We’ve Adopted a Thai Dog!

For those of you following our Instagramming, you already know we have a thing for dogs. Adam is more contained about it, but I light up like a Christmas tree when I see them. Portuguese strays, street dogs in Tbilisi, Italian winery puppies, mountain dogs in Tusheti, sweet Bali dogs, coworking dogs, resident CrossFit pups – we’ve met so many fur faces over the past 8 months! Unlike in America, or even Europe, it is completely normalized in Georgia and the areas we’ve visited in Asia for stray dogs and cats to roam about. At first, this was total culture shock and our hearts hurt wanting to “save” all of them, however, after becoming accustomed to their nomadic ways, we now just give them some love and a snack or water if we have it.

When we arrived in Koh Lanta Thailand, we were excited to see posters for an animal rescue called Lanta Animal Welfare (LAW) and even more excited to find out it was right around the corner from our Airbnb. Their posters were truly marketing magic reading; “On Holiday and miss your pet? Come cuddle and walk ours!” We were there nearly every day thanks to those posters. #smartketing

After one of our walks, we met three adorable puppies named Boo, Benny and Ricky. These three cuties were rescued by a LAW mobile clinic in August with two more pups that devastatingly didn’t pull through. They were starved and had horrendous skin conditions, some of which they are still healing from. You can read their rescue story here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/lantaanimalwelfare/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10156408546365240

As all puppies are, these three were adorable, but it must be mentioned that once our eyes met Benny’s, our hearts melted all over the floor. We played in a private pen with the three pups and Benny just seemed to already know he’d be ours. He was like a little doll, just letting us hold him like a baby and sprawling across our laps with ease. He was clearly the more (albeit slightly more) dominate one of the three but played so gently. Looking back now, he won us over in an instant with his easy breezy attitude and chocolate brown eyes… as did our current dog Bentley when we adopted him. We motor scooted back every day to get some face time with Benny and learn more about the adoption process.

International dog adoption?? That’s crazy!
At first, it did seem crazy because we know there are so many dogs in our hometown of Cincinnati that need a home. With that being said, a dog in need of a home is a dog in need of a home and the costs are quite a bit less than one would think. We also learned black dogs and cats have a much harder time being adopted in Thailand because there is a lot of superstition around them due to the religions of the region. So after the superhuman people of LAW went over all the adoption information and best practices regarding how to integrate him with Bentley, we made the decision to adopt Benny!! We also made the decision to change his name to Thai, which so perfectly means “free” in the Thai language.

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Little sand rat

Meet Thai Curry
Before we left Koh Lanta, we were able to take Thai out for a few afternoons to bond. We scootered around town (he loves the motorbike btw) and ended up at ‘Beautiful Beach’. There he chewed on some coconut husks, dug a few holes and learned to swim a bit in the Thai turquoise waters. He’s a curious little guy and we are looking forward to providing him with a home, lots of love and an amazing big brother. Bentley and Thai seem eerily similar in appearance and attitude, so we hope it will be an amazing match.

Getting him back to the USA – Still looking for someone!
LAW has their I’s dotted and t’s crossed with international adoption. They do a lot of this so their system is very easy to follow and understand. Since we’re not coming home until December 23rd and won’t be flying from Thailand, Thai will fly with a flight volunteer who is going back to the US. Basically, we will pay for him to be some very amazing person’s ‘excess luggage’ traveling in a temperature controlled area (NOT cargo). There will be no cost or inconvenience for the flyer and we will meet him/her at the airport to collect our new Thai Curry baby. We don’t have a flight volunteer yet, so if you know someone traveling to Thailand flying out of a Midwest airport (Cincinnati, Indy, Cleveland, Columbus, Nashville, Louisville, Lexington, Chicago etc.) please let us know! We are very flexible so Thai can fly back before or after our arrival back home.

Thank you big-hearted LAW Volunteers
A gigantic thank you must be said to everyone working and volunteering at Lanta Animal Welfare. You do such amazing and thankless work with animals that otherwise would very likely not be alive. You all were inspiring to get to know and we appreciate all the poop you scoop, each meal you proportion out, and every scratch or bite you endure trying to make animals’ lives better. We are thrilled to be a part of your incredible family!

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New name tags ready to go!

