30 July 2012

One Month Countdown!

Hello lovelies! 

I haven't posted in almost two weeks and I must admit it feels weird to have been away for so long.  Jurg and I were at a conference for one of the weeks, but even after arriving back I've been so busy catching up on work and studies that I haven't been able to find a moment to plop myself in front of my laptop until now.  Oh well, sometimes a little blog-cation is necessary and now my head is brimming with post ideas and things to share.  It's definitely good to be back!

I'm going to keep this post short and sweet, but I wanted to share some exciting news: 

I'll be making a quick two-week trip back to California during the first two-weeks of September!

In fact, today marks exactly one month until I leave.  

I'm already salivating over the prospects of in-n-out, cheesecake factory, and {real, glorious} mexican food.  Throw in outlet mall shopping, Nordstrom, H&M and real live medical care and I'm literally counting down the hours.  This trip I'll be heading back to celebrate my Mom's 50th birthday, my Grandma's 80th birthday, and my Dad's retirement party.  The timing also worked out perfectly so that I'll be able to head up to San Jose for a weekend to see one of my best friends off before she's headed to Ukraine for two years with the Peace Corps.  Needless to say it will be a jam packed visit -  jam packed, but lots and lots of fun.  I seriously cannot wait.

And... Southern California blogger meet-up?  I think so!  If anyone lives around the Los Angeles area I'd love to meet up for brunch or a coffee one day.  Let's try and organize something!  

On that note, how has everything been with all of you?  I feel like I've missed so much!

13 July 2012

Uganda {Part IV}: The Outtakes

And just when you thought the Rwanda & Uganda travel recaps were gone.... they're back!

Not really.  The other day I was just browsing through my photos from the trip when I came across these gems: outtakes from some jumping photos we attempted to take in front of the lake.  Note the word attempted.  I had completely forgotten about them and when they were rediscovered I couldn't stop laughing and knew I had to share.

p.s. Have you ever tried taking a group jumping photo using your camera's self-timer?  

Not as easy at it looks my friends, not as easy as it looks.  I can tell you this from experience.  We tried and tried and tried some more, but eventually had to give up.  We were a hopeless cause.  

Luckily, our efforts did however leave us with some very entertaining {and pathetic} photos to look back on and laugh about in the years to come.  We definitely look pretty ridiculous... especially me.  What in the world am I doing in the third photo?  I really have no clue.  I think I was the worst self-timed jumper of us all, truth be told!

After we gave up on the self-timer approach, we finally achieved success with one of us behind the camera.  Still not as easy as it looks {or maybe it's just us, ha!}, but eventually we prevailed! 

Thank you Katie for teaching me to actually bend my legs when I jump rather than just looking like a complete moron and jumping straight up in the air!

On a completely different note, this weekend Jurgen and I are jetting off to Cape Town for a conference and will be gone the whole of next week.  We're looking forward to a healthy mix of work and play and can't wait to re-visit one of our very favorite places in South Africa {the conference is being held at the same University where we first met!}. 

 That being said, it may be little quiet around here over the next week or so, but I'm going to try and post when I can throughout the week from that side {granted I have access to internet}.  When I get back there will definitely be lots of pictures and stories to share :)

Hope everyone has a great weekend!!!

11 July 2012

Night Out on Long Street

Some of you might remember when I flew to Stellenbosch a couple months ago to meet up with Jenny and Brigid {see here and here}.  In case you're new around here, the three of us studied {and lived} abroad together in South Africa in 2008 and this was our first reunion {and their first trip back to SA} in more than four years!  Needless to say, there was lots of catching up to be done and fun to be had.

Colorful buildings on Loop St - just opposite Long St

Since Stellenbosch and Cape Town are so close {about a 30 minute drive apart}, we set aside one evening to stay over on Long Street in Cape Town and enjoy a girls night out on the town!  Jenny's sister Lindsey is {or was - she just flew back home to the states} studying in Stellenbosch this semester so she joined in on the fun.  Long Street is known for its young, artsy vibe and is lined with enough restaurants, bars, and backpackers to keep one busy for days.  No trip to Cape Town is complete without a visit.

