Cape Town, South Africa

A Lekker Time in Cape Town

(*Lekker is an Afrikaans word that was used to 1) describe food as tasty or nice.  Now it’s been adapted as slang in other ways: 2) to comment about a woman who is fit/hot and 3) to express one’s feeling that something /someone is cool, sweet, dope; a basic word to express approval…summing up exactly how we felt about Cape Town)

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Arriving in Cape Town on Christmas day felt like magic.  Chilly, dark London transformed into sunny, breezy Cape Town on our spontaneous trip to South Africa (we booked our flights just four days prior to arrival).  But even if you planned a trip to South Africa a year in advance, I think you’d still feel CPT’s sense of wonder.  Table Mountain looks after you no matter where you are in the city, the emerald green waters of two oceans lure you to the coastline, and the gap between gritty streets and impeccable vacation homes is something to reckon with.  We were able to steal away to the vineyards, get lost in historical landmarks, and feel like time was on our side the entire time.  We’re huge fans, Capetown!

Right away, we noted the public service announcements of the severe drought plaguing the city.  It’s worsened since our trip in December, and our thoughts are with Cape Town residents.


Understandably, much of the city was shut down for the Christmas holiday.  In the central business district (CBD), we found a local hostel for a beer and toasted to that first feeling of vacation settling in.  The Village local buffet across the street really lived up to its name as we were the only tourists amongst the cousins running around, the aunties shelling shrimp and the dads directing their kids to pick up an extra ice cream cup on the way back from the buffet.  I wouldn’t put it on the ‘must eat’ list at all, but it was a fun experience being amongst the crowded tables and crowded plates.

Our sunny Christmas day was perfect for a walk after the buffet lunch.  We walked through Green Market Square where a small number of booths were selling bead work, wood work, fabric work, metal work– all boasting pan-African curios.  A few shops on Long street also housed similar crafts.  There were sharks, giraffes, and fauna of all types made out of aluminum cans, beaded roosters and slender wooden carvings, bright fabrics, and lots of wired and roped jewelry.  It felt too early to buy something but hindsight is 20/20. This would have been the perfect time to pick up handiwork and souvenirs as there weren’t crowds of people, and the prices were better than more formal stores in the malls and at the airport.

The Company’s Garden has a long, beautiful promenade with a fish pond, and a rose garden.  The garden is right alongside Parliament but we didn’t realize this until we left the park to find our way to District Six.

District Six is a must-see historic neighborhood.  In 1966, local government declared this multi-ethnic neighborhood a white-only residential area.  The city began demolishing block after block of homes and storefronts, displacing residents, and forcing them to leave with little more than what they could carry.  I read Noor’s Story, a book that Mrs. Spells gave to me upon return from her CPT trip, which tells of Noor’s memoirs as a young boy in District Six, and what he remembers of being uprooted.  I’ll write more on the museum later, but for now you should know that walking through District Six feels like a gentrified, design neighborhood with bakeries, cafes and barber shops… a place where a tourist might unfortunately miss this history.

We tried for a drink at gin bar back in the central business district, but it was closed for the entire week of holiday.  Not to worry if this happens to you.  Just a few blocks beyond this bar is Bo-Kaap.  Bo-Kaap is a Malay South African neighborhood that is another must-see!  We were immediately lured by the brightly colored homes with the Lion’s Head mountain as the backdrop.

Later this evening, we caught the Westin hotel shuttle to the V&A Waterfront.  It’s a behemoth mall on the waterfront with throngs of tourists dining at the restaurants that hug the pier.  Also, does every tourist destination need a ferris wheel now?  Oi.

We had a recommendation for Sevruga, and we think it was because of the sheer size of the sushi rolls.  Corey’s sushi plate was one to ogle, though all of the pieces were smothered in some concoction of mayonnaise.  Best point of the experience was the Spier white wine from Stellenbosch. It was our first, but not our last 😉


26December2017: The Cape of Good Hope

We planned today’s itinerary around picking up our rental car.  The Cape of Good Hope seemed a great choice for our first official drive in South Africa.  The Cape of Good Hope is the most southwesterly point on the Cape Peninsula, though still in Table Mountain National Park.  The drive south takes you past various coastal towns like Camps Bay, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, and Simons Town.  I loved driving along the winding coast line, looking over at the brown seaweeds that glittered in the sunlight.  The roadside is dotted with lookouts and vacation homes built into the lower parts of the cliffs.  Even waiting in the hour of traffic to get into the national park didn’t get us down. We happily took in the natural beauty and the sunshine, plus I was feeling pretty accomplished as an American driver handling a stick shift in the opposite side of the car, and on the opposite side of the road.

We split a baguette sandwich before taking off down the breezy boardwalk to the Cape.  The lookouts over the waves and sandy beaches were gorgeous, and though the parking lots were crowded, the ninety minute hike to the Good Hope point seemed less travelled than the funicular route up to the lighthouse.  I was happy to have my sweatshirt while climbing over the large boulders as the wind was something serious.  When we finally crested the small hill, we looked down and noted that there was another car park below!  This meant most people skipped the hike completely and were driving directly to the Cape of Good Hope sign!

