Tag Archives | south africa

My Mandela: #RIPNelsonMandela

 

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela Statue outside Victor-Verster Prison

We have lost a hero.  When I read the news of Nelson Mandela’s passing, I was shocked. I knew that his health was failing for sometime, but the fact that this great man is no longer with us is still difficult for me to grasp.  Mandela was elected to the presidency of South Africa during my senior year in high school.  At that point in my life, I could not help but feel the sense of optimism and hope that the man personified.  Our first trip to his beloved land South Africa was in 2010.  During our stay in Johannesburg, we visited the Soweto.  Below are a few pictures from our visit with some of our favorite quotes from Nelson Mandela.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”–Long Walk to Freedom

Soweto Johanesburg

Soweto, Johannesburg

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”–Mandela

“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.”–Mandela

A mural in the Soweto.

A mural in the Soweto.

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” —Rivonia trial, 1964

 “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”–Mandela

 

Soweto family

Soweto family

“A leader. . .is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”-Long Walk to Freedom

God Speed Madiba.

 

3

A Ticket to South Africa

“All I wanted to do now was get back to Africa.  We had not left it yet, but when I would wake in the night, I would lie, listening, homesick for it already.”—Ernest Hemingway

They say that you shouldn’t start blog posts with a quote.  They say that it some how takes away from rest of the post.  I think that is bunk.  Hemingway was onto something.  His thoughtful comment completely captures how we feel about Africa.  While our visit to South Africa was short, it changed us forever.  We want to take you along on our discovery.

Township south Africa

A view of Soweto

The Soweto

Our African experience began in Johannesburg, South Africa, affectionately known as Jo’Burg.  We endured the long flight from the States.  It continues to amaze us that you can board a flying tin can and travel half way around the world in less than a day.  Once we got our feet underneath us, we joined up with our guide Henry and headed for the Soweto.  Soweto is short for “South Western Township.”   The sprawling shanty metropolis is the home to 1.3 million people.  It has a rough and difficult history that we won’t dive into here; needless to say, we felt that it was important to see and attempt to understand first hand.  Our guide drove us around the Soweto, pointing out the hospital, when electricity came to the area, and how all the city functioned. Our guide took us into a couple of homes. We met the families that lived there.  Our “abundance guilt” bubbled up in our hearts.  A visit to the township was powerfully instructive. We ended our tour at Nelson Mandela’s house and mentally exhausted.

The next morning we hired our rental car for our adventure.   You would think that we would engage a Range Rover for the self-guided safari that we were embarking on?  No, we went cheap.  We opted for the four-cylinder Chevy Aveo.  Bad decision.  But we will save that story for a little later.  We headed north on highway one.  Our destination:  Zimbabwe.

Going into Zimbabwe

Crossing the border into Zimbabwe

Destination Zimbabwe

One of Luci’s lifetime goals is to visit Zimbabwe.  Why would an Idaho farm girl set a crazy goal like that?  We do not know.  The journey took a little over 5 hours.  As we approached the border crossing, we began to have second thoughts.  Zimbabwe does not have the friendliest relations with our fair country.  We parked at the South African checkpoint on the south bank of the Limpopo River.  We went in and were greeted by a grim-faced bureaucrat.  We explained our intent to cross into Zimbabwe, get our Passport stamped and return.  We both saw the blood kind of drain out of his face.

“Why are you doing this thing?” He politely asked.  We smiled and tried to explain.  Rather than attempt to counter our stupidity, he instructed us to do a number of things for our safety.  “Pull your car around to the front of the building, it will likely be stolen or broken into.  Go there, come back quickly and see me when you return so I know that you have returned safely.”

Zimbabwe border

Welcome to Zimbabwe

At this point, both of us were having second thoughts.  If our rental car company didn’t want us to drive across this river into this country, why in the world are we going across?  Like walking the plank, we bravely marched across the baboon ridden bridge.  We were headed by foot to Zimbabwe.  We were obviously tourists. Luci had her camera around her neck.  We didn’t have our belongings wrapped in a sheet or carrying grocery sacks across the bridge on our heads like others crossing.  As we approached, we were welcomed by camo-clad militia men with AK-47s strapped to their backs.  Each in turn looked at us with healthy suspicion.  We nervously whispered back and forth to each other…”keep walking, keep walking.”   We entered the run down custom’s house.  It was sheer craziness.  Crowds pushed forward to face the three to four border agents that were behind bars.

