Category Archives: Play

On why I heart Istanbul.

On why I heart Istanbul.
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Istanbul collage

Hello world! It’s been a while. Life took one of those unexpected little turns that we like to say are sent to make us stronger, just so we can all feel better about the bad days and have something to put on those motivational posters that feature fluffy goslings swimming against a current. I will tell you about it. Eventually. But for now, suffice it to say I am back (edit – it has now been two years and I have not written a thing, proving that owning a restaurant is not for sissies and we should have an entire section of the motivation poster market set aside just for us), not only to my old self, but out in the world too and I was lucky enough to travel to Istanbul for a few days with Bush Man. I might get round to a walking tour later (edit – no I won’t), but for now I just want to give you a glimpse into why I wish I could change my marital status on Facebook to “In a relationship with Istanbul”. So here, in no particular order, are the top ten reasons why I am completely in love with this city.

The cats.

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If two cats are a party, and three cats are a crazy cat lady, then Istanbul will one day die choking on a tin of Pampers and have her face eaten off by Mugsy, Snowball, Tiger and the rest of them. There are a LOT of cats in Istanbul. So let me just admit that I loved that and get the crazy cat lady business out of the way so we can all move on. If you don’t like cats, remind yourself that in a city with upwards of 14 million people, at least cats mean no rats. Most of the cats don’t belong to anyone, and are instead taken care of by whoever happens to be around. You will find bowls of water and little piles of kibble scattered randomly under trees and in front of shop fronts. Shop owners seem to have no problem when the cats make themselves at home on chairs, bookshelves and windowsills, and I didn’t see a single cat come up for a bit of affection and not get it, no matter how much fur it was missing. There’s something so comforting about watching these street dwelling felines in various states of dishevelment being taken care of by strangers and feeling comfortable enough with people to plonk themselves down for a nap anywhere on a street that could see three million people pound its cobbled sidewalk a foot away from them every day and know they are safe.

The people.

Check any travel forum for advice on tourist scams and they’ll tell you that unsolicited offers to help and lazy pick up lines like “Where are you from?” are the number one way for dodgy swindlers to relieve you of your hard earned holiday funds. But the people of Istanbul are genuinely friendly and open to strangers and, for the most part, honestly just want a bit of a chat or to show you how the metro works without expecting anything in return. I’m actually sorry I brushed off a few well meaning strangers while clutching my bag tighter and checking my pocket for my phone before realising this. My advice? Be friendly and open when approached and just ask yourself WWOD? Oprah would say never allow yourself to be taken to a second location. Anyone who offers to show you a nice place for a drink, haircut or bit of carpet shopping (as this isn’t Thailand, we’re talking rugs here, not ladies) is out to swindle you. (We fell for this one in Bangkok and landed up paying around $15 for two drinks, surrounded by mean looking heavies at the Super Pussies ping pong bar. I wish I was making this up. It was the other kind of carpet shopping.) But if they just leave it at chatting or a bit of advice on their favourite dürum joint, chances are they’re just being nice.

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The mosaics.

Whether it’s the spectacular domed ceiling of the Blue Mosque, random bits of pavement or a wall behind a loo, the city is full of colourful tiles and bits of glass. My favourite is the enigmatic full mooned faced of the six winged seraph on the ceiling of the Hagia Sophia, but I loved the random discovery of a mosaic-ed drain cover or bit of wall down an otherwise drab, dodgy alley almost as much. And the great thing is that you can take a little part of the magic home with you in the form of mosaic glass lamps in every size and combination of colours your little heart could desire. Something tells me that the locals feel about these lamps the way South Africans do about those vile wooden giraffes that the tourists love to buy despite the logistical nightmare of getting a 2m tall carved animal home on a Boeing. But I loved the little shops cluttered with rainbow hued balls of light on every corner frequented by tourists with what the Turks probably think is a questionable taste in interior decorating. It is happiness at the flip of a light switch.

Tea time.

Not to drink it, but to watch the subtle ritual of others drinking it. Turks love their tea (çay). It is taken in delicate, tulip shaped glasses at any time of the day by just about everyone and is most often seen on the streets in front of the mom and pop shops. A few times a day, as if on cue, a young boy or old man will appear with a tray of tea that they then distribute to the shopkeepers who come out and watch the world go by with a cuppa in hand. The tea is simply sweetened with a bit of sugar and stirred with a tiny spoon that makes a tinkle almost as pleasing as ice in a long G&T. Almost… You get some big Turks, and I could spend hours watching the incongruity of a strapping lad or wizened old fruit seller delicately holding a painted saucer with a fine, flowery glass until the tea is just the right temperature to drink – there being no handles on the glasses. Like the cats I mentioned earlier, the simpleness of being content with a cup of tea while you watch the world go by makes it seem like everything is going to be okay after all. Am I weird? I’m probably weird. But then I’ve always felt about tea the way my dad feels about regular bowel movements: It fixes just about everything.

The food.

kazandibi
hunkar begendi

Oh my. The food! For less than US$3, you can have a properly good meal on the streets of Istanbul. Obviously any talk of Turkish food would be incomplete without the mention of kebabs. In every shape and form  – from ground to shredded, lamb to chicken, wrapped in flat breads, on half loaves, with rice or just wrapped around a skewer – like sex and pizza, even when it’s bad, kebabs are still pretty good. But my two standout dishes in Istanbul were the kazandibi at Saray Muhallebicisi on İstiklâland the hünkar beğendi at The Old Ottoman Cafe & Restaurant in Cagaloglu Hamam Sokak. When I first read about tavuk göğsü, I knew I had to try it just so I could see how anyone could boil up chicken breast in milk till it disintegrates and then call it pudding. Kazandibi is the browned bit of this ridiculously weird pudding that sticks to the bottom of the pan when it’s all done. Who comes up with this shit? I don’t know. But God bless the person who did! It is unlike anything I have ever eaten. If a South African milktart got together with a buttery English toffee at a pudding conference, then kazandibi would be the intercontinental love child borne from their romp in the janitor’s closet. It is firm, springy, gooey and creamy all at once, with a sort of buttery, caramelly nuttiness from the toasted bits. Just trust me, try it the first chance you get and thank me later. On the savoury side, hünkar beğendi is better known as Sultan’s Delight and might be familiar to you if you’ve ever eaten in a Turkish restaurant. But I’ve never had it like this before! Aubergine (if the version is done in the authentic way) is first roasted over coals or fire and then pureed with kaşar cheese – a mild sheep’s cheese similar to cheddar. This is then topped with cubes of lamb or beef in a delicate tomato based sauce. Now if you’re anything like me you’re thinking, pureed vegetables? Bleh. Stewed meat? Meh. But a good hünkar beğendi is simple food in its most sublime form. The delicate smokiness of the flame scorched aubergine at The Old Ottoman contrasted beautifully with the creaminess of the cheese, and the umaminess (if that’s not a word, then it should be) and substance of the tomato rich meat added just enough texture to stop it from being fancy baby food. It is a hug for your soul right there on a plate.

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Cold beers and rooftop bars.

No need for too much elaborating here. Cold beer. A rooftop. Endless views of a beautiful city. Enough said. Two of our favourites were 360 Istanbul and Balkon. At the former, the maître d’ looked down her snooty nose when we walked in and asked to see whether we had closed shoes on when we said we just wanted drinks. I was quite relieved that I don’t generally tour in my strappy Manolo Blahnik sandals as I would obviously have had to leave them at the door along with my little backpack that she clearly thought I was planning on smuggling the salt and pepper shakers out in. But the bar lady was lovely, even pulling up two chairs so we could sit on the Bosphorus side of the patio after the aforementioned stuck up welcoming party had relegated us to the back patio. It’s not cheap. At all. But it will be one of those memories of the city that’s worth every cent. Balkon is considerably cheaper and more laid back, with a slightly less impressive view. But it has an effortlessly cool vibe if you’re under 40 (just made it!) and you get to keep your bag with you and everything! I am actually more of a wine drinker, but I found wine by the glass in most places not only expensive (anything upwards of TL18 for swill) , but often undrinkable.

Istanbul graffiti
Istanbul graffiti

The graffiti.

