• letters with flick – a(nother) post note to “how do we fix this”?

    So a while ago, I wrote this post (How Are We Going To Fix This?) about our situation in this beautiful country of ours and how we need to address and chat about that big blue elephant in the room: RACE and PREJUDICE. I emailed my friend, Felicity, in Zimbabwe, to ask her opinion on the(…)

  • studio ellessi

    I’m not one for buying souvenirs… Eiffel Tower key rings and snow balls just don’t do it for me and the only souvenir I have in my home is a shell from Mauritius with our names engraved on it… which we mostly bought just to get the haggler to leave us in sunbathing peace. When(…)

  • the never-ending weekend

    1. lunch at the oyster box on thursday with the mum-in-law before she heads back to england 2. breakfast with the my cousins and aunties for mama bear’s birthday at hartford house on friday 3. so much red wine with my dear friend, erika 4. a misty saturday spent in bed with a book and(…)

  • rotten from top to bottom

    I am reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Have been at it for quite a while now as it’s by far the best book I’ve read in a long, long time. I re-read passages and chapters. I don’t want it to end and I’m slowing down as I near that last page which will signal(…)

  • food for thought

    My husband sent me this yesterday. It really hit home. I’m so very guilty of this and I know you probably are too. We can’t get rid of cellphones, but perhaps we need to check our patience at the door and slip those smart phones away for a few hours if we’re out for a(…)

  • travel diaries – italia (in a very tiny nutshell)

    I have been really struggling to write this post, because it’s so hard to put into words my feelings about this country. I feel like I should love Italy, and in a way, I already did, purely because Andrea, one of my best friends in the whole world, loves Italy with all her heart –(…)

  • post delight

    So I’m still thinking in ciao’s and euros and floating on a holiday balloon filled with pretty things. But I’m back. A little wiser. A lot changed. Refreshed. Confused. Slightly chubbier. Happy. Determined to see more and live a life not mediocre… a life filled with deep blue oceans and fields of yellow. A life(…)

  • travel diaries – paris

    Straight off, let it be known that I have been obsessed with France, and in particular, Paris, for almost my entire life. An insatiable appetite for romance novels featuring desirable scenes from the city of love and an unhealthy obsession with the movie French Kiss combined with having a French heritage meant that France was(…)

  • travel diaries – amsterdam

    I knew Amsterdam was going to be amazing, but I didn’t know quite how much I’d fall in love with this little city. I was expecting canals and tall skinny buildings squashed up next to one another like new lovers. I was expecting bicycles and stoners and beer. I got all of these, but to(…)

  • my lovely world

    things that made my week lovely homemade dark chocolate squares. long skype conversations with my beautiful sarah may. crossing fingers and toes that her and grumpy can meet us for a night or two in paris. or barcelona. pretending to pack for our trip but really just trying on all the clothes and creating different(…)

letters with flick – a(nother) post note to “how do we fix this”?

So a while ago, I wrote this post (How Are We Going To Fix This?) about our situation in this beautiful country of ours and how we need to address and chat about that big blue elephant in the room: RACE and PREJUDICE. I emailed my friend, Felicity, in Zimbabwe, to ask her opinion on the subject and to perhaps write a post for me and this blog on her views on the whole Africa/Colonistaion/Where Do We Go From Here? situation. I asked Felicity because, hey, we’re being honest here – she is one of the few black friends I know who I have a history with – we have sat and chatted at length about the way the world works, we have marched together and drunk together and she is just a lovely person whom although I haven’t seen for years, I trust with my life and soul. I also know I can trust her to be honest and straight with me.

To cut a long story short, Flick never wrote me that post. She reckons my post (and my asking of her opinion) has set off a massive undertaking of ideas and thoughts that she reckons she’d need a book to explain (I’m waiting. Patiently).

While I was overseas, far away from home and the problems we face on a daily basis, a friend sent me this post called Dear White South Africans, written by Ntsiki Mazwai, which spread like wildfire and which was (in a very small nutshell) about Heritage Day and how re-naming it National Braai Day is a slap in the face for black Africans. To be honest, when I first read this post, I completely agreed with the author –  she has some very valid points, especially regarding the language part. While I grew up on a farm and was rather fluent in Zulu as a child, I lost this skill as soon as I started attended public school. I regret this to this day and I am determined to learn Zulu again. The more I re-read the post (and I read it a lot) though, the more I became a little frightened by the aggressive undertone of the piece. So I sent it to Flick. This is our Facebook conversation following said article.

Listen, I’m not saying what either of us have said is right or wrong, but we began speaking about race and Africa and we engaged in a no-holds-barred conversation about how both of us felt. I want you to read this and I want you to participate in this conversation because talking about where are IS THE ONLY WAY WE’RE GOING TO FIX THIS. So don’t be scared about how you feel – it’s how you feel! – it’s the world we’ve born into, it’s the prejudices we’ve packed into our little life backpack since the moment we took a breath in this place we call home. Read our conversation, leave a comment, leave an opinion, engage or not, but seriously, it’s time to talk. Let’s express what we’re all feeling, with no judgement or hatred. What’s done is done. It’s time to fix it.

Keri Bainborough:

http://ntsikimazwai.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/dear-white-south-africans/

Hey Flick – what do you think of this? Just been sent it. Xxx

Felicity Sibindi:
I read it.. then re-read it. As a black person, I can fully understand what she is talking about…. just last Friday I was ranting at how white Zimbabweans look down on black Zimbabweans who speak with an indigenous accent not realising themselves that the Zimbabwean white person English accent is weird on its own anyways. And it is so easy to get mad at a group of people who sit across from me in a restaurant and look down their nose at me for being the only black person there…. it grinds.. it pisses on my batteries and I can feel where Ntsiki’s anger is coming from. HOWEVER, I don’t think her delivery is useful at all. This is something I have noticed about the whole race rhetoric in SA, it is very aggressive… the anger is so close to the surface that it makes it impossible to have a calm and reasonable dialogue. Ntsiki’s piece is a put-down-smack-down that is not useful. She makes valid points, but they stop meaning anything when the motive is to slap back so to speak. She needs a little more Mandela and a little less Julius. We need to be able to look past our own hurts and speak to the bigger picture.

And this argument that white people are European… ughh… it is annoying… and complex. I believe white Africans are African… there is a HUGE distinction between white people who grew up in Africa and those who grew up in Europe. The history is centuries old and so legitimately it is difficult for the ordinary white African to trace their steps back to wherever their ancestors came from, and they shouldn’t have to. After all.. Africa is a continent made of movement. I am Ndebele living in Zimbabwe, for example, but my people are originally Zulu and Sotho… we moved.. historically… the movements of the Bantu are a clear case… no-one in the world “belongs” anywhere… the Americans are immigrants, the Scandinavian countries are rich in histories of movement, Asia, Eastern Europe.. everywhere.. we all moved.. at some stage.. at some time… sometimes for good.. .. most times for bad. So illegitimising white Africans is unnecessary and petty in my opinion. It’s the Julius rhetoric.. this is not constructive.. its just made to instigate violence and anger.  That being said however… the refusal to learn indigenous languages for example, because they aren’t “important enough” is wrong… and that is non-African (or anti-African) behaviour. So as a white African… it would be, and should be, normal to speak a local language. This is not to deny learning English or Afrikaans, however if you live and grew up in an area – the local language should be what you speak. The duality of claiming to be African as a white person, and at the same time looking down on local languages, is unacceptable and pisses off black Africans. That is quite straight forward. The same applies to dual citizenship… claiming to be African and holding an ancestral British passport as a lot of my friends here do.. its just plain annoying, man. It says, “I’ll be African so long as its fun.. then when things get rough.. I’m gone.” So (*big heavy sigh) these are the things that inspire Nstiki-ites. Thing is… people still haven’t dealt with their emotionsthe forced rainbow nation was psychologically damaging to South Africans.
A REAL Truth and Reconcialiation Commission needs to be held, not the fiasco Tutu did in the ambiance that was Mandela-time.
Otherwise the bickering will continue.
Hugging you!!!