The heat that day was blistering.  Humidity was off the charts.  The air was close in the steamy small room.  We were unsure of ourselves.  Our naivety was written on our faces.  A couple of different agents came from one of the back rooms and pulled us aside and suggested that we pay them to make the process go faster.  We declined.  The price was adjusted.  Again we opted out.  In the developing situation, it soon became clear that the likelihood that we were going to make it out of the experience without our wallets being lightened significantly was highly unlikely.  Was it worth it for the Passport stamp?  I said, “Let’s go.”  We walked out.  We dashed back across the bridge to check back with our caring friend and find our car unmolested.  We had accomplished our goal.  We had set foot in Zimbabwe.  The adventure was just beginning.

South Africa Safari woman

The view from the veranda of the lodge.

 

A peaceful outpost

We made our way back into the savanna of South Africa.  We had done our research and found a quaint bed and breakfast on a small reservoir, the Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge.  This was our first taste of the night sounds of Africa.  It was wonderful.  We had our dinner on the veranda overlooking the water and listened.  We recounted our brave adventures that day and started to connect with the place that we had traveled so far to see.

The next morning we would head out on our self-serve safari to see some of the most incredible animals in the world.

Africa was truly a grand adventure!

 

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0

Leave the Kids at Home

It is OK to leave the kids at home, and travel as a couple.  Forget the guilt trip and take a real one!

In the mad dash that is life, today’s couples need to leave the kids at home and take a weekend getaway .   Couples need time to build their relationship, reconnect and make plans and priorities.  Some couples just need the quiet time to recharge.  Marriage is difficult.   Families are under a lot of pressures from outside and in.  When it comes down to it, you must ask, “Is it important that the adults in the family have a strong and committed relationship?”  We are convinced that it is.  It’s not selfish.  Strong relationships take time and effort to keep healthy.  We promise that what follows is not a “preachy sermon” just a few of the many benefits of finding time to travel as a couple.

I can’t leave my kids!

crying boyI am sure you are wondering, do you guys love your kids?  Don’t you want them to get out and see the world too?  Of course.  PBS Kids is great, but we want our kids to get out and see the world.  We love to take our kids on vacation.  Each year we plan an annual family vacation, sometimes near,  sometimes far.  We always involve the kids in the planning and try our best to include some education points of interest along the way.  Our kids are required to compose a power point presentation on their assigned topics, and must present to family prior to the trip.  Yeah… we are those kind of parents.

For some parents, leaving the kids with grandparents or friends is very difficult.  With very young children, a weekend away might be all that you are able to muster.  Some parents find it difficult to be away from kids for a week at a time.  Then when the kiddos leave the nest, they find that you have lost their relationship with their spouse.  Taking time away is good for both the adults and the children.  Trust us, a week with grandma is going to be a blast!  We were a little shocked, when we started leaving for a week each year to travel, our kids wouldn’t even call us, they were having too much fun.  Kids need a vacation from their parents sometimes as well!

couple travelAdult things

Adults need to do adult things.  On our recent trip to Turkey, we had a chance to have an extended stay in Selcuk, Turkey home of the famed biblical city of Ephesus.   The entire area is dripping in history.  We had a chance to visit one of the more interesting landmarks, the Celsius Library.  Whilst there, waiting for the crowds to wander off, we witness a harried couple with three kids.  We could tell that the mom was trying to read the guide book and figure out what they were looking at and why.  Frustrating her concentration was a 5-6 year old tugging on her sleeve.  The father was negotiating who knows what, with a teenager.   In the end, the mother was pulled away down the path toward the food stands.  Luci and I smiled at each other.  We missed our kids, but we were grateful to have a few moments to contemplate what we were seeing.  We would never trade our adult holidays to Turkey.  You need that time together.

Let’s be honest, many adult outdoor activities are just no fun for kids.  Hiking over temples in Cambodia in the heat of the day is a major bummer for teenagers.  Wandering around a cemetery in upstate New York can be pretty pointless to a 4 year old.  Yet both of these adult activities have been highlights of our couples trips.    You also need time to do other adult things (ah hum)…but we wont go into detail on that, we will leave it up to you.