There will always be that dumbass who feels the need to draw on monuments and store fronts, but generally graffiti is limited to ugly roller doors and derelict alleys where they add a splash of colour and social comment where you’d least expect it. The bright colours and modern themes (think Tupac, Batman and angry baseballs) against the backdrop of the subdued greys of buildings that are hundreds of years old just works in a very pleasing way and is a gentle reminder that people in this city like to express themselves and be heard.

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istiklal

 The architecture on İstiklâl Caddesi.

There’s a lot to see on the streets in and around İstiklâl Avenue, but it’s definitely worth risking a strained neck muscle or two to look up as much as possible. Old and new merge together perfectly in a hodgepodge of  Neo-Classical, Neo-Gothic, Renaissance Revival, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and First Turkish National Architecture style facades above with modern shop fronts below with the odd mosque or church thrown in for good measure. Crumbling plaster sits comfortably alongside brightly painted walls and, like a toddler who has dressed themselves, the whole ensemble just works even though it really shouldn’t. The cafés, boutiques, music stores, art galleries, bookshops, craft stores and pubs in Beyoğlu are some of the most unique I have ever seen, with modern crystal chandeliers fighting worn mosaics for ceiling space, mezzanine floors, exposed brick gouged out of old plaster finished off with modern trimmings and so many interesting touches that we started annoying each other with all the “Check that out!”s. Loved it!

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istanbul street cafe

The streets.

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Like all cities where restaurant tables and store shelves are given free reign to spill onto pavements, and whole streets are closed off to cars in favour of window shopping pedestrians, Istanbul has a bustling street life. All over the city, merchants sell as much of their wares outside as they do inside, and there are random stools and tables serving patrons everything from deep fried mushrooms to sheep’s head sarmies on the busiest roads and down the tiniest alleys, creating the type of cosmopolitan cacophony that can only work so well in a city as international as this. A bit on the touristy side, the area around the intersection of Nevizade Sokak and the Balık Pazarı in Beyoğlu must be one of the best spots to grab a çay and nargile pipe and watch life spilling into the streets. There are buskers, flower sellers, fish mongers, old men with trays of tea, fresh roasted almond peddlers, Turkish families from all over the country out to see the bright lights of the big city and, of course, foreigners soaking it all in. This area has loads of wine bars and restaurants serving meze (and you know meze means getting stuck for hours) and is where it all happens after dark on this side of the Galata tower. Even at 5:00 in the morning you will find groups of people scattered up İstiklâl, gathered around singing along to a fairly inebriated guitarist or just strolling off last night’s party.

The call to prayer.

I realise I can just stick my head out the door at work six times a day and hear the Muslim call to prayer back home, but there is something special about hearing the calls emanate from the great mosques all over the city, especially the akşam at sunset when the last light has settled over the minarets of the Süleymaniye Mosque. It is too beautiful! But take it from me and ensure you are nowhere near a mosque when the call starts. Hearing one up close instead of as part of a whole is like standing in front of that tone deaf Maria Callas wannabe who used to belt out false hymns at church on Sunday mornings. In chorus though, it can instill in one a sense of calm and rightness with the world which, like the rest of this warm city, gives you hope that in the end we really can all just get along.

Self-guided walking tour: Shanghai’s Former French Concession Area

Self-guided walking tour: Shanghai’s Former French Concession Area

Author’s note: If you have made use of this tour, please pop me a note to let me know of any changes that might have occurred so future travelers can be aware of any closures or business location changes. And if you have anything to add, please leave a comment here too. Other travelers would love to hear from you!   – LK

The Shanghai French Concession (上海法租界; Shànghǎi Fǎ Zūjiè), was a foreign concession in Shanghai from 1849 until 1946, and was the premier residential and retail district of Shanghai for much of the 20th century. With its European style cafes, quiet, leafy, tree lined avenues and tudor houses nestled in beautiful gardens interspersed with hole-in-the-wall eateries and local colours and flavours, it is a popular tourist destination. You could pretty much get off at any stop in the area and just stroll around the shops, boutiques, restaurants and deli’s. Or follow this self guided walk to hit some of the best spots between Xintiandi in the East, Tainzifang in the South and Fuxing Middle Road in the West.

French Concession lane

Time: A full day

Distance: +/- 7km

Start: South Huangpi Road metro station

End: South Shaanxi Road metro station

Xintiandi in the Former French Concession.
Xintiandi 2

Start your tour at (A) South Huangpi Road metro station. Leave through Exit 1 and head south on Danshui Road. Turn left on Taicang Road till you hit the Starbucks. You can’t miss it. The two block area behind Starbucks is the heart of (B) Xintiandi, an upmarket, pedestrian only, shopping, eating and entertainment district composed of refurbished shikumen houses, narrow alleys and stone paved courtyards. With its stone gate buildings, it is a beautiful area, and you could spend a whole morning here browsing through book shops, cafes and delis selling French cheese, wines and Moët & Chandon, upscale boutiques and restaurants. In the south eastern corner of this block is the (C) Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China which has now been preserved as a museum. The museum houses exhibits about the history of China and Shanghai and the foundation of the CPC.  Entry is free. Head north on Huangpi South Road until you hit (D) Huaihai Road and turn left.Cross the road using the pedestrian bridge at Chongqing, because, well, it’s kinda cool. And also, you do not want to miss the little hole-in-the-wall establishment (Chinese Dough Shop) that sells (E) radish cakes a little way down from the corner on the north side of Huaihai Road. I can’t sell radish cakes by using the term “radish cakes”, so you’ll just have to trust me on this. These pastries have a warm, fresh filling and a flaky, crisp coating and make a perfect mid-morning snack. The shop is no more than a bamboo steamers filled window with a little sign hanging above it. Look for the green painted window frames with red writing. Skip the shāomài (sticky rice dumplings) here though. Maybe I caught them on a bad day, but I thought they were awful.

Site of first National Congress

Take the next road left and head down Yandang Road towards (F) Fuxing Park. This cobblestoned road is semi pedestrianized and lined with shops and restaurants. The park is a feast for the senses. Vendors sell fresh seasonal juices at the entrance, the gardens are a riot of colour and fragrance, little old people do tai chi around every corner, and young and old sing karaoke on portable speakers. There are spontaneous ballroom dancers, mahjong playing enthusiasts, laughing children, pensive pensioners, kite flyers, fan dances, card games, makeshift tables where doctors take blood pressure and dispense advice and lots of music and random singing. The 10 hectare park is designed in the French style, with a koi filled central lake, fountains, covered pavilions, and colourful, seasonal flowerbeds. Exit the park through the north western exit.

Fuxing Park (2)
Fuxing Park (3)
Fuxing Park
Karaoke in Fuxing Park.

Turn left on (G) Sinan Road and head south. On the left when you reach Xiangshan Road is the Shanghai Museum of Sun Yat-Sen’s Former Residence. Sun Yat-Sen was the forerunner of the Chinese democratic revolution and the founder of the Republic of China.The museum contains the original furnishings used by the family as well as displays of Mr. Sun Yat-Sen’s activities from his stay in Shanghai. A little further down, behind a red lacquered door lies the former residence of General Zhou Enlai, a former Premier of the PRC. The residence now houses a free museum that depicts the history of the Chinese Communist Revolution.

Sun Yat-Sen's former residence

Turn right into Taikang Road. The area to your right is (H) Tianzifang, a maze of tiny alleys crammed full of more than 200 crafts shops, art and photographic studios, boutiques, bars, coffee shops and restaurants where some older residents still live. It is part of Shanghai’s urban renewal project. It is well worth a visit, even if you’re not big on shopping, if only to check out the Propaganda Art shop to pick up a money bag with the words “If man have money have romantic life everywhere” emblazoned upon it.

