard menu listing the items that are available on a particular day, rather than a large printed menu with numerous items not available.





Our final stop on this short Midlands Meander was at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site.  I personally feel that the powers-that-be have done a great job with this monument.  The Capture Site houses both an amazing sculpture and also a museum.  A new museum building is currently under construction at the site, so for the time being the temporary museum is housed in a converted shed.  

The sculpture is, in my opinion, amazing.  A collaboration between artist Marco Cianfanelli and Jeremy Rose, the sculpture is reached by taking a "long walk" down a paved path - a perfect opportunity to contemplate the life of our beloved Madiba.  Initially, the sculpture appears to be nothing more than a group of weird sticks... but gradually, as you get closer, those "sticks" transform into a profile of Madiba's face.  Brilliant!

Nelson Mandela Capture Site

The Nelson Mandela Capture Site



Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Taking Stock: July 2015


I had intentions of taking stock at the end of every month, but the end of June came and went and I just never got to it... ah, such is life!  Anyway, here I am, taking stock today:

Making : plans for our June 2016 holiday... what can I say? I'm a girl who likes to plan ahead!
Cooking : This evening I will be cooking One Pot Garlic Parmesan Fettucine - the most amazing, easy recipe that I found on Damn Delicious.  I've created a printable copy of the recipe hereYou're welcome :)
Drinking : Earl Grey tea
Reading: Fly Away (the sequel to Firefly Lane) by Kristin Hannah
Wanting: to find some peace in my heart, my "stuff" is getting me down today.
Looking: knackered
Playing: at working
Deciding: to cheer up, to be positive
Wishing: I was a naturally cheerful person
Enjoying: the warm Winter sun
Waiting: to hear that my girls got to the South Coast safely.
Liking: Back to the Beach by Shekhinah & Kyle Deutsch ...it's catchy and very Durban.  Yes, I like it.


Wondering: whether we can squeeze an overnight stay in Bruges into our June 2016 holiday
Loving: This pic of my girls and me, taken in the park on Sunday



Pondering: what makes me happy.  Well my answer is right there^^^ isn't it?!
Considering: How I am going to lose all the weight I have gained.
Buying: toys for my Issy-boo..  She needs things to play with when she is at my house.
Watching: Paula's incorrigible mutt digging a hole in my garden.
Hoping: The mutt ^^ stops before it gets to Australia
Marvelling: At the energy of this mutt^^!
Cringing: at the latest revelations in the Bill Cosby sex scandal
Needing: Some clothes, but I refuse to buy any until I lose weight
Questioning: Why I turn to food when I am feeling down?
Smelling: Nothing, my sinuses are poked.
Wearing: fluffy slippers, track-pants and a long-sleeved top... my Winter staples.
Following: a couple of new peeps on Instagram and discovering that I really DO enjoy Instagram
Noticing: that I am genuinely hungry
Knowing: that I will probably make the wrong (fattening) choice when it comes to my options for lunch.
Thinking: that I need to develop some self-discipline
Admiring: the Duchess of Cambridge's elegance at Princess Charlotte's christening.  That girl has her style nailed, she gets it right every time!
Sorting: out my state of mind is my No.1 priority
Getting: fitter is my No.2 priority
Bookmarking: IndieBerries blog
Coveting: This laundry 


Disliking: Myself in general and the mood I am in specifically.
Opening: a new tab on this here computer
Giggling: nope, not having a giggly kind of day.
Feeling: down, sad, miserable, depressed, woe-is-me....
Snacking: on Salty biscuits with Boston pickle and some gorgeous Dutch cheese we got as a gift.
Helping: myself to another biscuit!
Hearing: my husband talking on the phone, the joys of sharing an office-space ... why do we always talk SO loudly when we are on the phone?

I found Taking Stock on Meet Me at Mike's blog - feel free to join in too, if you do please post a comment so I can swing by and have a look at your stock take :)

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The thing about being a grandmother.....

The thing about being a grandmother.....is that it changes you.  No really, it does.

The moment that Isabella was born I changed.  It was like I developed an extra layer of tenderness that was for her alone.



There is a bond between us that is difficult to describe.  It's different to the maternal bond, but just as deep.  I love this little girl fiercely.



The passage of time is so evident when I look at her - another generation, a fresh new life brimming with potential and the reminder that I am ageing.



She reminds me every day that we have to seize the moment, appreciate the joy and beauty around us, delight in the day.