Talk

One of our favorite pastimes on vacation besides fighting of course is talking.  Like many of you, both Luci and I have demanding jobs.  There is a tremendous amount of pressure placed on us in our careers.  Both of our occupations are the 24/7 and 365.  We rarely get the chance to just sit down and talk.  Our conversations are usually the sort :  who is going to take the kids where on what day.  In the harried everyday life, we just don’t get many opportunities to discuss what’s going on in our lives.  Traveling is the perfect time to have those important conversations.

The Sound of Silence

One of the more underrated gifts of couple travel is a little peace and quiet.  Kids can be loud.  (Again, we are not kid haters, just being honest here.)  Kid’s activities are usually high energy, active, and exhausting.  We have done the Disney’s.  Parents should be awarded a medal for spending a week in the parks!   I can’t tell you what it has meant to us to sit on a make shift bench aside the Amazon river and watch the sunset over the jungle together.  Or what it was like enjoying a makeshift dinner at our hut on the savanna in South Africa, while listening to the elephants in the distance.  You need quiet time together.

Set Goals and Priorities

The final and perhaps most important part of traveling as a couple is setting goals and discussing priorities.  We talk a lot about our kids when traveling.  We talk about what they need from us, what they need help with and how we best can meet their individual needs.  We talk about what our individual goals are.  Both of us have a set of lifetime goals.  We bring those out on our couple trips and mark our progress.  By setting goals and priorities together will actually make you better parents, better lovers, better friends if you only leave the kids with grandma.

We highly encourage couples to make time to travel together.  Leave the kids home with grandparents of friends.  Your kids will love it.   Do you need to spend loads of money on a couple vaykay?  No.  A perfectly timed weekender can work magic on you marriage.

We know that this might be controversial   We want to hear your point of view.  Do you travel alone?  Never leave home without the kids?  What works for you?  Leave us a comment below and give us your take.

6

Couple Road Trip Survival Guide

How to survive a long road trip

Long road trips can be great couple time for busy couples.  They also can be an exercise in trench warfare.  We put together some handy tips to make your next trip a little more civil.

Bigger is Better

A confession:  I am a bit of a petrol-head so this is area that I feel passionate about.  One of the most often overlooked “secrets” to a happy road trip is the choice of car.  Now I know the first thing that you are going to say is…but I don’t have the budget to rent an S-Class Mercedes.  You don’t have to.  First off, when you do your initial car rental search, don’t just select the economy class only, search three or even four levels above.  Check out the luxury level.  We have found that at times the luxury or even the SUV price is cheaper than the mid size.  Crazy huh?

road tripIf you headed out on an extended road trip, don’t skimp on the car.  Pay a little extra for size.  You are likely to spend more waking hours in this metal box.  Skimp a little on the hotel.  Size does a number of things for you:  larger cars ride smoother, are more safe, give your more “personal bubble space”, and typically have dual climate controls (very helpful).  Although tempting, never, ever rent a convertible.  I know, they are sexy and the desk clerk is going to give you a great deal on one.  Don’t do it.  The problems with convertibles are many.  First off the are small.  Trunk (boot) space is at a minimum.  Convertibles (unless they are a BMW, MB, Porsche, ect.) are LOUD.  The outside noise is going to get annoying.   Driving in any sort of weather can also be harrowing. Convertibles are great for a day or two in places where going “topless” is a must.  Leave them at the rental agency on the long trips.    A few more pesos on the right car will go along way.

Lets recap:  cast your rental car search wide.   Price out a number of different car class options, and invest a little more than you would normally.  Rent the largest car that you are able.  Our last pointer would be to ask for an upgrade at the rental car counter as well.

Give America Car Rental a look for great deals on rental cars.