Nutcrackers
Tianzifang puzzle shop
Tianzifang is a really cool little area. A warren of pubs, resta
Tibetan shop
Ever since Gordon Ramsey had that pulled noodle contest, I've wa
Shanghai Culture Square

While there are many restaurants in Tianzifang, I highly recommend heading to the corner of Jianguo West and Shaanxi South Road for (I) a steaming bowl of Langzhou lamian noodles. For half the price of a Big Mac, you get dinner and a show as the noodle maker stretches, kneads, pulls and twists a ball of dough into perfectly pulled noodles (I giggle every time I say that), before chucking the whole lot out the window where his helper boils them in a broth of beef, herbs and spring onions. The dish is reminiscent of Vietnamese pho and has to be tasted before one can understand how something so simple can be so perfect. If, like me, you’ve forgotten what to ask for by the time you get there and simply point at the nearest bowl of warm looking soup, you might land up getting hand cut noodles – made by peeling strips of noodles from the same dough using a peeler. Either way, you can’t go wrong! Just take your plastic seat amongst the locals and slurp up. Walk off the carbs by heading north on Shaanxi South Road and then taking a right at Shaoxing Road. Along this road you will find Dean’s Bottle Shop for cider if you don’t mind  the hefty price tag (and if you want cider in Shanghai, you better not mind the price tag), and the Manne et Sante bakery as well as the Cafe Vienna where you can get German meals and cakes. The Old China Hand Reading Room at no. 27 is a book store and coffee house with antique wooden tables where you can sit and peruse one of the hundreds of old and new books on sale. Half way down this road is the tiny Shaoxing park. No more than a few hundred square meters, it is a quiet spot to relax under the shade of a tree while watching the locals play mahjong, before you carry on on your merry way. Walk back down Shaoxing Road and then continue north on Shaanxi South. Turn right on Yongjia Road. On the corner at no 47 you will find the Double Rainbow Massage House, where blind massage therapists will give you an authentic Chinese foot massage. The Shanghai Culture Square on your left shows foreign and local musicals, bringing Broadway shows like Shrek and Phantom of the Opera to Shanghai. It is worth going inside just to see the intricate glass art wall and water feature in the foyer. Further down the road on the right, Mi Tierra Mexican restaurant offers modern Mexican cuisine and hosts salsa evenings on occasion.

Turn left on Rujin 2d Road and then left on Fuxing Middle Road (there’s another Starbucks here, should nature be calling). Turn right on Maoming South Road and head north. On this road you will find tailors and high end cheongsam boutiques. The cheongsam are material works of art, with exquisite bead work and embroidery and you really could spend a good few hours here drooling over these dresses if that’s your type of thing. The tailors will stitch up just about anything you want in 24 hours, and for considerably lower prices than you would find in retail stores.

Cheongsam shops (2)
Cheongsam shops

At the intersection of Huaihai Road and Maoming South you will find the (M) Cathay Theatre, an art deco movie house designed by Hungarian architect C.H. Gonda that was completed in 1930 and that features both English and Chinese films. Further north on Maoming South Road, at the intersection with Changle Road, lies the Lyceum Theatre. Also built in the 1930’s, this theatre features dramas and small scale musical and symphony concerts.

Cathay Theatre
Lyceum Theatre

Turn left on Jinxian Road. There’s nothing special on this street, but it’s just one of those typical French Concession alleys that I love, with boutiques, scrap shops and hanging laundry all over all the place. You will also find the (O) Tokyo Fashion Hair Accessories shop here, where young girls spend the day trying on wigs and doing each other’s hair. Sounds like some people’s worst nightmare, but it’s actually vastly entertaining!

French Concession side alley
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Turn left on Shaanxi South Road. At the South Shaanxi Road and Huaihai Road intersection you will find the Parkinson department store,  home to fashion boutiques, homeware, gadgets and restaurants. You can stock up on your MAC and Chanel here if you need to. Turn right on Fuxing Middle Road. A little way down you will find a Rolise store. Here you can pretty much stock up on underwear for life. Gorgeous bras for a fraction of the price you would pay anywhere else in every conceivable style and colour you can think of. Made for the Chinese market, this is one place where you’ll be glad if you’re on the smaller cup end of the spectrum! Turn left on Jiashan Road. There is a little mom and pop shop here that sells cong you bing, freshly rolled and fried while you wait. Or depending on where in the world you hail from, you might be just about ready for a plate of fish and chips round about now. The Sailor’s fish & chips shop on Yongkang Road is worth a pop in, but the whole road is packed with European style eateries and sidewalk vendors selling a multitude of dishes  to choose from if you’re in the mood for something else. It’s a vibey little neighbourhood and a great place to sit on the sidewalk with a pint and a camera. Turn right on Taiyuan Road and then right on FenYang Road. The Shanghai Arts & Crafts Museum  is on the right at number 79. You can watch live craft demonstrations, such as traditional jade carving, lantern making, paper cutting and embroidery and see exhibits of the history of these and other crafts. The museum is open from 9 to 5 and entrance is 8RMB.

To get to the (S) South Shaanxi Road metro, turn right on Fuxing Middle Road, left on Xiangyang Road and right on Nanchang Road.

Click here for the Google map.

Got another day to kill in Shanghai? Check out my self guided walking tour of the Bund and Old Shanghai, covering the area between Nanjing Road East and Fang Bang Road.

French Concession Walking Tour Map

Ndumo – A small reserve with a big heart

Ndumo – A small reserve with a big heart
Ndumo from the lookout tower.

In the far north of Natal, right on the Mozambican border and miles away from, well, anything really, lies one of Africa’s oldest parks. Spanning just a little over 10 000ha, this tiny reserve boasts the highest number of bird species in all of South Africa – a staggering 430+ species and counting. Not only does Ndumo encompass the confluence of the Usutu and Pongola rivers with it’s floodplains and reed beds, but broadleaved and acacia woodland, swamp forest, fig forest, grasslands, riverines, pans and sand forest and thickets all contribute to a highly diverse range of habitats, most of which are accessible to visitors in some form or another.

The walk to the second bird hide at Nyamithi pan.
The walk to the second bird hide at Nyamithi pan.

Both black- and white rhino, buffalo, giraffe, crocodile, hippo, nyala, zebra, wildebeest, leopard, hyena (only realised this when we came across their spoor on the last day, thank goodness, or I would’ve been lying in my tent holding in a pee every night) and other antelope species including red duiker and suni occur in the reserve. But the reason people flock (ho ho ho!) to Ndumo is for the avifauna. Many tropical East African bird species are found here at the Southern limit of their range. There are few places where you can chalk up Pink-throated Twinspot and Palmnut Vultures within half an hour of arriving and without even leaving the comfort of your car. Specials abound. African  Broadbill, Pel’s FIshing Owl, Neergaard’s Sunbird, African Pygmy Goose, Southern Banded Snake Eagle and Rudd’s Apalis can all be found if you time your visit right.

Sunset at Ndumo.
Sunset over Nyamithi.
The Pongola flood plain walk.

Activities:

Guests can go on guided walks with extraordinarily knowledgeable rangers who will identify the plainest LBJ at a glance or mimic the call of just about any bird. Of the four full time rangers at Ndumo, two have been there for over twenty years and the third for over thirty! Gold watches all around I say! Morning and evening game drives are also available and are highly recommended. The sunset over Nyamithi pan with the Fever Trees bathed in rosy fire and the Fish Eagles calling was one of the most magical experiences of my life. Two bird hides situated on opposite sides of the Nyamithi pan provide a bird’s eye view (I’m just churning them out here!) of the cornucopia of waterfowl to be found in and around the water. Storks, pelicans, herons, duck, geese, warblers, swallows, jacana and more can be seen whilst you sip a cuppa, finish off last night’s cold braai broodtjies and just sit, look and listen. The first hide is a 450m walk through the bush and leads to a breathtaking view of the pan, the stork and pelican colony on the opposite side and the towering yellow Fever Trees lining the water. The second is an easy, but hair raising (if you’re a wuss) 650m walk through the reed beds to the other side of the pan. (You will cross hippo spoor here, but don’t panic. Unless you are the slowest person in the group. But seriously, be aware of what’s going on around you and never, ever, ever get between a hippo and its water). This hide is situated above a reed bed with water lilies floating about, so it’s a good spot for crakes and the smaller, reed dwelling herons. The lookout tower near the main gate affords a 180 degree panoramic view of the entire reserve, all the way to Moz. Guests may drive through large parts of the reserve on their own. Roads are all gravel, but passable by normal car.

Ezulweni hide on Nyamithi pan.

