Category Archives: Travel

A quiet, hot Christmas day

We are in Scottburgh, on the South Coast of South Africa.  It has been hot and humid, and yesterday was no different.

My eldest is spending his Christmas holidays in Kunjata Bay, Mozambique with his buddy Donut.  A whole group of friends went down and it sounds like they are having a ball.  He tells me that the little kids faces are starting to scar from the sun.

My husband and I, and Kyle and his buddy James, spent Christmas day by ourselves.  There were only about 9 gifts under the tree and opening them was quick.  I made bacon and eggs for brunch and in the evening we had a braai (barbecue).  It was tranquil and nice.  No tables laden with food, overeating and long naps to sleep it off.  Last night we took Cinnamon for a stroll on the beach.

Twice we tried having Christmas lunch at a restaurant and it was disastrous.  The service was bad, food took long and it just seemed gloomy, spending Christmas with strangers in a strange place.  I won’t do that soon again.  Just us, at home, is good.

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere is different from the North.  A white Christmas is an experience.  It looks, tastes and smells different.  I love the way people Christmafy their houses.  Lights and nativity scenes on a wintry, snowy landscape at night is something to behold.  And unlike the North, our December holiday is long with schools closing for about six weeks and most adults taking their annual leave to stream down to the coastal towns of SA.  Generally, decorations are kept down to a Christmas tree and some tinsel around the house.  Nothing fancy.

Turkey is not big here.  Christmas lunches would include gammon, chicken, pork and lamb roasts with potato and other salads.  And brandy pudding, Christmas cake and trifle.  If it is really hot, the meats will be served cold.

Today, the 26th of December, is as yesterday.  Hot.  Later we will make our way down to a beach, hoping that some of the crowds have gone home.

Long, lazy summer days are the hallmark of South African Christmas holidays.

On Travel

We have family in the USA and have been there several times.  During one trip we travelled by car from Vermont (near the Canadian border), all the way to Miami (very south) and back up to Boston.  A journey of almost 6,000 miles.  In another we did the West Coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, then on to North Carolina and Tennessee as well as Pensacola.

I like the US, everything is convenient.  It is our McDonald’s holiday because when you spend so much time on the road, you land up eating junk.  Travelling is easy, for example interstates running from north to south are numbered odd and from east to west, even.

I loved stopping at the convenience stores along the way for different flavoured coffees.  Pumpkin coffee, English Toffee, French Vanilla and in Boston we even had Reese’s Peanut butter Coffee.  Yum.  It is no weight-loss solution though.

I find the Americans friendly.  The Southerners have a harder time with the South African accent but in New York a guy recognized it immediately.

Imagine my surprise when one night, while clubbing away in Charleston, the lights suddenly went on at 2am and the bouncers started shouting:  “Go home!  Come on, go home!”   Hahahahaha, we were  in the Bible-belt and that is normal time for the clubs and bars to close on Saturday nights.  Presumably so that the people can still get to church in the morning.

In one trip we hopped from the US to Cancun, Mexico.  Cancun is a big hotel strip and one loooong party.  I would not take small kids.  You can stay in a 4 or 5 star hotel, full-board, giving you around 7 or 8 restaurants to choose from and all drinks free, at an affordable rate.  Definitely a good party holiday option if you stay on the main strip.

The hotel staff in Cancun impressed me to no end.  The entertainment staff, good-looking boys and girls in their early 20’s, would start at the pool at around 9 in the morning, playing games and doing all sorts of activities with the hotel guests for the day.  After supper, we would encounter them on-stage in a hotel production and at about 11pm, they would take the guests that wanted to, clubbing.  There they would have to baby-sit until the last one went home, which could be absolutely anytime.  Only to be back at the pool at 9am sharp, fresh and sharp.

The other staff was friendly too.  The head waiter dubbed husband Mr. Depardieu because he reminded him of the actor.  Full-board means that you can have any drink you like, any time, all day and all night.  Those without drinking brakes could find themselves in amusing situations.  We saw an English couple, in their late 50’s, sit in the pool’s wet bar until they were so plastered they could not get out.  The staff must have been quite used to it because within no time a wheelchair arrived and the woman was up-loaded from the pool and off-loaded in her bed.  After which they returned for the husband.

