07 November 2013

{It's Been Real}

As many of you already know, at the beginning of the year I quit my cozy consultancy job to pursue a full-time Masters degree.  It was a difficult decision and Jurgen and I went back and forth on whether it was the right choice up until minutes before I had to offer the university my final commitment.  In addition to the financial implications, due to the fact that this degree is completed within a year, we were worried about the effect that it would have on my work-life balance and on our relationship in general.

{Some of my classmates on an earlier trip to Soweto}

This year has been tough.  Quite possibly the toughest in my 26 years of life thus far.  The transition from being able to comfortably make car payments back into a 'starving' student was quite an adjustment in and of itself.  But more than that, the sheer workload and intensity of the course content was inconceivable.  

Because of the emphasis on psychology in industrial psychology, we were intentionally picked apart this year, forced to examine our deepest beliefs and values down to their core, and then ever so slowly pieced back together again, new and amended versions of ourselves.  Our strengths were highlighted, right alongside our weaknesses and we had no choice but to openly acknowledge those parts of ourselves that had been tucked away in the comfort of denial for so many years.  

Yet somehow, we've all come out the other side for the better and the year has almost come to a close.  The forty-hour weekly class sessions have officially ended, and we've submitted close to sixty papers for thirteen modules, all the while chipping away at our dissertations.  Dozens of sleepless nights, several tearful breakdowns, and countless personal victories later, here we are in November, and it all seems kind of surreal.  

As I handed in my final assignments last week and walked out of my oral exam yesterday, I found it hard to believe that we're really nearing the end.  Just one little dissertation stands between myself and graduation.  As Jurgen and I celebrated over dinner last night, we agreed that this journey has both been more and less difficult than what we expected.  It was unbelievably hard, and yet we still somehow managed to make it work, all the while having some fun in the process.

That being said, I'm excited to transition back into normal working life again and will be starting my internship in January.  This year has definitely also had a huge impact on the attention that I've been able to devote to this blog and I'm looking forward to investing in my little piece of the internet again.

A tremendous thanks to all of you who have offered comments, emails, tweets and messages of support throughout the year and also to those who have continued reading despite frequent periods of radio silence on my side.  You're the best.

Masters... it's been real.

24 October 2013

{A Travel Inspired Wish List}

As both a traveller and a blogger, I feel like my list of 'must-have' gadgets is ever expanding.  Every other day it seems as though cyberspace introduces a new something that I'd love to add to my toolkit.  Granted, many of these gadgets have to do with photography, but isn't that what brings travelling and blogging together so seamlessly?  I digress.

My Ultimate Travel Wish List

Here are a few things that are currently on my radar:

What's on your list?  Am I missing anything?

22 October 2013

{Greece}: The Island of Sifnos

I've put off posting about Sifnos for awhile now... and it's mostly because I'm not quite sure that I want the secret to get out.  This little island tucked away in the Greek Cyclades completely stole our hearts.  Full of charm and small enough to explore in just a few days time, we couldn't believe that we were virtually the only tourists on the island.  It was as though we'd walked straight into paradise.

Exploring the hidden churches and beaches on the Greek Island of Sifnos.

Prior to our trip to Greece, neither of us knew Sifnos existed.  Of course we'd heard of Santorini and Mykonos, both of which we ultimately decided not to visit due to our trip coinciding with peak tourist season.  As I began to research the plethora of other islands in the Cyclades, Sifnos emerged as an appealing option due to its intimate size, reputation for exquisite cuisine and relative proximity to Athens.  I also kept reading reviews dubbing it Greece's "best kept secret".  Add to this the fact that the small island is home to 365 churches {one for every day of the year} and our final decision was quite easy.  

Sifnos it would be.

As soon as we debarked from the ferry, we knew that we couldn't have made a better choice. The port town of Kamares was the epitome of what every Greek Island should be and the streets were lined with adorable outdoor cafes pressed right up against the water's edge. As we began to explore, it didn't take long for us to realize that tourists were somewhat of a rarity. It was as though we had discovered some sort of Greek fairytale. There were pristine open beaches as far as the eye could see, traditional white-washed churches around every corner and some of the friendliest people one could ever hope to meet. Not to mention the quality of the food. I must have gained five pounds in the three days that we were there. 

But it was oh so worth it.