Ndumo is not fancy. There are no restaurants with buffet breakfasts, flood-lit lookouts or cocktail bars with blue drinks. It is a place for old school nature lovers that don’t mind sharing the bathroom with a moth the size of their hand. The camp is small, with only 7 chalets. Each chalet has a kitchenette, aircon and a lovely, big wooden deck for sipping G&T’s on. Ablutions are communal and, although old, are very clean. There is a sparkling pool with loungers to while away the hot afternoons. The camp sites are shaded by large trees. A communal kitchen with everything you need is available for campers. Each camp site is equipped with a power point and a braai with a grid.

The camp site.
The chalets.

What To Bring

Guests need to supply their own food and beverages. There is a small shop selling drinks and snacks, but no other food. NB! The tap water at Ndumo is not suitable for drinking. Ensure you take your own supply of drinking water and ice trays to make your own ice, because it’s a bit of a hit and a miss whether the reserve has in stock. There is a Spar located 2km from the reserve in the town where you can get petrol, cash and groceries. Stock up on wood while you’re at it, as the only wood available is at the gate and in short supply. Ndumo is in a malaria area, so take precautions.

Shokwe pan walk under the sycamore figs. Broadbills be here.
Golden orb web spider

Ndumo Game Reserve

[email protected] / +27 33 845 1000

Open Summer (October to March) from 05:00 – 19:00 and Winter (April to September) from 06:00 – 18:00.

Getting there: From the north or south, follow the N2 and turn off at Jozini. Go through the town, across the dam wall and follow the road until you see the Ndumo sign posts. The last 12 or so kilometers is dirt road. It’s a little like cars on ice after rain, but otherwise passable with a normal vehicle. When we were there it looked like they were in the process of tarring the road, but it’s anyone’s guess when this will be completed.

GPS co-ordinates: 32d18’48.85″E 26d54’32.48″S

* Apologies for the poor quality photos. Suggestions on improving my landscaping shots are welcomed!*

St. Blaize hiking trail

St. Blaize hiking trail
Saint Blaize hiking trail

South Africa is blessed with a spectacular coastline. From mangrove lined estuaries in the north east to the stark beauty of the west coast and endless stretches of white sandy beaches or striking rock formations in between, it is a favourite playground for outdoor enthusiasts and sun-worshippers from around the world. But, like a mousy English lit student working her way through college by donning a dominatrix outfit at night and beating Japanese business men into submission, it also has a darker side. The seas off the South African coast are littered with the carcasses of ships that have met a wet and salty end here and too many families have an empty seat at Christmas because someone turned their back to the ocean at the wrong time. Strong currents, rolling waves and dramatic, jagged rocks make this a coastline you should take seriously. It also means that it is spectacularly beautiful. And, fortunately for us, vast stretches of it have been protected and made accessible to those nature lovers who prefer donning boots and a backpack and exploring our natural heritage on foot.

Saint Blaize
St. Blaize Pinnacle Point

One such route is the Saint Blaize hiking trail in the Southern Cape. Starting at The Point in Mossel Bay in the east, this 13.5km hiking trail winds its way west along the cliffs, through the Pinnacle Point golf estate to Danabaai in the west and can also be hiked in the opposite direction. Parking is available on both ends. You should either leave a car at the end or arrange for a shuttle service to return you to the starting point (check the web for details). On The Point side, the hike starts in the parking area below the Cape St. Blaize lighthouse and Khoi San cave – if you’re tripping over begging rock dassies you’re probably in the right place. Please do them a favour, respect that wild animals should remain wild animals and don’t feed them. A fed dassie is a flattened by a Fortuner dassie. On the Danabaai side there is a small parking area on the shoulder of the road next to a St. Blaize trail information board. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it. To get there, just keep left on Malva road after entering the town until you find the spot. White oystercatchers (painted on the rocks, not standing there with bibs and pointers) mark the route along the way.

St. Blaize

Dramatic cliffs, seas in shades from turquoise to indigo, a wealth of flora and rock formations in every autumnal shade imaginable make this an extremely worthwhile way of spending the 6 hours required by the average person to complete the hike. The route can be mildly challenging in places and therefore a moderate level of fitness is required. What is moderate? Well, I am currently at an all time fitness low. After three minutes (I am not kidding) on a stepper I need copious amounts of water, a few pulls on my inhaler and a little lie down on the couch. I could finish the trail without actually throwing a complete frothy by the twentieth uphill, but it would’ve been considerably easier if I’d spent more time exercising and less time eating this past December.

St. Blaize dassie
Saint Blaize snake

There is a lot to see on the way. The waters off the Southern Cape are one of the best places in the world to whale watch and pods of dolphins often make a splashy appearance. Also keep a look out for seals and, if you’re lucky, the menacing dark outline of a great white shark – there are plenty here. On land, look out for dassies, bushbuck, steenbuck, geckos and lizards, mongoose, porcupines, tortoises, snakes and a wealth of different bird species – many endemic. The flora here is predominantly fynbos. What makes this particular floral kingdom such a joy is that it is not just pretty to look at, but gives you a full sensory experience, even when it isn’t high flower season. Brush the leaves of plants as you go and let the scents of wild rosemary, buchu and other medicinal plants envelope you as you walk.

St. Blaize to Danabaai
St. Blaize hiking trail

Although the route is very well maintained and feels akin to strolling down a lovely, level, sandy garden path at times, it isn’t all smooth going. There are areas where the trail is nothing but loose rock and you will need to clamber a bit in the odd section. Unless you have reinforced kankles, it is advisable to wear sturdy hiking boots with soles that can handle the jagged rocks. As with all sensible hikes, takes lots of water, sunblock and a hat – there is virtually no shade. A hiking stick will also come in handy to handle the steeper climbs, especially if you have gammy knees. You can stop off at the Pinnacle Point club house and refill your water bottle or have a bite to eat – they are very accommodating to hikers. (There is a boardwalk at Pinnacle Point that leads down to cave PP13B – one of the most significant archaeological sites in the world because of its importance in helping us understand the origins of humanity. The site documents the earliest evidence we have of people exploiting the sea and using pigments – 164 000 years ago.)

20130121-StBlaizeTrail

Watch where you’re walking and be aware that it is completely possible to trip and fall down a cliff – sadly, it has happened. Look out for snakes – especially puff adders that like to bask in the sun and are unlikely to get out of your way before you step on them, ruining their day and therefore yours. Cell phone reception is available along the entire route, but if you’re going alone let someone know where you are, just in case. Every episode of “I Shouldn’t be Alive” ever started with “I was just going for a little stroll…”. Despite its close proximity to developed areas, you are out of site of civilization for long stretches. When you get to Pinnacle, look out for flying golf balls and putting golfers – you really do get very close to the action at times and you don’t want to be blamed for a three putt. And lastly, if you decide to take a dip in one of the inviting rock pools along the way, be aware of the tides and currents and err on the side of caution.

Saint Blaize bay

Although the trail doesn’t end at the beach, the white sands of Danabaai are only a few hundred meters further on. Parking down here instead of the road means you’ll finish the walk with your feet in the sea and your bum on soft sand while you cool down.

Blue bottles

Self-guided walking tour: Nanjing Road to Old Shanghai

Self-guided walking tour: Nanjing Road to Old Shanghai

Author’s note: If you have made use of this tour, please pop me a note to let me know of any changes that might have occurred so future travelers can be aware of any closures or business location changes. And if you have anything to add, please leave a comment here too. Other travelers would love to hear from you!   – LK

So you have 24 hours in China’s biggest city. You’re a world-wise traveler. You have more stamps in your passport than David Attenborough’s cameraman. You prefer to do those things that are off the beaten track, far from the madding crowd, living like the natives do and all that. Hole-in-the-wall eateries, remote temples, out of the way ramshackle buildings with loads of history, original fittings and a little old man out front who will single-handedly change the way you view the world with a story about how he ones saved a shepherd and his goats. You know – all those tips that well-thumbed guidebook has told you and a million other readers to do. I get it. But if you’re only going to have one day in Shanghai, you’re probably going to want to see the Bund and Old Shanghai – probably the two most touristy spots this side of Mongolia (the pavements of Nanjing Road alone are trampled by over a million visitors a day). Nothing wrong with that. Hit the area between Nanjing Road pedestrian street in the north and Fang Bang Road in the south and you’ll see the best of all that is East and West, modern and traditional that Shanghai has to offer. Or that’s what I think.

Pudong skyline
Pudong skyline. Clearly not reliant on Eskom.