The Three F’s

We classify stops into three general categories: food, fuel and fun.  A word about food.  If you follow our posts at all, food is extremely important component to our relationship.  I know all of you health-nut types out there are going to mummer…but fast food makes for the best option on road trips.  You can defiantly make healthy choices at fast food places.  Get out of your car and order to go in the restaurant.  This gives you some much needed vertical  and lou time, but why sit in the restaurant and eat?  If it takes 30 minutes to sit and chow down the whopper you could be 30 miles down the road.  The sooner the road trip ends the better.  Fuel-let your blater define fuel stops.  Don’t wait till the tank is on E.  Fill up mid tank during a bio break.  Save yourself time.  Stops equal slow.  The last F is important.  Build in some fun on the road trip.  Find stops where you can get out, and do something active.  Get the blood flowing again.  We have found outlet malls to be great stops.  It gets you apart (very helpful).  They also get you walking.  Make the most of your food, fuel and fun stops!

rental car

We had a few problems with our rental car in South Africa.

Tunes

Many wars have been fought over control of the radio dial.  The Fighting Couple are not immune from this clash.  Luci loves Broadway tunes.  She really does.  She loves to sing along.  Me….not so much.  On the flip side…I do enjoy me some bluegrass on occasion.  Luci….not so much.   On our most recent auto expedition we chose an audio book: Catch Me If You Can: The True Story of a Real Fake by Frank Abagnale Jr.  Great book!  Books on tape are amazing “time killers”.  Most novels are 8 hours long and if you pick the right one, time flies.  It also give you a topic for discussion.  Cool huh?

The Little Things

couple road tripThe little things on road trips make a big difference.  Buy/borrow/rent a gps.  This small item has almost single handedly saved our relationship. This little devices of genius save time, prevents arguments (darn!) and most importantly they find food and fuel.  Gotta have one.  Don’t rely on an Iphone or worse a wireless connection to navigate.  Trust us.  The other small thing is keeping the car clean.  Junk and clutter are distracting to the driver and they invade on the “personal bubble space”.   The little things can make all the difference.

Couple road trips can be a ton of fun.  It gives you quality time to talk, listen and fight!  These are just a few of our hints to make the trip a little more enjoyable.  So what have you found that works?  How do you avoid killing each other on long roadies?

A couple more posts that you might enjoy:

5 Things Every Woman Should Know About Men…While Traveling.

The Man’s Guide to Traveling with a Woman

 

 

4

3 Great Places to Cool Down as a Couple

Summer is here!  Its time to hit the beach!  We are always on the lookout for the perfect summer travel ideas for couples.  Are you trying to come up with a great place to cool down as a couple?   We have some sizzling ideas for you.  In coming up with our three recommendations we established three key factors: 1) It must have amazing water.  2) It must offer something for couples. 3)It must be fun!

Lets start!

Nice, France

Eze, FranceWater:  Poetry has been written for centuries about the lovely waters of Nice!  The Nice area, also called the Cote d’Azur is believed to be one of the oldest regions inhabited in Europe by humans!  Not hard to believe once you take in its beauty and warmth.  Nice offers miles and miles of sandy sunshine laced beaches.  Pick your spot and soak in the sun and enjoy the warm water.  A word of warning to those of us prudes visiting the region from the states.  The economic downturn in Europe has forced a number of women in the area to only afford to buy the bottoms for their bikinis.

Couple angle:  The city’s formal name is Nissa La Bella or Nice the Beautiful.  Take evening strolls together along the seafront.  Pop into one of the many street side cafes for a late dinner.  Love in always in the air in Nissa La Bella.

monte CarloFun Factor:  Two of our favorite places in Europe are right up the road from Nice.  The first is Eze.  Eze is a castle fortress on a rock outcropping.  It is truly a magical place.  There are little shops and cafes as you wander around the quant city.  Our second favorite is Monte Carlo.  If you are a regular follower of the fighting couple, you know of Mike’s crush on Napoleon and that he is a petrol head.  Monte Carlo suits both of these addictions.  The “country” is home to one of the finest Napoleon Museums in the world.  Of course if you time your visit, you can take in the Grand Prix, one of the best motoring events in the universe!

 

Las Vegas

Pool scene in vegasWater:  Granted Vegas is not perched on the Mediterranean, nor does it have the sandy beaches of the Caribbean but it truly is an oasis in the dry desert.  Vegas literally offers over 100 plus pool resorts!    Vegas offers indoor and outdoor pool options.  Some may require you to be guest of the hotel, other charge a cover fee and others still offer cabana rentals with just about any amenity you can imagine!  The king of the Vegas pool scene is hands down the Wynn Hotel.  Evian Water spritzers?   Yes.  VIP pool?  Yes.  Poolside black jack?  Of course.

