The World is a Book

Writing about: Family Travel, kids, places, food…

Author: kateg (page 1 of 19)

San Miguel de Allende and surrounds

I knew we would San Miguel (SMA) looked lovely but it really is amazing so far. The city is very pretty with loads of restaurants and neat shops. It’s quite touristy in the central area and many retirees from the US have moved here but the city seems big enough for all. Many of the old colonial houses in the central area have been renovated and look lovely. Slight gentrification but that has mixed blessings as it brings money to in to renovate and save historic buildings.

We are here for two months so I will hopefully post more about the city but here are a few things to start. The churches and squares here are lovely. They are full of life with vendors and families just hanging out together and enjoying the lovely climate. It is such a break from the summer heat of Florida to be in central Mexico where the daily average is in the 70s and nighttime is in the 50s. It rains quite a bit in the afternoon but that just makes it green and cools things off. The humidity is also much lower thank goodness.

We have been to some amazing restaurants so far with topnotch gourmet food and delicious market and street food. Widest range of options that we have seen in Mexico yet.

We also took a trip to Canada de la Virgen, which is an Otomi archaeological site from about 530AD. It was a beautiful and easy drive up where we parked at the visitors center and then were driven in a minibus for about 10 minutes to where we then hiked up to the site. It’s quite a long walk (1.5 miles round trip) and rocky terrain in places but the weather was lovely and cool (70s) and we were up in the hills. Cows wandered by us and there is a lovely gorge nearby that you can see into.

The tour was all in Spanish so three of us got very little out of the guide’s explanation but it was pretty walking and exploring and we read about the site before going which helped.

Dolores Hidalgo: Cradle of Independence of Mexico

We rented a car for a couple of days so we could explore around the San Miguel de Allende area and one town we visited is famous as it is where the Cry of Dolores went out and the priest Miguel Hidalgo Costilla sounded the call for independence from Spain. It’s a relatively small town and easily walkable in the downtown with multiple small but enjoyable museums. The square in the middle of town is also famous for the ice cream vendors who have flavors of everything imaginable (note not my picture but the menus of options are all similar — I was too busy eating to take pics).

We sampled: beer, shrimp, cactus, avocado, rose, cola, mango, coconut, chamoy, tequila, mole and many more. Really fun to see but hard to pin down which one to eat a cup of!

After eating our way around the town we headed over to the main road for pottery. I’m a fan of Talavera and this place has been making it since the 1810 revolution or before! The stores were full of gorgeous items – matching toilets to sinks! I want a hook and towel hanger to match my talavera sink in Florida but had to buy an entire set of bathroom fittings (toothbrush holder/soap/multiple hooks etc.) as they came in a set. This only cost me about $10! Not sure what I will do with all those pieces but such a deal.

 

Guanajuato

We headed off to Mexico again and we were thrilled to meet Jake in Mexico City. Before we settled down in San Miguel de Allende for a couple of months we took a few days to stay in a city about an hour away: Guanajuato. It’s a colonial city built on hills and coming in by taxi (from the bus station) at night is impressive as you have to go through long tunnels. These are not smoothly formed but rather rugged and roughly hewn. They were designed during early mining days to divert the river and prevent flooding but now are a warren of tunnels for cars (some people walk but I sure wouldn’t want to).

http://guanajuatomexicocity.com/Guanajuato-guide/guanajuato-tunnels.html

 

 

 

The city is gorgeous with some of the best views from the top of the hill, which is easily accessed by taking the funicular tram up the hill to the Pipila monument. The city is built on hills and houses are jumbled together joined by alleys that are a rabbit warren of hills and stairs with much of it a steep climb. It is not easy climbing and small children would be difficult and certainly no babies in strollers.

 

We had a lovely evening at the Teatro Juarez, which is a beautiful old theater. The symphony was playing Dimitri Shostakovich’s 7th and it was all the more rousing with the large storm outside; thunder crashing with the percussion and flashing lightening. We got absolutely soaked going home and the narrow alleyways up hill became small rivers, which we had to wade through to get back to our rental house. A memorable evening for sure.