Time: Full day

Distance: 3 miles / 4.8 kilometers plus exploring

START: East Nanjing Road MTR Station (1) END: Yuyuan Garden MTR Station (20)

Exit the station on to Nanjing Road and head west. The pedestrian portion starts a little way up the road. Just because you’ve almost been knocked down four times by speeding, obnoxious scooter drivers and at least one brown car does not mean you’re not in the right place. Sidewalks are where the Chinese like to drive. Nanjing Road is Shanghai’s main shopping street and one of the world’s busiest. It is divided into Nanjing Road East (from the Bund to People’s Square) and Nanjing Road West (from People’s Square towards Jing’an District). Both Nanjing East and Nanjing West boast large department stores as well as a variety of retail outlets and restaurants. For the purpose of this tour we’re only going to head a little way up Nanjing East, mainly to get to the (2) San Yang Food Shop located at no. 630. It is not signposted in English, but you should find it easily from the gallery pic. I suppose one would describe this place as a dried grocery store. If you can dry it and eat it, it is here. And as you know, the Chinese will eat just about anything, so expect to find sea cucumbers, starfish, every possible edible mushroom and bracket fungus, a selection of shellfish that will make your eyes water, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, meats (the appeal of sweet pork floss remains a mystery to me) and mind bogglingly expensive cordyceps fungi with their caterpillar hosts. There is also a massive selection of traditional Shanghainese sweets and snacks as well as cured meats and fowl. It is a fascinating place, especially if it is your first introduction to the oftentimes weird and wonderful world of Chinese cuisine. Find the ladies selling the cookies and palmiers and try a few of their pineapple crisps. Delicious! If time permits you can continue heading west towards People’s Square and Nanjing West with all its luxurious boutiques where all the larny people shop, but we’re going east.

 Just outside San Yang is (3) Chez l’Ami. This is a good place to quench your thirst (you have been walking for all of twenty minutes after all) and do a bit of people watching. Yes, it is very, very French and as such is a bit of a shameful cop-out on day one of your big Chinese adventure, but it is one of the few places with seating right on the street.

Nanjing pedestrian road, oui?

Cai Tong De traditional medicines

Continue heading east towards the Bund. (6) South Beauty is a chain restaurant located in the Henderson Metropolitan and is a good bet if you’re looking for traditional Shanghainese and Szechuan food but are too scared to try street food. My suggestion though is to keep walking. Shanghainese street food is safe, delicious and cheap and available everywhere. Get your first taste right here at the little cafe on the street corner (opposite Lao Feng Xiang Jewellers Store with its floral wreaths). It’s easy to spot – there is probably a queue thirty people deep standing in line for (4) pork moonpies sold from a little window on the side. These savoury pastries are absolutely stuffed with pork mince filling and encased in a crispy, flaky shell. And at around US$0.50 a piece, it’s a deliciously cheap way to fill your tank. There’s a veggie version too. Look out for the red lanterns of (5) Cai Tong De pharmacy a little further along. Opened in 1882,  this pharmacy is famous for its traditional Chinese medicine. The four-story building sells medicinal herbs, herbal pieces, medicinal liquor, beauty treatments, health care products and some expensive tonics such as ginseng and pilose antler. If you’re running low on sheep placenta, donkey hide gelatin or deer penis, this is the place to stock up. I always wonder who the first person was to think, hmmm, let’s rub a bit of this on and see what it does? The rest of the road down to the Bund is chock full of boutiques and stores including an Apple store and the massive, newly opened Forever 21 if you’d like to kid yourself.

(7) The Swatch Art Peace Hotel is named after the Swatch watch shop on the first floor. The Renaissance style building was constructed as the Palace Hotel in 1908. It has a brick veneer structure with six stories reaching 30 meters in height. The rooftop terrace has spectacular views of the city skyline and is a fantastic place to try a few cocktails (many with champagne if you’re feeling particularly celebratory) as the sun goes down. It also has a lovely view of my favourite art deco building in Shanghai – the Imperial Crown of the Westin Bund Centre.

The rooftop bar at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel. Looks posh, but anything goes.

Right next door is (8) The Bund 18 – a high end commercial bar and restaurant complex in a neoclassical style building that received the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award in 2006 after two years of careful restoration. The building houses the well known French eatery, Mr. & Mrs. Bund. Stop here for dessert. No, it doesn’t matter if it’s only eleven in the morning and you haven’t even eaten lunch. Just stop here for dessert anyway! With his Lemon & Lemon Tart, chef Paul Pairet does things to this little yellow citrus fruit over a period of 72 hours that will have you jumping up and down in your seat and clapping hands like a giddy little girl. At least, that’s what it did to me. A paper thin, whole candied lemon rind is filled with lemon sorbet, lemon curd and vanilla chantilly and served with sablé (shortbread biscuit to you and me). At 100RMB (US$16) a portion this is a dessert you savour mouthful by creamy, tangy, citrussy mouthful. But you can tuck in to a complimentary amuse-bouche before you start – impossibly light and airy but beautifully flavoured tuna mousse served in a re-purposed tuna can with crispy melba toast and other breads, so you’re getting your money’s worth. If that doesn’t convince you, they have teeny, tiny chairs specially for your bags! Now how cute is that?

Keep heading south along the Bund. Named after the Persian word for embankment, this one mile stretch along the Huangpu River is lined with dozens of historical buildings. There are benches all along the promenade where you can relax and look over the river at the view of the Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai World Financial Centre and the Jin Mao Tower that dominates the Pudong skyline. The Shanghai Tower – currently under construction to the right of the Jin Mao Tower – will be the tallest building in China when completed in 2014. The living walls lining the river side are a spectacular site and change with the seasons. (9) The Shanghai Customs House houses a massive clock tower known as Big Ching. At 90 meters tall it is the largest clock tower in Asia, with each of the four clock faces measuring over 5 meters in diameter. The bell was modeled on London’s Big Ben and when it chimes it feels a little like you could run into the Queen at any moment (like you do on an average day in London.)

HSBC Bank & Shanghai Customs House – don’t worry, you’re still in China.

(10) The HSBC Bank (now the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank) is a six storey neoclassical building with 4 storey high columns, archways and a dome, the base of which is decorated with a triangular structure in imitation of Greek temples. Opposite the bank is a bronze sculpture – The Charging Bull Statue. It was designed by Arturo Di Modica – the same artist who created the Wall Street version. It is the same size as the one in NYC however, as requested, the bull is redder, younger and stronger than the Wall Street version, looks up instead of down and is twice as heavy to symbolise the energy of the local economy. Mine is bigger than yours. Due to its anatomical correctness, it’s best to view it from the river side.

El Willy on the Bund
Even though the tuna and gazpacho didn’t make me cry, it was still movingly good.

El Willy is a Spanish tapas restaurant located in the (11) South Bund 22 complex. The restaurant is filled with warm, raw wood and glass panels decorated in hand painted, rainbow hued fish and other sea creatures. It boasts spectacular views over the Huangpu river from every table. It was here that I got a little teary eyed over a plate of food for the first time ever. The dish was the Explosive Balik Salmon with Truffled Honey and Sour Cream. I sat there slowly savouring each earthy, sensory caressing bite and cried a little out of gratitude that I could’ve experienced that. The food, the drink, my Bush Man, our surroundings – all of it was rendered more special by every blessed mouthful. Now I don’t want to be like one of those people who say “OMG! You have GOT to see the new James Bond movie! Best. Bond. Ever. EVER!”. Because you just know it’s going to be disappointing then right? It’s completely possible that that second cocktail had gone to my head and the day leading up to that moment had just been spectacular. But I do want to make sure you don’t miss out on this place. Order a Caipirinha and a few tapas and enjoy the lights, the view, the colours and the miracle that is our sense of taste. Life would be so much bleaker without it.

Continue heading South(ish) until you hit Xinkaihe Road. You will see (12) Gucheng Park across the street. This is the north eastern corner of the Old City. Renmin Road in the North and Zhonghua Road to the South West now run where the city walls used to be. Cross diagonally through the park until you reach Fuyou Road. Turning left will lead you down a narrow little road brimming with mom & pop shops, eateries and vibrant local street life where you can find all sorts of bric & brac, including lovely Chinese calendars. Or turn right and head west. Here you will find the (13) Small Commodities Market. It’s worth going inside to see the conditions some people happily work under,  just so that you will never moan about your crappy job again. The market is packed with hundreds of little shops (some only a few feet wide) selling everything from cello-tape to kitchen gadgets, musical instruments to spark plugs, gift boxes to rainbow coloured slinkies. If you need it, it’s here. Haggle hard.