Corey and I posed for pictures at the sign, and resolved that we preferred our hike even our new knowledge of the drive-in option.  On our drive back to CPT, we stopped at Seaforth Beach to catch the goings-on of the sun-kissed locals and of the nesting penguins!  Simons Town and its main street were closed at this point so we continued back to the M3 highway to plot dinner on Bree Street.  By the way, the M3 part of the highway was my favorite since its tree-lined and shady like a botanical garden.

Bree Street seemed a trendy street for restaurants and cafes, but La Parada’s kitchen was closed when we arrived.  The walk to Villa 47 is an easy one from Bree Street, and probably where we should have stopped when we passed it the first time since it looked so cosy!  Our server, Sarah (yes, first name basis), had the best recommendations which we’ll share: lamb tortellini, and the line fish of the day.  We don’t usually go for a tiramisu but she insisted, and we rolled out happily.  She also helped us add another great bottle to our list: Jordan Wines (also in Stellenbosch).

Though I’ve yet to visit New Orleans, The Village Idiot bar around the corner seemed like it could be set in NOLA with its second floor open-air balcony stretching around the length of the bar.  The warm breeze went well with our after-dinner drinks, and we philosophized about how the DJ could improve his set.


27December2017: Table Mountain

We woke up later than expected but still figured we could make it out to the car before the parking meters started.  But once outside, neither of us could find a meter or a place to pay for parking.  We asked two workers at the office building near our car.  They informed us we needed to find a man in a bright orange vest to pay for parking, but that he hadn’t been around this morning.

“Sometimes he comes, and other times he won’t show up”, one of the men shrugged.

“If he comes, and you’re not here, we’ll tell him to wait for you,” the other piped. Ke Dezemba Boss?!? (This saying means ‘no worries, man’…and this phrase can be applied to the entire month of December! Some even take liberties to extend this slogan to late November and early January).  The office workers seemed genuinely sure the meter man would wait for us if we weren’t at our car when he arrived.  We were baffled.  We ran back upstairs to shower, and get on our way to Table Mountain.  No rush was needed, though, because the parking meter man never showed!

The plan was to visit Table Mountain in the morning, and then drive to the wine farms for lunch and for an afternoon tasting.  Traveler’s Tip: During tourist season, plan on spending the bulk of the day at Table Mountain.  It’s crowded, and the lines are long to get up and down in the cable car.  But the views are unparalleled.

We shuttled up the mountain, chatted for an hour with the couple in front of us in line, and loved the rotating floor in the cable car.  The views are breathtaking, and we were surprised at how the surrounding boulders and rocks mask how high up you are when you reach the top.

There are three loop paths that map a 15, 30, and 45 minute walk.  Everyone is trying to snap their best pictures and selfies on the various pathways, and so we joined the fun as well!

Then there are the ‘getting down’ options. The most popular is to take the cable car back down, hence the line you see below.  However, you can also choose to belay climb down the face of the mountain! I was able to catch a glimpse of a woman’s orange helmet as she went over the edge (pic 1 below).  You can also opt to hike down the back of the mountain but if you do this, you most likely hiked up the summit in hiking gear.

From the base, the line snaked around at the shuttle stop, so we walked back to the car park.  We knew we’d miss the lunch and wine tasting this afternoon so we opted for a drive to Kalk Bay instead.

If you go to Kalk Bay, eat at Olympia Bakery and their small restaurant. Don’t eat at Harbor House, though you might be tempted because the view is gorgeous.  Take our advice as we learned from experience: “If you don’t love yourself, then don’t go to Olympia Bakery” (a quote from my friend Taya).  The local families at Kalk Bay in faded bathing suits and pilled towels contrast to the tourists sipping wine in floppy designer hats on the main strip.  The galleries on main street are filled with home decor and upscale handmade items.  You’ll find your fill of ice cream shops, and book stores, and the clothing stores are what one might call boho.  We spent less than an hour strolling here since my Harbor House lunch was not making friends with my tummy.

This evening was pretty pathetic as I got food poisoning.  Corey wasn’t able to meet up with Loyiso since he was trying to feed me dry toast and ginger ale between my trips to the bathroom.


28December2017: Robben Island

Unfortunately, Montezuma’s Revenge hit Corey this morning and we were down for the count with stomach issues for a majority of the day.  Though we didn’t leave our hotel room, we cheered each other on to get better as we knew we had to be well enough to make our 4:30pm boat trip to Robben Island!  We had our first experience with Lucozade, a Gatorade equivalent in the UK, but Gatorade is far superior.  After more dry toast, we finally gained the strength to leave for the island.

((Before catching the shuttle to the V&A Waterfront, we checked to see if the meter man had come to work today. A small receipt on the window let us know we’d been ticketed.  As we tried to decipher the costs, the notorious man in the orange vest literally came out of nowhere and prompted us with a card machine.  We owed 6 pounds for parking all day on the street.  Sweet.  We could live with that….especially knowing that neither of us could have made it down earlier in the morning to move the car.))