There are quite a few small museums in the city and most are easy commitments in both money and time. One that is a taxi ride just outside of centro is Museo de las Momias. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to this as it’s very creepy but the kids convinced me. It IS creepy but not really nightmare’ish. We’ve seen multiple mummy exhibitions but usually they have been quite a bit older than these that are quite new. The local soil has minerals that preserve bodies rapidly and so within a few years they are mummified. Many of the bodies are less than 100 years old and the hair and parts of clothing are still on. So yes, kind of creepy.

http://www.momiasdeguanajuato.gob.mx/english/index.html

We were excited to visit Casa Diego Rivera, which is where the famous painter was born and is now a museum. It was a pretty old house but a rather disappointing museum with limited art. OK for a 30-minute visit but not much depth.

 

There were some decent restaurants and it was a nice city to visit. More than worth the trip if there is something good playing at the theater!

Havana a good time in Cuba

Christian and I took a short trip to Cuba. We had to make it a short one due to the limited internet and it being the middle of my teaching schedule. He got us a great little Airbnb one street away from the Malecon and shops and restaurants.

The flight over and visa process was very easy with no worries about using American passport (me). We both bought visas at the US airport but didn’t have to mark a category or give any extensive information. It was very smooth at the other end too with short lines through immigration (a nice change).

 

We changed dollars at the airport into CUC and were hit with a bit of a charge as it’s 10% for dollars (research later suggests euros better). Taxis were plentiful and easy to get to where we were staying and the roads were pretty easy traffic wise.

Our host met us and showed us around a little and then we set off for lunch. Sidewalks are a little precarious with broken steps and holes/sewers but no more than we find in many Asian places.

We wandered the mall for 10 minutes as it only had a couple of lackluster shops with dusty looking appliances, racy lingerie and a convenience store that heralded good beer and water but no snack food and only strange condiments and pickled octopus type of things. Very limiting in terms of food availability outside of restaurants and this continued everywhere we went.

We should not laugh at translations but Cuban menus were very funny

Our meals were decent in restaurants for the most part but quite expensive and on a par with Florida. The beer was very good and Christian enjoyed the Cuban rum. Everything else seemed to have run out (even though bottles were on show). I did have delicious lobster kebabs, which for $8 was a great deal.

At the airport café when leaving we lined up for coffee and breakfast to discover that the only thing on the menu was coffee and ham and cheese sandwiches. That as it but we did find some strange cookies in duty free. And internet!

We had a great tour around the countryside for a day. It was pretty (much like Costa Rica combined with the Yucatan) and people were very friendly. The tourist sites are still limited and just now being developed so it’s a bit rickety which is understandable.

Township Visit in Cape Town

 

Driving through Cape Town is a big mix from gorgeous gated villas to mile after mile of corrugated shanties in the townships. Such inequalities were hard to see.

 

 

We were able to find a tour through the townships (mostly Langa) and also visit a preschool. This is run by an NGO and is clean and safe for children albeit rather bare and of course crowded by US standards. Very few play items for children and just mats to lie on. The teacher feeds them from one bowl of porridge/corn meal. It’s relatively expensive at about $18 a month for a child to attend. Looking around at the living conditions it was difficult to imagine raising small children there.

A rather strange poster for a preschool classroom

 

Living conditions in some of the townships.

Entire families have one room

This one was a hugger

 

 

Wedding South Africa Style

Our initial push to go to South Africa was for my brother Tim’s wedding to the amazing Lara (they still live in Dubai). We had a big group of family and friends from all over the world and it was a week of fun.

They rented an entire vineyard that was beautiful and other days saw long brunches and lunches. Too much food and wine but memorable times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was also a really fun time for the kids as they had cousin Janet to hang out with and Crazy Aunt Jo. We had an apartment together and laughed so hard we pulled muscles!

