Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Biking Amsterdam

I guess we had to do it - we had to rent bikes! We spent about 3 hours touring around the city, through some spectacular parks where we stopped to see storks and herons nesting. Fortunately we started in the morning before things got too crazy busy and by then we felt pretty comfortable ringing our bells at people in our way. Bikes RULE in this city so it was quite easy to get around although I'm not ready to do it in heels and while texting yet (very common here).

Yesterday we enjoyed the Van Gogh museum (I'd recommend it) and took the train to Keukenhof to see the tulip gardens. Their peak is probably a few weeks away but it was still quite impressive. Probably 1000s of varieties plus hundreds of different orchids.

Does this one remind you of me?
Another train trip on Sunday took us to the historic village of Zaanse Schans complete with working windmills, cheese shop and clog factory - perfect tourist stop. Very picturesque though.

Also on Sunday we had a great canal boat trip with captain Peter who definitely didn't stick to the recommended commentary. It was fun and he didn't seem too concerned whether or not his information, dates and facts were accurate.

Home tomorrow - thanks Mike for being a great travelling companion. And your sense of direction has been invaluable. One day I'll learn to follow a map!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

And then there's Amsterdam

One day in the depths of poverty (Khayelitsha) and the next to the overwhelming onslaught of Amsterdam. Talk about contrast! Yes I've heard about the number of bicycles in Amsterdam but I could never have imagined the reality of it. Apparently twice as many bikes as people!

This view is just steps from our B and B. I think we lucked out with the weather too.
Breakfast with a group of ladies from Wales/England and a couple from Rome.
Today (Saturday) we visited several markets - farmers markets, the flower market, and flea markets. We scored some fish cakes, pita bread and baba ganoush for lunch and some beet ravioli with shitake mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes with fresh parmesan for dinner. We managed to resist the squid (could be octopus).
This footwear speaks for itself.

"Poverty Porn"

That's a term given to the exploitation of the poor and since this was my 2nd township tour in 2 visits to South Africa I'm wondering if perhaps I'm guilty of it. Khayelitsha is home to about 2 million people in Cape Town, most of whom live without running water and the electricity is questionable at best. We arranged a tour with Nomvuyo run by Jenny, who, although white, has been working to make a difference in Khayelitsha. Although it was called a tour, it was more like a community walk-about. We started by visiting the home of her 'adopted' mother and brother. Her 'brother' accompanied us on the tour, I think he acts as a sort of protector. There was nothing that spoke of danger on our tour, but we had seen the pictures in the news, from 2 days prior, of some vigilante justice - 2 criminals, who had been stealing from the residents, had been beaten and set on fire.

Outside the home an impromptu cricket game was underway.
It's interesting to note that in one of the most 'dangerous' places on the planet, kids played happily in the streets, unlike in Canada where it's just too dangerous!

As expected, with a bag of sweeties, the word quickly spread through the community and we were bombarded by children of all shapes and sizes. Here Lynn McRitchie and Leanne try to manage giving only one each!
Nothing is cuter than twins!
Each outhouse is shared by about 5 or 6 families and is secured with a padlock. However, one key means that you may have to visit your neighbour's before you make it to the outhouse. We also had a few young men, grade 9 and 12, join us on our walk about. They are aspiring rappers and hip hop dancers and after a bit of encouragement they performed for us.

Jenny, our guide, seems to have taken on an advocacy role for many of the residents, helping them with any government organizations and regulations that get in the way of common sense.

Our next stop was a nursery school. They had just started snack time. You can see the other children crowding at the door. Many of them would like to attend but it's just not possible.
Next we visited a man who was building a restaurant - there's a bar next door and no place to buy food so he thought this was a great opportunity. He had a floor and a roof, a couple of counters but he was convinced he would be operating within a week or 2. When I told him we'd eat there next time we visited he optimistically said he'll have moved on to bigger and better things by then! Lots of ambition.

