New Years in Sydney

February 16, 2007

Early 2007 has been pretty hectic with me moving into my apartment and starting work. But now I have set up my broadband (ADSL2 – it’s lightning fast) as well as my wireless from home so hopefully you’ll be hearing alot from me.

 I would like to share a little bit of what has been happening in my life since the beginning of 2007. Let’s start with the New Year.

My last evening of 2006 was spent at gorgeous Watsons Bay where I had a picnic with a couple of friends. We watched the 9pm Sydney harbour bridge fireworks from here – not bad but we had a bit of a restricted view.
Lisa and Ben at New Years 2007
Then we went onto a party in Rose Bay (one of Ben’s friends) and we walked to a nearby hill where we watched the midnight fireworks. These were beautiful with a whole myriad of coloured explosions. I must admit, I do kind of remember being more impressed with the Sydney fireworks when I was here for New Year 2004. And there wasn’t much of a great firework finish but all in all it was a lovely way to start my first year in Sydney.

Happy New Year 2007


Contiki: The Day before – the surprise roomie

August 7, 2006

And so…the cruise ends and the contiki begins.

It all started when I had to lug my suitcases up and down stairs all the way from Southampton to Russel Square (with about 20 tube changes in between…OK, I’m exagerating a tad but with all that heavy luggage, it sure felt like it).

I checked into the Royal National Hotel nearby the tube station. This seems to be the National Touring Hotel as it seems most of the tour companies cram their customers into here. It’s pretty mean, nasty but not so cheap (R445 a night).

We had a Contiki meeting at 6pm so I met one or two people on the tour (some of which I had already chatted to on the Contiki forum) and also met our tour manager Helen (an ozzie from Canberra).

Then headed out for sushi with Nolan and Anna at Camden Town (there are some very weird people in London – while waiting for N & A, the flamboyant characters that came out of the station could have been extras for some sort of Alien movie).

Anyway, when I returned to reception to collect my key, the concierge, told me that my mate had already collected it. My heart sank to my knees. “What the hell do you mean – I don’t have a room-mate'”. I started to picture all the stuff I had left strewn all over the room. After a brief argument, (I was sure the room had been booked as a single), I admitted defeat and trudged up to my room. I knocked and nobody answered so the concierge had to come up and open for me.

I asked him why the hotel has only one key per room. “‘That’s the way it is”‘ came the answer….oh well, so much for London service.

Anyway, my roomie (Wing, I think – from China originally) came in a little later, we chatted briefly and then went to sleep.

Her tour was leaving at 6am the following day, so at least I had some privacy to get ready as we only had to meet up at 6:45am.

It was a pretty rough night with music blaring from every corner and the room had an awful sleazy feel to it….oh well, it was only one night.

QE2 Update: Rough Seas & captains dinner and gala buffet (Thurs nite)

August 4, 2006

At the moment, I’m actually in Rotterdam in an internet cafe with a pink screen. I’ve only got a couple of minutes for a quick update. I wiull write about Oslo in more detail later.

It is our last day aboard our magnificent ship today…we set sail for Southampton this afternoon at 4pm today. But let me just tell you, we experienced our first bit of rough seas yesterday. I seriously was bouncing from wall to wall – I would never have passed a “walk the straight line” test with all the weaving about I was doing. I had to take an anti-nausea pill as it was getting more and more rocky.

It was quite scary watching out the window and seeing the seas come into view, then disappear, then come into view again. I’m talking about a 70 ton ship – there must have been a helluva lot of current to move this vessel.

My mom woke up at 2:30am this morning and peered through the porthole and watched the waves crash against our window. Apparently the waves were HUGE!! Good thing I was still happily in dreamland 🙂

Last night, we were invited to the Captains quarters for dinner. Only 50 people were invited out of 1800 and we were two of the privileged few (it has something to do with sitting at the captains table in our restaurant).

We were escorted up to the captain’s quarters and met up with the captain, his 2nd in command, Hamish who hosted our table a few days before and a couple of others. There was champagne and canapes and we wandered around in his apartment chatting. He has a buiggish lounge, 2 rooms, a big bathroom and a small kitchenette. Had a pic with Cap David Perkins (the cap’s name).