The girls all got to ride horses along the beach which made Charlotte very happy!

 

 

Cape Town

Cape Town showed us multiple weather conditions from hurricane force winds to hot afternoons in the outside pool, cold rain, fog, and lovely cool days with low humidity. We heard you can get 4 seasons in one day here and this was certainly evident in Cape Town.

Hermanus (just outside Cape Town)

Pretty but windy!

Table Mountain had impressive clouds over it often, which seemed to bring rain soon after. We headed down the coast to the Cape of Good Hope and had glorious blue skies.

 

The journey ended up taking about 7 hours working our way slowly to see penguins on one coast and then ostrich and baboons at the national park, which takes up the lower half of the Cape. This is the second southern most spot of Africa (Cape Aguila is the main one) and you can see both the Atlantic and Indian oceans. It was really gloriously blue and clear on the day we were there but it was easy to imagine the high winds and storms that have caused many a shipwreck off those coast lines.

    

The penguins are primarily located at Boulder’s Beach. We stopped at the beach right next to this one, which is free and had more penguins we are told than Boulders. They were very laid back and didn’t seem frightened of people but as they bite, we didn’t get too close. The water was incredibly clear around there and wasn’t that cold (too much for me).

 

Cape Town Tour Guide and Restaurants

 

Fancy sushi at Nobu

We ate at some pretty great restaurants while in Cape Town. It’s a very cosmopolitan and impressive city with top chefs opening all kinds of places.

We got to have sushi at Nobu and sample African delicacies of zebra, ostrich, warthog, kudu and mopane worms.

 

 

 

Grandma’s not too sure of the worms.

Neither is Auntie Jo!

The worms were a little hard to get down psychologically and tasted best to us when roasted rather than softer in a sauce (squishy that way). Max also liked the biltong which is jerky from various kinds of African animals and available all over the place. It’s kind of South African fast food.

 

 

Our favorite evening was a visit to the number one tripadvisor rated restaurant in Cape Town: Mzansi. The restaurant was started by “Mama” in her house in Langa Township.

Mama!

She has a team of local township cooks and musicians and serves about 20 visitors or so a night. The food is delicious and everyone tries to make you feel welcome and “at home.”

Don’t the kids look like they are having fun!

The musicians are great but the fun started when they get everyone included with homemade shakers and drums. We laughed so hard we couldn’t keep up – although our musical talent is such that it was hard to anyway. The township is not a place you drive to at night by yourself but they arrange safe transport to and from and we felt completely secure the whole time. Really a must go to spot.

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g312659-d5996581-Reviews-Mzansi-Cape_Town_Central_Western_Cape.html

 

 

 

The driver (Stephen) who picked us up has ended up as a family friend. Erika Green (amazingly talented daughter in law) created a website for him and we hope he will soon be on tripadvisor. He is the nicest tour guide and we really enjoyed getting to know him and learning about life in southern Africa. Please consider contacting him if you need any tours in the region.

Stephentarisai@gmail.com

27 73 315 9849

Website:

http://buyer-alexander-86673.bitballoon.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Fancy meals with family

All kinds of things on offer

Brunching with family

And of course these are everywhere — huge here

 

Oudtshoorn

Views driving up to Oudtshoorn

 

 

Ostriches and cheetahs were the memorable pieces of this town in the desert. It took about 1.5 hours to get here from Wilderness and the drive up was lovely with well maintained highway through mountain passes and into the little karoo.

As soon as we got into the desert we started to see fields with ostrich in them. Seems to be loads of farms up here. We visited a big tourist one and got to learn about the whole process of farming them. A tractor ride around the farm and feeding them was enough; the kids chose not to ride the ostriches. Max did get closer than the rest of us – we are just not bird people.