Gucheng Park

If you want to do a bit of cheap and cheerful jewelry and scarf shopping (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?), walk to Jiuxiaochang Road and turn right. Here you will find a strip of (14) 10RMB shops and, as the name suggests, everything here is 10RMB a piece. There are gorgeous silk (or a close approximation) scarves and fabulous costume jewelry pieces, souvenirs, silk purses, figurines, decorative chopsticks and other gift items for sale. I really don’t know how they can make things for these prices, let alone make a profit. You WILL find yourself saying “And this? Is this only 10RMB??” quite a few times. The answer is yes. Yes it is. Try not to think about what that means. There’snosuchthingasasweatshop. There’snosuchthingasasweatshop.

Yuyuan Gardens Bazaar. Watch your pockets.

Now turn back and head South towards Yuyuan Gardens. The buildings surrounding the gardens make up a pedestrian area known as (15) Yuyuan Bazaar (or Yuyuan Tourist Mart or, confusingly, City God Temple), its streets lined with beautiful old buildings (well, ancient but renovated ) and loads of shops and restaurants. It can be a bit kitschy at times, but there’s lots to see and it’s beautiful at night when it is all lit up. There are various entrances to the bazaar, so just get inside and start exploring – there are English signposts on every corner. Entry to the market is free of charge and opening hours are 8:30 – 21:00. Although the area can get incredibly busy, it really is worth spending a few hours here for a quick rundown on Chinese history, culture, religion, architecture and art. Artisans making everything from engraved jade and handmade kites to painted scrolls and intricately woven bamboo leaf figurines eagerly share their knowledge of their wares with you. Goods are priced slightly higher than in the surrounding streets, but not exorbitantly so and you can always haggle. Hefeng Mansion Old Town Snack Palace is a colossal buffet style restaurant serving every conceivable dish and snack from 16 Chinese sub-cuisines. If you need a quick overview of all that this city has to offer in terms of traditional cuisine, this is the place to come. It’s loud, gaudy, commercial and cheap, but you’ll get the idea. Nan Xiang Steamed Bun restaurant is another popular eatery and a good place to try these quintessential Shanghainese snacks. Just head towards the lake in the middle and stand in the queue you see there. In the alley just next to Nan Xiang, there are vendors selling jelly juices (weird, but oddly addictive!), little deep fried birds on a stick and all manner of other snacks. Be warned though that despite this being a tourist hotspot, English is a little thin on the ground (and on the menus) here. Deep fried soft shell crabs are a must try. The market has a variety of kid friendly activities like a puppet show and a photo studio where you can dress up in traditional outfits.

In the center of the market, in the middle of the lake is (16) Huxingting Teahouse. This pagoda style teahouse (the oldest in Shanghai, built in 1784) is built on stilts and is accessible via the zigzagging Nine-Turnings-Bridge, so designed to keep bad spirits away. (Really, if a spirit is so stupid that he can’t figure out how to go forward if he can’t go in a straight line, then he can’t be all that scary now, can he? Just walk around the corner and that’s him, thwarted.). Prices are a tad inflated here, but the tea comes with assorted snacks – soy braised quail eggs, tofu, olives and sticky tea cakes (that’s probably not selling it though…). The teahouse was used as a base of operations by the British army for several days in 1842 and Queen Elizabeth II once stopped here for a cuppa. Find a seat at a window, order one of the beautiful opening flower teas (check the prices first!) and watch the world go by below you. It seems most of it is here anyway. And while we’re on the subject, if it is your first time in China – especially if you’re a gullible, trusting, single guy – familiarise yourself with the teahouse scam. Don’t get caught out just cause she’s pretty!

Yuyuan Gardens.

(17) Yuyan Gardens (“Garden was built to please ones parents” – shees oke, what happened to gift vouchers at the CNA?) was built in 1577. Think about that! Jan van Riebeek wasn’t even an itch in his father’s crotch and these people were gardening! This Ming style garden stretches across 2 hectares and features various bridges, pavilions, towers, ponds, paths, walls and halls.There is also the odd plant. There are many cultural relics to be seen. The Exquisite Jade Rock is one of the centerpieces of the garden. A porous 3.3-meter, 5-ton boulder rumoured to have been salvaged after the boat transporting it to the Imperial Palace in Beijing sank off Shanghai. Entrance is RMB30 per person.

(18) The City God Temple  (or Chenghuang Miao) is a Taoist temple established in the 15th century. After undergoing many changes and handovers, it was restored to its former use as a temple in 1994, with resident Taoist priests. The temple is dedicated to three city gods and consists of six halls spread over a thousand square meters. Entrance is RMB10 per person.

Fang Bang Road

 (19) Fang Bang Middle Road has absolutely nothing to do with liking vampires a lot. This 825 meter long street (also known as Shanghai Old Street) runs from South Henan Road in the west to Renmin Road in the East. It has miraculously survived the bulldozers that have flattened many other old buildings in the name of progress in this rapidly modernising city. The ancient buildings reflect the architectural style of the Ming & Qing dynasties with black tiles, white washed walls, upturned eaves, smoke spewing dragons and red pillars. Little alleyways branch off from the main road in a maze of shops, homes, eateries, workshops and markets. This is the perfect place to explore and get a sense of the chaos, customs, history, smells and picturesque squalor in which some of the locals still live. All manner of street food is sold here, including stinky tofu (do it! I dare you!). Fang Bang is a typical, Shanghainese, anything goes mishmash of food stalls, clothes shops, art galleries, antique dealers, tea houses and Tibetan crafts and jewelery with everything in between.

Once you are outshopped, outeaten and outcultured, you can head to (20) Yuyan Gardens Station and find your way home or stroll back along the Bund to see the city at night. The metro starts closing at around 22:30, depending on the station.

Got another day to kill in Shanghai? Check out my self guided walking tour of the Former French Concession Area.

Click to enlarge map

Pierneef à la Motte

Pierneef à la Motte

You cannot throw a well aimed grape in the Cape Winelands without hitting a picture perfect wine farm, complete with towering oaks, buildings that would have centuries of secrets to share if they could talk, award winning wines, sumptuous food, friendly and efficient service and spectacular views of the Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch mountains. But even in this epicurean and oenophile’s Shangri-La, La Motte is something special. It has everything you could possibly want from a wine farm: A tasting room, restaurant, farm shop & deli, gardens, vineyards, breathtaking views and European tourists walking around with sunburn and a questionable grasp on how one should pair socks with shorts. The newly refurbished tasting room looks like it comes straight from the pages of Architectural Digest with vaulted ceilings, original art, conversation pieces and ample comfy couches. Two of the walls have floor to ceiling windows so that you can view the working maturation cellar as you sit by the huge fireplace, nestled into a couch while knowledgeable wine experts guide you through the estate’s different vintages. The farm shop and deli sells artisan breads, baked with flour ground on the premises in the historical water mill, gift items designed exclusively for La Motte (if I wasn’t spending my husband’s money, I would have taken home a set of the handmade glass oil and vinegar sets), La Motte’s own coffee as well as deliciously indulgent body products. There are breathtaking mountain views from just about everywhere, sample vineyards so that you can get to know the different varieties (once you’ve tasted a Cabernet grape you’ll agree that stomping on it and then sticking it in a dark vat to ferment for a while really is the best thing to do with it), a Protea garden and even roses – resplendent in shades of coral and orange – named after the owner, Hanneli Rupert. And for those who are further horticulturally inclined,  fifteen hectares of the estate are dedicated to the growing of aromatic oil producing plants such as buchu, lavender and rose-geranium and the they also grow special disa and serruria hybrids.The museum is dedicated to the history of La Motte and the Rupert family and showcases work by international artists and one of South Africa’s masters – Pierneef. From here you can depart on the La Motte historical walk or if you’d like to burn a few calories before tucking into lunch, start from the tasting room and do the grade 1B, 5km hiking trail that winds in a circular route through the vineyards and surrounding mountains. Of course, that’s not what you’re here for though, right? You’re here to drink. And eat. And you have definitely come to the right place!