My dream for my fortieth birthday was to see a live performance of The Proclaimers.  As it turned out, they were in their own country, performing in the Edinburgh Castle.  I loved it!

Edinburgh is a beautiful city and so is most of Scotland.  I was on the greens of St. Andrew’s when I heard that my son had scored the winning try for his rugby team back home.

We travelled by road to Ireland, from Belfast to Dublin.  I found Belfast depressing.  It could have had something to do with their difficult history which we took time to explore.

We spent a bit of time in and travelling through the north of England.  The old castles and churches were historically lovely.  The UK was expensive though and we hardly bought a thing.

Phuket is for tanning and shopping.  If I ever go again, I won’t even take a suitcase because it is not called a floating market for nothing.  Hundreds and hundreds of stalls with good brand rip-offs at ridiculous prices.  You can have suits, shirts, evening wear etc made up by tailors too.

We went during their summer so the heat was intense.  You get up late, laze next to the pool, take a siesta in the afternoon and at around 5 o’clock, hit the streets and markets.

The Thai people are friendly and eager to please but there is poverty.   Food is affordable and you can buy beer on the streets to drink as you walk.  It was interesting talking to the locals about the affect the tsunami had on them.

Africa I love.  Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and the Zanzibar islands in Tanzania.  I don’t know if anything beats an African holiday for its peaceful pace and beauty.  The crime is petty but you do have to deal with bureaucracy and red tape.

Poverty is extreme but you know that you are contributing to their economies.  The people are generally friendly.  Malaria medication is recommended for most of Africa.  I would still love to visit Namibia.

South Africa and Mozambique have some of the most awesome recreational diving spots.  Ponta do Ouro in Moz and Sodwana on South Africa’s South Coast have beautiful reefs teeming with sea-life.  In Zanzibar some reefs runs at an angle so that you don’t have to do a safety stop because the ascent is slow and measured.

My family loved Malawi.  The white beaches around Lake Malawi look like tropical islands with its palm trees.  Diving the lake is different because you don’t need a buoy line.  The boat just follows the bubbles.  And fresh fish is a must.

Another dream come true was Russia.  It is an intense experience and well worth it.  However, do not atempt it if you don’t have a Russian speaking person with you or if you are not in a tour group.  Most Russians do not speak English and everything is written in their language.  You will be unable to order from a menu or find your way around by bus or train.  It is a bit scary but one does get used to it.

I found the Russian people to be abrupt and almost rude, but taking their history into consideration, it was hardly surprising.  In order to visit Russia, you need an invitation from a hotel or the person you are staying with and the visa will only be issued as per the dates of your flights, not a day longer.  Once there, you also have to check in at the nearest Police Station but if you are staying in a hotel, they will take care of that paperwork for you.

The food was affordable and delicious.  Of course, caviar and fish roe is everywhere, and cheap.  From a cultural and historical perspective, Russia is breath-taking, St. Petersburg in specific.  The country is clean and St. Petersburg is receiving a complete restoration of all the old buildings, block by block.

I don’t know if any holiday will be long enough to really take in all the palaces and works of art.  The Hermitage holds an art collection that almost rivals the Louvre.  It is mind-boggling.  We took a high-speed train from Moscow to St. Petersburg and back.  It takes only about 4 hours and travels at a speed of 240kms per hour.  Souvenirs were definitely affordable.

Two other countries that I would like to visit is Cuba and Italy.

Cuba before it changes.  I want to sit in old bars, smoke Cuban cigars and watch retro cars drive by.

In Italy I will start in Caprese, Michelangelo’s birth town.  Then follow his long-gone footsteps through the cities he worked in.  From Florence where he was trained by the house of Medici, onto Bologna and Rome.

But, as anyone can tell you that has been here, South Africa is still my wonderfully, beautiful land.