Mum on Tour – Clarens

My mum works in London. I say works in London and not lives in London, because she doesn’t really live anywhere. That’s not to say she’s a nomad, but she does live a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. She is usually at her cousin’s place in South West London in a room so small the door just about sneaks closed between the bed and the book case. But then sometimes she’s visiting my Granny in her hometown where she grew up, on the beautiful coastline of Northern Ireland. Or she’s staying with her sister in law in her beautiful 16th century country home in Surrey. Or she’s housesitting for some friends in a tower block in East London. Or she’s making sure her employer makes it safely to his chateaux in Nice. She gets around. (But not in the prostitute sense, as Hugh Grant would say).

Anyway, last month we were blessed with her presence for two whole weeks as she managed to make her way to sunny South Africa, just as Spring had sprung. Hubby and I had decided to take her on a mini-break (as that’s all our leave days would allow) and settled on Clarens in the Free State. Even though my mum lived in South Africa for over 25 years she had never been to Clarens. She was under the impression she was the only member of her peer group to never have been, but after being here only a few days she soon discovered it was one of those places that everyone has always wanted to go to, but has never quite made it to.

I know why mum never made it to Clarens before. My dad would hate it. It is a small town, with dusty roads, and nothing but little arty farty shops selling random, over-priced crafts and art works. Over the years it has only gotten trendier. They now have their own craft beer; and a restaurant that only sells cheese. There really is absolutely nothing to do. Except walk around, look around and just be somewhere different. Our ideal holiday.

For Hubby and I, it was our second trip, having visited it at the end of winter two years ago. Situated in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, it often gets snow in winter and is very close to the Lesotho border and popular Afriski resort. We stayed at a B&B, Millpond House, which offered beautifully appointed rooms, with simple self-catering facilities. Although not needed for our weekend there, there was underfloor heating, electric blankets and a beautiful open fireplace in the lounge area. Mum’s room had lovely double doors opening out onto a patio that she made good use of in the mornings while we had a lie in.

Having learned from our previous trip that small town means limited availability in restaurants, we phoned ahead a few days before our arrival and made a booking at Clementine’s for our first night – voted Trip Advisor’s number one restaurant in the Free State. Not that I have much experience with restaurants in the Free State, but this would take a lot to beat. The food was absolutely amazing! Although looking on Trip Advisor I’d be scared to say anything less as the owner seems to have a real go at anyone who gives them less than five out of five. We also visited the German restaurant, Roter Hahn, which has a fantastic selection of cheese cakes and beautiful views across the mountains, if you can put up with the absolutely awful music.

Day 2 saw us looking around the shops and me almost having my credit card confiscated by Hubby. I could have bought everything in sight. I had to of course put up with a healthy amount of my mum chipping in “you could make that yourself, you know,” but I did buy a fair amount of raw materials to make things myself too, as did hubby. For now though, please see below for new additions to house décor.

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I do love a good inspirational quote. Or several. As for the gaping hole between the two frames, Hubby is going to make a photo frame much like one I saw in one of the stores, but carried a ridiculous price tag. We’ll see what happens. Thank goodness we were hosting book club that week or they probably wouldn’t even have made it up onto the wall yet… lol.

Clarens is a special place, although I would recommend visiting it in winter. Even at the beginning of September, the nights were still cold, but not quite cold enough. When Hubby and I visited in true winter we got to experience the truly magical phenomenon of warm air pockets. At night, you would be walking along in the freezing cold and suddenly there would be a warm pocket of air. We thought we were going nuts until a local explained to us that all the warm air from everyone’s fires collects in the dips and hollows to form these pockets of warm air. It is a wonder to behold. Although we could feel them now in September, the temperature difference wasn’t enough to make them quite so special.

Anyway, the most important thing is, we got to spend two weeks with mum and she can finally say “Clarens: tick!”.

*If there’s one thing I love it’s a humerous sign and Clarens certainly did not disappoint in this department! Some intentional… others… perhaps less so…

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Invisible Disabilities and Having a Go at Cancer Lady

Dancing FeetHubby and I started ballroom dancing last February in preparation for our wedding and enjoyed it so much we just kept going, except for the three weeks I was in the psychiatric clinic. Returning after an absence brings about a perfect paradox in the life of someone who suffers from both depression and social anxiety. The depression side of you hopes that people have at least noticed that you haven’t been around for a few weeks, but the social anxiety side doesn’t want a fuss or any attention drawn to you whatsoever. Turns out, I needn’t have worried…

We arrived at the same time as another couple who, unbeknown to us, had also missed a few classes. The wife half of the couple had the unmistakable shaven head of someone undergoing chemotherapy. Hubby and I got the “oh shame, hope she’s ok, wonder what kind she has” out the way. I smiled my socially anxious smile and we entered the ballroom; where sympathy descended upon chemo lady.

Now I am taking nothing away from chemo lady. Cancer is a horrible beast. Hubby had leukaemia as a child and so I am all too familiar with his stories of how cruel the disease, as well as its treatment can be. However, I had just been in hospital too. For three weeks. For a life-threatening condition in the sense that I wanted to end my own. I have temporal lobe epilepsy that was giving me two seizures a day at the time. And a dreadful chemical imbalance that I didn’t ask for, any more than she had asked for her tumours.

Not all disabilities are visible

The difference here is obvious. My diseases are invisible. You can’t see epilepsy. Or anxiety, or depression. You may see its symptoms if you know what to look for, but for the most part, I am fighting an invisible battle, while chemo lady’s is very much out in the open. Now this isn’t about attention, this is about support. This is about knowing that people are in your corner. Our entire dancing class is in chemo lady’s corner. No one knows I need them in my corner too. And I think the thing that possibly makes me the saddest is that even if I told them about my invisible illnesses, about what I struggle with each day, I feel quite certain I wouldn’t get as enthusiastic a response as her bald head did.

All in your head

There is something terribly wrong with our society. Something that seems to think that mental illness is a choice. A weakness; something we should be able to just snap out of if we were strong enough. You don’t expect people to snap out of cancer, or diabetes, or hypertension; but when it comes to ailments of the brain – well then, just think yourself better. Maybe it’s because doctors can’t yet prove with scientific tests exactly what’s chemically going on in your brain to cause depression, so it must be “all in your head”. Wouldn’t that be a fine thing. If I could “think myself better”. Lord knows I’ve tried.

If mental illnesses presented as physical then even if someone wasn’t brave enough to seek help, or didn’t know where to turn, if they were in so much pain that they would rather be dead than alive, at least someone would freaking notice! Hell, it would probably present as a gaping wound on their forehead! Blood and puss would be gushing out of their ears. It would be nasty. The kind of thing that people would stop to stare at, that people would gather round. The kind of thing that people call an ambulance for. But mental illness is invisible. And so you go unnoticed; unhelped; unrescued.

How we feelIn fact, if anything, mental illnesses are worse than invisible. If people do notice a sign or a symptom, they usually feel so awkward about it, they’ll pretend they didn’t see it. Crying in the bathroom stall at work? What a weirdo! Can’t she get her shit together like the rest of us? Personally, I think getting your shit together is overrated. I think it’s a myth. Perpetuated by people so boring they have no shit to get together. When you’re made to feel like it’s an attainable goal, yet it feels like your world is crumbling around you, crying in a bathroom stall should be perfectly acceptable behaviour.

Everyone deserves their privacy and the invisibility of mental illness could sometimes be seen as a blessing, I guess. But I fear most people are using its anonymity as a shield against shame. The fear of rejection and the stigma of mental health issues within society are enough to make anyone hide their symptoms. And it is this secrecy, this tendency to hide in the invisibility that is perpetuating the problem. Mental illness is not something that can be overcome without a strong support system and you can’t have a strong support system if people don’t know what is going on in your life. It is only by talking about these issues, and other invisible illnesses, that we can begin to break down barriers and heal each other as a true community.

Support Network

In truth, I am part of the problem. I felt sorry for myself because my dance class wasn’t there for me, but I denied them the chance to be. I could have come back to class and explained my absence. I could even have blamed the epilepsy entirely and left out the mental health aspects – something I am prone to doing – but instead I said nothing, and internally berated a poor woman with cancer. I feared their judgement, but it was me who judged them first.

There is a risk that people won’t understand. That they’ll tell you have so many reasons to be happy and that you just need to think positive thoughts. But there is also a chance that someone will give you a hug and tell you that they understand and your support system will become that much stronger. Isn’t it worth the risk?

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Welcome to Crescent Clinic, Enjoy Your Stay

Depression

This was never meant to be a travel blog, but as I really hit my stride behind the keyboard during our honeymoon road trip and then swiftly dropped off the map thereafter, to the casual observer, that’s all my blog looks like; a review of places to stay and things to do. And this just so happens to be another review of a place to stay and a thing to do. Only this one comes with a twist.

I posted last July about my tendency to sometimes slip into depression. But I didn’t touch on it again. Even though my depression was steadily getting worse. I think conveniently, I wasn’t noticing. I had a giant wedding to distract me and a road trip to look forward to. That’s the tricky thing with depression you see. High functioning mental illness can lull you into a false sense of security that you’re actually ok, when really you’re very, very NOT ok. When you can still get out of bed (most days), put your face on, get yourself to work, put in a (half decent) shift, go about your normal evening routine… everything feels a bit sluggish, there’s a greyish tint to the display, the sound clarity is a bit off, but you’re getting by. You’re not reaching for the razor blades. You’re ok. But you’re also not.

I'm Fine

This was me for much of last year. Yes, even though my life, on the face of it, is perfect. Please, for fuck sake, do not remind me of the many, many reasons I have to be happy. I descended into the spiral that would eventually drop me off at rock bottom at the end of October. You also don’t need to point out that this coincides with my wedding. My therapist, psychiatrist and many friends and family members have already helped to point that out, but more on that in a later post (maybe). My psychiatrist, who I have been seeing for thirteen years now (yes, I single-handedly financed her children’s private school education) first recommended admission to a psychiatric clinic in early December. My first response was shock and denial. Surely I can’t be that bad? We hadn’t reached Cuckoo’s Nest, Girl Interrupted levels of crazy, had we? By mid-December I had moved from denial into bargaining. I couldn’t go into a clinic at Christmas.

I was hoping to feel better over the Christmas break. Then I could blame work and just get a new job (I say it like that would be easy, but it sure felt easier than going into a psych ward at the time). But if anything, the razor blades just started looking more tempting. But by the time my I saw my doctor again I couldn’t even contemplate admission because my mom was visiting from the UK and I couldn’t waste precious quality time with her in a place where they only allowed two hours of visiting every second day of the week. February brought a better excuse – my birthday – even better, it was my 30th. We were hiring a jumping castle. Hubby was making me a marble glaze ninja turtle cake from scratch. I had friends coming from another province.

Bother People

But some days I also felt like pulling my car over into oncoming traffic; or accelerating into a brick wall. Or going into a really dangerous neighbourhood to see if someone might kill me for my cellphone like the stories you hear on the radio. Maybe I could swallow all the pills in the house, lord knows we have enough. Or do we? How many is enough? Or I could jump off a building? But how high is high enough? Knowing my luck, I’d end up a vegetable, in a whole new world of depression.

My birthday party was on the 11th of February. It was one of the best days of my life. I was surrounded by most of my favourite people, my favourite foods, my favourite music and I made some special memories. Most importantly, I decided I would go to the clinic for the 21 day programme that I should have gone for at least three months prior. Because those people deserve the best version of me. I deserve the best version of me. And I wasn’t going to get it by just muddling through.

And so, on Monday, the 13th of February, the day before Valentine’s Day, and six days before Hubby’s birthday, I checked into Crescent Clinic. Mum still had eight days left of her holiday.

Upon arrival, it looked like a hotel. I was instantly feeling simultaneously at ease with anxiety levels through the roof – a state of being I am all too familiar with. Once all the formalities were completed I was shown to my room. Now I had by no means been expecting five star living, despite the fancy furniture and fresh flowers in reception, but nor was I expecting the communal dormitory in which I found myself. Five beds. One bathroom. Gasp. Anxiety out of this hemisphere.

I arrived late in the evening and so my first day was just an underwhelming dinner, followed by meds, awkward chit-chat with the roomies and some reading before bed. I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for the next afternoon at 2:30pm. In the morning, I was assessed by an occupational therapist who assigned me to the ‘blue group’ and gave me a time table of courses. Now this was something I could work with. Scheduled classes and group therapy sessions discussing a variety of topics and teaching healthy coping mechanisms centred around weekly themes. This week’s theme: relationships. The first class: boundaries. We were a match made in heaven.

My head

I met with my psychiatrist, Dr Sheldon Zilesnick, a friend and former colleague of my usual psychiatrist, in the afternoon. He is a specialist in temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) my primary diagnosis. Between them, they believed my symptoms were largely down to uncontrolled seizures. As soon as the epilepsy was under control, the depression would be under control. I didn’t have any clinical symptoms as such. There is nothing wrong with my life. I don’t have any childhood traumas. This is a chemical battle. But he would get me a psychologist to meet with during my stay as that was typical procedure.

Depression FeelsI met with her the next day. Her name is Deirdre Hartley, and in short, she broke me. She both ruined and saved my life, all in one. In three short weeks, she showed me what was wrong with me and what was right with me. I have had more “Aha!” moments in her office than anywhere else combined. She ripped my world apart and is slowly showing me how to put it back together. She tipped my diagnosis on its head. My problem may have been chemical, but I am facing a very real internal battle and it is only just beginning.

Crescent Clinic both saved my life and changed my life. I found out that they have rooms that are less communal and that if you ask the nurses nicely they will change your room (after they find you cowering in a corner ugly crying). I found out that the food is very inconsistent, but if you’re not a fan of rice, you’re going to be very, very hungry. I found out that they can give you a day pass to go home to celebrate your husband’s birthday. I found out that drum circles can give you a natural high. I found out that I’m a blue and that it’s a good thing to wear a mask.

I found out that just because someone loves you with all they have doesn’t mean they love you the way you needed to be loved at that time in your life; and that that’s not your fault, or theirs, it just is. I learnt that as human beings we crave purpose and connection but that often we sacrifice our individuality for the sake of our relationships. Only through self-awareness can we accept ourselves for both who we are and who we are not and begin to act with conviction and assertiveness.

Right, that’s enough buzz words. What does this all come down to? Here it is. Life isn’t all sunshine and roses, but it shouldn’t be razor blades and overdoses either. You shouldn’t even have to settle for a fuzzy picture or slightly distorted sound. You deserve to live in HD. If you’re not getting the most out of your life, don’t let the stigma of mental illness hold you back. Don’t wait until you’re planning your own demise to ask for help. The rooms are comfortable, the food is tolerable, the healthcare professionals are outstanding, the programme is life-changing. Welcome to Crescent Clinic, enjoy your stay.

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Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 10: Gariep Dam

Our final stop on this epic adventure took us to De Stijl Hotel, high up in the mountains overlooking Gariep Dam, the water levels of which were heartbreakingly low. Being on the cusp of the Free State and the Northern Cape, this trip allowed us to tick off two more provinces on our crusade to visit all nine before the year is out.

The hotel is lovely – if somewhat out of place. You find yourself looking around for the water park that ought to be adjoined, but no, it’s just a hotel. As it was the last stop, we splashed out on the honeymoon suite, which had some very… interesting décor choices. And no bathroom door. Yes, we may be married now. Yes, we may have moulded our lives together. But YES, I would still like bathroom privacy.

The most wonderful calling card of staying in this particular part of the country can be found some 90km away, just outside the small town of Philippolis: Tiger Canyons; a tiger sanctuary operated by renowned South African conservationist and filmmaker, John Varty, who is on a personal mission to create a wild tiger population outside Asia. It is a remarkable undertaking, and even more remarkable, is that it’s working. During a three-hour game drive with Varty himself, we were lucky enough to see three of the sanctuary’s fourteen tigers, including Ti-Bo, the last remaining white tiger living in the wild.

Make no mistake, this is not a zoo with big cages. These tigers are 100% wild. They hunt, they claim territories and they fight, often resulting in death. If anyone is any doubt about their wildness just read about Varty’s too close encounter with male cub Corbett in March 2012, an attack that almost cost him his life. As well as the tiger viewing we were also given a chance to interact with two cheetahs that JV has hand-raised. I was very skeptical and anxious to get out of the truck, but was comforted by the fact that they had just eaten. What a special and rare opportunity to view these beautiful cats in their natural habitat.

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This experience must be added to any wildlife lover’s bucket list. It was an experience beyond compare. And my advice would be to go as soon as possible! This place is just a few investment opportunities away from being turned into a five-star resort that would alienate locals like us. I am so grateful we got to experience it in these early stages. My second piece of advice would be – make sure you’re in a 4 x 4, that your spare tyre is in good shape and that you drive slowly. The roads were beyond shocking and we ended up with a puncture.

After the awesomeness of Tiger Canyons there was nothing much else to do except dunch about the hotel, catching up on some reading by the swimming pool and taking in the last few moments of this heavenly adventure before normal life would resume.

Distance Travelled: 479.8km

Defining Soundtrack: “Big Machine” the Goo Goo Dolls

Items Purchased: A 1GB WiFi voucher so I could watch the Seahawks game.

Next Stop: Home

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Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 9: Nieu Bethesda

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Today we saw a crab. After fourteen days of travel, ten of which were spent, at least in some part, in coastal regions, we saw a crab for the first time today; in the middle of the desert. I’m quite sure there’s a simple explanation for it; he was probably a fresh water crab who wandered off from the one and only stream in the near vicinity. But still, I thought it was pretty funny.

That really does sum up our latest stop – Nieu Bethesda: a town in the middle of the desert, where weird things happen. There are no street lights, no petrol station, no ATMs, no supermarket. Shops, restaurants and accommodation establishments only accept cash. You need to come prepared. We stopped off on the way in nearby Graaff-Rieneit to prepare ourselves, loading the trolley with food, drinks, and most importantly: fire wood. Because if there’s one thing Hubby and I enjoy above all else it’s a good fire. And there is no better place to sit by the fire than under the Karoo night sky.

Words are not worthy of describing the Karoo night sky; no amount of them would be adequate anyway, even if I tried. Hubby even tried taking photos of it with his fancy new camera, but it refused to be captured. It needs to be seen, by everyone everywhere, at least once in your life. Add it to your bucket list right now. I have seen night skies in the Kruger and Zimbabwe, away from the city lights and pollution that usually block our view. But I am telling you there are some stars that only shine for the Karoo.

It’s like a blanket of sparkle, as though glitter has been poured from the planets. When you look up there is more star than sky. The milkyness of the Milky Way is clearly identifiable. In contrast, Orion’s belt, usually so obvious in the night sky is much harder to identify as it’s surrounded by so many other stars, rather than shining solo as it appears to do in the city’s night sky. And it’s not just what you see, it’s what it makes you feel. It captures your soul and mind. I sat there for hours, lost in the stars and lost in my own thoughts; thoughts about the big things, the things that really matter. Remembering people I’ve lost and wondering if this is where they’ve come.

…This is why you shouldn’t try to describe the Karoo night sky. Because you end up sounding like an idiot! Hahaha!

So moving on… Hubby and I have been to Nieu Bethesda once before, to see in the beginning of 2014 with mum in tow. It was my most memorable new year celebration and one of my favourite ever holidays. The town is just so special and unique, full of little gems like an honesty store selling everything imaginable from books to trinkets to bubble bath. The Karoo Women arts and crafts empowering women in impoverished areas to support themselves and their families through their beautiful creations. And restaurants with a different menu every day decided by what’s available and what they feel like making. Apparently though, this only describes Nieu Bethesda in season.

Out of season, Nieu Bethesda is a dusty ghost town full of “Sorry – Closed” signs. And we were here on a weekend! Fair enough, we only saw about a dozen other tourists on our strolls though the town, but this opens up an interesting chicken and egg debate. Are all of the stores and restaurants closed because no one comes or does no one come because all of the stores and restaurants are closed? Although this gave us a well overdue day of down time it was disappointing not to be able to revisit the splendors of our first visit.

But as I reminded Hubby, we didn’t come for the shopping, we came for the sky.

Distance Travelled: 289.5km

Defining Soundtrack: “Stars” by Skillet – no surprise that was in my head every night.

Items Purchased: Lavender linen spray (been hunting this down for ages, of all the places to find it!?!), ball of 100% wool in a pinky-maroon sort of colour to make a scarf (needles and pattern included), a funky long sleeved shirt (pictured as it too defies description).

Next Stop: Gariep Dam, Free State

The Newlyweds Do Christmas!

Throughout my childhood and well into my adult life my family had two Christmases. One on the 16th of December (a public holiday in South Africa, celebrating reconciliation) and one on the 25th. The 16th was for friends – the type of friends who are more like family – and was probably my most favourite day of the year. Nothing but laughter and joy, delicious food and hysterical games. It was an honour to be invited and some years people ended up having to bring their own chairs to sit on, we were that packed to capacity. However many people were coming, my mum always managed to find the perfect turkey – one that was both big enough to feed everyone, yet would still fit in our oven. She roasted potatoes and various other vegetables, she made stuffing and gravy from scratch and she baked mince pies and proper Christmas pudding that you could set alight and everything. All of this in our very small kitchen in the thirty-degree summer heat of Johannesburg in December.

And then on the 25th she did it all again for just the four of us.

I like to think I have always appreciated my mum and recognised her brilliance – particularly in the kitchen. But this festive season my admiration has reached new heights. For this festive season Hubby and I hosted for the first time ever and I have never worked so hard in all my life – even though Hubby did most of it! If it’s edible we had it there to be eaten. If it has walked, swum or flown over this earth of ours, it was on the table ready to be eaten. We had smoked salmon and Parma ham entrees. We had bacon encrusted turkey and a citrus glazed gammon, with help from Hubby’s brother we had beef fillet and roast lamb, we had potatoes, parsnips, roast veg, salad, gravy, two types of stuffing and we had trifle.