Robben Island has been on my bucket list forever, and I was very excited to get on with the tour.  But first, another traveler’s tip:  Erase the images of you having a solitary moment at Mandela’s cell.  There is no time or real space for one’s deep reflection on this tour.  There are about five buses of tourists that visit the museum at ticketed times between 9am-5pm.  That being said, it’s an experience that truly can’t be missed (even if you’re now a bit skittish on boats like me).  After shuffling off the boat, you board a bus with a quick-witted tour guide who is fluent in saying hello and in telling at least one joke in over twelve languages.

Your tour takes you to the recreational facilities, to the separate blocks for criminal prisoners, and to the limestone quarry where political activists would talk shop during their endless hours of hard labor.  The kinder guards would warn the activists when it was safe to make their plans.  Mandela returned to the island when it was opened as a museum, and stacked the rocks in the center of the quarry (seen below) to commemorate his fellow activists.  The rocks haven’t been moved since.

Before the last stop at the political prisoner block, we stretched our legs at this Table Mountain lookout, complete with the cloud cover ‘table cloth’ in the distance.

The main area of the maximum security prison housed political prisoners, surrounded by concrete walls and barbed wire.  The sense of bleakness is a bit hard to visualize when you’re cattled through each area, but if you stay a bit behind the group, you can experience the silence of the space for a brief moment.  We learned that recreational hour was not just to pass the time.  While prisoners would play tennis, they would cut open the tennis balls to pass notes of news off the island.  Mandela would tend to his garden (see below), and hide his manuscript of A Long Walk to Freedom, which was found and destroyed numerous times.

The cells are no bigger than a closet with one mat and a washbin.  Depending on the side of the corridor, you may have a small or smaller window.  Mandela’s cell was the fourth on the right side down this long corridor.  Though I was surrounded by tourists and cameras, I found that touching the bars, and closing my eyes, filled me with the weight of this place.  There is a gravity that you can’t ignore.

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It’s powerful to walk from the maximum security prison back to the boat rather than being bussed, at sundowners no less.  Corey remarked that these are the same steps Mandela must have taken in his long walk to freedom.

The V&A Waterfront lights beckon you to dinner but we opted for a shuttle to our hotel and a stroll to Long Street for some Ethiopian food.  The mushrooms on deck were our least favorite, but it was a good to have injera for our first full meal after our food poisoning bout.


29December2017: Wine Farms in Franschhoek

We’d had many wine farm suggestions, all of which I’m sure are lovey, but I’m going to spend this section gushing about Boschendal.  It’s a brand of wine sold at the Tesco Metro downstairs from our flat, so I told Corey that if it was an underwhelming wine farm, at least we’d have a story to tell when we drink it back in London.  It was anything but, and I’ll say I have a newfound respect for Tesco’s wine selection.

Before we get to Boschendal, first, the drive to Franschhoek was stunning. It’s greener than Napa and Sonoma, and the valley of vines is surrounded by rocky hills jutting into the blue sky.  I couldn’t stop exclaiming how gorgeous it all was, and pulled over numerous times to order Corey to snap a photo.  However, you also will note the stark contrast between the rich estates and the shantytowns that have cropped up between them.  Some of the locals walk the medians on the road, selling boxes of fruit for tourists who want to enjoy their wine with fresh produce.

We turned off the road to a tree lined entrance to the Boschendal farm, and I knew immediately this is where we’d spend a majority of our day.  There were shaded lawns to sip wine on hammocks and bean bags.  Visitors buy picnic baskets from the cafe to have alongside your recently purchased bottles.  If you like, you can start with breakfast at the restaurant on one side of the estate, and then make your way through the gardens to the tasting area.  There is a kids camp, there are tours of the cellars and of the olive press facility.  You can even ride horses through the acres of vineyards and backroads of the farm.

The tasting room staff were upbeat in their poetic descriptions of each glass.  We weren’t interested in Chardonnay at all, but with a wink, our server brought us a taste that changed my feelings about Chardonnay! We bought a bottle and carried it back to the UK!  After a day of the stomach bug, it was relaxing to sit back and feel the warm breeze beneath the trees with a small set of wines to sip.

With incredibly short notice, Corey lined up a lunch at Grande Provence, another wine farm with a top executive chef.  The chef happens to be related to Corey’s colleague so we knew we’d be in for a treat.  The Grande Provence was only twenty minutes down the road, and we were welcomed into the likes of an open air museum.  The gallery pieces dot the grounds as you taste wine in the garden, or dine in the restaurant.

We were treated to additional starters and desserts, and you can see why the restaurant has won numerous awards!  Though we didn’t make it to Stellenbosch, we’d give Franschhoek a top recommendation.