Pierneef à la Motte is a bright and beautiful restaurant with spectacular food, an impressive wine list and a deck that will make you forget that you’ve already been out there for hours and you need to go home at some point. Dining here feels like you’re having lunch in an effortlessly stylish friend’s home. You know, those friends who have so much money that they can turn delicate dinner ware into beautifully unique chandeliers and have people serving them lunch and refilling their glasses? Yeah, I don’t have them either. But you can come here and pretend that you do! The Cape Winelands cuisine is inspired by the seasons and is a fusion of traditional South African fare with an international twist – think bokkom salad with quail eggs and almonds, for example. The flavours are bold and in your face, making liberal use of perfectly balanced herbs and spices. The honey glazed snoek salad with salted cashew and pumpkin brittle was properly moreish. I mean come on, cashew brittle? How do you stop wanting more cashew brittle? But the dish that I can’t stop thinking about is the warm quail and orecchiette pasta salad with smoked pork lardo and almond ginger sauce, amongst a melange of other flavours that somehow just worked perfectly together. Seriously, if the Chinese could taste how chef Chris Erasmus combines Asian flavours with creamy Italian pasta I would not struggle so much to buy dairy products there! The slow cooked Karoo lamb shin and mushroom risotto just oozed flavour and the crayfish ravioli with a coconut and saffron velouté was light and delicate. We were positively stuffed by the time dessert came around, but in order to be thorough for this write up, we soldiered on and after just sipping more bubbly for a bit we eventually settled on sharing the warm, bittersweet Valrhona chocolate tart wiith peanut butter mousse, candy floss and cherry syrup dipped peanut truffles. I don’t really need to say more do I? No wait. I will. Have it just for the mousse, even if you think you can’t eat another bite. I’m not a fan of that light, sorry-excuse-for-a-dessert mousse, but this stuff was I-wish-this-will-stick-to-my-palate-forever good.

All the dishes have a wine suggestion paired with them. The wine list caters for every taste and budget, from La Motte wines by the glass to their vinoteque collection and everything in between. If you are one of the aforementioned rich people who can turn delicate dinner ware into chandeliers and have people serving them lunch and refilling their glasses, there is a large champagne selection, but if your dinnerware is used exclusively for eating, then there are also loads of MCC’s to choose from. There are also a host of other local and international wines on offer to suit any budget.

In my opinion, La Motte offers exceptional value for money. The portions are generous and the food is beautifully presented without trying too hard. You can grab a bottle of wine for as little as R50.00 (US$6) or splurge for a special occasion (like winning the Euro millions) and get the 1998 Château d’Yquem for R2905.00, so there really is something for everyone. Starters begin from R55.00 and mains from R62.00. Where can you eat such exceptional food in such glorious surroundings for that sort of money? The service is impeccable. Friendly, knowledgeable and down to earth waitrons keep your glass magically full at all times. And yes, that is how I judge a good waitron! I can think of few things I’d rather do than getting stuck out on the deck or under the oaks on the lawn here on a summer’s day, with a glass of bubbly and good friends and food.

Website:  www.lamotte.co.za
Telephone:  +27 21 876 8000
Restaurant: pierneef(at)la-motte.co.za
Tasting room: tasting(at)la-motte.co.za

Getting there: From Cape Town, take the N1 north. Take the R45 / Paarl Main Road off ramp and turn right then take the R45 towards Franschhoek. The estate is on your left a little way before you get into town.

Forever Fairview

Forever Fairview

“Holrug gery” is one of my favourite Afrikaans phrases. It means that a subject has been discussed so many times that, if it were a horse, it would’ve had a back like Paris Hilton’s mattress – worn out and ridden till it’s hollow. Fairview might just be one of those subjects. It almost seems to be ubiquitous in the Cape winelands – you can’t but hit it somewhere along the line on a trip there. But with good reason. With a tasting room, shop and deli, restaurant, beautiful views and shady gardens and lots of room for the kids to play and goats to stare at, it is a great place to take the whole family for an afternoon.

The tasting room at Fairview is beautifully appointed with various “pods” with a dedicated host at each so that guests get loads of personal attention. For R25.00 (US$3) you can taste whatever cheeses they have available on the day plus 6 wines which you may choose from their massive selection. The Beryl Back tasting room is a beautiful, private space where, for R60.00 per person, up to 8 guests can enjoy wines paired with cheeses and olive oil. The estate has vineyards in Paarl, the Swartland, Darling and Stellenbosch, so you can get completely plastered whilst pretending that your copious consumption of all the wines is simply an attempt to compare the various terroirs.

If you are a cheesy person, then Fairview is where you should come to die. The selection on offer is just mind boggling and there are constantly new, innovative cheeses to try. Goats’ milk, cows’ milk, washed rind, white rind, blue cheese, cream cheese. It almost reads like a Dr. Seuss book. There are cheeses flavoured with dukkah, lavender, herbs, spices and everything else you could think of to add to a cheese (and some things you never would’ve thought of). The shop & deli offers a cheese only tasting for R12.00. Six to eight Jersey cows’ and goats’ milk cheeses are available for tasting and the selection varies slightly from day to day. Goatshed artisan breads which are baked daily on site, preserves, sauces and other condiments as well as various olive oils are on sale. The Lemon & Lime as well as Red Pepper jelly from Zest are utterly divine!

The residents of the goat tower that welcome you when you walk into Fairview (the residents welcome you, not the tower (although a talking tower would really draw in the crowds! So would a talking goat for that matter.)) are synonymous with the estate. As much as I’d love to talk about goats, there isn’t space, but by all means read more here!

Shop & Deli
Goatshed Restaurant

The Goatshed Restaurant is a veritable celebration of all that is cheese and Mediterranean gastronomic goodness! Cheesecakes, cheese plates, and cheesy exotic mushroom lasagne share space on the menu with filled foccacias, slow braised springbok shank, and prawn risotto amongst lots of other goodies. Breakfast is served till 11:30 (cycle in and present your helmet to get a 15% discount) and lunch until 16:30. If it’s chilly out, the warm, wooden interior is the perfect place to sip a coffee and on one of the Cape’s copious completely glorious days then the deck with its 180 degree view of the Paarl valley and mountains is just as perfect for sipping lots of bubbly. Wines on offer are from the Fairview, La Capra and Goats-do-roam range and are sold at cellar door prices. If you’re a softy then a selection of 200ml carafes are also available. A weekly bread market is held on Saturdays.

Fairview is open seven days a week from 09h00 to 17h00. Last tasting vouchers are sold at 16h30 (standard tasting) and 16h00 (Beryl Back tasting). Closed on Good Friday, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

Getting there: From Cape Town on the N1:
Take exit 47 (Stellenbosch/Wellington/Klapmuts)
Turn right towards Klapmuts
At the four-way stop turn left onto R101
After passing Simonsvlei on your right, turn left into the Suid-Agter Paarl Road (follow signboard to Fairview)
Fairview is on your right hand side, about 3km along the road.

Telephone: +27 21 863 2450 / Goatshed: (021) 863 3609

Email: [email protected]

Website: http://www.fairview.co.za/ / http://www.goatshed.co.za/

Shanghai’s Venice

Shanghai’s Venice

Zhujiajiao is an ancient water town located on the Cao Gang River in the Qingpu district of Shanghai. Roughly 50 square kilometers of tree lined rivers and canals, winding cobbled lanes and well preserved Ming and Qing dynasty architecture lure hordes of day visitors keen to get out of the city for a bit. For this reason you should plan to get here early and preferably on a week day. By lunch time you will be fighting sweaty American tourists and hungry locals (who don’t ever seem to sweat) for the pork and pastries.