Then went into dinner and was hosted by a cute cadet named Tom. He is studying to be a cruise captain (eventually). He’s 21 and is in his first year of university at Plymouth. Had vege strudel for supper and (sugar free) carrot cake for desert and some truffles.

Then headed into the grand lounge to watch the Appasionata show and cabaret – with the dancers doing numbers from all over the world – including a brilliant Russian dance – better than the Russians themselves – as well as a beautiful tango!!!

At the Lido, there was a final gala buffet – WOW!!!! There were some incredible ice sculptures and even more amazing veggie sculptures and a mouth watering array of food – everything from tons of seafood to a groaning table of dessert. Since we had only eaten an hour before, I could only get in a sliver of choc mousse cake – YUMMM

Right – all aboard now….will write again soon

Day Five: Stavanger

August 2, 2006

Had a great sleep and woke at 8am just as the ship was pulling into our next port – Stavanger.

We had a light brekkie at the Lido and then headed out to explore Stavanger. It’s a small place and we spent our time walking around the white-washed old city and went into a couple of shops. Also toured the canning museum – which used to be a sardine canning factory – really interesting.

Back on board in time of lunch – delish chicken tikka and choc chip biscuits with ice-cream.

Then watched TV and slept. Another formal night – meeting the captain. We had a photo with him and then joined the rest of the Mauretania guests for a cocktail party with the captain – free champage. We chatted to Anton – the SA Maitre D of the Lido.

Then went to dinner with the staff captain – 2nd in command – Hamish. Interesting conversation..he studied for 10 years to get to captain.

Then caught the last half hour of the show – Hit me with a High Note. Lots of skimpy costumes.

Then bed…bound for Oslo tonight

Day Four : Bergen, Norway

August 2, 2006

This morning, we woke up at 4:30am to watch the ship come into port (via the cam on the TV)..why did we do that??? who knows really. So the rest of the day, I was pretty buggered and slept alot in the afternoon.

After brekkie, we went out on the gangplank, onto our first touch of Norway soil, onto the port town of Bergen. I had a bit of an ATM pin crisis as I copied it down incorrectly but thank goodness it is now resolved. We went on this train\car thingy which takes you around the main spots of Bergen and then we took a funicular up Mt Floyen – 350 metres about sea level. We looked around, got an ice-cream and then trekked down – ow (that’s what my calves said after).

Walked around the market and saw lots of reindeer biltong and sausage as well as whale meat – I wasn’t tempted.

Then made our way back to the boat..which took a while to find (we didn’t take the shuttle bus in the morning so we didn’t know where it left from).

Whew, back on board, we had some high tea, chilled, then dinner at the Lido.

We went to the grand lounge and watched the show there – Vanity Fair – starring the Royal Cunard singers and dancers. The costumes were very flamboyant and the costume changes were in split seconds. The girls were gorgeous and great dancers…most from Ukraine or Russia.

Then back to bed…zzzzz

Day Three – At Sea

August 2, 2006

Let me start with taking you through our cabin…it`s got two twin beds with two cupboards, a bathroom with fabulous shower (lots of pressure), a porthole (with paid extra for the outdoor cabin) and a TV. Just a word on TV, they show about 6 different movies continously and a BBC channel and some sport. There`s also a cam on the front of the ship so you can watch the scenery in front of us (although at night, it`s pretty pointless). And the best part is QE2 TV starring the two entertainment officers. They take the viewers through the schedule for the day and are sooo hillarious.

Yesterday they asked a trivia question…I may have mentioned it in my last blog. Anyway, not only did I get the answer right (the only person…whooo hoo) but the guys showed a close-up of my images I drew – a map of SA with CT, a couple of stick figures and a Hawaain fish with a lua. We are going to win some vouchers as a result.

Anyway, the best part of the room, is that Pat – our steward – makes it look pretty twice a day and we have a turn-down with choccie at night…what a pleasure!!!

The first day at sea, we went to gym in the morning…with all good intentions. I did a good cardio work-out and mom did a pilates class. Then late brekkie at the Lido – the self-catering restaurant where you can eat from here to eternity. The staff are all very friendly and generous with the helpings. We met Anton from Cape Town – the maitree D of the Lido…who’s very chatty whenever we come into the restaurant.

About 2 hours later, it was time to eat again…you get the picture..back at the Lido for some variety of roast, veggies and lots of decadent desserts.