This evening, our plans took us to the Grand West Arena.  Corey had been following his friend who was going to DJ at Afropunk, as well as some of the artists performing in Johannesburg on NYE.  He was ecstatic when he learned that Anderson Paak and the Free Nationals were going to stop in CPT for a one night performance!!!  Neither of us had seen him live, and what a treat to see him so spontaneously.  He’s not just an incredible musician but also a talented performer!  Every part of the stage he touched, came alive.  My favorite was watching him play the drums during the song Room in Here.  His opener, YoungstaCPT, helped bring energy to the stage as well.  He’s a rapper from Cape Town who we dubbed as our new favorite artist.  After this night, we heard his songs on the radio and at the bar the following night, thereby solidifying his title.

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30December2017: Townships and the Lot

Today felt like the pace of a usual day of travel for us: visiting places that our friends have suggested while also mapping out where to eat based on each landmark.

We started with a tour of the District 6 Museum, which I’d highly suggest.  The stories and images that the previous residents have collected are beautifully curated.  It’s clear that they’ve established their narrative in the city’s history of apartheid.  The quote in the suitcase below was uncanny in its parallel to my family’s own history, and the the forced evacuation of 120,000 Japanese American citizens from the West Coast during WWII.

We visited Langa Township, the oldest established township in Cape Town.  We learned that Langa is a black township, segregated from the coloured township across the road.  There are concrete dormitory style accommodations that house up to nine families at once in 3 single bedrooms.  The residents play 20 rand per month, about 1.60 dollars.  There are also single unit homes with a sitting room, kitchen, and one bedroom, yet these are coveted because they provide more privacy than the dormitory buildings.

Once you pass the concrete apartment buildings, you come upon the non-permanent houses built from corrugated sheet metal.  There are businesses in old shipping crates and make-do shacks.  Here is where children ran alongside us to grab our hands for coins, and where we saw some of the residents calling out to our guide. Even though we couldn’t understand what they were saying, you could pick up that some were friendly neighbors with our guide, and others were upset that he was touring us down their block.

We ducked into a shebeen, or local pub, to sample their fermented cornmeal beer.  It’s said to have medicinal qualities such as healing a boy who has been recently circumcised!?  We also visited a local healer with the raspiest voice I’ve ever heard.  He spoke of how people today visit less for medicinal cures but more for protective recipes from ex-lovers, old bosses, new wives and other family members.  He had vials filled with bright orange oily liquids and dusty yellow powders but the space was so dark, we knew taking a picture would be fruitless.

Our guide, Sia, lives in Langa and is using this job to earn money to pay for his degree in tourism.  He’s not interested in living away from his family but knows that being in the tourism industry could take him to another city very soon.  As we drove from Langa to our next stop, he shared that the coloured settlement across the street from Langa is one we wouldn’t visit due to the gangster culture amongst the men.  I wondered how the coloured township would describe themselves? Sia also shared that ‘coloured’ is a word that meant mixed-race, and that it isn’t a slur as it is in America.

We learned that Khayelitsha is the second largest township in the country (Soweto is the first). There were many more temporary homes, which he explained was due to a high influx of people moving in, mainly from Zimbabwe.  The sprawling township has about 900,000 residents though it is difficult to keep accurate census data due to the ever-changing population.  We could see how prone this township would be to a fire as there were rigged wires all over the place from roof to roof and window to window.

Corey and I drove ourselves to The Old Biscuit Mill, a super hip market filled with tourists and locals alike. If you’re able to get to the Woodstock neighborhood on a Saturday, you’ll shop stalls pushing olive oil, perfumes, leather bags, hand sewn frocks, and silver jewelry shaped in the silhouette of Table Mountain.  We randomly opted for dumplings which would be a quick bite before roaming the stalls. It was a hot day and Corey realised quickly that I’d struggle to make any decisions in the marketplace so he opted for leaning against a pole under an awning while I ruminated over whether or not to make any purchases.  I left with two prints of a cartoon elephant and lion that felt symbolically connected to our upcoming safari.  These are our favorite animals and it would be nice to have them with us as we ventured out onto the game reserve.

Since we still had day-light, we drove to Hout Bay to see the potential seals, and to stroll Mariner’s Wharf.  No seals, but creative sand sculptures (see below!)  If you’re there, apparently the thing for lunch is fish and chips, but we just enjoyed the beachy vibe away from the city, and found the Pearl Factory with some lovely pieces.

With one hour left until closing, we made our way to Kirstenbosch Gardens as we’d seen the ‘Boomslang’ Walkway advertised throughout the city.  The park was full of families having a day out, as well as some workers setting up a large stage for their New Year’s Eve festival.  It’s a majestic garden, and we were happy to visit even for a short time.  The ‘Boomslang’ (meaning snake) is similar to Highline Park in that it’s elevated, but instead of buildings and a city scape below, you’re above the trees and looking out at a picturesque mountain scene.

We landed at House of H for dinner and it was our favorite restaurant of the entire trip!  We highly suggest you have a meal here, even though, as the hyper-food critic in our partnership, I was initially skeptical.  First, it looks like a dimly lit, pretty empty bar from its entrance on Loop street.  I wouldn’t have considered it for a meal at all but we went upon recommendation from our server friend at Villa 47.  Second, there is a fly net on the counter by the grill covering the meat cuts-of-the-day.  Third,  there were more staff than customers around 8pm on a Saturday.  But we stayed the course, and wow, was it a great meal for our last night.