Max contemplating riding ostrich

Max enjoying ostrich later!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day we visited Cango Animal Ranch and it was really fun and informative. The animals are pretty close and the guides are well informed about them. They have a couple of electronic surprises that make you laugh but aren’t overly cheesy.

Max eating croc — seems to be a trend for him!

Large Crocs

The best was the cheetah encounter. We saw a couple do this earlier and the cheetahs were fast asleep (the do that for about 20 hours a day) and it didn’t look too scary to hang out with these lanky, SLEEPING cats. However we decided to have lunch and then go in and apparently the cheetahs also had lunch and woke up.

We were taken to the first area with “the girls” but they were pacing and looked a bit active so the guides took us to the boys’ pen. These two were also wandering around and were certainly more playful than earlier. I almost backed out and wouldn’t let the kids in but Grandma set off with gusto following the guide so we were committed then! For a woman who an hour prior had raced away from feeding the birds, she was suddenly

The cheetah lay down with a sigh and then started to “growl” which was nerve wracking. The guide laughed and just kept petting him and shared that he was simply purring like a house cat. Everyone had a turn petting him and the guides were clearly very comfortable with these animals and you could see they respected and cared for them a lot.

The cheetahs are bred at this ranch and are sent around the world to zoos and parks in order to strengthen the gene pool, which is apparently a bit weak (inbreeding in the wild due to reduced areas to live in). They are not sent to ranches where they are killed as the lion parks do. The lion parks breed lions so visitors can play with the baby lions but they are later sent onto ranches where rich Americans can come in and shoot their trophy easily because the lions are tame and unafraid. We had read about those and chose not to support that unpleasant and sad side of tourism. Also the cheetahs are certainly not drugged as the tigers are in Thailand (thankfully I’ve read that has been closed down). These creatures were lively for sure.

Later at dinner, Charlotte asked us all which or favorite animal was. We all chose the cheetahs or tigers. She however sighed and shared that her favorite were the baby guinea pigs. They had a petting area with a big pen full of about 30 guinea pigs and she was able to sit in there and feed and play with them for ages. Those were her chosen favorites: such a softie.

 

Wilderness

This town was only about half an hour away from Knysna but had a completely different feel yet again. It’s quite small and on the ocean with a river running through it so water sports abound. It’s also surrounded by national park, which means great hiking.

Garden in front of our little apartment

We found this amazing B&B that was right on the river with free canoes and paddleboats and the kids could swim off the dock. There weren’t many rooms and we had a little private cottage with it’s own walled terrace. Everything had thatched roof and stone walls and the décor was Egyptian/South African. I loved the claw foot tub with chandelier over it in the bathroom and chandeliers hanging from rafters. The staff members were very friendly and booked our restaurants and helped suggest hikes and places to go. Breakfast on the terrace overlooking the river was lovely with full English including big pot of teach and coffee. I could have stayed there much longer as it was so relaxing.

 

 

 

Moontide Guest Lodge: http://moontide.co.za/

The restaurants in town were excellent as well. We ate one night overlooking the ocean and the next at a more local spot that only did steaks, chips and salad. Those were some of the best chips (French fries) I’ve ever had and the steaks were pretty darn good too! We also had Italian with outstanding wood grilled pizzas. Helps too that the wine to wash all this down is so darn cheap. Seriously cheap at about $1.50 a glass in restaurants and rarely would you find an entire bottle above $10 in a restaurant. Grocery stores they are about $3-$6 for good South African wine.

 

We did need to work some of this food and drink off so had a long hike in the national park. It was pretty hot going but the trails were well marked and maintained and mostly quite easy to maneuver up and down. We had to cross the river in one place and there was a pontoon boat that you stood on and pulled on the ropes to get back and forth. Quite hard work going across until I realized that being in the front, I was the one doing all the pulling! Coming back we put Charlotte up in front.

 

There was a lot to do in Wilderness considering it’s a small town. Very well located to reach other places too and would be a great base for the Garden Route.

 

 

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