We spent the bulk of our time in Sifnos on the back of a scooter hopping from beach to beach and popping into every other little church along the way.  Our mornings were spent sleeping in late, afternoons were dedicated to jogging along hidden mountain paths and our nights involved dining alongside the sea, ouzos in hand.  For those three days life was exactly as it should be and the rest of the world just sort of faded into the distance, far far away from our little Greek utopia.  In Sifnos, I'm convinced that one would need to try incredibly hard to have a single care in the world.

And so I'm reluctantly passing the secret of Sifnos on to you... because I just can't help but share this tiny Mediterranean oasis.  I doubt there's any other place on earth quite like it.  My only advice is to visit soon, as I doubt the island will remain a secret for much longer.  It simply has too much going for it.

By the numbers:

We stayed at ALK Hotel in Kamares for 75 euros per night.
Breakfast and transfer to and from the ferry were included in the above rate.
We ate plenty of souvlaki, octopus and greek salads.  A typical meal cost between 8 & 12 euros.
We got around on the back of a scooter at a cost of 10 euros per day.
Our Sifnos highlight?  Dinner on the beach in Vathy.  Pure bliss.
Our Sifnos "must see"? The idyllic town of Kastro.

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Things to do on the island of Sifnos, a hidden gem in Greece.


20 October 2013

{A Sunday Giveaway}: $100 to Amazon + Extra Goodies!

Happy Sunday everyone!

Today I'm joining forces with some of my favorite expat // lifestyle // travel bloggers via Nicole at Treasure Tromp to bring you an awesome October giveaway.

Just in time for the holidays, right!?

October Sponsor Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Fine Print:

This giveaway is open internationally.

Winner will be verified.  If any entries are false, all with be disqualified.

Fingers crossed that you win!

15 October 2013

{Reality Check}

I think we're all aware that blogs can be deceiving at times.  As bloggers, we're able to carefully choose which aspects of our lives to share with the world and which parts we'd rather keep private.  Most often, we choose to share only the best parts, the highlight reel so to speak.  And I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing.  I'm certainly guilty of sharing all that is nice in my life and neglecting to share most of what isn't.  

That being said, as a blogger it's also easy to fall into the trap of making life seem as though it's forever full of rainbows and flowers and sunshine.  In fact, sometimes it appears as if our lives are so near perfect, that there's never a single cloud in our sky.  And that's when the ugly comparisons start.  You know, she has the perfect wardrobe or they always seem to travel to the nicest places or my figure will never be what hers is or they seem to have the most amazing relationship.  From thereon forward, it's a slippery slope into negativity.  

I can guarantee that these types of comparisons have entered all of our minds at one time or another.
And I can also guarantee that no single person's life is near perfect.
We all have our ups and downs, our virtues and our vices.
It's just how it is.

The other day I was reading a post by Jay in which she expressed concern over coming across as disingenuous.  That because her blog is so positive, people might see her as inauthentic or superficial.  My first thought was that she certainly does not come across this way.  Jay must be one of the most genuine writers I know.  My second thought was, I wonder how I come across?  And when I really thought about it I realized that this blog is pretty full of rainbows and flowers and sunshine.

So this is my attempt to set the record straight.
Believe me when I say that my life isn't near perfect.  
My life is wonderful.  
But, it certainly isn't perfect.

+ Exhibit 1: I feel guilty almost every day for leaving California.  I know my parents wish I never left and I feel terrible that I'm unable to promise them that I'll move back someday.  It's a good possibility.  But, nowhere near a guarantee.  It will depend on about a million different factors, none of which are set in stone except one.  And that is that Jurgen's family will always be here.  A transatlantic relationship means that we'll forever be torn between two countries.  It's both a blessing and a curse.

+ Exhibit 2: I have no idea what I want to do with my life.  In terms of a career, that is.  Here I am studying a Master's in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and I'm not even sure what I want to do with the degree once I'm finished.  It's a bit of an uncomfortable place to be in, although I'm sure the qualification will serve me well regardless of where I find myself in the future.  Truth be told, my dream job would include working in international diplomacy, travelling the world, using I-O Psych and somehow also working with animals.  How do I find all of that in a single career?  I think about these sorts of things a lot these days.

Exhibit 3: I gained ten pounds on our month-long road trip through Namibia.  Don't even ask me how.  To top it all off, I'm still about four pounds away from my 'normal' weight.  I've been blessed with a lot of things, but an amazing metabolism definitely isn't one of them. 