Keri Bainborough: (having just arrived home from Europe)
Agreed! With everything you have said. Thanks for that Flick. Sorry for the late reply.
I agreed with a lot of her points, but I thought she executed it very aggressively, and to be honest it made me feel that I don’t want to live here anymore. Too many people – quite obviously – don’t want me here. I feel uncomfortable in my skin and in the country of my birth. And I’m tired. I want to live somewhere where I can contribute to society and be appreciated for it. Ugh. Maybe I’m having a bad day… post travel blues.
Lots of love xxx

Felicity Sibindi:
Keri, I totally understand post – travel blues and the back to reality feeling. Don’t worry, things will settle, they always do. In terms of not wanting to stay in SA or feeling that there are too many people who don’t want you in SA or Africa in general, well… that, my dear, is entirely up to you. You, you have one life, be true to yourself. Having said that however, I am just going to point out a few things to balance the equation. I hope I don’t offend you, I am just trying to show you the other end of the scale. This is also NOT to make you feel guilty. I think a lot of white people think black people want to make them feel guilty and don’t realise that there is a difference between being conscious of ones privilege and… feeling guilty for something you didn’t personally do. I will debunk the privilege thing. I, for example, am middle class black – I went to private school, I speak the Queen’s English and I easily relate to my white colleagues. This gives me a HUGE edge over my cousins who grew up in the location. As a child, this led to a lot of resentment between us because they felt I was trying to be white and I thought they were just jealous. Thing is, in reality I DO have far more opportunities than them. I get chosen before them in job interviews; I get a better paying job; I get to make enough money to travel for fun; I live in a bigger house; I can afford hobbies like photography. These are situations where I get to enjoy things partly because I work hard for them, but also partly because I sound “whiter” than them and therefore I am more easily employed. A woman who works just as hard as me, who is just as intelligent if not more, but speaks “bad” English would not land the same job. And that is where the anger and resentment comes. Yes, I work hard for my shit, but I do have an advantage and it is not like I chose to be born middle class, as much as my cousins didn’t choose to be born poor. In the same way, we don’t choose to be born black or white – it is not an achievement to be born a certain colour, however the world works in such a way that it appears so. As much as I am “rewarded” for my private school accent, white Africans in general get “rewarded” for a lot of things that they didn’t work for. We still live in a world where white privilege is everywhere and it is to a higher degree in Africa. You just might be so used to it that you don’t realise it. Being a black student at Rhodes, for example, is a completely different ball game to being a white Rhodent, but I bet you didn’t see it (while you were there, in that situation). I am just generalising here. Sometimes when I sit with my white friends at a restaurant and the waiter ignores me, they don’t notice it because he will be super nice to them. When doing my Masters in Germany and I was friends with an Australian girl, I had far better German language skills than her, but everywhere we went people were rude to me for not speaking German, but never once gave her flak for her inability to speak the language. Basically, what I am trying to say is that even though you might feel unappreciated in South Africa, you are living in a country where its still far much easier to be white than black. Also, in order for one to contribute meaningfully anywhere in the world does not require ideal conditions – the best contributions are from difficult spaces. It is not the duty of black South Africans to “want” you – do you “want” them? Living in a nation is co-existing - no-one needs to be grateful to another for being there just as in a family you don’t “want” your brothers and sisters – they just happen to be your brothers and sisters! Finally, coz damn.. this was a messy message… think about your post-travel blues. Now imagine yourself as a maid in a white family household. You go to work in the morning, the house you work in has electricity, nice food, nice cars etc. Then at the end of the day you go home to your one-bedroom shack with no electricity, no water and a gutter for a garden. That post-holiday blue you are feeling, try doing it daily. Okay, I hope that somehow made sense… I wish I could sit down with you over a cup of tea. This stuff is difficult and so many people get hurt for nothing. Keri, you are strong, you are real… you are not the type of African who bails out when the going gets tough… well I don’t think so anyways. I am super proud to have you as a friend and I would be sad if you left…. but at the same time…. one life… do as you Hell…. I might even join you one day… just make sure you are leaving for the right reasons.

Keri Bainborough:

Thanks Flick – I loved reading your reply and I agree with everything you say and of course I appreciate and understand my privilege. I live on a farm so I see the lowest levels of poverty. I see the staff being paid only R2500 a month and having to survive on it (and god knows, it makes me so guilty and I don’t have the power to change it). I see it all every day and I’m not a white girl living in a secluded flat in a big city who only interacts with her black maid once a week and sees a black beggar every now and then at the robot.
I see it and it breaks my heart and I think I want to run away because I can’t see a solution to it. I also see so much fear and anger and hatred here (perhaps I am imagining it?) from both sides (black and white).
You NEED to please write what you have said above for my post because I love what you have said here:
It is not the duty of black South Africans to “want” you – do you “want” them? Living in a nation is co-exisiting, no-one needs to be grateful to another for being there just as in a family you don’t “want” your brothers and sisters, they just happen to be your brothers and sisters.”
THAT IS GROUND BREAKING RIGHT THERE. South Africans need to read this!!! If you don’t write it soon, I may just publish our private message conversation! (which I’ve done)
Thanks for helping me see things with new eyes.
I think Mandela wanted black and white to be friends straight away and to make each other feel wanted, and like you’ve said before, it WAS too soon. One can’t go from hating one another and being taught that the other is inferior, dirty, dumb blah blah (all those ugly racist things) and then the next minute all hold hands and sing kumba-ya. We need to debunk those reasons for hating one another (if that makes sense?) before we can move on.
Ah man, wish you were here next to me chatting right now!!! No tea – gin and tonics please!!! Sending hugs xxxx

Felicity Sibindi:

LOL…yes…GnTs….I NEED one. Go forth and publish love. I should copy paste my whatsapp convos to you yoo . Its such a HUGE topic. But ay..don’t feel bad for the poor. Black or white. Rather do something to help. And I think you are doing it already. You have a voice… a very powerful one. One that the right ears would listen to.

Keri Bainborough:

Thanks sweetheart.

PS: I think that sad message that I sent before came from a place of having really enjoyed being in Europe because for once I didn’t feel guilty about what I had because everyone there is kind of on the same level wealth-wise? But like you said, that’s my baggage. I dunno! Will keep working through it.

But staying here completely for now – I AM African, skin colour and social class aside!
xxx

Yes, this conversation may between a white privileged girl and an educated black middle class Zimbabwean girl (granted this is the dialogue of Rhodes-educated Africans and there are far many more layers of race and social classes to delve into). But at least we’re having it. We were speaking our truths and trying to find a middle ground, a solution. I beg of you to take part – in a non-hateful. constructive way. What do you fear? What do you hate? What do you hope for? What do you wish was different?

Leave a comment below if you will – let’s talk. I refuse to believe that our future is dust and hatred and violence and sadness.

Felicity

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studio ellessi

I’m not one for buying souvenirs… Eiffel Tower key rings and snow balls just don’t do it for me and the only souvenir I have in my home is a shell from Mauritius with our names engraved on it… which we mostly bought just to get the haggler to leave us in sunbathing peace. When we came across the lovely Elles selling her prints and cushions of Amsterdam at a market on our very first sunny day in Europe, I was smitten. Her style is simple and pretty and so individual and after umming and awwwwing for a good fifteen minutes, we settled on these two black and white ink pieces.