I loved my spider steak with veggies, and Corey selected ribs and a local beer.  The bartender wanted us to take their house infused gin, even offering a tasting, but when I said I’d prefer a red, he picked a great Syrah.  I’m painting the scene with these little details because in the next part of the evening, I have very few words.  The rooftop looking out at Lion’s Head mountain at sundowners (synonym for sunset).  The collection of stools and pallets setting the laidback vibe.  The cool black and white checkered floor and the DJ playing YoungstaCPT (Go Bos!!).  A real lekker goodbye to our chapter in Cape Town.


Quick Shot:

  • We’d eat at House of H more than once if we could.
  • Book tickets to Robben Island ahead of time. This was the only thing we booked ahead of time aside from our flights.
  • Rent a car to drive to Camps Bay, Hout Bay, Simons Town, and specifically Kalk Bay if you’re looking for beach day options.  We didn’t make it to any private beaches, but hear these are also beautiful though more exclusive.  On the Kalk Bay Main Street, eat at Olympia Bakery.
  • Shop and eat at Old Biscuit Market (Saturdays only until 3:00pm)
  • Fall in love with Bo Kaap’s brightly colored houses, and maybe hit up the chocolate and gin shop down the road ( Honest Chocolate and The Gin Bar)
  • Boschendal Wine Farm! I’m pretty sure you’ll be tempted to spend the day here so you might need to slate two days for your wine farm trips if you want to make it to Stellenbosch, too.
  • Make a day trip to Table Mountain but you’ve got to watch the weather and alerts on the website to tell you when the cable car is open.
  • Curio shops on Long Street for beaded souvenirs and all things African print.  Long Street is also a centre for nightlife after the sun sets.
  • Kirstenbosch Gardens was a treat, as well as the drive to the Cape of Good Hope.

Things We Will Do When We Go Back:

  • Visit Stellenbosch’s wine region and more of Franschhoek. Taya and Fidel suggested these favorite estates: Solms-Delta (they also have great live music sometimes!), The Franschoek CellarLa MotteBabylonstorenHaut EspoirMôresonRupert & Rothschild
  • Eat at Pesce Azzurro – Taya and Fidel’s favourite seafood restaurant in Woodstock
  • Hike Lion’s Head: it’s only supposed to be about 90 minutes and if you can catch it for sundowners and get down the mountain before it’s dark then you’re in for a treat of a 360 view of Table Mountain and the city below (we heard it’s seedy after sundown)
  • Visit Boulder’s beach and swim with penguins.  We heard it’s worth the experience even with the small entrance fee for the conservation area.

 

 

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Colchester, England

A Cold Day Trip to Colchester

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Elephants have been my favourite animal since I was about eight years old so I was taken with Colchester’s love for the keystone species as well!  We arrived knowing that Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town, but didn’t know that when the Roman Emperor Claudius invaded the settlement in 43AD that he brought elephants along to intimidate the locals.  Today you can see small elephants decorating the street signs & placards near the town centre, and the local zoo is said to have some friendly ambassadors as well.

When you take the train from Liverpool Street Station you can alight at Colchester or Colchester Town.  We arrived at Colchester, but then took an Anglia train to Colchester Town since this stop was closer to some of the sights we wanted to see before lunch.

St. Botolph’s Priory is directly behind Colchester Town station.  It was founded in 1100 and was the first Augustinian priory in England.  I had to look up priory (a small nunnery or monastery) and Augustinian (relating to a religious order observing a rule derived from St Augustine’s writings…I admittedly didn’t go deeper than this so I’m still not quite sure of the importance in a specific religion).  The walls that remain are from the 12th century which is just a tad bit older than our country 😉 I thought the arches were stunning.

Most people seemed to be using the priory grounds as a shortcut to get to the train station.  We walked against the grain of pedestrians about five minutes up Queen street to Castle Park.   It’s the equivalent of the central park of the area, and many families were visiting this Saturday. I do think there were more children around the back of the castle at the tiny Christmas fair than enjoying the historical site itself.  We weren’t much better than the seven-year olds as we dropped coins into the entrance’s well , but didn’t pay the fee to go beyond the foyer.

The lady at the castle till offered up a few lunch spots, including Tymperleys on Trinity Street.  It’s a beautiful Tudor building with a pretty garden outside.  We were hungry enough for a full lunch, but they also offer afternoon tea as well.  Their mulled wine was the first I had of the holiday season but it won’t be the last!

After seeing the historical sights, and having a cosy lunch, we spent the rest of the chilly afternoon strolling past the Trinity Street shops.  There were many commercial stores like Primark and H&M, but we noted that barber shops and tattoo parlors also made a strong showing.  These brought up the stereotypical images of Essex men from the TV show ‘The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE)’ — similar to our reality series ‘The Jersey Shore’.