+ Exhibit 4: Jurgen will forever be my favorite travel partner.  He's the greatest.  But, that doesn't mean that our relationship is argument free.  After several days straight on a road trip together, we're bound to get irritated.  So when we're on the way home from Lesotho and Jurgen snaps because I'm always on my phone or when I have a melt down in Omaruru because I desperately want to hike to cave paintings and Jurgen is dead set on perusing art galleries instead, these things don't usually make it to the blog.  But know that they happen.  I just consciously choose to share the other 90% of our lives that is truly wonderful.

It's a fine balance, taking care not to over-share, but still maintaining an authentic voice.
And know that the above are just the few examples that I'm comfortable sharing here.
If we were sitting down for coffee I'm sure I could come up with many more.

So, what's your take on it?  Should bloggers share all?  Is there even such a thing as over-sharing?
Bloggers, how do you maintain authenticity without crossing the line?
I'd love to hear your opinion!

Also, I finally created a facebook page for the blog.  You can follow along here

10 October 2013

{Feeling Fancy}: High Tea at The Oyster Box

After arriving at The Oyster Box, it didn't take long to realize that the establishment has become much more than just a hotel.  In addition to offering accommodation, it's made itself open to the broader community in such a way that there is something for everyone.  Whether it's a dining experience at The Grill Room, a pamper session at the spa, or a cocktail on the balcony of the Lighthouse Bar, it seems as though new faces are constantly walking through its doors to take advantage of all that the venue has to offer.  Out of everything though, the High Tea quite possibly takes the cake... literally.

Just minutes after confirming our booking at The Oyster Box, I phoned to reserve our spot for the High Tea.  From what I'd been told, if there was one thing we couldn't miss, it was this.

As we made our way to The Palm Court that Sunday afternoon, we weren't too sure what to expect aside from pure foodie heaven.  And my jaw dropped as soon as the massive table containing every sweet and savoury treat imaginable came into view.  There were cupcakes, custards, quiches, cakes, scones and pastries as far as the eye could see.  It was true love at first sight for a sugar // carboholic like myself.

While Jurgen settled into his chair and began considering what tea he would like, I was already busy pacing the lengths of the high tea table and filling my plate to the brim.  I then proceeded to take an obnoxious amount of photos as Jurgen eventually got around to filling his plate as well.  Finally taking our seats, what followed was indulgence as we had never experienced before.  Every bite seemed to taste even better than the last and we gladly took the liberty of helping ourselves to seconds and thirds.  It was nothing short of glorious and well worth each and every inch of our rapidly expanding waistlines.  

No question about it, if you really want to treat yourself, this is the way to do it.

My only advice: Arrive hungry... starving even.
You're going to want to have room to enjoy this for all it's worth.

The High Tea is available at The Oyster Box daily from 2:30pm - 5:00pm at a rate of R185 {$20} per person.  Reservations are essential and can be booked online here.

08 October 2013

{The Oyster Box}

Since moving to South Africa, I've constantly listened to friends and acquaintances marvel about the timeless allure of The Oyster Box.  Never quite understanding what all the fuss was about, when Jurgen found out that he would need to travel to Durban for work, we were quick to make a long weekend of it in order to finally experience the grandeur of it all for ourselves.

Top luxury hotel in Durban, South Africa.

Throughout the six hour drive from Johannesburg to South Africa's eastern coast, Jurgen and I debated whether The Oyster Box would adequately live up to our expectations.  After everything we'd heard, it would certainly have to be pretty darn spectacular to do so.  In the end, we agreed that it would probably be a nice weekend, but also something that we wouldn't ever feel the urge to experience again.  Something that we could tick off of our bucket list. We imagined the hotel to be absolutely stunning in terms of its picturesque location and classic decor, but also a bit exclusive in a way that was out of our league.

Walking through the hotel doors, we were greeted by a host of smiling faces and offered a personal tour of the hotel facilities.  Welcome drinks in hand, we were shown to our room and then acquainted with the myriad of hotel restaurants, bars and pools, as well as the private theatre {complete with an antique popcorn machine!}.  As we sipped gin and tonics on the balcony of the picturesque Lighthouse Bar that evening, we had to agree that everyone had indeed been right, The Oyster Box truly was something special.  And we realized that it wasn't just its opulence that made it exceptional, although this aspect was certainly impressive, but rather the warm atmosphere and impeccable service.  