In the evening, we went to listen to Terry Waite who spoke about how he was taken hostage by Hizbollah in Beirut and his take on the Israel Lebanon (more talking less fighting).

Had a jacuzzi and a swim on the deck and then got ready for our first formal dinner. Now let me tell you, when they say formal, they mean FORMAL!!! I should have bought my ball gown with me!! The men were all in tuxes and the woman had long flowy dresses.

Our new table was with a couple from Bristol and one from Hastings and then the ship’s representative. We sat with John – head of security – who was very interesting to chat to…until that is, he made some anti-semitic comment and I felt it necessary to tell him we were Jewish and felt uncomfortable with his remarks.

After dinner, went to walk around the ship and see what was happening and then landed up at the midnight buffet (you can understand how it is possible to roll out of the ship – at least you’ll float). We resisted the roast chicken that others were piling onto their plates and had some grapes…

 ZZZZZZ goodnight

Report Back: Bastille Festival

July 16, 2006

I was up bright and early and on the road to Franschhoek by 9am on Saturday. I arrived there a little before 10am and had to do some brisk walking to warm up (I was slightly underwarmthed for the chilly mountain weather). I explored the food and wine marquee, which amazingly was still being set up…not sure why the exhibitors didn’t get busy on Friday nite or crack of dawn Saturday. Perhaps everything is just more laid back out here in the winelands.

 I am constantly amazed by the changing face of Franschhoek. Whenever I visit, there are always new restaurants or shops popping up. This time I noticed a swish champagne bar, a quaint kitchen shop next to Reubens and a coffee shop opposite called D-Essence. The entire town was adorned in red, blue and white (the French colours) and looked very festive. I went inside D-Essence all intent on a cosy hot chocolate only to become distracted by opening the newspaper. I glanced at the Travel 2006 of the Weekend Argus and I was staring back at myself (along with Vanessa, Karen and Nicole). How exciting – my Swellendam story had been published.
Swellendam Check it out!!!!

After that excitement and a couple of phonecalls to share the glory, I finally got some attention from one of the extremely busy waitrons. I ordered a take away hot choc, which turned out to be an average Cadbury’s jobbie, albeit nice and warm.

Van finally arrived…after just about going through Wellington to get here and we headed to the tent to meet up with Bronwyn (who had organised the day) and crew. Van bought a tasting glass with five wine vouchers for R40. Being the last of the big drinkers, I opted to share some sips with her. Most of the Franschhoek wine estates were represented and many were quite cool about letting us taste as much as we wanted (without even exchanging a coupon)…except for the man at the Le Petite Ferme stand who was quite anal about the coupon exchange (although Van did stage whisper that his wine tasted like Ribena which may not have gone down too well 🙂

I would have liked for there to have been a couple more food tastings ..besides the ubiquitous Truckles cheese tasting, which is always nice (but as usual, I went a tad overboard as I was starving by now). Reubens were conjuring up awful-smelling chilli squid or something equally vile sounding, which put a slight damper on our tasting of Porcupine Creek, situated right next to the squid fry-up. However, we did decide that the Sauvignon Blanc from here was the nicest of the day and Van promptly bought 2 bottles.

From the marquee, we meandered our way to Grande Provence slightly out of town where Bronwyn had booked for us for lunch. It was pretty larny with heavy silver cutlery and large goblet glasses. Although the tablecloths and napkins seemed to be made out of hospital gown material with those horrible blue stripes. Some opted for the set menu – garlic soup (which apparently was way overdone with the garlic), a duck dish with bacon fondant (still don’t know what that is) and some poached pear thing for dessert.

I went for the angel hair pasta with veggies, which turned out to be fettucine with some veggies and a light cream sauce (OK, but not totally value for money at R65). Van and I shared the chocolte fondant (a warm choc pudding all gooey in the inside), which came with a yummy peanut butter ice-cream. (a bit pricey though at R40)

All wined and food-ed out, I still had to make my way back to Kaapstad. All in all a very nice day.

My Rating for Grande Provence: (out of five *****)

Food:              ***
Ambience:       ***
(warm fireplace in the tasting room)
Wine:              *** (angels tears is a easy drinking well priced Grande Provence staple)
Value:             **

Verdict:            *** (probably will choose another restaurant in Franschhoek over this)