Golden had a dream - and from the dream he learned how to make a living by creating flowers from discarded soda cans. During our short visit he took the raw materials and created a daisy for us.
We stopped at the Craft Market where it was hard to resist some of the beautiful, beaded jewellery (I limited myself to a bracelet and necklace). It's inspiring to see the entrepreneurship throughout the township. A very vibrant economy was evident.
Vicky's Bed and Breakfast was one of the first places for visitors to stay in the township. Although Vicky wasn't home when we visited, Jenny showed us through the "smallest hotel in Cape Town". Her neighbours were a bit skeptical at first, but she seems to be doing a good business.
How is it possible to make a difference in a place of such overwhelming need? Jenny has worked hard to be accepted by the community, even speaking what she calls 'baby' Xhosa (the language of most blacks in Cape Town). Everywhere we went she was greeted and welcomed and we didn't feel like we were intruding into their lives. It was heartwarming to feel such an amazing sense of community wherever we went. Most who live here would not choose to move away even though the goats might be munching on their lawn!

No Elvis

Even without Elvis, Scott and Sam's wedding turned out to be exceptional. With a setting that spectacular it was hard to imagine it being anything but. The whole event could be described as elegant informal. Sam and Scott had really planned everything down to the last detail, including 40 blankets in case the evening got cold (which it really didn't). Pre-cocktail munchies included multicoloured smarties and popcorn with truffle oil.

The guests started arriving around 4 or 5 and mingled on the decks as appetizers were being delivered. Five special cocktails were on the drink menu, including chocolate chili mojito (I had 2) and hazelnut martini (1). As the venue was about 25 mins from Cape Town Scott had arranged transportation to and from, but of course it was a bit behind schedule which delayed Les, Sam's dad.

Scott and 'best man' Mark don't look too anxious here.

At the appropriate time, guests began to gather on the deck and the informal ceremony began. Sam, of course, was stunning in her elegant white silk gown and their friend Anton performed the service. Dinner followed, a few photos, then everyone gathered in the large living room for a few speeches. All in all it was more like a fancy cocktail party than a wedding; I guess their hopes of a "bloody huge party" were realized.

Sam with 'take-away' balsamic vinegar and oil.

The ring exchange <3: Sam's bouquet, which friend Leanne had whipped up earlier that day, was a large protea (South Africa's national flower) filled with roses.

Ross and I with Louise and Les Marx:

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wedding #2

I can barely imagine a more beautiful setting and Ross in his "wish I was Irish on St. Paddy's Day" shirt.

Frangipanis candles floated in the pool and frangipanis decorated the cupcakes.

The plan was to have the ceremony at sunset, but with the delay in transporting the guests from town, we had to wait until Sam's dad arrived.

I think the planets were just aligning themselves, Venus and Jupiter were shining brightly in the sky as the light was fading.
Thanks for everyone who hung in for the videocast at www.ustream.com/channel/smadsie

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wine chocolate and segways

As the huge bloody party organizer Scott is getting top marks. On Tuesday he arranged a bus tour for about 14 of us to the Cape Winelands. The first winery was Reyneke - a biodynamic vineyard. None of us had any idea what that was except Mike - biodynamic is a step beyond organic. The farm had ducks to eat the snails, snakes to eat the rodents, mongooses to eat the snakes, etc. Unfortunately I wasn't crazy about any of their wines. Then off to lunch at another winery then to a large complex with vineyards, raptor recovery and cheetah center, and Segway tours. Since I've always thought a Segway would be fun, Leslie and I decided to go for it. After a short training session we were off through the fields of sheep, cows, past the chicken coops, the protea garden,etc. for about 45 minutes. It's surprisingly easy and becomes second nature after a while. I'm sure the rest of them were sorry they hadn't gone;)
The last stop of the day was a wine and chocolate tasting, underneath the shade of a few trees. All in all another spectacular day in South Africa.

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