The four of us checked into an adorable little backpackers on the main road and then headed out for a walk around the area before it got too dark.  I love looking at all of the old, brightly painted buildings and imagining what the street must have looked like during Cape Town's early heydays.  The buildings are so picturesque and photogenic.

Our backpackers!

After our little evening stroll, we headed back to the backpackers and got ready for the night.  We decided on a quick and casual dinner of pizza and cider and then headed across the road to the Dubliner {not pictured} for some live music and to meet up with a couple of local friends.  The Dubliner is definitely a must for any trip to Long Street - one of my favorites!  

Later in the night, one of the people in our group recommended that we stop by his favorite bar in the city {seen below} for cocktails, but for the life of me I cannot remember what its name was.  I know it was hidden away on a little side street and from the outside you would have never guessed that it would open up into such a beautiful rooftop setting with views of old buildings and skyscrapers all around.  That's Long Street for you, full of surprises.  Next time I visit I'll be sure to try and find it again.  I'd love to take Jurgen there sometime.

We ended the night at another venue that I cannot remember the name of and had an awesome dance party before heading home.  I do remember that the theme that night was "After Burn" which made for a really interesting {?} but fun crowd of people.  I {as usual} ended up in the DJ box and took in the crowd from a distance while snapping away photos. 

 By the way, have any of you heard of Afrika Burn?  

Somehow I had never heard of it until this year, but it's supposedly an African version of Burning Man and I'm officially intrigued.  All of a sudden it seems like everyone's talking about it and the photos look insane.  Maybe I'll do a blog post on what it's all about soon.  Not sure that I would ever actually go myself, but it looks fascinating nonetheless.

Ah, Long Street... it never fails to live up to its expectations.

Also, today I'm being featured on Ashley's blog {A and B C the World} in her weekly travel feature Travel Tips & Tidbits!  I'm talking a little bit about my life in South Africa, why I started blogging, where I would most love to travel, and also offering some travel tips and advice.  Be sure to stop by and check it out here!  Thanks so much for having me Ashley :)

09 July 2012

A Picnic in the Sky

A couple weeks ago, Jurg and I hopped in the car and headed towards Josi's inner city to {finally} experience Main Street Walks' "Picnic in the Sky" tour.  I'd been hearing so many great things about it from other Jo'burg bloggers for months, but for some reason or another we never seemed to find a Sunday morning open to actually go and check it out for ourselves.  Luckily, a free Sunday popped up earlier this month and I immediately jumped at the opportunity and purchased tickets.

Picnic in the Sky is a simple, but brilliant concept.  

The tour begins at the Arts on Main market located in the Maboneng Precinct of downtown Johannesburg.  Each couple is issued a picnic basket and then given 30 minutes to peruse the different food stalls and purchase lunch.  After everyone is ready, the group hails a taxi and heads towards the the tallest building in Johannesburg and then takes the elevator up the 50th floor.  From the top, the local {and incredibly cool} guides give the group a tour and history of the city from a bird's eye perspective.  Afterwards, the picnic baskets come out and lunch is enjoyed from 700 feet in the air before hailing another taxi and heading back to the market.

On this particular Sunday, Jurg and I checked in with our tour guides {Bheki and Bones} at Arts on Main and then headed inside in search of lunch.  There were so many delicious food stalls that it was difficult to choose only one thing, but we ended up going with Mexican {go figure, right!?} and it hit the spot.  Jurgen ordered a beef burrito and I had a cheese quesadilla with a "hot mama bowl."  Last time I was at Arts on Main I ordered Ethiopian and it was equally amazing - I have a feeling you really can't go wrong - everything seriously looks delicious.  

One word of caution though: if you're doing Picnic in the Sky try and choose a stall that offers take-away boxes.  The Mexican stall didn't and it was pretty difficult to get everything to the top of the building in one piece using only paper plates.  I noticed that the Chinese and Thai stalls did have to-go boxes, so if we ever go back for a second time I think we will be heading their way.

