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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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