Around 3:30pm, the sun started to fade so we turned up our collars and walked for twenty minutes from Trinity Street to Colchester station.  It’s easy to see why commuters do this route during the week– getting back into Liverpool Street station takes about a hour so it’s an direct and easy day trip to and from London!

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Amalfi Coast, Italy

My post from the Amalfi Coast

IMG_9491To quote my friend, Anna Moyer: “It’s hard to overstate the beauty of the Amalfi coast.”  On the bus, every hairpin turn was breathtaking.  You’re incredibly high up from the waters below, and the towns living in the mountainside are beautiful as they peak around each curve in the road.

We arrived in Positano after an early morning flight and two crowded SITA buses, yet time stood still for the rest of the day as we explored the many nooks and crannies of this dreamy place.  Positano is full of numerous staircases, and long winding roads, that will do a number on your calves.  We took a very, very leisurely pace the entire time as this was Corey’s first trip since Tignes.

Near the main docks, there were numerous linen boutiques, sandal shops, and limoncello grocers.  Lemons are big here- not just in popularity but also in size.  I also loved the stores selling ceramic-ware painted with bright lemons against navy on all sorts of bowls and platters.

We dipped our toes in the super clear water, and took a nap on the pebbly beach late in the afternoon, before making the trek back up to the local Trattoria.

The streets are lovely as you can see.  Many of them are draped with wisteria or have brightly painted building.  We imagined how crowded it must feel in the summer as you can barely walk two by two on the narrow lanes.  On the street sides, single file is a must so you aren’t nipped by a local bus or scooter.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures around every twist and turn.


This morning, I tried running stairs to get the day started but I only lasted about twenty minutes.  The Positano steps kicked my butt, but there is no photographic evidence as I could barely breathe, no less snap a selfie!  Wouldn’t an early lunch be a better idea?  Corey found Fattoria La Tagliata, a true gem, up towards the town of Nocelle.  I wanted to visit Nocelle as this is where the Il Sentiero degli Dei (Path of The Gods) trailhead starts/ends, but honestly, if you didn’t want to hike, then I’d still highly suggest a trip to this restaurant as your main activity for the day.  It felt like the Italian grandmother-chefs were picking young garlic right out of the garden to use for our family style meal (and later we discovered there was a mini-farm outside!)  You arrive on the terrace and three small plates with a bottle of house wine are immediately brought to your table. There is no need for a menu.  Prego!!!

We didn’t do the Path of the Gods as it was too strenuous for my kidney-healing man, but we did take the bus to Nocelle so that I could at least say I saw the entrance to the path.  If we return to the coast, I’ll be bringing a solid pair of hiking boots.

The remainder of the day was spent on the small terrace in our hotel room just taking in the gorgeous scenery and reviving my blog (or ‘slog’ as Corey has taken to calling it as it’s majorly delayed in posts (slow + blog= slog).  Better yet, wait for the exclusive to Corey’s blog- or ‘clog’- coming out…. TBD 🙂


Day three took us on a day trip to Amalfi, another town just a thirty minute boat ride along the coast.  The town has a smaller beach, but a livelier square and Duomo.

Visitors can enter the crypts and cathedral for a mere three Euro to see the Monumental Complex of St. Andrew.  We had a seaside lunch followed by a gelato cone (I found the sorbet yogurt flavor and felt very satisfied).  We didn’t indulge in the fried seafood cones along the way, but did some window shopping for linen, leather and limoncello.

We caught another crowded SITA bus up to Ravello, a very pretty town, high up in the cliffs.  Suggestion for SITA straphangers: buy your round trip tickets at the tabacchi shop, and get to the busstop early.  We were visiting in April when it’s less crowded and still felt the pushing and shoving to climb aboard.  Though SITA looks like our version of a charter bus, they line people up into the aisles like a local city bus.

Ravello was as picturesque as ever, and we spent a majority of our time in the Villa Cimbrone, an exclusive hotel with gardens that are open to the public.  The wisteria that hang down along the walk and the stunning views of the Mediterranean made it well worth the 7 Euro.

On the way back from the gardens, we opted for Mimi Bar Pizzeria for a quick meal before our Ravello Piano Concert.  Jackpot!!! The pizza crust was chewy and delicious, and it was the best pasta with ‘sea fruit’ (clams and mussels) I had on the entire trip!!! I can’t say enough good stuff. The trip advisor reviews in the link below don’t have enough exclamation points to do the restaurant justice. We will definitely return if we are in Ravello for more red sauce and seafood.

Ravello’s Concert Hall offers weekly concerts in a small venue with great acoustics.  If you’re into classical music, this would be a must see.  This is illustrated by the fact that we ran into one of Corey’s colleagues while waiting for the concert to start!  She had heard similar reviews of Ravello’s concert society and made sure to stop in as well.  Giuseppe Di Bianco’s piano recital concluded our already peaceful afternoon.  Unfortunately, after the limoncello at intermission, we had to leave to catch the last bus to Amalfi and Positano.  Stepping out into the quiet stone paths after hearing a talented musician made for a great evening.  Add to this, the local church was holding their Good Friday procession, complete with babies dressed as angels, and a candle lit parade.