 

Granada Part 2: Canyoning, Cooking, and Jumping over Fire

And just like that, 5 weeks fly by and this Part 2 on Granada feels so long ago. Clearly keeping up with a blog schedule isn’t my strong suit, but I am vowing to change that now that we’re in our last 4 months abroad. We want to cover topics like balancing travel/work, eating well and staying healthy, coworking spaces, travel trips, etc. Adam is going to start writing as well! Stay tuned 🙂

Okay, all that said, our reflection on Granada wouldn’t be complete without this Part 2, so the show (and blogging) must go on.  In an effort to rein in my long-windedness, Part 2 on Granada is a top 3 list. As in 3 experiences, we would be amiss by not including in our reflection of Granada. Oh, and a few honorable mentions at the end because I just can’t contain myself.

1. Taking a paella cooking class in Malaga
Before visiting, I knew Malaga as a sunny beach town Ed Sheeran sung about where Europeans flocked to party. Although completely true, Malaga has a lot more to offer in terms of culture, food and landscape. We made the weekend trip to Malaga because Adam had booked us a cooking class with Spain Food Sherpas. From beginning to end the 4-hour class was the highlight of the weekend. We mosied around the local market, Mercado Central de Atarazanas, with our guide Simone while tasting and picking up our ingredients.

With all our ingredients in hand, we moved on to the cooking portion in a robust, well-designed cooking lab with the sweet Chef Amparo. We began by having an olive and olive oil tasting where we tried 3 oils, one of which was homemade in Amparo’s hometown. It was a treat to compare and contrast the different tastes while learning about the olive oil production in Spain. Apparently, Spain is the world’s leader in cultivating olive trees and is thus responsible for a majority of the olive oil in the world – be it by making the oil themselves or selling olives to other countries. Can you imagine, all that famous $$ Italian olive oil might really be made from or fortified with Spanish olives. Scandalous.

Once we were all oiled up, we began cooking our menu of seafood paella and a simple gazpacho. To our surprise, the paella wasn’t difficult to create! Sure it takes time, patience and quality ingredients, but I had always thought it to be an intimidating, multi-hour, laborious meal. Paella actually originates from Valencia, Spain so many argue that one can only get ‘authentic paella’ from that region. However, Amparo learned how to cook her recipe in Valencia so we think it’s pretty legit. As we let the paella sit and fluff-up, we started the gazpacho consisting of only 6 simple ingredients, tomato, pepper, onion, breadcrumbs, olive oil and water. It was so delicious, Adam nearly drank an entire pitcher with the *most delicious* paella. Safe to say, we waddled out of the kitchen back to our AirBnB for a nap.

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Get in my belly!

2. Canyoning

“Canyoning, also known as canyoneering is an adventure activity that combines rock and water activities into a sport full of adrenaline and natural beauty. When you go canyoning you will be trekking through river gorges, around rock pools and behind waterfalls. You will find yourself abseiling down waterfalls and tackling cliff jumps into stunning water rock pools.” – Not my words

I hadn’t even heard of canyoning until Adam discovered an ecotourism company called Saltarios that led canyoning excursions south of Granda near the coastal town of Nerja. The appeal of this adventure combined with a weekend at the beach was enough to lure us 1 hour south for an exciting weekend getaway.

Canyoning is the most liberating outdoor experiences we’ve done together. As the description above alludes to, there are no rules or ‘right way’ to traverse down a mountain following a pretty heavy stream or river. Sometimes we swam, others times rappelled, then trekked and often jumped hoping not to hit one of many boulders below. Our guides were laid back and easy to follow, but our small group also had 6 crazy middle-aged Spaniard men, not afraid of anything. Full speed ahead.

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All smiles when rappelling

To begin the adventure, we hiked a mile or so in our bathing suits with wetsuits and gear tied on our backs. Nothing else. No phones, pants, chapstick, water — nada. Once we got to a good area to begin, we suited up with excitement. Full body wetsuits, helmets, harnesses, neoprene socks and hiking shoes. The day was filled with unpredictability and gave us this kid-like adrenaline rush of playing in a completely natural, and slightly dangerous, waterpark. At one point, I was so anxious to jump over the first waterfall, I invented a new landing technique mixing an unathletic bellyflop with running (for embarrassing video, check out our Instagram). Protip: don’t do that. Collect yourself and jump like a pencil with loose knees. During another point on the excursion, we had to repel straight down 50′ of rushing water. Adam made it all look so effortless and I have a feeling that it won’t be our last time canyoning.

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Pro Canyoner

3. Fire jumping at the San Juan Festival in Nerja
The San Juan festival is a vibrant annual event across many beach towns in Spain and is a strange and lively mix of Christian and Pagan traditions. From what I read, the celebration is the culmination of ‘Christianizing’ the Pagan holiday, Summer Solstice by changing the meaning to celebrate the birthday of John the Baptist.

On the evening of June 23rd, there are thousands of beach bonfires up lighting up the night sky where family and friends gather to celebrate all night. They jump over the flames to symbolically leave the past and their sins behind and quite literally jump into the future with a renewed spirit and optimism. Some even WALK on the coals, ouch! It is also common for people to write down their hopes and wishes then burn them. Ah, and I can’t forget to mention kids cathartically burn their schoolwork from the previous year. Math homework makes for nice kindling apparently. Finally, the clock struck midnight and the majority of people run straight for the ocean like crazed zombies. This ritual is supposed to bring 12 months of prosperity. Naturally, Adam and I participated in all of this madness… expect the walking on the hot coals part. We’re not that tough.

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The huge central bonfire burned a wood carving of a fish

San Juan is a crazy fun holiday. Kids are up all night, there are Chinese lanterns and copious amounts of fires, food, music and alcohol. It’s a party like we’ve never seen. Google “San Juan Festival”, as I know my words don’t do this firey holiday justice.

Honorable Mention Experiences:

  • Having a spontaneous evening tapa crawl with friends Alex and Amy, whom we met on our missed and then severely delayed flight. #vuelingsurvivorsclub
  • Rendezvousing with my hometown friend Emily who not only tutored me in Spanish before our departure but whom I also travelled to Spain with during high school 12 years ago!!!
  • Making friends at the coworking space Errant. Special shoutouts to Wendy, her husband Hicham and friend Gonzalo for making us feel so welcome!
  • Indulging in velvety jamón ibérico – a must try when in Spain, no exceptions.
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  • Hiking Los Cahorros – Pictureqesue hiking area where Adam and I rode our bikes to… on flat tires.
  • Watching talented and fierce Flamenco dancers tear it up.

Viva la Vida en Barcelona

So let’s pretend we’re dancing in the street, in Barcelona
Come on and dance with me in Barcelona
Drinking Sangria, I just want to be in Barcelona

Ed Sheeran had it right. I don’t think its possible to ever get sick of Barcelona. Marvellous beaches, long pedestrian promenades, vibrant street life, dramatic architecture, an efficient metro system, *phenomenal* food, and a neighborhood to fit any personality. Barcelona is a multi-layered, culturally rich city you can just get lost in, in the best way possible.

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Montserrat Beauty

One reason we were so excited for this leg of the trip is that we were meeting up with our two good friends, Kelly and Cory. They had planned a 10-day trip which happened to time up perfectly with our time in Spain! We had been missing our friends from home, so seeing them renewed our spirits and warmed our hearts. Our first day meeting them was without a doubt our favorite day in Barcelona. It was a beautiful sunny day as the four of us wandered around the beach and hidden streets of a fishing neighborhood called Barceloneta. We stopped to snack on Iberian ham, patatas bravas, little fried seafood, and of course ice cold, bubbly cava. By happenstance, we even stumbled on a lively festival that weaved through all the streets of Barceloneta. Although we still don’t know the exact meaning behind the animated festival, we deducted it had something having to do with ancient fisherman selling their fish for meat… or so I translated from a young girl describing it in Catalon. *Side note: the Catalon language spoke it is quite different than Spanish, so I was a little out of my league with communication.* There were hundreds of colorful dancers, costumes and musicians belonging to different themed groups. It was a wild time and continued late into the night, keeping the fun bar high for the day. We kept wondering, soaking up the atmosphere and ended up finishing the day with some seriously delicious paella at Arrosseria L’arròs. Cory and Adam’s choice of a squid ink variety won us all over. Drooling just thinking about it.

The following day, the four of us took off on a wine/cava tour we had planned months in advance. We hopped on a bus with a small group and made our way to our first stop, Finca Can’Estella, a small boutique winery built in the late 18th century.  Aside from being so quaint and charming, we learned a lot about cava and got to enjoy our first sip in a candlelit, historic stone vat listening to the almost musical sounds of the bubbles. After the rest of the tour, we tasted 3 additional cavas paired with tapas of bread and tomato (pan con tomate), various hams, olives, tortilla española, and local chocolate, among many others. The tapas just kept coming! With full bellies, we hopped on the bus and continued on to the second winery, Oller del Mas Cellar. This was also a very beautiful setting as it is located in a former medieval castle with a 1000-year history of winemaking. You could literally feel the history embedded in this place. We tasted 3 different organic wines and snacked on an assortment of cheeses… all delicious because honestly, everything is delicious in Spain. It was such a fun experience sipping our way throughout the day with great friends, local wines, authentic tapas and excellent tour guides.

The rest of our time in Barcelona was a little more balanced with work :). Kelly and Cory wen to explore Ibiza for a few days and we found a nice co-working space just a 15-minute walk from our AirBnB with welcoming owners and great coffee, called CoCo Coffice. We bought a 5-day pass on Barcelona’s metro and zipped all around beneath the city with ease. Travelling on such an excellent and efficient metro system really made us realize why Barcelona is able to thrive as such an expansive, diverse and desirable city.

Other highlights of Barcelona that have to be mentioned include:

  • listening and dancing to live jazz at the Harlem Club
  • the tour of La Sagrada Familia
  • sitting in Plaça de Sol, located in the awesome Gracia neighborhood, with all the area’s bohemian locals eating pizza by the slice and sipping on our cava we bought from the wine tour
  • meeting up with some locals for a day of very windy beach volleyball
  • the best tapas we had in Barcelona at Samsara, also in the Gracia neighborhood
  • our goodbye dinner with Cory and Kelly at Cera 23 (thanks again you two!)
  • a day trip to stunning Montserrat 
  • the drool-worthy, vibrant market of La Boquería
  • wondering around the Gothic Quarter
  • snail tapas (don’t knock ’em till you try ’em) and rendezvousing with my sister’s friend Kim and her husband Dink at Los Caracoles

Looking back now, we treated Barcelona, unlike the other cities we’ve been in thus far. Since we only had 10 days, we ‘lived it up’ more than we typically would have, indulging in the food scene more frequently, splurging on touristic adventures, using the metro instead of renting bicycles, and spitting time between a hotel and AirBnB. All in all, it was a fantastic time and Adam and I both think it’s a city we could have easily spent a month in and really sunk our teeth into. There are so many neighborhoods with their own distinct charm, so if you plan on going, do your research! Also, contrary to popular belief, Barcelona doesn’t have to be an expensive city for a vacation. Again with a little research, there are a lot of affordable options for accommodations, dining and entertainment. Barcelona is a must see that I would love to experience again, as the city has so much to offer that it would be a completely unique experience each time.

 

 

 

Porto, Portugal: Our Highlight Reel

The phrase “time flies when you’re having fun” exists for a reason. Our time in Portugal flew by so fast that I am just now sitting here in Barcelona writing and reminiscing about how magical Porto was. We had 23 days total in Portugal and finally found a much need ‘groove’ after bouncing around so much in South Africa. Let it be known that it is harder than anticipated to balance exploring a new city, working, sticking to a budget, exercise… oh and blogging.

We had decided on Porto as a home base after a lot of research that positioned it as a blue-collar city where the people are friendly, hard working and very proud of their city. A city with more grit than its shinier cousin, Lisbon, with an up and coming food scene that rivals it. Our AirBnB was actually across the river from Porto in a charming fishing village called Villa Nova de Gaia. We chose Gaia for a few reasons: a little cheaper, some of the best fresh seafood in Porto, and it was on the marina with great sunset views. Technically we were in Gaia’s quaint neighborhood of Afurada which was the kind of place where it was clear everyone knew everyone and there was a tangible pride and local culture. Since I somehow don’t have a picture,  close your eyes and imagine:

…small narrow stone streets lined with modest yet beautifully tiled buildings, family run cafes every few feet, sweet grandmas with calf length skirts, tall wool socks and slippers ironing on the sidewalk, FC Porto flags and scarves hanging from the windows, stray cats sunbathing and lurking at every corner, kids playing and riding their bikes, old men smoking and yelling at the fútbol game on tv, drying laundry ruffling on the balconies bringing a clean scent to the air, and fresh fish continuously grilling on every corner.

Okay now open your eyes. Wasn’t it beautiful?

Let’s dive right into our highlight reel. Here are our favorite moments from our time in Portugal, in no particular order.

  • Renting bikes for 3 weeks for $200 euro total. This not only made our commute much faster and cheaper but was passive exercise and allowed us to experience the city on a street level. Oh and the view along the boardwalk…. sigh
  • Adam’s co-working space Porto i/o. Super friendly community, a stellar view, affordable, and good coffee.
  • Adam’s fun and cheap lunches with co-workers
  • Shopping at the neighborhood market than having a sunset picnic of cured meat, fresh bread, passion fruit, local cheese, and local wine. Oh and then a cute dog joined.
  • Finding our way to Cervejaria Gazela, a local spot Anthony Bourdain visited on his trip to Porto. The food: cachorrinhos (cheese, hotdog-like meat, special sauce, and bread all panini’ed pressed to perfection. The drink: cold, ‘pressured’ (on tap) Superbock. We also met a friend here, Pedro, that I’m sure helped us because we looked lost. Pedro ordered for us, found us seats and promised to take us to explore “real” Porto… see #13
  • A traditional Fado three-course dinner arranged by our AirBnB host. Fado happens during dinner when someone powerfully signs a stream of melancholy songs with a small group of musicians.
  • Biking home from Matosinhos and discovering a truly perfect outdoor Hawaiian themed restaurant with lounge chairs on a platform right off the sand, with a view of the ocean and a bottle of vinho verde for $9 euro (young sparkling white wine). We had two and smuggled ½ of the second home 🙂
  • A day cruise up the Douro River and train ride back
  • A visit and tasting to the port winery Real Companhia Velha. We paid more for the tour and tasting than we typically would have, but it was well worth it with a private tour of the cellars, bonus tastings from our guide and a delicious cheese, olive, and nut board. We LOVED this.
  • A weekend trip to Lisbon where we rented a car and drove down the coast
  • Stopping in Nazare on the way to Lisbon to video my stepdad Art from the biggest wave in the world. The surf was choppy and kind of flat this particular day but still very cool and a perfectly cute town (so cute we stopped on our way back to Porto for lunch)
  • A day trip to Braga with friends from the co-working space. One friend drove us all to this **MAGICAL** area by the river with volleyball courts, a bar, architectural relics, a beautiful bridge, and people enjoying every bit of it. This might have been one of our favorite days.
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    Braga’s magical area by the river

  • Going out on the town with our friend Pedro and his buddy. They took us to an area with no tourists and we had a ball of a time until about 3am when we just got too tired for any more fun : )
  • Watching a huge street racing event, cars were getting major air and the crowd (the entire city) was going wild
  • Eating at Ramiro in Lisbon. We were (literally) crushing crab with hammers and eating WAY too much because it was. that. good. The entertainment of the servers reaching in a tank for lobsters was quite a sight too.
  • Going to the Palace of Sintra and walking all around the city. We had some marvellous tapas and sangria at Tascantinga and got our vertical steps in for the day.
  • Eating at Casa Guedes: where we randomly discovered while waiting for an uber what we believe to be the best pernil sandwich in all of Porto. Freshly carved marinated pork, local sheep’s cheese, wheat bun and a guy slapping them together barehanded and focused. About as local as it gets
  • Adam’s euro haircut and fresh shave at Barbas Shop.
  • Dancing the night away with Dutch friends we met in Lisbon
  • Spending Adam’s 34th birthday in Porto! Pre-dinner cocktails sponsored by Matt and Julie Yung and a delicious dinner at Ar de Rio.
  • Working at my comfy coffee shop for the bulk of my work days, 7groasters
  • Traditional Portuguese food: fresh fish always grilled right outside, potatoes, onion + tomato + olive + lettuce salad, rice, a bottle of wine. Our favorite was right by our AirBnb called Armazem do Peixe.
  • Pastel de nata! Heavenly Portuguese pastry
  • Early morning sand volleyball workout and espressos on the beach
  • Riding the boat taxi for $2 euro, $3 with your bike

Checking a Safari off the Bucket List

Going on a safari was hands down the coolest experience we had in South Africa and probably thus far, so I’ll make this short, sweet and filled with wildlife pictures.  An African safari is probably on a lot of people’s bucket lists, and rightfully so, as it is pure magic when you see those animal beauties roaming in the wild. A few months before we left for our trip we made the decision to invest in a safari at the end of our South Africa leg, because how many times would we really be in Africa again? Carpe diem. Through numbing amounts of research, we found there are safaris of all calibres depending on what type of ‘comfort’ you want on a trip. There is a modest self-driving day trip on the cheap all the way up to luxury resort lodges with infinity pools. Our particular 4-day excursion was right in the middle, comfortable with a touch of camping charm. We booked with Wild Planet Safari, a smaller more boutique safari company that seemed to care about their client’s experience above all else. Instead of being with 8 others in a crowded vehicle, our trip was a very personal experience with it only including Adam, myself, our guide and a cook/guide in training.

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Kruger is a huge (7,500 square miles) and very well known wildlife game reserve in northeast South Africa boarding Mozambique, where the “Big 5” live abundantly; elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and water buffalo.  During our 4 days/3 nights, we were fortunate enough to see 4 of the 5 excluding the elusive white rhino. The white African rhino has very sadly been a frequent victim of poachers in search of their highly valuable ivory horn, and we were wondering if their natural movement patterns may have shifted because of that. So although we didn’t see a rhino, we definitely saw a gaggle of other animals that made up for it.

Eh hem: zebra, water buffalo, giraffe, leopard, wild dog, kudu, springbok, waterbuck, impala, elephant (SO MANY), lion, warthog, steenbok, porcupine, hyena, hippo, mongoose, nyala, genet, crocodile, baboon, monkey, wildebeest, jackal, African wild cat, guinea fowl, and too many beautiful exotic birds to count.

On safari day 1, our phenomenal guide Gibson picked us up in a 4×4 at our Johannesburg hotel bright and early and we were off on the 5-hour journey to Kruger National Park. During our trip, we stayed at two different rest camps in Kruger, Skukuza (1 night) and Satara (2 nights). Both camps were similar in accommodations with simple circular chalets with charming thatch roofs and grills that we put to good use. Most amenities were equal between the camps, however, Satara may have a slight edge because we were able to see animals roaming from the fence during the day. The safari itself basically consisted of the schedule below for 4 days:

5:30am – coffee and rusks (similar to a biscotti)
6am – 2-hour game drive
9am – homemade breakfast by our wondrous cook Benjamin
10:30am – afternoon game drive
2pm (depending on how long we stalk animals) – homemade lunch
4pm – evening game drive
7pm – DELICIOUS homemade dinner and South African wine

Every day was honestly so refreshing and exciting because we never knew what we were going to see and Gibson and Ben were ninjas at spotting and naming animals along with listing every detail about their species and tendencies. Our very own in-car living and breathing Google.

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Our guide Gibson busy spotting animals hiding in the bush.

On our very last game of the trip, we were blessed with SUCH an awesome close-up spotting of a sleepy lion pride. At first, we came across a cute young lion sunbathing in a grassy area, so we parked with our excitement peaked and binoculars raised although we were only 35 yards away! Then as we panned across the tall grass, we spotted 5 additional lions lounging. We were ecstatic. We sat there for a while in awe and then saw two wildebeest galloping uphill toward the pride. Well… the sleepy lions heard this too. One by one each lion poked it’s head up as the unassuming prey came closer. This had to be the most exciting moment of the entire safari, as we thought we were going to see a hunt! All the lions stood up, even revealing a 6th, fixated on the wildebeest. We watched for probably an hour with anticipation but apparently, the lions got hot and tired of waiting for their would-be lunch to come closer and laid back down. Since it was our last game drive and time wasn’t on our side, we had to head out but both Adam and I could have staked out there all day waiting for the lions to pounce… or move or purr or do anything.

What an awesome 4 days. Thanks for reading, enjoy los animales 🙂
Chels and Adam

Surfing, Wine County and New Friends – Pt. 2

Okay, back to wine country we go! To give you an idea of how massive Stellenbosch is, we spent four full days in one little quadrant of the area (see the yellow below). Once again, FOMO is a real thing here because you can only get to so many vineyards in so much time and actually enjoy yourself. In fact, I’m feeling it now. If we went back tomorrow, there’s no doubt we’d have a completely different experience in the other areas. A reason of many to come back. Any takers?

Stellenbosch Map
The yellow area is where we mainly stayed – LOOK HOW MUCH ELSE THERE IS, plus not all vineyards on the map

After 4 beautiful days roaming around Stelly, we headed northeast to Franschhoek, another wine region but quaint and charming with strong French heritage. It was a Sunday morning and the 45 minute drive through the vineyards was picturesque and relaxing.  Did I mention yet that we rented a car for this excursion to wine country? Well, we sure did and let me tell you, driving on the other side of the road was terrifying. Thank goodness we got an automatic because a manual would have likely killed us. Now I should take a moment and thank Adam here because he drove superbly and I just passenger seat drove while cringing with each seemingly opposite turn we made. Driving was an adventure in its own right, but back to fancy Franschhoek.

During our time in Cape Town, we met so many wonderful friends, but Adele and Steve became our pals to find adventure with. Adele is from Cincinnati (totally random) and her boyfriend Steve is a South African Afrikaans native. They are quite a pair and helped make our visit pretty awesome through the four times we hung out (they also threw us our first braai!). Steve and Adele had the magical idea of meeting us in Franschhoek for a day to cycle and sip our way around the vineyards. Obviously, this was an amazing idea which is why there is this Part II to this blog.

The four of us rented an adorable AirBnB cottage in Franschhoek and the fun instantly began. Adele, who had “cycle wine toured” before, was our fearless leader and got to plotting our route based progressively on vineyard closing times. Genius. With our route in hand, we went to rent bikes at Franschhoek Cycles from the shop owner Steve who was gracious enough to open his shop even though he was closed on Sundays. With all the necessities taken care of, we were getting thirsty and our first stop involved a hill, bubbly and the best view in Stellenbosch.

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Haute Cabrière‘s view (the best in Franschhoek) – Not pictured: my sweaty face from biking the hill to this oasis or my bubbly flight

As the day progressed, so did the fun. Sweaty, hungry and thirsty we pedalled our way to four different wineries. Bubbly, sweeping views, charcuterie boards, incredible service… this day really couldn’t be beaten. We had one more winery on our minds when we arrived at Rickety Bridge, our 2nd to last stop. As the name eludes to, we biked through a beautiful entrance across a rickety bridge and arrived at a relaxed, welcoming vineyard and tasting patio.

We sat down in the corner where there was a rugby game on TV and were quickly greeted by our server, Charles. Now I’m not sure if we clicked so fast with Charles because he spoke Afrikaans like Steve, or because he just liked that we were friendly and rolled up on bikes, perhaps a change up from the frequent more pretentious tasting visitors. Regardless, Charles made our tasting at Rickety Bridge the highlight of our day in Franschhoek. Aside from being funny, warm and chatty, he was a stellar host. As we all selected our wines for the tasting, Charles brought each of us one of each wine… basically doubling our tasting so we could try everything on the menu! At one point, he even let Steve pour the tasting and keep the bottle at our table. The atmosphere he created was so alive and spontaneous that instead of rushing to one more vineyard, we crushed a delicious cheese plate, planned an itinerary for our future trip back to South Africa, talked about how incredible it was that the four of us met, and kept drinking the bottomless wine. I will relive that experience for years to come and will always buy Rickety Bridge if given the chance… and did soon thereafter at Duty-Free at the Joahnnesburg Airport :).

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Gotta get a picture with Charles!

This day and this wine tasting in specific spent with new friends, spectacular service and great wine solidified the fact that people are going to make for our richest experiences on this 9-month adventure. With the four of us all smiles, we trekked back to our farm cottage with 5 freshly purchased Rickety Bridge bottles in our backpacks. Thanks Charles for a great closing to a fantastic afternoon and thanks to Adele and Steve for planning such a fun day!

Rickety Bridge
RB’s sweet graphically designed label reminded me of a brewery mural in Cincinnati

Surfing, Wine Country and New Friends – Pt.1

I tell you what. Blogging is hard to keep up with! I feel like I blink and we’ve had 100 new experiences I want to write about, but since we’re fresh off the heels of a wondrous time in wine country (one of many in South Africa) we’ll start there.

Up until last Thursday, we had been staying in Muizenberg, a quaint and eclectic surf town about 30 minutes south of central Cape Town peppered with colorful street art, surfers of all walks of life, and a cute beach promenade of shops and eateries. Our AirBnB there was hard to beat with its white walls, concrete floors, beautifully restored wood floors/trim/ceiling, huge operable skylight you could open to hear the waves at night, and just short walk to the beach. Unlike when we were staying in the Gardens in Cape Town, Muizenberg doesn’t have the 5 levels of security on every home and actually feels quite safe. It reminded me of Santa Cruz.

As I’ve already alluded to, surfers are everywhere in Muizenberg! So much so, that you long to become one the second you arrive. The beach is on the Indian Ocean, so the water is a bit warmer and has a few different breaks that accommodate clumsy beginners (us) to the more experienced. On our last day, we heard it was going to be a “lekker” surf day (awesome in South African slang) so we woke up early, grabbed .80 cappuccinos while we waited for the surf shop to open, then rented wetsuits and boards. 120 R ($10) per person got us an hour and a half of fun in the waves. When I asked the employee what time we needed to be back, he said: “trust me you’ll be back before you need to be”. Challenge accepted. We used every minute and even a few extra to spite him :). We’re not professional surfers yet, but we both stood up quite a few times and got a hell of a workout being beaten by waves. Safe to say we could work on some technique.

After an awesome morning, our rental car was delivered to us and we were off to WINE COUNTRY! Yay! It was about at 35-minute drive along the beautiful coast, then past one of the poorest informal settlements, then through lush vineyards. A little jarring to see such beauty and prosperity hugging an incredibly huge and impoverished population. When we arrived at our accommodation for the next 3 nights, the Vrendenberg Manor House, we were greeted by the world’s friendliest hosts – Leon and Luc. They made us feel like family as we chatted in the charming living room and drank fancy coffee. After a tour of the house and the very luscious grounds, we unpacked, settled into our cottage and took full advantage of the honesty bar (you take what you want and pay at the end). We enjoyed a welcome glass of Sauvignon Blanc while overlooking the pool and gardens. Adam felt like he was inception for some reason, while I just felt very happy.

Soon after, we jumped right to it and started hitting the vineyards. I won’t bore you with the details of every vineyard because it’s probably more fun to just look at the photos below. In fact, go grab yourself a glass of wine while you do! The vineyards we all similar in beauty and good wines, but we did have a few superlatives to hand out over the few days:

BEST WINE: Rust En Vrede‘s Estate Wine
We splurged and bought a bottle then they comp’ed our tastings! Bonus. On our way out, the woman helping us with our tasting subtly commented that people who thought we were Canadian would a be better than thinking we were Americans. Adam is still angry at biting his tongue on that one, but she was only kidding. I think..

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FABULOUS wine
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Adam happy.. until we realized we couldn’t get an uber and had to haul on foot to the next vineyard. All in the name of exercise!

BEST ATMOSPHERE: Annandale Winery
Super casual, friendly and loose when it came to the tasting. In addition to a stellar tasting, we tasted 14-day old wine, 2005 wine and wine moonshine. We felt at home here between the laid-back nature and chickens roaming around. We also ended up meeting friends at our table that grilled us about our Trump perspectives, shared their wine, and invited us to their Braai (BBQ) that night! Bonus #2.

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The menu we far exceeded in our tasting. Sorry, no chicken pictures..
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Our new friend Carl showing us what we were braai’ing that night at his home – waterbuck!

BEST VIEW: Uva Mira
The highest vineyard in Stellenbosch so as you can imagine the view was really ugly. It was sunny, warm, nearly sunset and the best Sauvignon Blanc we’re ever had –  so clear it looked like water. Dangerous.

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The view leaving Uva Mira
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No ubers again, but really happy despite the long hike/climb to the next vineyard

BEST VALUE: Dornier
We were nearly running to this winery so we could make the tasting before 5pm…seems to be a trend with us here. Not only were we the last ones there, but the swooped building was set at the foot of the mountains and absolutely breathtaking as it’s roofline modernly interpreted the mountain’s silhouette. After our wine tasting and good conversation with the tasting ladies, we enjoyed the arguably best food deal we’ve seen so far at their bodega. 399 R ($33) for a bottle of their wine and SEVEN glorious tapas. Just look at the picture. Drool.

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BEST EXPERIENCE OVERALL: Rickety Bridge
This is cheating a little because it’s not in Stellenbosch, but in Franschhoek, an adjacent wine region with strong French roots. We rode mountain bikes to Rickety Bridge Winery with two friends we met in Cape Town earlier on the trip. More on this adventure in a shorter blog coming next, but it was by far the best experience due to great company, a spirited server and a wine tasting that ended up being pretty much bottomless.

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LOVE this label story
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Cheers to new friends!

Days in wine country are a bit of a blur for a few reasons, but mainly because there are endless vineyards which gave me serious FOMO. We actually only averaged 3/day as they all closed around 5pm. Womp womp. Despite that, however, we did enjoy some great meals, cellar tours and hanging around our charming Manor House catching up on work. Yes, we did work! No one wants wine at 9am :). Okay well most. Speaking of the morning hours, it must be mentioned that our accommodation had a breakfast spread coupled with a view for the books. I wish I would have taken better pictures because it was inspirational! Fully stocked with just about anything you could ever want. Coffee bar to order, fruit bowl with exotic local fruit, meats, cheeses, homemade croissants and scones, muesli, cereal, yogurt, AND a whole hot breakfast to-order menu. All included. Breakfast was something to jump out of bed for and was a solid, necessary base for a day of wine tasting.

That’s it for now, look out for Part II of this adventure coming soon!

Cheers, have a classic day! (More South Africa slang for you, meaning “great”)
Chels and Adam

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Vrendenberg breakfast fruit – dyying over fresh coconut, figs and papaya
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Enjoying the view after the effort it took to get to this particular vineyard – Hidden Valley
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The ONLY winery open until 7pm! Peter Falke Wines
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Avontuur – Our first winery visit
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Lunch at Avontuur
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Waterford Wine Estate was out of a fairytale

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