For instance, on the morning of our second day I realized that I'd left my camera memory card at home.  With Jurgen away at a client meeting, I asked the front desk if there was somewhere within walking distance that I would be able to buy a new one.  No, they replied, unfortunately there was not, but their driver would be more than happy to take me to get one, free of charge.  I was then promptly driven to the mall in a private vehicle, given instructions on where I would be able to purchase a memory card, and informed that the driver would be waiting for me outside until I returned.

It was enough to make a girl feel famous.

Over the next two days, we proceeded to enjoy one of the best weekends imaginable.  Each morning started with the most incredible breakfast and afternoons were spent lounging next to the pool on red and white pinstriped chairs, cocktails in hand.  As the sun would start to set, we'd head to the promenade for a nice jog along the beach and then return to the hotel to get ready for a ceremonious glass of wine in the Lighthouse Bar before enjoying dinner at either The Grill Room or The Ocean Terrace.  By the time Sunday afternoon rolled around, I'm pretty sure Jurgen was ready to sell all of his assets and move in permanently.  

Throughout the weekend, I constantly overheard people fondly sharing stories of past Oyster Box experiences with family, friends and staff members.  I watched as an older gentleman walked onto the terrace with his adult children, enthusiastically recounting exactly where he and his wife met and fell in love.  I couldn't help overhearing an American guest telling a staff member about how he and his wife spent their honeymoon at The Oyster Box over twenty years ago.  I listened as a mother affectionately described to her teenage children how she and her friends used to frequent The Oyster Box when she was the age that they are now.  Having been in operation since 1947, it seems that The Oyster Box has been successful in capturing the hearts of almost everyone that's had the privilege of stepping through its doors.

  And despite our initial reservations, it's safe to say that we've officially joined the masses and fallen head over heels in love with The Oyster Box ourselves.  

Plain and simple, it exceeded our expectations in all regards. 

If you ever find yourself in the Durban area, I strongly encourage you to experience the venue's old-world charm for yourself.  Even if you don't stay overnight, set aside an afternoon for lunch on the terrace or enjoy a cocktail in the Lighthouse Bar at sunset.  I can virtually guarantee that you won't be disappointed.

For more information or to book a stay at The Oyster Box visit here 

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26 September 2013

{Teremok Marine}: A Design Lover's Paradise

We're back in Jo'burg after five incredibly beautiful days in Lesotho, which also means that our month of near constant travel has come to an end.  Between PilanesbergBela Bela, Durban and now Lesotho, it feels as though we've been spending more time away than not.  And while I love the feeling of constantly being on the move, for the first time in my life I think I'm actually looking forward to spending the next month at home, catching up on life, studies and work.  No more of this packing and unpacking business for awhile.  
At least not until November that is...

Today I'd planned to continue with the Greece recaps, but then I uploaded photos from Durban and became completely enamored by the design haven that is Teremok Marine.  Located in Umhlanga Rocks and just a short walk away from the Indian Ocean, I was literally in awe of this private residence turned boutique hotel.  The design was flawless.  If I were to create my dream home one day, this would be it.  

The history of Teremok Marine pulses through the walls of the house and remains a central theme carried throughout the suites and common areas.  Initially built by Kotchka Vladykin as a retirement home, the lodge has retained its original Russian name {meaning, little hideaway}.  Russian by birth, Kotchka escaped the Soviet revolution as a young child, initially immigrating to England, and then later making his way to South Africa as a mine surveyor.  Marrying into the diamond industry, he eventually chose to retire in Umhlanga Rocks, carefully designing Teremok to encompass his love for nature and the surrounding Milkwood trees.

Eventually inherited by the Douglases, Teremok Marine was converted into a luxury boutique lodge in 2003 and ultimately re-created into what it is today.  I loved that each suite has been designed with a particular aspect of the Teremok legacy in mind and spent a significant amount of time lost in the old photo books on display in the common area.  Jurg and I stayed in the Milkwood room, appropriately named after Kotchka's adoration for Milkwood trees and situated amongst the branches of the large Milkwood on the property.  With clear views of the Indian ocean from our balcony, our experience was idyllic in every sense of the word.

Because history plays such an extensive role in the Teremok Marine motif, it's difficult not to leave feeling somewhat nostalgic.  It's almost as though you've become so submerged in its history that you've become a part of it, not only saying goodbye to the house, but also to all of those people associated with it who have intricate stories of their own.  Teremok really got under my skin, in the best sort of way.

By the numbers:

Rates: R1,625 {$160} per person per night
Breakfast: Included in the above rate
Laundry & Ironing Service: Included in the above rate

For more information, you can visit their website here.