Each picnic basket contains the basics: a blanket, plates, cutlery, wine glasses, and drinks.

After we had our food tucked away in our picnic baskets, we jumped in a taxi and headed through the city.  On the way Bheki pointed out buildings of interest and gave us tips on other places we should visit in the area.  Having grown up in the inner city, he knows downtown Jo'burg like the back of his hand and seemed to point out every nook and cranny adding in interesting facts and tidbits along the way.

Our taxi stopped outside of the Carlton Centre and we hopped out.  The Carlton Centre has existed for 39 years as Johannesburg's tallest building and towers over the city at a whopping 50 stories and 732 feet {223 metres} tall!

We were also lucky to meet up with Jo'burg expat blogger Julie and her boyfriend Amaury who joined us for the tour!  I can vouch that Julie is just as sweet {and gorgeous} as she seems on her blog and her boyfriend is absolutely hilarious.  They're the type of people who you immediately feel like you've known forever and I hope we'll be able to meet up with them again sometime soon {hear that Julie!?}. 

We hopped in the elevator and headed up to the 50th storey.

The 360 degree views from the top were nothing short of spectacular!  

Definitely the best views of the city I've seen to date.  We split into two groups and were taken around the entire building and provided with a history of the city.  Can you believe that Jo'burg was just one big barren landscape until someone discovered gold here in 1886?  Seemingly overnight, the population exploded and the little settlement quickly turned into a buzzing city.

If you look off into the distance you can see the vast brown mine heaps that still exist today.

Although many people wouldn't describe downtown Jo'burg as being beautiful in the traditional sense of the word, I must admit that I find it incredibly striking in its own unique way.  This ever expanding city has lived through a gold rush, the legacy of apartheid, and the subsequent degradation that occurred throughout the 1990's with the change of government.  And somehow, it still stands to tell the tale.  It's real and authentic and diverse and it has an edginess to it that one needs to experience to understand.  It seems like around every corner and crevice there is evidence of a long hidden story waiting to be told.  Every time I venture into the city centre I always become wide and alert, trying to absorb everything around me and take it all in.  This city just does something for me.  

I love it. 

Lots more mine heaps in the distance.  Many of the mines are still in full operation today.

One part of the tour that stood out for me was when Bones put on a little performance for us over lunch and recited some of his poetry.  He was absolutely incredible and so, so talented.  It wasn't poetry in the traditional sense, but was done in rap form and had an amazing rhythm and flow to it.  He had a completely captivated audience, I think everyone was hanging on what he was going to say next since his content was so eloquent and well thought out.  I would go again just to see him perform!

I think it's safe to say that Julie and Amaury loved him too :)

After the tour we parted ways with Julie and her man and then Jurgen and I spent a couple of hours exploring Arts on Main and some of the surrounding areas {but, that is a post for another day}.  All in all it was a wonderful afternoon and a great opportunity to learn more about this fascinating {and often misunderstood} city that we live in.  I can't wait to sign up for some of Main Street Walks other inner city tours.  I think I might be addicted :)

- - - - -

The Picnic in the Sky tour operates each Sunday and lasts from 11:00am until 2:00pm.  The cost is R150 per person and includes picnic baskets filled with the essentials, a lift to and from the Carlton Centre, and {of course} the expertise of fun and interesting local tour guides.  Any food purchased from Arts on Main is of your own expense.  Tickets can be booked online {here} and need to be purchased in advance as spaces fill up quickly!  I highly recommend this tour to anyone and everyone, local Jo'burgers, ex-pats, and tourists alike - it's not to be missed!

04 July 2012

The 4th of July.

Yesterday I came to a couple of crazy realizations:

a) somehow it's already July.  Like, as in the year is already more than half way over.  How did that even happen?  This year has been pretty good to me so far.  Stick around 2012... I sort of like you.


b) this will be my fifth consecutive year spent outside of the United States on the 4th of July.  
Again, how in the world did that happen?