Do keep in mind, a number of the pools cater to couples and prohibit anyone younger than 21.

Couple angle:  Las Vegas has a so much to offer couple travelers.   Lets start out what the city offers the active couple.  For those couples that want to hit the links together, there are over 100 different golf courses in the Las Vegas area.  You don’t have to go far to find excellent mountain biking and hiking trails.  Couples can take in one of the excellent shows or concerts offered.    Vegas also offers some of the best outlet mall shopping in the west.

Putting together a romantic evening in Vegas is a sure bet.  Get your evening started at one of the many excellent dining choices in the city.  Check out one of our fave Mexican Cantinas.  After dinner why not take her on a gondola ride in the Venetian?  For those the like something more on the wild side, why not a roller-coaster ride or even a helicopter tour over the city of lights?  Whatever you choose,  Vegas has it!

Fun Factor:  Ok…this is Vegas, need we really need to discuss the fun factor?

 

Durbin, South Africa

South Africa BeachWater:  The tip of South Africa hosts one of the most beautiful coast lines on the Planet.  Lazy shadows from lush vegetation and the cool Indian Ocean breezes make the Dolphin coast of South Africa our last pick.   Located a short drive west of the thriving metropolis of Durban, the beaches of South Africa are second to none.

Couple angle:  The Dolphin Coast is a couple’s paradise.  Choose one of the many full service resorts, and get ready to be pampered.  Send him out to go deep sea fishing and take in a full day massage at a world renowned spa!  Team up and play on one of the championship golf courses where all kinds of wildlife will cross your path!

Fun Factor:  Visiting South Africa without going on a safari is kind of like going to Paris and not kissing!  There are so many different options for going on safari, it is guaranteed to fit any budget.  Ever wanted to ride an elephant?  Now’s your chance!

1

A Room with a View

We need your help.  So we were fighting the other day.  You have no idea how many times we have said that!  But then again you are on this site.  We were having a “discussion” on which of our fave hotels had the very best views?  Hotel rooms are just that to us, rooms.  What is important to us is what you can see from the room.  Great views are travel porn.  One of Luci’s all time fave shows is “A Room with a View”.   In this “chic” flick, the heroine Lucy Honeychurch and bumbling chaperone Charlotte Bartlett find themselves in Florence with rooms without a view.  In the end, she gets the man, and they get a room, oh and it has a view.  As a result of this show, as we travel one of key requirements is an amazing view.

Our four contenders are:  Conrad-Istanbul, Hiton-Nice, Cavalieri-Rome,  and the Fairmont Zimbali Lodge-South Africa

Conrad-Istanbul

This is an amazing property!  It lands overlooking the mighty Bosporus.  (click on the pic below to get a better feel of the immense view)  You can see two continents (Europe and Asia) with this view! How many hotels can claim that?    The unique shape of the hotel makes for views of some amazing land and seascapes. What makes this hotel’s view special is your are treated to views with two senses: sight and sound.  Every morn and night you are greated with haunting renditons of the call to prayer for nearby mosques.

Please click on photo to get the entire view!

 

Hilton, Nice, France

What is better than a view of the French Rivera?  Nice offers some ob the best water and beach front  on the globe.  We understand the hotel sold to another chain.  Can anyone confirm that?  Regardelss the view of the swaying palms, the fine eye candy on the beaches and of course the azure water are not to be missed.  You are literally a hop, skip and a jump to world class beaches.

 

 

Cavalieri-Rome

Ok we weren’t going to reveal which is favored by who to let you the reviewer an unbiased opinion.  But this is Mike’s fave hotel in the world.  The mighty Cavalieri is one of the ugliest hotels on the outside.  It is about as glamorous as a cement box.  But what it lack in outward appearance, the inside and of course the views more than makes up for.  Located on a perch overlooking all of Rome and especially the Vatican, the view is breathtaking.   As luck would have, as we opened the siding door to our patio, there was a rainbow over the city!   The hotel is located in a 50 acre parklike setting.  We understanding that during conclave, rooms go for astronomical prices.  You could see the white smoke from your room!