1256871_orig 7089854_origShe signed them for us and then put them in a big brown envelope and then we carried that damn envelope throughout Europe – on trams and trains and planes and taxis in Paris, Milan, Rome, Florence, Amalfi and Barcelona. And they made it through! The plan was to then try and buy something similar in every city we visited, but we couldn’t find any others we liked or that would go well with these trendy two. Also, we started realising just how we weren’t going to be able to stick to our daily budget if we bought anything other than food and transport tickets! As soon as we got home, we took our prints down to Jeff at Cottage Framing in Pietermaritzburg who has been doing my mom’s framing for as long as I can remember. He said he’d be able to iron out any battle wounds from their tour of Europe and we chose a simple black frame with an ivory mat and thin black indent to give the images more depth and emphasis.

photo

Within ten days they were ready and they now take pride of place in our living room. I love them – and not just for their undeniable coolness, but for the journey they took with us and the part they play in our memories of an amazing time. Oh, and because they make me look super grown up. I have framed pictures on my walls, guys!!! Next thing you know I’ll be spending my weekends in BuildIt.

Check out more of Elles’s work by clicking here at Studio Ellessi. If any of these prints tickle your fancy, just pop Ellessi an email and she will send them through. I’m loving these two colourful delights at the moment and I may or may not have ordered a third mate to join the other two already…

7297331_orig5307554_origIllustrations all by Studio Ellessi 

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the never-ending weekend

1. lunch at the oyster box on thursday with the mum-in-law before she heads back to england

2. breakfast with the my cousins and aunties for mama bear’s birthday at hartford house on friday

3. so much red wine with my dear friend, erika

4. a misty saturday spent in bed with a book and copious cups of coffee

5. a trip to ardmore ceramics and coffee and cake at caversham mill with nicola

6. a catch up at meander fine wines and an unplanned roast chicken dinner

7. coffee and more catching up at blueberry cafe with jane and laurie and piggies on a plate at the winkel

8. pizza and wine at artisan with chè

Goodness, that is a lot of catching up (and food. and wine). I have a feeling this long weekend might extend into next week, starting with the oxtail for breakfast that we’ve been cooking since yesterday afternoon. Getting back to reality is tough, right?

photo

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rotten from top to bottom

I am reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Have been at it for quite a while now as it’s by far the best book I’ve read in a long, long time. I re-read passages and chapters. I don’t want it to end and I’m slowing down as I near that last page which will signal the tragic end of my momentary heaven.

Whilst in Europe, Andrew and I spoke a lot about everything – from where we want to live and explore, to have kids or not, to just how important money is in relation to a passion for your vocation. We spoke about greed and corruption and how the world population has exploded over the last sixty years, while the resources we need to feed ourselves are all rapidly diminishing before our eyes. We be deep, yo. One night in the Navigli district in Milan, in the middle of a sea of strangers all speaking in a language we couldn’t understand, we got pretty philosophical and debated and discussed the whole point of life. As we often do after a couple of glasses of wine. A couple of days later, I read this passage from Goldfinch and man, it hit me straight in the chest. It was almost exactly what we had been discussing in the Navigli midnight light – except obviously far more eloquently put. I’ve read this over and over again over the last few weeks. I’ve bookmarked it with a touristy-mosaic-printed bookmark from Barcelona and I keep going back to it. It is so sad and so beautiful and the imagery Tartt creates through her words is truly a work of art. Read this. And I dare you to not be moved. In either way.

“But depression wasn’t the word. This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game. Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Oh, isn’t he cute? Awww. Kids shouting and skidding in the playground with no idea what future Hells await them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of the human predicament look somewhat more mysterious or less abhorrent. People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbors and pored over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organizations and supported political candidates and attended the U.S. Open and dined and travelled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were. But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it. It was rotten from top to bottom.”
― Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

midnight

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food for thought

My husband sent me this yesterday. It really hit home. I’m so very guilty of this and I know you probably are too. We can’t get rid of cellphones, but perhaps we need to check our patience at the door and slip those smart phones away for a few hours if we’re out for a meal with our loved ones. This is written by the owner of a popular restaurant in New York, but I think it can apply to places all over the world. Take a read.

A busy NYC restaurant kept getting bad reviews for slow service and so they hired a firm to investigate. When they compared camera footage from 2004 to footage from 2014, they made some pretty startling discoveries. Here is their story:

“We are a popular restaurant for both locals and tourists alike. Having been in the business for many years, we noticed that although the number of customers we serve on a daily basis is almost the same today as it was ten years ago, the service just seems to super slow even when we added more staff and cut back on the menu items.

One of the most common complaints on review sites against us and many restaurants in the area is that the service was slow and/or they needed to wait a bit longer for a table.

We decided to hire a firm to help us solve this mystery, and naturally the first thing they blamed it on was that the employees need more training and that maybe the kitchen staff is just not up to the task of serving that many customers.

Like most restaurants in NYC we have a surveillance system, and unlike today where it is a digital system, ten years ago we still used special high-capacity tapes to record all activity. At any given time we had four special Sony systems recording multiple cameras. We would store the footage for ninety days just in case we needed it for something.

The firm we hired suggested that we locate some of the older tapes and analyze how the staff behaved ten years ago versus how they behave now. We went down to our storage room, but we couldn’t find any tapes at all.

We did find the recording devices, and luckily for us, each device had one tape in it that we simply never removed when we upgraded to the new digital system.

The date stamp on the old footage was Thursday, July 1, 2004. The restaurant was very busy that day. We loaded up the footage on a large monitor, and next to it on a separate monitor loaded up the footage of Thursday, July 3 2014, with roughly the same amount of customers as ten years before.

I will quickly outline the findings. We carefully looked at over forty-five transactions in order to determine the data below:

2004:

Customers walk in.

They are seated and are given menus. Out of forty-five customers, three request to be seated elsewhere.

Customers on average spend eight minutes before closing the menu to show they are ready to order.

Waiters shows up almost instantly takes the order.

Appetizers are fired within six minutes, obviously the more complex items take longer.

Out of forty-five customers, two sent items back.

Waiters keep an eye out for their tables so they can respond quickly if the customer needs something.

After guests are done, the check delivered, and within five minutes they leave.

Average time from start to finish: one hour and five minutes.

2014:

Customers walk in.

Customers are seated and given menus. Out of forty-five customers, eighteen requested to be seated elsewhere.

Before opening the menu, they take their phones out. Some are taking photos while others are simply doing something else on their phone (sorry, we have no clue what they are doing and do not monitor customer WIFI activity).

Seven out of the forty-five customers had waiters come over right away, they showed them something on their phone and spent an average of five minutes of the waiter’s time. Given this is recent footage, we asked the waiters about this and they explained that those customers had a problem connecting to the WIFI and demanded that the waiters try to help them.

Finally the waiters are walking over to the table to see what the customers would like to order. The majority have not even opened the menu and ask the waiter to wait a bit.

Customer opens the menu, places their hands holding their phones on top of it and continue doing whatever on their phone.

Waiter returns to see if they are ready to order or have any questions. The customer asks for more time.

Finally they are ready to order.

Total average time from when the customer was seated until they placed their order – twenty-one minutes.

Food starts getting delivered within six minutes, obviously the more complex items take way longer.

Twenty-six out of forty-five customers spend an average of three minutes taking photos of the food.

Fourteen out of forty-five customers take pictures of each other with the food in front of them or as they are eating the food. This takes on average another four minutes as they all must review the photo and sometimes retake the photo.

Nine out of forty-five  customers sent their food back to reheat. Obviously if they didn’t pause to do whatever on their phone, the food wouldn’t have got cold.

Twenty-seven out of forty-five customers asked their waiter to take a group photo. Fourteen of those requested the waiter retake the photo as they were not pleased with the first photo. On average this entire process between the chit-chatting and reviewing the photo taken added another five minutes and obviously caused the waiter not to be able to take care of other tables he/she was serving.

Given in most cases the customers are constantly busy on their phones it took an average of twenty minutes more from when they were done eating until they requested a check. Furthermore once the check was delivered it took fifteen minutes longer than ten years ago for them to pay and leave.

Eight out of forty-five customers bumped into other customers or in one case a waiter (texting while walking) as they were either walking in or out of the restaurant.

Average time from start to finish: One hour and fifty-five minutes.

We are grateful for everyone who comes into our restaurant, after all there are so many choices out there. But can you please be a bit more considerate – towards us and the company you keep?”

nowifiSource: Craigslist

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travel diaries – italia (in a very tiny nutshell)

I have been really struggling to write this post, because it’s so hard to put into words my feelings about this country. I feel like I should love Italy, and in a way, I already did, purely because Andrea, one of my best friends in the whole world, loves Italy with all her heart – so much so that she made it her home for four years. I’m not sure if the Italy we saw was her Italy. To be honest, my first impressions of the Italian landscape was how much it reminded me of South Africa (except obviously for the ancient ruins). To be even more honest, I’m currently engaged in a tumultuous relationship with my country of birth, and the nuances of this relationship became a part of my judgement of Italy, which is perhaps unfair. Italy is not like the rest of the Europe we experienced. Things don’t necessarily run on time and not much is set in stone. Corruption is rife, the mafia is an actual real thing, the people hate their politicians and the country is in a serious recession. Italy is the Africa of Europe. And like my relationship with Africa, in Italy I was torn between intense emotions of love and hate, visions of extreme beauty and ugliness, and heart-wrenching moments of kindness and cruelty.

ItaliaI wasn’t sure whether to divide this post into the various places we saw in Italy, or to discuss the country in general. I’m going to do a bit of both, so please bear with me. There’s no way I can go into detail about this crazy beautiful place, but I write real good so it shouldn’t be too tough to keep up!

THE PEOPLE

If I thought the Parisians were passionate, I sure had another thing coming. One thing Italians are not is ambivalent. About anything. Whether chatting to a neighbour on the street or a friend on the tram, loud noises and hand gestures are par for the course. LOUD NOISES. Waiters were either super friendly or completely uninterested. Because waiters don’t earn tips, their attitude towards you is luck of the draw. I often felt compelled to woo and charm the waiters and waitress – just to get a smile out of some of them felt like I’d won first prize in the Cool Kids Contest. The Italians are gorgeous – and not just the specimens we saw in Milan during fashion week. They take such pride in their appearance and I must say, the Italians have inspired me to jack up my overall look – maybe go for a haircut now and then, shape my eyebrows or something.

The men… oh, THE MEN. What is it about an Italian man in a well-cut suit and dark sunglasses? In Milan especially, the men all rocked suits – old or young, it didn’t matter. Even the more casual peeps were still in the trendiest threads and hairstyles. An Italian man cannot walk past a mirrored surface without checking his hairdo. I swear. They are so serious about their hair that every hairdryer in every Italian hotels we stayed at was The Comfort 2000. While the hairdryers in Amsterdam and Paris almost required pedalling a bicycle to start them, the Comfort 2000 generated enough power on its own to start a jumbo jet! And if the Parisian women are all about the understated style, Milanese women are complete glamour pusses – big hair, lots of makeup and sky high heels are everywhere. If you can imagine Sandton City filled with sexy housewives on a Saturday morning, you can imagine the average Italian woman.milanFOOD AND DINING

Ah, man. I hate to say it, but overall I was disappointed with the food in Italy. No two ways about it. Except for an exceptionally delicious (vegetarian) lunch we had on the beach at a place called One Fire Beach in Praiano on the Amalfi Coast, no other meals really stand out in my mind as particularly amazing. Maybe I was expecting too much or perhaps this is because we mainly stayed in cities and tourist hubs – although we did actively attempt to seek out places packed with locals. I ate overcooked pasta and undercooked risotto, tasteless pizzas and so, so, so much bread. I am determined to return to Italy with Andrea one day and hopefully she will take me to a little village where a little old lady will cook me something homemade and delightful. With all the beautiful fresh produce around and the pure passion the Italians emit, I have faith that I will one day have the perfect and true Italian meal of my dreams – in Italy.

We did have a couple of yummy aperitivo sessions in Italy though, most memorably in Rome and a place (ironically) called Cape Town in Navigli in Milan. Aperitivo is the practise of going out for a drink before dinner (usually aperitivo runs from about about 5pm-8pm), and bars will serve snacks and nibbles with your drinks and some even have entire snack buffet tables which you can help yourself to with your order of drinks. These snacks usually consist of olives, hams, cheeses, and small savoury pastries such as this gorgeous little aubergine and tomato “cake” we had at a bar in Rome. It’s customary to drink “stomach-opening” drinks containing bitter alcohols such as Campari, which help get the digestive juices flowing before dinner. My favourite aperitif drink was called Aperol Spritz and consists of Campari and soda served with a slice of orange. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! I think I’m going to fix myself one this evening, actually.

Meals in Italy, especially lunch, and especially a Sunday lunch, can become coma-inducing. Starters, a first course (usually a pasta-based dish), a second course (usually your meat or fish) and sweets are consumed. We decided to do the whole proper four course Italian meal at a restaurant in Rome for a Sunday lunch. MY GOD. We couldn’t move afterwards and blew so much of our euros that my brain (and heart) hurts to think about it even now. Important to remember when eating out in Italian restaurants is that a cover charge (anything between one to five euros) is often included on your bill (this is basically like paying “rent” for your table and is meant to cover the cost of your bread and olive oil); if you want your meat dish with vegetables or salad or chips, you have to order it extra as a side dish (usually at about four to six euros each) and it is seriously frowned upon to tip waiters and waitresses. We were severely stung by cover charge at the very first Italian place we ate at in Milan, and became very conscious of checking for this sneaky charge before we ate at places. We found that if you sweet-talked the owner and told him how delicious his bread or meat was, the cover charge often miraculously disappeared off the bill. Another reason why Italy is so much like South Africa. Ass-kissing works!

On the whole, we found good food and good restaurants in Italy to be luck of the draw. Trip Advisor was often misleading (as it usually is) and we had some of our best meals at places that looked like they were going to be rubbish and the yummiest caffe we had all holiday was from a tiny family-run corner store in Florence in Piazza Della Republica. If you’re looked for cheap, delicious coffee, look for slightly dodgy looking little cafe/pubs filled with little old men reading newspapers and drinking espressos. They often have “Tabbachi” written above the door and a caffe should not cost you more than eighty euro cents there (as opposed the the three or four euros they charge in Paris).

romeTRANSPORT

We got around Italy by train before we rented a car from Rome to Amalfi. The trains are clean and safe and run (mostly) on time. Man, I’m a fan of the train. There is nothing better than watching the countryside whizz by at 300kms per hour. Tuscany looked particularly amazing as we zoomed past and I would really like to return there one day. In Milan we used the underground metro to get around, which was really clean and ran on time (this may just have been because of fashion week, but we weren’t complaining). In Rome we used trams (there is an underground, but there are only two lines available due to all the ancient underground ruins) which were hot and sweaty and not always on time, but relatively cheap. We walked a lot in Italy – way, way more than we did in Amsterdam and Paris. In Florence, we did not use public transport once, other than a taxi to get us to and from the station with all our bags. There are no trams in Florence as the city is really tiny and many of the roads are impossible to drive on due to their narrowness and the excess of walking tourists. On the Amalfi Coast we took a hair-raising bus ride on the notoriously scary roads. Yoh. Those roads made me develop a rash from breaking out in fearful sweats. I much preferred walking and clinging to the side of the cliff if two cars had to come past at once. Our bus driver had to stop for ten minutes at one stage to negotiate a corner with another bus. The two drivers got out of their vehicles, assessed the situation, told all other traffic to reverse and then slowly negotiated getting past each other. All the while you’re looking out the window at a sheer drop down a very high cliff straight into the sea. Not for pussies. Due to situations like these, the buses on the Amalfi Coast do not always run on schedule! But they’ll get to your stop, eventually. Don’t rush. Pretend you’re in Africa.

On the island of Capri we rented a little scooter. The road up from the harbour to Ana Capri at the top of the island is next level scary, but worth it if only for the most beautiful views you have ever seen. Ferries and private boats run all day between the Amafli Coast and Capri, and I cannot emphasise the importance of taking a boat while you’re in the area to see the views of the coastal towns properly. Seeing Positano and Amalfi and Furore from the sea is a sight burnt into my memory for the rest of this lifetime and probably the next. Indescribably breathtaking.amalfiamalfi

THE SIGHTS AND CULTURAL STUFF

Milan

We only had one day in Milan, which, looking back at, I’m really sad about – because it may just be the city I loved the most in Italy – even more than Florence (yes, I said it). Our day in Milan was spent exploring the Duomo, wondering around the very expensive department store next to it and marvelling at all the pretty things. Italy has made me fall hopelessly back in love with fashion again – clothes made with passion and clothes as an art form is such a wondrous thing. I couldn’t afford any of it, but at least my eyes were happy. In the afternoon, we wandered around the Navigli district, an area which we returned to again in the evening for aperitivo. The Duomo is just incredible – made almost entirely out of marble and with it’s impressive spires, it’s a must-see in Milan. Unfortunately, while we were there a lot of the building was hidden behind scaffolding. As with a lot of historical places in Italy, I think autumn is generally the season when renovations happen. I’ll take it for the lack of summer crowds and queues though!Milan

Florence

You have to see the Duomo, of course. Famous for its massive dome, historians still have no idea how it was constructed when it was without the use of scaffolding and modern-day construction methods. You can walk up the tower for views, but we chose to climb the (much higher) tower of the near-by Mvseo di Palazzo Vecchio so that we could see views of Florence with the Duomo in them. Clever, hey? The Mvseo di Palazzo Vecchio housed the governing families and bodies of Firenze from the end of the thirtieth century and is filled with impressive Renaissance art work and sculptures. Every room is an artwork in itself – from massive reception rooms with amazing ceiling work to little chapel rooms. The Room of Maps was particularly impressive – it’s filled with beautiful old maps of the world drawn in the Renaissance era – incredibly accurate considering they were drawing them without having seen the earth from sky. When in Firenze, you must go to the Piazzo Santo Spirito at night, buy a bottle or two of beer from the Chinese shop around the corner and sit on the church steps drinking and eating takeaway with the rest of the locals and art students. It’s too awesome.

Otherwise just walk around. Walk over the river. Walk up the steepest hill in the world to Fort Di Belvedere. Get lost. We avoided the touristy side of the river (the Duomo side) with all the big overpriced Chanel and Gucci and Louis Vuitton shops as much as we could, simply because they were so touristy (and expensive! I honestly don’t understand how anyone earning rands can buy anything by any label in Europe). Florence is choc-a-bloc with American tourists and was the one place in Italy where I hardly heard any Italian spoken on the streets. So wander around until your feet get sore and then rest on the steps of an old pretty building and suck on a cheap supermarket beer. Ah, man. It’s the best!photo 3santa spirito

Rome

We walked this city flat. It was too hot to do anything during the day other than eat and sleep. We also hit some major traveller exhaustion on the day we arrived in Rome which called for a hotel day – this is what we call staying in your pyjamas all day, watching tv and ordering takeaways. As soon as it started getting cooler in the evening, we would whip on our walking gear and trek. The one night we walked thirteen kilometres and saw the Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon, the Piazzo Navona, the Piazzo del Popolo and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna (among so many other beautiful and impressive places and buildings I fail to remember the names of).

Of course, we visited the Colosseo and The Forum ruins, which was mind blowing. The Colosseo was super eerie and made me sad. So many people (between 500 and 750 000 human beings) and animals were killed there for the entertainment of others. The crosses embedded into the walls every two metres served purely to solidify the anti-religious sentiment that runs deep in my bones. We didn’t get to see the Vatican, but I was pretty much over all religious jols after the Colosseo. We walked through parks and down little side streets. We walked over the river into Trastavere (great bars and nightlife), but we mostly hung around our neighbourhood (Parioli) and pretended we were Italian and made friends with waiters and dog walkers and watched young parents strolling around with their kids.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset photo 4photo 5

The Amalfi Coast

The coast was all about relaxation for us after all the craziness of the cities, but if you feel in need of some art and culture, you must visit the little village of Ravello while you’re there. Take a bus up the mountain to Ravello from the town of Amalfi. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO WALK UP THE MOUNTAIN IN A MINI SKIRT. Ha. Thanks Google Maps. Seriously though, the walk was beautiful, but if you do it, wear walking gear and take a bottle of water. Google Maps told us it was only a 600m walk – it neglected to tell us that it would take an hour and a half to do those 600m because we were basically walking up a cliff face at a ratio of 1:1! There are great art galleries and little shops in Ravello and many, many wine bars. YUM. It’s chilly in the shade up there due to the height, so take something warm if you’re there in autumn. There are so many old buildings and churches on the Amalfi Coast and due to the lack of flat ground and wide roads, the best thing to do is to just walk around the little streets and take it all in. My favourite place to wander around was the little village of Praiano – take a walk down to the beaches (go to One Fire Beach, rent a bed and eat their delicious food – chat up the owner, Piccoletto – he is delightful and hands out free watermelon slices at about 5pm), pass little homes and walk through church squares and take it all in. The tiny corner shops in Praiano are amazing – the quality and variety of their produce should make our local Spar feel very ashamed. Just a warning – the sand beach on Maoiri (the only natural sand beach on the coast) is really dirty – only the sections where you have to pay for a sunbed are swept and kept tidy! Be prepared to lie amongst lots of cigarette buds and rubbish if you don’t hire one. In fact, rather just laugh it off and go to the beaches in Praiano – much better!

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Capri

We stayed in the little village of Ana Capri and spent most of our time wandering around this beautiful place as we were only on the island for one day. Take a walk down the residential cobbled streets and marvel at the old postboxes and beautiful mosaics. Everyone is obsessed with mosaics here and they decorate most homes and shops – making everything a true feast for the eyes. We took the scooter to The Lighthouse and of course, to The Grotto Azzure, where you swim into a cave lit up with a magnificent blue light. If we had stayed for another night (which I wish we had – the locals in Capri were the friendliest Italians of them all), we would liked to have rented a boat and sailed around the island. We ate dinner that night at a place called Da Gelsomina where I had the best Caprese salad of my life and drank two (!) bottles of their homemade wine! I also saw the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen from the island of Capri at the lookout point at Parco Filosofico (just a short walk from Da Gelsomina). Oooo and if you’re ever there, you must taste the craft beer made in Ana Capri (in a brewery behind the church, of course)! It’s called Birracapri and it was so delicious that we’re thinking of importing some for the restaurant! Ladies, try the Lemon Peel. Smashing.

Processed with VSCOcam with h1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with h1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset photo 3-4We spent most of our European holiday in Italy and I still feel like I barely know her at all. I must return to play in Tuscany, and swim in the lakes and lie on the beaches in the North and glide around Venice. And I still want to visit that little village and have homemade pasta made for me by that little old lady. Okay, maybe, despite her many faults, just maybe… I am completely in love with Italy after all.

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post delight

So I’m still thinking in ciao’s and euros and floating on a holiday balloon filled with pretty things.

But I’m back.

A little wiser.

A lot changed.

Refreshed.

Confused.

Slightly chubbier.

Happy.