We left Positano mid morning and spent the day wandering the new, flatter streets of Sorrento.  The area feels a bit less ‘beach-vacationy’ as the beach is much smaller here, though the waters are just as clear blue when you look over the edge of the boulevards. It’s easy to take day trips from Sorrento as well so there is a city/ transport feeling, in my opinion.

There’s more affordable shopping here, and more space for outdoor eateries. We didn’t find a great lunch spot, but we didn’t find a lovely linen shop where the gentlemen dressed Corey to the nines! The fashionista spirit of Italy is still strong though we were many miles from Milan.  We were offered delicious samples at Nino and Friends, a souvenir shop featuring local treats.  I found a purse that I couldn’t resist, and then we made our way to the grocery store to ensure we had provisions for Easter Sunday and Monday.  We learned that many restaurants would be closed or would have limited hours for the holiday so it was time to stock up for an Easter picnic.  Would you believe we met a family from Ewing at the grocery store!?  Corey has a magnet for meeting people around the world!  While he reminisced about dirty Jersey highlights with two college-aged siblings, I purchased mortadella, parma ham, olives and artichoke hearts with their mom.  Her son is studying abroad in Germany, and he and his sister bought their mom a ticket to travel to Italy for the first time on their spring break.

Dinner was around the corner from our hotel, and the fish of the day with homemade pasta was a major thumbs up.  We also spotted many tables sharing multiple pizzas so it seems you can’t make a bad choice at Il Convivio.


Since Sorrento is a hub for day trips, we caught an early train to Pompeii and Erculano to see the historical ruins created by Mt. Vesuvius.  On Easter Sunday, the trains stop running at 1pm so we did a quick tour at each site, and promised to read up on these when we had more time.  You can see just how intricate the cities must have been, and Ercolano still had paintings on the walls as well!

We ventured into the side streets of Ercolano and saw Easter parades with flags and traditional dress.  The slight drizzle couldn’t stop the celebrations and chants. I wondered how much I should be considering that Mt. Vesuvius is still an active volcano even though we were most likely just hearing thunder rolling in with the rain clouds.

We found a serious bakery selling Easter treats and gelato. Yes, of course, we joined in with the purchasing of pastries and spun gelato cones, even in the rain.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch by the hotel pool and spent the remainder of the grey afternoon between the hotel lobby tethered to wifi and the hotel bar for a beer and wine happy hour.

Dinner was at Ristorante Bagni Delfino, a restaurant right on the docks that was open on Easter Sunday.  The staff was incredibly nice, and I must say the gratis pre-dinner prosecco was a nice touch.  After the sun set, the main square in Sorrento still felt lively, with many people out celebrating the holiday.  Everyone was dressed up and out with kids and loved ones, treating themselves to gelato or just enjoying the night lights.


For our last full day on the coast, we caught an early boat out to the Isle of Capri.  We hit a bump in the road, or should I say, a bump in the waves, as they felt reminiscent to the waves on our Thailand trip. Corey soothed me by telling me the waves were not nearly as rocky as we’d experienced before (which was true), and that we were ‘almost there’ numerous times even when we weren’t.  I admittedly found myself pumped with more adrenaline than I’d expected while on the boat so getting back on solid ground was a good start to being on the island.  Truthfully, the views didn’t compare to Positano, Amalfi or Ravello as we took the uphill walk to the town center. High end shops and small cafes line Piazza Umberto, the main plaza, where you’ll find many day-trippers.

We wandered to the Giardini di Augusto to look out on the Faraglioni, two distinct rock formations in the true blue sea.  Unfortunately, there weren’t boats being allowed into the Grotta Azzurra, as the waves were too choppy.  We hear the magnificent blue ocean is supposed to be unreal in this cavern.

We sat along the garden walls with our parma, olives, tomatoes, pesto and bread picnic lunch as many of the Capri eateries are expensive.  Corey treated himself to a ‘Capri Special’ drink: fresh orange juice with lemon granita.  It dawned on me that Capri Sun must be based on this very juice!  We traveled back down to the Marina Grande on the funicolar, a train that goes straight up and down the hill on one track (just like the one on the snowy mountains of Tignes).

O’ Parrucchiano had the most stunning ambiance.  It felt like dining in a magical citrus grove, and I asked that Corey propose to me again because it was such a fairytale.  Stick to the seafood dishes as my veal Milanese wasn’t much to write home about.  As we walked home from dinner, teems of people were spilling out of Gelateria Primavera so we had to try it…When in Rome? (the saying still applies even in Southern Italy, right?)



Naples

A few people told us to skip Naples–that it wasn’t worth dedicating a night of our trip here.  But we liked seeing the different personality of this city.  Yes, it’s grittier than any locale on the Amalfi coast, but it’s also the third largest city in Italy.  It’s a mix of graffitied walls, and quaint restaurants, with neighborhoods that are definitely showing signs of change in many ways.

