Saturday, April 22, 2006

A view from the

We left Swellendam late Monday morning to the accompaniment of a light drizzle. We expected to hit some traffic, but we were leaving early enough in the day that we didn't expect to hit a great deal. The rain, however, was an unexpected complication. Once out on the N2 we found ourselves driving through intermittent downpours that actually made it difficult for us to see the road. Hubby being diabetic, skipping lunch is not an option for us, so as the rain slowed the traffic and stacked it up, we decided to take a side trip down to Hermanus for lunch, a decision that was, ultimately, a mixed blessing.

We found a restaurant in Hermanus that was upstairs, with windows on three sides. It was just after the lunch rush, so we were shown to one of the premiere tables, right in the corner with spectacular views in two directions. The rain and wind continued, giving us quite a show to accompany our dinner!

The traffic in and out of Hermanus was horrifying! The main road through the town was choked literally from the eastern entrance to the town all the way through town and out onto the highway. At first we assumed it was simply holiday traffic clogging the roadways, but eventually discovered the cause: two traffic lights at the western end of town were holding up traffic by not allowing enough cars through at each cycle...the lights were programmed for normal Monday traffic, not holiday traffic in which the majority of the cars were all going in one direction. To add insult to injury, at both intersections there were police cars and a gaggle of cops standing around (including Traffic Department cops) looking at the snarl of cars and doing absolutely nothing!

Eventually we got out of town and the traffic moved along nicely until we came to the back up where the holidayers from various destinations all were trying to get onto the same road back to Cape Town at the same time:

The traffic behind us

The traffic ahead of us...

More of the traffic ahead of us

The scary part about all of this traffic is that it was way out in the middle of nowhere and we had no way to gauge how far the jam stretched! But people were, for the most part, polite and good natured and despite all the congestion, we managed to make it home in one piece before the sun went down.

All things considered, it was a nice holiday and I definitely recommend the guesthouses we stayed at: WedgeView in Stellenbosch and Rothman Manor in Swellendam. Lovely, lovely places, well-kept, beautifully appointed, stunning grounds, excellent meals and gracious hosts. We'll be visiting both places again!

What do you say?

Like most women, I like babies. At this stage in my life, I particularly like babies who belong to other people…the ones who get to change the diapers and pace the floor at 3 am…but I still adore babies. So, like many other women, when I espy a pram at the mall or the market, I am compelled to peek in at the little creature and make some kind of complimentary noise to the parent. It’s not generally difficult…even the most visage-challenged babies generally have at least one or two features upon which a stranger can make a truthfully complimentary remark. If the child is truly cosmetically-challenged, there is usually something like smoothness of complexion or plumpness of cheek or thickness of locks or blueness of eyes over which to coo.

So what do you say when you find yourself leaning over the pram and looking into the face of a truly ugly baby?

I’m not talking about a child who has had the misfortune to have been born with some kind of congenital malformation or who is afflicted with a disfiguring malady like eczema or a port wine stain. I am talking about a child who, for all intents and purposes, was born perfectly normal but the shape of the features and their arrangement was less than fortunate. Do you say something untruthful but complimentary, hoping the parents haven’t really realized that Junior’s ears look like wings or his nose looks as if it has been surreptitiously replaced with one from a piglet?

The cliché “a face only a mother could love” exists in our lexicon for a reason…parents seem to see their own children through a filter the rest of us simply cannot seem to replicate. I’ve been known to comment on an otherwise plain child’s deliciously dark and curly eyelashes, eliciting a glowing response from her mother who now has one more thing to dote upon in her…through her eyes…flawlessly configured offspring. But suppose the parents of the bat-winged baby I saw this morning were not labouring under the misconception that their child was a future Miss South Africa? Suppose Mum had already begun a saving account for the otoplasty? What if the child’s other cosmetic flaws are clearly recognized and accepted by the parents? What do you say? Do you say anything at all?

It usually only takes me a matter of seconds to zero in on a feature that can be complimented, and additional time spent gazing into the little one’s face surely is interpreted by the doting parent as rapt admiration on my part. Wouldn’t they be alarmed or disturbed if I took a long look at their child and then just turned and walked away? I would have considered such behaviour very creepy in the days when I was pushing a pram. So, when you’ve looked into those little washed-out blue eyes fringed by stumps of lashes, when you’ve wondered how long it will take the child to grow into that nose, if it will ever grow hair, will the lips ever shape up to more than a thin, colourless line, what on earth gave it that greyish-yellow pallor, and is there any hope that the kid is more intelligent than that dull expression suggests…just what do you say?

Sweet. “What a sweet baby!” Who can argue with that? Mum…who was no Miss South Africa herself…beamed, and pallid, beak-nosed infant waved its arms and legs about and emitted a typical shrieking sound, giving me a perfect opportunity to flash a quick grin and escape.

Later, however, as I was strolling out to the car with a trolley full of groceries, I happened to pass the outdoor area at Mugg & Bean. Due to the inclement weather (Cape Town is finally getting some desperately needed rain!), the outdoor patio was surrounded by plastic and canvas drops, permitting the feeble sun to penetrate into the seating area, but not permitting the dense cloud of cigarette smoke to exit. Consequently, even though the seating area is technically outdoors, the trapped smoke made walking past the area a bit of a choking affair…and I found myself walking past a familiar pram and looking down into a familiar little face, breathing in all that second-hand smoke, a considerable amount of which was being contributed by Mum and Daddy in the airspace immediately above the kid’s face.

What are the chances Mum smoked during this pregnancy? What are the chances that the tyke breathes this kind of stuff all day and night long and now, with winter approaching, he’s going to get an even heavier dose of this poison to breathe? Could the kid’s pallor and generally dull appearance be due to hypoxia? Should Mugg & Bean have refused to seat a person below the smoking age in the smoking area? Should I have spoken up and suggested the mother take the child out for some fresh air instead of the choking smoke the poor little tyke was breathing? Or should I have done as I did…walked on by, shaking my head but unwilling to start a confrontation with a bunch of strangers over the well-being of a child I don’t know, a confrontation guaranteed to result in little more than those parents feeling unjustly attacked by a busybody stranger?

What do you do when you walk past some really ugly parents?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A View from the Overberg, Pt.3

Point Agulhas is the southern-most point of land on the Afrikan continent. Much to our surprise, there was a thriving community there, unlike the uninhabited wilderness of Cape Point. Here is a peek at a part of the fishing fleet.

Cape Town's conceit notwithstanding, the two oceans meet here, at L'Agulhas, not further west along Cape Town's extended environs.

You can see the marker but the confluence of the oceans doesn't appear to be particularly roiled up. We saw more exciting surf at Hermanus the following day!

I didn't get any details on the lighthouse, but it's easy to see that this is one very old building! We wondered if those oddly shaped doors might be gunports for old cannon, particularly since the entrance to the lighthouse is on the sheltered side. The old limestone blocks are weathered, but don't appear to have eroded significantly over the centuries. Wonder what those two towers are for?

This flower is the most uncommon-looking thing! There are no leaves, no plant, just this gorgeous translucent bloom thrusting itself upwards from the gravel and rock at the shore. We saw dozens of them, scattered in groups of three or four, their scarlet faces a stark contrast to their barren surroundings.

Next entry: after Hubby spends a dismal night with what he is certain is food poisoning, we awaken to a fresh, light drizzle that doesn't grow into a driving rain until we are on the road. Undeterred...and Hubby's tummy still a bit touchy...we head for Hermanus for lunch and find an upstairs restaurant with stunning views of the storm-tossed coast.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A View from the Overberg, Pt 2

So, we left the luxuries of WedgeView (where their premium breakfast is called a "Wedgie") and hit the road for Swellendam. After a couple of hours of ruddy barren fields dotted with the occasional dorpie for a view, a speck of green came onto the horizon, swelling in size with each passing kilometre until we could see the lush green of a town. Swellendam is the third oldest city in South Africa and it is situated along the Breede River, and is immensely fertile. After passing an industrial area, remarkable for the immense grain silos along the roadway, we came into the verdant little town.

After a right turn onto the main road, Voortrek, the fourth building on the right was our destination: Rothman Manor, a Cape Dutch house built in 1834 and the first in a complex of buildings that makes up this five-star, three-hectare establishment.

The owners, Franziska and Andreas Goebel, are a German couple, a fact reflected in the interior design of the rooms. While the rooms aren't decorated to reflect the historic nature of the property, they are beautifully and luxuriously appointed. We found some unexpected amenities...underfloor heating in the bath (which was tiled with black granite), the guest's cars washed daily, and a well-stocked minibar with fridge snuggled away in the side compartment of what could only be a custom-built desk.

The property includes a huge lily pond, the original dam has been converted into a koi pond (and those koi are HUGE!), a swimming pool and a jacuzzi, and a small private nature reserve that contains deer, zebra, and ostrich ( A few pics:

The lily pond
Honest...there is an ostrich in this picture!

The two little deer are a bit easier to find than the ostrich was.

These are the biggest koi I have ever seen!

To call the town of Swellendam "quaint" would be a gross understatement. The place is full of buildings two and three hundred years old, most of them in excellent repair and currently occupied. Rothman Manor has an oak tree more than 200 years old under which breakfast is served during appropriate weather.

After a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast, we set off exploring and ended up at Cape Agulhas, the southern most point of land on the African continent. Next entry: the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet in front of a stunning Old World lighthouse.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A View from the Overberg

Here in South Africa, Easter occasions a four-day weekend and South Africans just love to take to the highways and byways at such times. With the rotor for Koeberg's downed generator safely arrived, Dear Hubby was able to actually take the holiday and Friday we headed out for parts unknown (at least unknown by me).

Our first night on the road was spent in Stellenbosch, only an hour or so away by road, but a world away in amenities. Hubby found a delicious country house...located a couple of kilometres out on a gravel road...and dear old Bertha again did us proud, eating up the bumps and lumps like the trouper that she is. At the end of the dusty journey we found this:

When have you ever seen something this gorgeous? I was stunned! It was the most beautiful place, with 360 degree views of lush vineyards and beautiful mountains. And it had a luxe spa where I sent Hubby off to have his poor tired feet tended with a reflexology session and a pedicure (he's diabetic and must be very good to his feet and he'd been standing on them for days with that rotor arriving in town!).

This is a five-star country house called "WedgeView." The host and hostess, Mike and Trudie Spicer, are British and they immigrated to SA about 9 years ago. Trudie is a true horticulture nut, and the absolutely gorgeous gardens (not to mention the impressive koi pond) are both soothing and stunning at the same time. Here are a few more pics of WedgeView ( :

Hubby having breakfast on the terrace (above). Notice the huge cycad to the left.

The food was delicious (the quiche was absolutely wonderful!), the service beyond reproach, and the room was spacious, beautifully decorated, and deserved every one of those five stars. We were so impressed, in fact, we plan to return to WedgeView when we have the time to stay more than one night and really make a retreat of the place!

In the morning, after a solid night's sleep, we packed Bertha back up and headed off for our ultimate destination: historic Swellendam and the historic manor house, Rothman Manor (est. 1834), set on 3 hectares of stunning land right on Swellendam's main road! More pics tomorrow.