Determined to see more and live a life not mediocre… a life filled with deep blue oceans and fields of yellow. A life lived well and true. A life spoken in different tongues and recorded in ticket stubs. A life lived with you and far away from maybe.j

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travel diaries – paris

Straight off, let it be known that I have been obsessed with France, and in particular, Paris, for almost my entire life. An insatiable appetite for romance novels featuring desirable scenes from the city of love and an unhealthy obsession with the movie French Kiss combined with having a French heritage meant that France was always on my bucket list. Have I mentioned that I love wine? Oh, and at one stage I truly believed that I was a descendant of Joan of Arc… although I’m pretty sure she never had children.

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I had high hopes for Paris. And to tell the truth, she was not like anything I had imagined. While she is still utterly and breathtakingly beautiful in my eyes, she now has an edge to her… an edge that makes her more real. And just like a lover discovering new angles and personalities to their partner, so has my relationship with Paris become more complex. She is a contradiction. She is beautiful and dirty at the same time and she can turn from being as friendly as a summer breeze to as mean as cat shit in a single moment.

Before we left, someone said to us that four days in Paris was too much. I disagree completely – although my wallet is breathing a sigh of relief as we leave! I feel like I’ve barely even scratched the surface of this enormous city. There are so many more areas and suburbs and little shops and galleries to explore and so many more croissants and coffees to taste (I have re-newed my obsession with espresso thanks to a rather condescending waitress near Notre Dame. She may have been condescending, but she was right – the French usually are. A short, strong coffee is so much better than a long Americano). And then there is still the entire French countryside waiting for my return!

Visiting Paris has left me wanting to tame the French and to make Paris my bitch. I want the Parisians to fall in love with me as much as I love them… and that’s the attraction of the French – their self-assuredness in their absolute marvellousness makes them irresistible. They know they have the best style and the most delicious wines and greatest literature and that they brought about the modern world as we now know it. They truly believe that they are the best. And that is why you either love them or hate them – with a passion. And believe me, I don’t think they would have it any other way.

things you need to know about paris

Taxi Drivers

We got to and from our hotel via taxi and then everywhere else by the Paris Metro. If you’re already a fan of Uber, I recommend using them above the city taxi’s. Both our taxi drivers were rude to the point of where I wanted the floor to swallow me up. Don’t expect a friendly chat or even civil silence – they sit on their phones and swear and hoot at other drivers. Our last taxi driver in particular ripped us off something crazy – and even charged us two euros each for our bags on top of a ludicrous starting fee of eight euros twenty. Perhaps not all taxi drivers are like this, but we will definitely be sticking to only Uber taxi’s from now on – at least their system is internationally standardised and your trip will be far more pleasant – not to mention cheaper. And every euro counts in Paris, believe me!

The Metro 

The Paris Metro is fabulous and quick, but rather difficult to get the hang off in terms of stops and direction. I recommend downloading the app Metro Paris and familiarising yourself with the routes before you get there to help you with finding the correct lines to take to get to certain locations – it is a life saver! Just a warning, there are some crazies on the metro, especially on the weekend – in four days we saw a man walking up and down preaching (loudly) to whomever happened to glance at him; two guys rapping and breakdancing, as well as numerous other musicians busking on the metro. This mainly happens over the weekend – but do not feel that you need to give them money. As for the crazies, just ignore them – there are usually lots of other “normals/muggles” just like you on the metro, and I didn’t feel threatened once. The metro is self regulating in this way. Fellow passengers are civil and polite on the metro, just remember to steer clear of the doors and passageways when others are getting on and off. If you have any questions, the people at the ticket and information offices at each station are very helpful, so don’t be scared to ask for help!

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I was petrified of the French before I left, especially of the Parisians. I had been told that they are rude, unhelpful and that they would pointblank refuse to help you or speak English. We only dealt with two unfriendly people – and they were both taxi drivers who probably deal with tourists every second of their working day and hate the crap out of them. Everyone else was nice and spoke English back to us. Listen, we didn’t make any life long friends, but we are travelling as a couple and Paris is a big city, choc-a-bloc full of tourists. To be honest, if I lived there, I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to make sure that every tourist felt special – it would be impossible, not to mention exhausting.

Dress me like a French Girl

Yes, the French women really are effortlessly gorgeous. Within 48 hours I had cracked their style code from my careful observations on the metro and sidewalks. French girls don’t try hard – their hair is simple, usually loose or tied up in a messy bun; their faces are mostly natural and make-up free, save for mascara and some red lippy here and there. They don’t care about their wrinkles or freckles – and I think it’s this confidence that is key to their style success. They are worlds apart from the poppies in stilettos frequenting the greater malls of Gauteng. Their uniform is simple – skinny jeans or cigar pants, a simple tee or blouse, a biker jacket or blazer, a scarf and wedges or ballet pumps. No name brands anywhere – especially not on the front of their shirts! They wear very little accessories, except for maybe a cocktail ring or a pair of pretty earrings – but never both at the same time, and always paired with a classic watch. This way of dressing is tried and tested, ensuring that they look beautiful, but are still able to walk and travel in comfort.

Light me Up

If you detest cigarettes and smoking, Paris is probably not going to be very enjoyable for you. The Parisians smoke a lot and from the time you open your window in the morning and your nostrils are greeted by the fresh smell of burning tobacco, to the time you go to bed with your hair smelling of smoke, you will be surrounded by cigarettes and smokers. The streets are littered with cigarette buds and you are able to smoke on the sidewalks outside restaurants and shops – even if you are under cover. It’s wise to remember that in Paris, especially at outside tables, you will be squashed between strangers – both sets of whom will very likely be smoking. Stick to indoor eating as much as possible if you can’t cope. As for the rest of the time, there’s not much you can do but embrace it as part of the culture. Imagine you’re in the ’70s.

The Sights

Paris is painfully beautiful. Whilst Amsterdam was unique and quirky in her architecture, Paris is just straight-up elegant and impressive. Every building is beautiful, every street corner glorious. We walked the streets of Montmartre for hours, just checking out the beautiful buildings with their massive blue doors and pretty little balconies. History is around every bend and I often had to pinch myself to relax and remind myself to just bask in the pure beauty of my surroundings (and to ignore the frequent stench of human urine). We went up The Eiffel Tower and we went to see the Musee du Louvre, the Château de Versailles, the Sacrè Cœr, Notre Dame, the Arc De Triomphe, Champs Eylsees, the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop and the famous restaurant, Angelina. The only place we didn’t get around to seeing was the Centre George Pompidou, which apparently has amazing views of the city from the top. We stayed in Montmarte so we could literally see the famous red windmill of the Moulin Rouge if we looked up the street from our hotel, and the Sâcre-Cœr was in easy walking distance. All the sights were amazing and so awesome to see in real life – the Eiffel Tower was particularly mind-blowing – I really didn’t expect it to be that huge. I don’t know if I’d go right up to the top again though – it was freaking terrifying up there. I swear the building was moving! But it was incredible none the less and an experience I’ll never forget.

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One thing I was a bit disappointed with was the museum management at Versailles – within the museum I felt like a cow being herded through a cattle crush, and all I could really see was other people holding up camera phones – all trying to get a pic of something they couldn’t see in real life – just so that they could remember a bit of the experience they had paid fifteen euros for. I got the hell out of there as quick as possible because I felt so claustrophobic – which is really sad, because as a lover of history and having taught the French Revolution myself, I would have loved to have taken my time around the place. The gardens were a welcome respite – but also another 9 euros to enter. I did leave Versailles feeling a little ripped off and with a rather bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps the museum management needs to review the amount of persons they let in at a time and enforce time slot bookings? However, I got the feeling that for them it was all about the money – not the sharing of a very special and important part of their history.

Processed with VSCOcam with a5 presetKeep your bags zipped up and held close to you at all the tourist attractions – hagglers and pickpockets abound. Do not give them money and do not sign any petitions. We saw a Frenchman rescue a tourist from the clutches of a couple of Romanian women pretending to be deaf and trying to guilt him onto giving them cash. They miraculously learnt to hear and speak within minutes and after swearing at the Frenchman, retreated to a corner for a cigarette and a chat. Do not give these people money as you are simply encouraging them to continue. By all means, buy souvenirs from the people trying to make an honest living, but don’t be conned by the beggars or gamblers – especially those around the Eiffel Tower and at the Sacrè-Cœr.

The best time to sightsee in Paris is in September as summer is almost over and so while the weather is still good, there are much less crowds. For major attractions like The Eiffel Tower and the Château de Versailles, its best to get there early (before 9am) to avoid long queues.

Wining and Dining

Ah… my best part! Bittersweet was our experience of food and wine in Paris – because while it was mostly all delicious, the prices were astronomical. To avoid completely blowing our daily budget, we’d usually have a yoghurt from the supermarket for breakfast, a sandwich or baguette from a local patisserie for lunch and then go out for dinner in the evenings. A meal for two in Paris with a starter each and their cheapest bottle of wine will set you back at least R750.00. In fact we paid forty six euros for two burgers, two beers and a glass of house wine at a trendy burger joint (similar in style and setup to Cafe Royale in Cape Town) for lunch! Choose which meal and where you want to eat out each day and then for the remaining meals, stick to patisseries and supermarkets. We found a beautiful little place behind our hotel where we could have three croissants and a coffee each for under five euros (R75) for breakfast. To put this in perspective, Subway will charge ten euros (R145) for one sandwich in Paris, so breakfast there would be three times as much for two people.

pain au chocolatIn Paris, you must try the crepes (I had a delicious one on the way to Notre Dame) and drink coffee French style – short, black and sweet (similar to a South African espresso, but slightly larger). I was determined to eat French cuisine and after an initial disappointing traditional meal in a restaurant located right in a tourist hub, I had some of the best food of my life at a little local French restaurant called Clairière right behind our hotel. I had the duck l’orange and it was drool-worthy. So drool-worthy that we came back the following night to try out their platters and steak, which were just as great. The house wine was relatively cheap there and if you stay in Montmartre, you must give it a try. Sit outside on the sidewalk for the ultimate French experience (and to get away from the rather kitsch decor inside).

duck l'orangeIf you have a sweet tooth, Angelina is a must-visit. Their world-famous hot chocolate is non-negotiable – you simply have to have it. Their sandwiches looked amazing too, but also pretty pricey. Arrive after or before lunchtime to avoid the queues.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetAnother place we loved in our area was le Depanneur Pigalle (the pricey one similar to Cafe Royale in Long Street). Every time we walked past it was packed with locals and we treated ourselves to lunch there on the last day – dreamy hamburgers, Californian-style with delicious homemade french fries. Amazeballs. Most of the food in Paris is good, but I would advise staying way from eating at places directly next to major tourist sites – purely for the price. Stick to suburbs or local areas for good quality, reasonably priced food and wine. If you see that there are loads of Parisians there – it’s probably going to be good and reasonably priced.

photo 1-2We stayed at Hotel Villa Boheme in the Pigalle area of Montmarte. Hotel rooms are tiny in Paris, but we were super happy with our location and loved the fact that there were a lot of locals in this area. It is a party district with people falling out of the clubs at 10am on Saturday morning, but we were never disturbed in any way. In fact, we had a good giggle at some of the funnies wandering about. The area around the Moulin Rouge and Sacrè-Cœr was very touristy, but just few streets down and you felt like you were in the thick of Parisian life. We particularly enjoyed drinks at a bar near our hotel, watching French kids play street football and stopping little old French ladies walking their dogs for a little canine cuddle and a chat. One French lady had two pekingeses and we immediately bonded over our mutual affection of them (doggie-lovers unite!). The best thing I’ve learnt about traveling so far is that no matter where you are in the world, we’re all just humans, muddling along in search of love, friendship and a little attention. Smile, be polite, say merci and you will have a jolly old time in the city of love. I can’t wait to one day sink my teeth further into this city!

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travel diaries – amsterdam

I knew Amsterdam was going to be amazing, but I didn’t know quite how much I’d fall in love with this little city. I was expecting canals and tall skinny buildings squashed up next to one another like new lovers. I was expecting bicycles and stoners and beer. I got all of these, but to be fair, I came away with so much more. In those tall, skinny houses are people from all over the world – Amsterdam is filled not only with people who were born there, but with people who have chosen this city as their home, simply because she is so cool. How do I describe the loveliness? I’m all about flying your freak flag and embracing who you are – for the Dutch this isn’t just a floating hope for humanity – it’s mandatory – written in their constitution and shit. Amsterdam is a self-regulating society and people do what they want, but at the same time, remembering to respect the needs and wishes of those around them. I saw a woman knock over another woman cyclist by mistake. Instead of screaming and shouting at each other, she stopped her car immediately, helped the cyclist up, parked her car on the verge and then the two sat on a nearby park bench, chatting for half an hour, the driver with her hand reassuringly on the cyclist’s leg. Afterwards they exchanged numbers, hugged, and went on their separate ways. I wondered if this would happen in South Africa, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. Amsterdam is feminine and compassionate and thoughtful and I have lost quite a large piece of my heart to her.

There is a massive feeling of freedom in Amsterdam – but the kind of freedom that can only come from being loved and comfortable and taken care of. And this is how you feel here – you are a person with an opinion and a dream and your wishes are respected and taken into account – just as everyone else’s are. You are not the product of your skin colour, who your parents are or what school you went to. You are a valuable and contributing member to society. The Dutch are not into materialism or fancy cars and houses and clothes – they value education, design, travel and me-time… hey, I seriously could live there! At first, I did find the locals to be a little distant, but by the end of our stay, I discovered that you just have to be the one to say hello first – and then straight away, you are greeted with a smile and a “Good Morning” in reply. I think they probably are all just a little weary of all the narcotics-obsessed tourists… and yes, there are a lot of them. We saw a group of English teenagers straight off the plane, still carrying their suitcases and headed off into the Smoke Palace near our hotel. There are, of course, still people who come into Amsterdam purely for the red lights and cannabis, but there really is so much more to this pretty city.

things i loved in ‘dam

1. The Sunday Market in Westerpark

This market is only held on the first weekend of the month, so if you are planning a trip to Amsterdam and love markets, try and make it for then. It reminded me of a mix between the iHeart Market in Durbs and the Olde Biscuit Mill in Cape Town. What I loved about this market was that it wasn’t at all touristy and the wares on sales were really unique. I could have spent all my money on gorgeous bits of jewellery and notepads (oh, the notepads! Amsterdam is a stationery addict’s dream!). We settled on two prints of Amsterdam by Ellessi for our home. There was so much food on sale – from Lebanese cuisine to traditional Dutch pancakes as well as an entire stand of olives! After we’d window shopped, we drank some sangria and beer in the sun and listened to a local Dutch singer belting her heart out. It was really a great way to start off our time in Amsterdam.

2. Brouwerij ‘t IJ

Dutch craft beer is made and sold here in a massive windmill and its beer garden which you just can’t miss! The vibe reminded both Andrew and I very strongly of The Forrester’s Arms in Claremont – relaxed and festive! Orders are made at the bar and the snacks on offer to munch on while guzzling your beer are traditional worst and cheese. Which in retrospect, we should have eaten. We also should have, in retrospect, ordered the tasting boards, instead of half a draught each of all eight types of beers. Yep, we were pretty tanked when we left. If you are a lover of craft beer, or beer in general, this place is a must. We loved it and sat there for a good couple of hours before stumbling home. The brewery does offer tours on the weekend, and if you are looking to sit in the sun and drink on a Saturday or Sunday, make sure you get there early to reserve your spot. Apparently it gets so busy in summer that the queues for the bar go right out of the front door and onto the street! Worth it!

3. Bakers & Roasters

You will soon find out that the Dutch love bread and cheese! Not many restaurants offer healthy salads, but this little spot on the way to the Heineken Museum was a gem! I had the Energy Salad with extra sesame seed crusted chicken breast and it was so delicious! Don’t even get me started on the magical Thai-influenced balsamic vinaigrette. It was rather pricey at thirteen euros (R180), but honestly one of the best things I ate in Amsterdam. The cafe itself was new and modern with the nicest staff and amazing looking cakes and fresh juices. It was also the only place where the waitress actually offered us a jug of tap water with lemon and ice – if you ask for tap water anywhere else, be prepared for looks of disgust.

4. Cafè Finch

Another great place for amazing salads (and the lamb burger is just crazy delicious too) is Cafe Finch. Located near Westerpark, we were taken here by a South African local for dinner – and even on a Monday night it was busy. Apparently on the weekends, the little place heaves and quickly transforms from a restaurant into a bar as the evening progresses. The decor was, like most trendy new Amsterdam spots, delightful. I fell particularly in love with the cheesy Arnold Schzwaggener gym portraits.

5. Pacific Parc

Situated in Westerpark, this is the perfect place for weekend and evening drinks. The drinks are (relatively) cheap and the vibe is super-chilled. On Sunday afternoon, the place was packed and not one seat was available. Take the time to visit the upstairs bathrooms and marvel at the graffiti. I felt very at home here! Like a lot of bars in Amsterdam, you order at the bar and then take your drinks to your seat.

6. Rijksmuseum

We did not have a lot of time to museum hop, and to be honest, it’s not mine and Andrew’s favourite thing to do. We prefer eating and drinking and street walking. We were told that if you only visit one museum in Amsterdam, make it the Rijks Museum, as it contains a little of everything Dutch-history related. We were warned about long queues, but as soon as we arrived, we waltzed straight in. We were told that the queues are painfully long in the summer – another great reason to visit Amsterdam in autumn! The museum was huge, but we did manage to see every floor and it was really cool to see Self Portrait by Van Gogh in the flesh/paint. Andrew loved the military and weaponry displays (guns and swords for days) and I loved the wedding dresses from the 18th century. The women were so tiny back then that the weddings dresses mostly looked like today’s flower girl dresses. Then again, I guess they were married pretty young in those days. This museum was first class – recommended for all couples!

7. Anne Frank Huis

As a History major and teacher, this was one place I really wanted to go. I must have read Anne Frank’s Diary at least a dozen times throughout my life, and for me, Amsterdam was never about weed or sex shows, but about Anne Frank. And cheese. Ha! Seriously though, this was a must for me. Pre-book your tickets online and avoid the queue, especially if it is summer or holiday time. It was surreal to be in the exact house where Anne and her family were holed up for two years in an attempt to escape the clutches of the Nazi’s. It really hit home how dark and cramped their living conditions were and it was no wonder they all went a little cuckoo. I felt claustrophobic within ten minutes! Even the hardest of hearts will not leave feeling un-moved.

8. Restaurant De Kas

The original Bablystoren located near our hotel in Oosterpark, this was the only place we had booked to eat at before even leaving South Africa. I booked lunch because dinner there costs R750 per person. Ya. For lunch Andrew and I shared three starters and a main meal. Everything served at De Kas has been organically grown in their greenhouses and they work closely with meat and poultry farmers in the Netherlands to ensure that all food is as organic and naturally-produced as possible, and I’m not joking – you can taste the difference. The flavours were exquisite! While we were there they were growing tomatoes in the restaurant greenhouse and I was amazed at the different colours and varieties. As for the design of the restaurant, no words. I have never eaten in such a beautiful setting in all my life. Honestly, the experience is so worth the bankruptcy. Next time (after I’ve won the lottery), I definitely want to go at night for dinner and sit in the beautiful bar and lounge area.

9. Vlaamsch Broodhuys

Just down the drag from Anne Frank Huis, this was hands down the best coffee I had in Amsterdam and I will be going back if only for the aniseed biscuits! Mother of glory. Another trendy little joint in the Kloof Street of Amerstdam, this bakery and coffee shop is tucked away next to a barber shop and if I had had more time I would have gone and sat there for hours with my laptop – just to bask in its awesomeness.

amsterdamWe stayed at The Manor Hotel Amsterdam – Hampshire Eden near Oosterpark, which was awesome as we were able to go for morning runs in the park almost every day. The hotel was clean and the staff great. Breakfast was a hefty seventeen euros fifty – unless you remembered to pre-book, which made it twelve euros fifty. We got about mostly by trams and walking – the public transport system is so amazing! Make sure to purchase and load up your OV-Chipkaart at Central Station as you get there – it’s much cheaper than buying a ticket every time you get on. You can also hire bikes, which are fun too – just don’t get in the way of locals and be vigilant at intersections. We didn’t take any tours, as we prefer wandering about and seeing where we end up – but I did see a couple of bike tours taking place, and they look awesome. Comfy shoes are a must in Amsterdam – all the locals wear sneakers – even with their suits and dresses, so you will not feel out if you don yours every day!

We visited Amsterdam in September, which we heard was the best time to visit. We had only about five minutes of rain our entire time there – the rest of the time the weather was mild with sunshine. Dress in layers – the sunshine is warm! September is also a great time to visit because summer is almost over and with the slightly cooler days comes less tourists which means less of a hustle and bustle. If you’re a health nut, pack your workout gear – Amsterdam is full of parks and wide roads to run on, as well as cycle paths for the bike-enthusiasts. There are people exercising there all the time – it really is refreshing. Design and aesthetic freaks – you will just love this city. Hangouts are usually really modern and tastefully decorated and screaming with originality. You will not be able to stop taking photos – trust me. Ahhhhh – take me back already!

Next stop: Paris!

For more images and to keep in touch with my daily travel adventures over the next few weeks, follow me on Instagram, @midlandsmusings.

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my lovely world

things that made my week lovely

homemade dark chocolate squares.

long skype conversations with my beautiful sarah may. crossing fingers and toes that her and grumpy can meet us for a night or two in paris. or barcelona.

pretending to pack for our trip but really just trying on all the clothes and creating different outfits for different travel scenes in my mind.

lulu’s fat hamster hair cut. god, she’s cute!

starting a new yoga challenge with mariska.

second hand bookstores and trips down memory lanes.

watching my body get even stronger and more toned after being ill.

a lovely wedding and a beautiful bride-friend.

watching my brother being the best mc on the planet.

selfies. i love selfies. my selfies, your selfies. lets all selfie together.

goldfinch finally coming out in paperback. purchasing it. starting it and falling in love right away.

snow falling but not settling.

fires.

the sun coming out.

a reminder to appreciate the little/big things in life. like electricity. 24 hours with no power and running water will make you bounce off the walls and squeal with joy when it finally turns back on. and this is what i love/hate about life on an african farm.

organic skincare made in our hood that smells glorious and makes my face glow… in a good way.

puppies. always.

long brunching catchups at cafe bloom with my favourite cousin whom i love more than words can ever, ever say.

my mom making me the most beautiful crochet blanket for my bed. she is almost halfway through. you’re going to be jealous when it’s done.

that single line on my annual hiv test.

cruz the chameleon moving into our lime tree.

my husband. always.

this time next week we will be traipsing around amsterdam lost in a sea of foreign souls and words.

sarahmayinparisImage: Sarah May in Paris – follow her on instagram @sarahmaykiely

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Unless otherwise stated, all words and images are copyright to Keri Bainborough and the Midlands Musings blog. Please contact me if you’d like to use any of the text and graphics featured on this blog. Disclaimer