The 4th of July is just one of the many times throughout the year when I wish I could magically warp back to California and spend the weekend with my family, enjoy some good food, marvel at the beautiful fireworks, listen to cheesy old American hits on the radio, have a good laugh or two, and then with a snap of my fingers warp back to South Africa again.  Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way {at least not {yet} anyways} and so for now there are just some holidays and special occasions I have to agree to miss out on. 

Luckily, living outside of the United States doesn't preclude one from appreciating where they came from, and to be honest, I must admit that I never truly appreciated the good old US of A until I moved away from it for a couple of years.  It was only once I was able to really experience life in another country that I started to realize how blessed I was to be able to call myself an American.  The high quality public education, the access to solid healthcare, the fact that there is actually a minimum wage {most industries don't have one in South Africa}, the honest and effective policing system, the relatively efficient and non-corrupt government - all of these things that I grew up taking for granted, I don't take for granted anymore.  The USA is definitely a wonderful place to come from.

So on this day I would just like to say, Happy 236th Birthday America, and thank you for all that you've done for me.  I definitely owe a lot to you.

And, to all the Americans reading this: be sure to eat an extra hot dog and light an extra sparkler for me!

{For a blast from the past see last year's 4th of July post here}

Also, today I'm being featured on Jay's lovely blog {From There to Here} in her fun, new series Expatriated!  Jay is one of my very favorites, so be sure to hop on over and check it out here!

02 July 2012

Uganda {Part III}: Passing through Kabale

Today I'm back with the last segment of my Rwanda & Uganda recap series!  I've had so much fun going through all of my photos and choosing some of my favorites to share with you all.  I also know that I'm going to appreciate these posts even more in the years to come when I want to look back on this trip and remember all of the little wonderful details.  Isn't it funny how even the most treasured travel memories {or any memories for that matter} seem to fade over time no matter how badly we want them to feel like they just happened yesterday?  Thus is life, I suppose :)

In Uganda, the motos are called Boda Bodas - they are comfier than the motos in Rwanda and can hold 2 passengers :)

On our way to Lake Bunyonyi {as well as on our way back}, Amber, Katie, and I were able to make a quick pit stop in the little Ugandan town of Kabale.  Kabale is quite ideally situated in the sense that it's located right over the border of Rwanda and only about a 30 minute drive from the lake itself.  Upon Katie's recommendation, we decided to eat lunch at one of the coolest backpackers I've ever set foot in only to discover that they also happened to have the most delicious cheese quesadillas and made-from-scratch guacamole on their menu.  Since I rarely find {real} Mexican in South Africa, I enjoyed my lunch thoroughly and we were sure to stop by again on the way back to Rwanda to make sure that I had my fill of cheesy goodness.

Aside from my incredible food experience, I also really liked the look and feel of Kabale in general.  It seemed like the perfect stopover for "off-the-beaten-path" travellers en route to other new and exciting places deep in the heart of Africa and the town had an ATM and most other basic commodities one might need before heading into less populated areas.  All of the locals we encountered were also very friendly - our waiter at the hostel even recognized Katie from a previous trip she had taken and literally squealed with delight when he realized she had come back again.  As I watched him jump up and down in place and point in her direction screaming "It's yoooou, it's yoooou, it's yoooooooou!!!" my heart might have melted just a little bit.  I was sold.

Outside Heart of Edirisa {aka one of the coolest backpackers ever}
Inside view of the hostel - would love to stay over somday!
My always-to-be-remembered cheese quesadilla and guacamole
One of my favorite photos from the trip

Although our visit was a quick one, Kabale definitely made an impression on me and I'm so glad we had the chance to pass through {twice!}.  Let's hope it wasn't the last time I'll be seeing it and that in the future I"ll be able to dedicate a little more time towards getting to know such an inviting and friendly city located in one of the most beautiful countries.

And, in case you missed it: