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.

Purchases 1Purchases 2Purchases 3

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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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.