But let’s bring the focus to my contribution… most importantly, we had a tidy house. Anyone who knows us and has ever visited us will understand that this was quite a feat in itself. We had a very festive looking dining room table. And we had pie-caken – the most wondrous invention of someone on Facebook of baking a pie inside a cake. I decided to do mini cherry pies baked inside chocolate cake. Most importantly, it worked. Secondly, it tasted pretty damn good. And as my final contribution, we had clean dishes come Boxing Day evening.

It was a wonderful Christmas. Happy memories were made and new traditions were set down. But it was exhausting. How mum did it twice in ten days for over twenty years I will never know. But I am so, so glad she did, and I know others are too. I would happily host again in 2017, because the juice is worth the squeeze in this case. But if mum happens to be free and feels like doing a spot of cooking I’m not going to deny her. That would be rude.

Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 8: Beaufort West

Beaufort West was only ever intended to be a stopover point. We knew we’d leave Cape Town relatively late and didn’t want to do the full journey to our main stop in the Karoo in one go. It was just as well we were taking a leisurely drive as there was some magnificent scenery to ogle. We were also able to make a sho’t left and stop in the town of Matjiesfontein where I swear they have the coldest Coca Cola Light in the world.

To us, this little town was the perfect introduction to the Karoo. A mixture of quaint, small town charm and ‘holy crap did I slip through a worm hole into 1792’. We explored the grounds of the Lord Millner Hotel, chatted to some very friendly staff and enjoyed a most refreshing beverage in the pub – the Laird’s Arms. The décor – including an old school till and framed menus dating back to 1902 – had me all giddy. It was only about a week later, when we were standing around my dad’s bar, now firmly established back in Joburg that we found out there is a whole lot more to Matjiesfontein. Apparently it is a village with a “history richly spiced with tales of murder, mayhem and magic”. The hotel was once voted the most haunted building in South Africa, although I’m still trying to find out why. No wonder the staff were so friendly…

Our accommodation in Beaufort West was situated on the outskirts of town, so much so that I found myself praying to a god I only sometimes believe in that we hadn’t been duped into paying everything up front to sleep in someone’s back room. But around the corner we came and there it was: Cape Karoo Guesthouse. What a truly beautiful spot with the most outstanding hostess of the trip thus far. She had gone to the trouble of decorating our room to be a honeymoon suite, rose petals and all and made us feel extremely welcome. She also showed us to the deck where we could view the beautiful sunset over a mountain just as flat as that Table one.

For dinner we went to the Four Sheeps Restaurant, where they serve lamb. You only need to choose what part of the lamb you want, how you want it prepared and what it should be served with. We both went for a relatively simple lamb burger. Absolutely delicious and a welcome introduction to Karoo lamb – with an informative explanation of how lamb is categorized as such provided.

The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the farmhouse which is absolutely stunning. Open plan everything with tasteful and creative décor – I have borrowed a few ideas to try at home. I would strongly recommend the Cape Karoo Guesthouse to anyone needing to split up their journey on the N1, a fantastic place to stay.

Distance Travelled: 470.6km

Defining Soundtrack: James Bay

Items Purchased: I tried, but the only thing going was bottled water. I have kept the bottle.

Next Stop: Nieu Bethesda

Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 7: Cape Town

Ah Cape Town; the Mother City; the place with the big mountain.

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We received a warm welcome when checking into our room at Parker Cottage B&B. Drinks offered on arrival, and then a sit down chat with the hostess to discuss what we wanted from our time in this wonderful city. I mentioned Boulders Beach for the Penguins and Cape Point – neither of which she could offer packaged tours for, and suddenly the welcome became a lot less warm. We were bundled off to our room, half-finished beverages and all. And unfortunately, this about sums up our experience of Cape Town: beautiful scenery, sucky people.

For our first night I had asked for a recommendation for a seafood restaurant – preferably one that did good platters. In all our coastal travel we had yet to really sample seafood and I wanted something that could be a real treat. One of the other staffers at Parker Cottage booked us a table at The Deck House and Crab Shack on Kloof Street. We received yet another warm welcome, this one remaining warm throughout, if a bit pushy at times. I ordered a cocktail – a real treat as I rarely drink – and then the manager brought us complimentary champagne as he knew we were on our honeymoon. It seemed rude not to drink it (as disgusting as it was) but I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and soon became quite tipsy – for literally the first time in my life. This was quite amusing for both Hubby and I.

We had prawn popcorn to start – really delicious, followed by a platter of crayfish, calamari and ribs (half price surf and turf on Wednesdays for the win!) It was a really unique dining experience, donning a bib and all, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The waitress did put pressure on us to order more nibbles and wine, but we had already anticipated that so it wasn’t too annoying. I loved the novelty of being able to walk home at night, through city streets. Although there are certainly some streets you can walk safely at night in Joburg, they’re not areas we frequent, so this made me feel quite nostalgic for the London way of life.

Parker Cottage does a smashing breakfast so this set us up well for a busy day ahead. First we headed to Simon’s Town and Boulders Beach to see the penguins. A bit underwhelming, I had envisioned seeing dozens of them, but I know it can depend what time of day you go. We did see a few up close and some in the water, so overall a worthwhile trip.

Then began the epic adventure of Cape Point vs. Cape of Good Hope – with no one being quite sure which is which. We were after the one where the two Oceans meet (turns out that’s actually Cape Aghulas, but they try and keep it quiet). From a tourism standpoint, the signage and information available in The Cape of Good Hope National Park is appalling! You really are left to your own devices. In the end we opted for Cape Point as there is a tram that takes you most of the way up. We made it just in time as minutes after we had taken some shots of the view we were completely engulfed in a cloud.

We took the coastal route back to base which took us up Chapman’s Peak. Wow. The views and scenery are absolutely breathtaking. Although Hubby didn’t get to enjoy it as much as he had to keep his eyes on the very windy road, we could both agree that the short stretch of road beat the trip to Cape Point and was well-worth the small toll fee you pay to drive it.

Back in the city it was off to the Honest Chocolate Café to taste their famous Banana Bread Bunny Chow that I had been looking forward to since reading about it in an article on things to do in Cape Town for under R50 (It was a very short article). At R48 the hollowed out mini banana bread loaf filled with ice-cream and melted dark chocolate, is worth every penny.

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After that we walked the streets (in the non-prostitute sense) traversing different sections of Bree, Long and Kloof Streets. This turned into an interesting introduction to the Capetonian driver who seems significantly more angry and aggressive than even the Gilooly’s Interchange on a Friday afternoon Joburg driver. I don’t think I’ve ever been sworn at more times, had rude hand gestures waved at me or been on the receiving end of glares of such contempt as when crossing the road when the green man is clearly telling me to in Cape Town.

Overall Cape Town was thoroughly enjoyable. Our B&B was beautiful, very centrally located and served excellent breakfasts. The scenery is magnificent, beyond compare in some places. But the people… It’s not something you can really explain, it’s more of a feeling. A feeling that you really, really are not welcome. Especially if you are from Johannesburg.

Did we enjoy it? Yes.

Will we be back? No.

Distance Travelled: 206.3km

Defining Soundtrack: “Home Sweet Home” by Forever Ends Here. I love a bit of irony.

Items Purchased: Food. Couldn’t afford anything else.

Next Stop: Beaufort West

Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 6: Franschhoek

Of all the routes, I enjoyed this one the most: Route 62.

Our hostesses at the glorious JBay had recommended a couple of stops along Route 62 and we took them up on their suggestions. The first one was Ronnie’s Sex Shop, situated about 20km outside Barrydale. The story goes that Ronnie bought a dilapidated building on Route 62 intending to turn it into a farm stall. As a joke his friends painted “Ronnie’s Sex Shop” on the side of it while “helping” him to restore the building. As most of the restoration effort involved them drinking and keeping him company, they eventually convinced him to turn it into a pub. And so today it operates as a watering hole still bearing the original paint job of “Ronnie’s Sex Shop”.

I’m not sure what we were expecting, but something with a bit of character at least. What we got was a place that looked like it used to be fun once upon a time. The staff looked loathe to be there and their signs advertising “ice cold drinks” were a flat out lie. Still, it made a good photo op and if it had looked half decent we may have stopped there longer and missed out on the gem that came next. See, everything works out for the best.

Diesel and Crème: what a spot! Located just as you’re leaving Barrydale, it’s easy to miss – we drove straight past even though we were looking for it. They have taken what used to be a petrol station and turned it into a real American style diner, still keeping all the original fixtures like the pumps and signage. The restaurant itself is also an ode to all things retro and vintage from the antique furniture to the random décor like old measuring equipment, and children’s toys that brought back epic memories. And the thing is, it’s all done in a very unique and authentic way – it doesn’t feel trendy or like it’s trying to be something, it just is. And the food… I ordered the lady in red milkshake which was basically a slice of red velvet cake liquidized with a scoop of ice-cream. Amazing does not begin to cover it; it was a true taste sensation. The chicken burger was the best of its kind. Not only would I recommend Diesel and Crème, I would recommend going out of your way to pay them a visit. You won’t regret it!

Anyway, what was this blog post about? Oh yes, Franschhoek. So, we arrived in Franschhoek. We were staying in a charming little cottage called Little Willow Brooke, with its own swimming pool that made my feet go numb – the rest of me didn’t make it in. After our stupendous lunch we didn’t need to visit one of the town’s famous establishments and instead made ham rolls for dinner. The next morning we had some time to explore the charming streets before heading to Cape Town. It reminded me quite a lot of Clarens with lots of little shops selling delightful odds and ends – the things I just go nuts for. If it’s got a funny quote on it or would look good on my kitchen counter, I want it. So I spent entirely too much money but left happy.

On the way out of town we stopped at the Franschhoek Motor Museum, which I soon discovered was Hubby’s version of the Theatre of Dreams. With cars being his number one passion (after me of course 😉 ) this really was the place to be. It is terrifically set out as far as museums go, located on a beautiful wine estate with various models from the early 1900s until today displayed in 4 different large barns. There were cars in there that are one of only seven ever produced. So even if you’re not bothered about cars (like me) seeing a piece of history like that is always mesmerizing.

The scenery in Franschhoek is nothing short of breathtaking. Wine estate after wine estate, rolling hills and river crossings. The route certainly offered some peace and tranquility before heading into the city.

Distance Travelled: 400.4km

Defining Soundtrack: Crown the Empire

Items Purchased: En route: Ronnie’s Sex Shop apron. In Franchhoek: teapot, mug, a bag, some gifts.

Next Stop: Cape Town, Western Cape

Newlyweds on Tour – Leg 5: Oudtshoorn

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We travelled through some truly beautiful scenery on this route, specifically in crossing over a few towering bridges that I really wish we could have stopped at on the Tsitsikamma Toll Route. Storms River in particular looked spectacular. I know the name and have some sketchy memories of people discussing it around me in the past. On a return trip I would definitely make a plan to spend some more time in this region.

To partner the impressive scenery we had some very underwhelming towns. I went on an epic holiday to the Knysna area with my mum in 2008 and together we discovered the grand anti-climax that is Plettenburg Bay. We only passed through it briefly today but I didn’t see anything that caused us to pull the car over. Sadly Knysna was much the same. We had a delicious lunch at 34 Degrees on the Waterfront and some wonderful gelato from a nearby stall, but the place was overwhelmingly swarming with foreign tourists; and the facilities seemed to pander to their needs at the expense of us lowly locals. However, we were just passing through and I concede that it may be a different experience entirely if we had the time to stop and properly take in the sights.

We did take a detour to Buffels Bay which I remember from my 2008 trip as being a breathtakingly undisturbed stretch of beach with beautiful rock formations. Fortunately it has remained untouched and it was good to take some last deep breaths of calming sea air before heading inland.

In a 100km stretch we went from beautiful beaches and breathtaking drops into tropical gorges, to mingling with the clouds in intense mountain passes, and finally to sparse, ostrich populated dirt with the occasional shrub here and there. At least five different countries’ calling cards covering one patch of our beautiful country.

At last we arrived at our bed for the night, Earthbound B&B, Oudtshoorn, with the most overly enthusiastic hostess I have ever encountered. Everything was described to us in excessive detail, including what was and wasn’t included in the breakfast. The accommodation was lovely though with a beautiful outdoor patio. So with no cooking facilities but not wanting to waste our patio, we opted for take-aways.

We woke up early and ate our inclusive breakfast and then attempted to visit the Cango Caves, but with the earliest time slot available being 12pm we had to move on. The place was packed with tour buses full of foreign visitors – excellent for tourism, not so good for us. However, it worked out for the best as it allowed us to make our way to stop 6 at a leisurely pace, taking in some real treats – but I will save that for the next post.

Distance Travelled: 396.3km

Defining Soundtrack: Hozier – who was switched off for being too depressing.

Items Purchased: A keyring adorned with purple ostrich feathers.

Next Stop: Franschhoek, Western Cape