There are many temples, galleries, museums and old residences to explore here. The Kezhi Garden, Qing dynasty Post Office, Yuanjin Buddhist Temple, Tongtianhe Chinese Pharmacy, City God Temple, Y-Art Gallery, Shanghai Qianhua Art Gallery and Shanghai Handicraft Exhibition Hall all require an admission ticket, but entry into the town is free. The maze of pedestrian lanes house loads of shops selling traditional Chinese art work, engraved jade, delicate chopsticks (you can pick up a set engraved with your name in Chinese characters for US$0.50), silk clothing, duvets and pillows, scarves, jewellery, handmade embroidered bags and shoes, beautiful cheongsam (including the cutest little itty bitty ones for babies) and all the other usual tourist trap trinkets. But even though North Street is known as “a mile long road with a thousand shops” the discriminating tourist tax is high here, so unless you’re good at bargaining, don’t plan to come here purely for the shopping. Rather grab a tasty street snack and explore the stone cobbled lanes with their old style shopfronts and decorative red lanterns, walk down the quiet, deep alleyways or zigzag back and forth over the canals across the arched stone bridges.

There are loads of stalls selling a variety of foods from roasted pork knuckle to rose flavoured fermented bean curd, but one of Zhujiajiao’s proudest exports is the bamboo or reed leaf wrapped dark rice dumplings or zongzi. Also known as Grandma Dumplings (apo zong), the pillow shaped parcels of Zhujiajiao are wrapped with straw and are purportedly the best place in China to get them. That’s sort of like claiming that a certain shop in SA sells the best boerewors in the country. It’s a big freaken deal. And with some vendors selling up to 30 000 dumplings a day, this is a rumour best believed. The dumplings are stuffed with flavoured rice and may also include pork, red bean paste or red beans. Locals in the know recommend Xiaotian Apo Zong at 263 Bei Da Jie Lu as the best one to try.  For dessert my favourite Zhujiajiao snack is the flaky, sweet and salty stocking sole pastries. Although Tongli is most famous for these sesame topped treats, the ones in Zhujiajiao are just as moreish. Like the zongzi, every stall seems to have a different recipe and some are better than others but, like sex and pizza, even the bad ones are good.

Zhujiajiao is crisscrossed with rivers and streams spanned by 36 bridges ranging from wood to stone and marble and built during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The biggest stone bridge is Fangsheng Bridge (Setting-fish-free Bridge). Here you can buy bags full of goldfish and set them free in the river for good luck. (Personally, I would rather throw salt over my shoulder. It’s not like they’re going to come swimming back like those birds you release, but still.) This is also the area to catch a ride on one of the man powered dragon boats. There are short (US$9.50 per boat) and long (US$19.00 per boat) routes covering different areas of the town and it’s really worth seeing the bridges, temples and buildings from this serene perspective. Each boat can seat up to 6 people. There are loads of restaurants, teahouses and bars lining the canals, and many have little balconies overhanging the water. Lovely places to grab a bite to eat and watch the world go by. Don’t always settle for the price on the menu – some establishments can be bargained down if you haggle before the meal.

Zhujiajiao can feel a bit like a tourist trap. This is probably because it is. The ancient part of the city covers 3 square kilometers and can get crowded at times. If prices aren’t displayed (as they often aren’t in China), make sure you get a fixed price before having to fork out 10 dollars for a cup of tea that tastes like the runny stuff at the bottom of a compost heap. (I don’t actually know what the runny stuff at the bottom of a compost heap tastes like, but I imagine it’s something like that.). But it is a wonderful place to spend the day, instantly transporting you back to what life must have looked like here 1700 years ago. Just, you know, with all the added plastic and cheap T-shirts and stuff.

Getting there:  From Shanghai, take the Huzhu Express Line at People’s Square at the intersection of Pu’an Road and Jinling Road. It is an hour’s drive and costs US$2. There is a bus every half hour. Alternatively, take Line 2 on the metro all the way to Fuxing East and then catch a taxi. The ride should cost you around US$10.

For more info visit http://en.zhujiajiao.com/

Outeniqua Farmers’ Market

Outeniqua Farmers’ Market

In case you hadn’t noticed, I love food. Really. The absolute best part about having to pack up our entire lives, bid farewell to friends, pets, our country and our home and move to China is because I now have an excuse to drink all our best wines and use all the lovely goodies I’ve been hoarding in my cupboard for special occasions. (Saffron omelets with cocoa nibs for breakfast anyone? Maybe not.) But even for me, dragging myself out of bed at 6:30 on a Saturday morning to get to Wild Oats in Sedgefield before all the Île de paín ciabatta is gone or the pancake queue reaches new-iPad-on-sale proportions is a bit of a schlep (a worthwhile schlep, but a schlep none the less). So I – along with every other Georgian west of York who was relieved when the Pick & Pay mini market opened because now we don’t have to drive ALL the way to the big Pick & Pay – rejoiced when the Outeniqua Farmers Market opened their doors opposite the Garden Route Mall in November.

The creators of this foodie heaven travelled the world over to ensure they created a market that would keep people coming back and they certainly succeeded. Shaded by tall oaks, almost 80 stalls sell everything a food lover could want. Locally sourced and grown meats, breads, cheese, fruit, veg, juices, ice creams, spices, seafood and more make it a one stop shop when you need to fill your grocery cupboard. Or for those days when comfort is more important than fitting into your new Levi’s there are to die for brownies (in packaging so gorgeous you need never be stuck for a gift idea again), chocolate springrolls, nougat chocolate cups (nougat chocolate cups!), koeksisters, milktart, beautifully decorated cupcakes and just about every other gut busting sweet treat you can think of. If breakfast or lunch is all you’re after you are spoiled for choice. Rolls so soft you want to lay your head down on them with fluffy scrambled eggs and crispy bacon (lay your head on the roll, not with the eggs and bacon… you know what I mean), ciabatta with various toppings toasted in little pizza ovens, Thai and Indian curries, satays, Dutch bitterballen and kroketten, gourmet burgers and wraps, falafel and all things Lebanese, samoosas, pancakes, homemade pies of every possible description or just munch on a bit of biltong and have a great cup of coffee while you sit and watch the world go by. And at this market, the world goes by! It is a bustling hive of locals greeting each other, tourists happily calculating how much their pounds can buy and even patrons of the four legged kind giving each other friendly sniffs. There is live entertainment and lots for the kids to do with pony rides, face painting, jungle gyms and lots of space to just run and play in a safe environment. At present there is also a smaller arts and crafts area which the owners hope to grow once the food stalls are perfected. From where I’m sitting, sipping my fresh iced pineapple juice and munching on a nougat cup, they’re pretty much there already.

 Outeniqua Farmers Market

N2 (follow the signs at the circle at Sasol)

George 6530

+27 82 465 2952

www.outeniquafarmersmarket.co.za‎

Botlierskop

Botlierskop
Botlierskop2

I’ve never been a huge fan of game reserves that aren’t in the “real” bushveld. They’re like a bad toupee: Everyone knows it’s not genuine and even though it is accepted as an adequate alternative where the real thing no longer exists, it just never quite blends in flawlessly with the surrounds. If I can’t hear a Greenspotted Dove by day or a Scops Owl at night then I’m not buying it. That said, I would be lying if I pretended that sitting on the deck at Botlierskop near Mossel Bay, sipping on a G&T while an elephant browses in the gorge below you and Knysna louries feed in the Cheese Wood 5 feet away isn’t a rather nice way to work up an appetite for dinner.

Botlierskop1

The restaurant is distinctly African with sumptuous fabrics, thatch, wood and earthy tones of warm oranges and browns. The gorgeous ostrich shell light fittings bear testament to the fact that, in the right hands, even African kitsch can feel stylish. Depending on the number of guests, lunch and dinner is either a la carte or buffet, but always with a modern South African twist. Expect dishes such as biltong and blue cheese soufflé or waterbuck wrapped in pancetta and served with a red wine and berry jus. And if ever chocolate is going to kill you, then there can be no better way to go than their Chocolate Lava Pot. Service is friendly and efficient. Once you’ve worked your way through your meal, you can make your way back to the deck to have coffee around the massive bonfire.

Botlierskop3

The reserve offers a host of activities for both overnight guests and day visitors. There are game drives, horseback safaris, elephant rides and feeding, helicopter flights, guided walks and more.

The bonfire at Botlierskop.

Botlierskop Private Game Reserve

Botlierskop Farm

Gonnakraal

Little Brak River

info(at)botlierskop.co.za

+27 44 696 6055

Lunch (Buffet or A la carte) 12:00 to 15:00 R130p.p.

Dinner (Buffer or A la carte) 19:00 till late R210p.p.