Our first day of walking was close to Piazza Dante.  The neighborhood lanes had two sides. The main strip, Via Dei Tribunali, was lined with pizza shops, souvenirs booths, and churches offering tours of the underground cities of Naples.  Off this main drag were dollar stores, tobacco carts, and drabber alleys brightened only with hanging laundry.

The central duomo’s interior was beautiful, and the plaza in front was a hangout for teens, and boys playing futbol. We participated in a slightly uneventful tour of the San Lorenzo Maggiore Scavi Museo to see the ancient market buried below the foundation of the church.  The fact that Naples has underground tunnels, markets, and piazzas is really neat, but the tour wasn’t too exciting…more of a tourist trap upon reflection.

Via Toledo is full of commercial shops like H&M and Adidas but this huge street does lead you right down to the water.  We stopped for a caffè nocciolato at Il Vero Bar del Professore, a cafe renowned for rich hazelnut cream coffee.  Before heading to the seaside, you pass the gorgeous Basilica Real Pontificia San Francesco da Paola.  Cars aren’t able to drive along the waterfront (Via Caracciolo and Via Partenope) and it was nice to see joggers in the evening, and friends strolling along enjoying the views of Capri and Mt Vesuvius in the distance (we were sure we were looking at one of these!)

We passed Castel dell’Ovo, a fort-looking castle jutting right out on the waves.  Taking a right up past the huge waterfront hotels takes you to the Chiaia neighborhood. This is an area that feels completely different from the lanes we’d walked earlier in the day. There are boutiques and fine art galleries.  I’d read that we should visit a wine bar with a rooftop but before we found it, we passed BISI.  The owners swept us up before we could say no and they were terrific. The cocktails were perfect, especially since they were keen to create something based on our personal taste. With each drink, you’re served a board of small snacks done incredibly well. Apparently, the owners also have another spot called Trip which we will hit up on our next visit to Naples.

We still hadn’t had dinner but it was good that we had emptier stomachs for our meal at Tandem.  They are known for their rich meat ragu and meatballs.  I loved the checkered tablecloths in the intimate space.


 

 

It was amazing to see Corey’s energy returning each day. For our final day in Italy, he were up for more walking.  We took the funicular up to the Castel Sant’ Elmo to see the view of the entire city.

We visited the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, or Madre, a contemporary art museum listed in the 36 Hours in Naples article. The entrance makes you feel like you’re in a funhouse.  We saw large walls highlighting art with one off kilter photograph, or a large circle with abstract scribbles.  I liked the gallery dedicated to imago mundi, a set of published books.  The works are voluntary and published in a collection to show contemporary art from countries all over the world.

By noon, it was time to brave the crowds to see if we could get a table at Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo.  If you’re in the birthplace of pizza, this is one of the most popular places to dine.  We arrived at twelve on the dot, and we were seated immediately–lucky us!  It definitely lived up to its reputation, and I even had a few bites with cheese to get the real experience.  A YUMMY last meal!!! It’s worth noting that there is another Sorbillo down the block, but it’s easy to tell the difference as there are swarms of people outside of the best one.

My summary for this trip: I can’t wait to visit Italy again! Neither can Corey. Check him out feelin’ good.

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Quickshot:

Positano (and the small town of Nocelle)

  • Eat at Fattoria La Tagliata (this is a 20 min bus ride outside of Positano so get yourself a bus timetable). Fattoria means farm, but I thought it could be a hint that you’ll gain weight after eating here….’fat’toria…get it?
  • Give yourself 4-5 hours for the Walk of the Gods (there are many other websites so if this one doesn’t suit you, no worries)
  • Spend an evening at a local trattoria- this is a more laid back vibe, less formal than a ristorante;  any locals can point you in the right direction. We enjoyed C’era Una Volte, up about 200 steps from our hotel.
  • Get lost in the shopping lanes and winding roads of Positano- no maps needed.  Just take in the views when you need a break.

Amalfi

  • Yes to gelato. All of it will be good.
  • See the Duomo di Amalfi (crypts and cathedral for a quick 3 euro)
  • Boat travel seemed optimal for a day trip to many of the coastal towns. Just make sure to check when the last boat leaves.

Ravello

Sorrento

  • Eat at Il Convivio (pizzeria and ristorante)
  • Walk to the seaside and sit on the docks on a sunny day
  • Eat at O’ Parrucchiano to feel like you’re in a fairytale grove
  • Shop at bottega21 for a bag or wallet or glasses case
  • Walk the main cobblestone lane to Nino and Friends for generous samples of Sorrento treats… even if you don’t have room in your suitcase

Napoli Food Suggestions

  • Apertivos must be at BISI– the owners are too good to their guests!
  • Eat at Tandem for ragu (make a reservation if you can)
  • For pizza, the first choice is Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo (Via dei Tribunali, 32). I’ve also heard that Da Michele is tasty and a close walk nearby if you didn’t want to wait.
  • Il Vero Bar del Professore for a coffee pitstop (Piazza Trieste e Trento)
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