 

 

 

Fairmont Zimbali Lodge-South Africa

Lastly, but certainly not least is the the Zimbali.   While our room offered a jungle obstructed viewof the Indian Ocean, a few steps down the path to the pool affords one of the most impressive ocean front views!  We visited the Zimbali at the end of our safari trip trough South Africa.  The resort lodge is an oasis for the soul.  The hotel has a number of freshwater pools right on the edge of the ocean.  We timed our visit on the shoulder season and had the entire pool area to ourselves.  Beat that view?  I dont think so!

There are some many great locations out there: an African Lodge, a Mediterian escape or even take in Kensington apartments for that matter!  Regardless if they are hotels, hostels, or even serviced apartments treat yourself to a great view!

Now is your chance to weigh in with your opinion.  Which is the best view?  Just leave a post below.

2

Avoiding the “Spa” Fight

 

Çemberlitas Bath-Istanbul, Turkey

Spa. Ah. Just the word makes you feel better. 1000fights likes spas. Let me clarify-the female half of 1000fights likes spas. The male half likes golf. So why not do both? Because we are both incredibly anal about money and equality, 1000fights has a rule. Equal money on vacation. That means whatever is spent on golf, is spent on the spa and vice versa. This policy of equality came after a fight in South Africa. We were staying at the Zimbali Lodge outside of Durban. Mike golfed. Luci enjoyed the pool. But Luci also started feeling very resentful because while Mike was spending fistful of South African Rands, Luci wasn’t. When she tried to book a treatment at the resort, there weren’t any openings. Lesson learned. Here’s a couple tips for the non-golfing ladies and spa attending guys to make sure you aren’t getting shafted on vacation.

Plan ahead. Don’t expect to be able to walk into the spa and get an appointment. If you don’t plan ahead for an appointment, you’ll be disappointed and mad.

Budget. Know what you want to spend. Often times hotel spas are overpriced and under deliver. You’ll spend three times as much on a massage at the hotel versus one at an independent business down the street.

Ask Your Hotel. I know this seems counter intuitive and often times the hotel will pimp their spa, but if you ask for a list of local spas, the concierge will oblige.

Get in on the social networking. Once you find a spa you want to visit both on vacation and at home, “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. You’ll end up getting special deals.

Surf the group coupon. Living Social, Groupon, Amazon Local usually have a spa deal very two to three weeks. If you know you are going to visit a city, sign up for their deals. Purchasing group coupons means you get more for your money and twice the treatments.

 

Go web shopping.  There are some really great Spa holiday links out there. These specialized websites drive deals just for Spa breaks UK and international spas. You’ll get better deals here than just approaching the property directly. You’ll also have the benefit of discovering several properties at once without having to look up each property individually. The best site I’ve seen is http://www.spabreaks.com. It makes me want to go to a spa now!

 

0

Observations about race in South Africa

I can’t help but always take note of race; it is a byproduct of being an employment discrimination lawyer, I suppose, where I was paid to analyze issues in racial terms.

Shortly before we traveled to South Africa, Karen Waldrond, one of my favorite writers and photographers, who I’ve mentioned recently, wrote that she believes that everyone should spend an extended amount of time outside of their home country, in a place where they are a visible member of the minority class at least once in their lifetime.  I thought of her words while we were in South Africa.  The percentage of blacks and whites in South Africa and the United States are roughly flipped: 79% of the population in South Africa are black, and 9.5% are white.  75% of the population in the United States are white, and 12.4% are black.  (Of course, I realize the issue of race is more complex than black and white, but I am focusing upon the biggest majority group in each country).  Early on in our trip, we walked into a crowded department store off of Long Street, a trendy street in downtown Cape Town, and realized we were the only white people in the store.  This experience repeated itself again and again during our month in the country.

(Pass cards listing one’s deemed race that controlled where a person could go during apartheid.)

Being in the minority kept race on the forefront of my mind.  Even more than that, the relatively recent fall of apartheid made it impossible to travel throughout South Africa without thinking about race.  Like many of the other countries we have traveled through that have gone through significant historical transformations, it was fascinating to learn about what life was like before and what life was like now.

(Old sign displayed in the District Six Museum)

Apartheid – literally the state of being separate – was similar to segregation and Jim Crow laws in the United States, but much, much more extreme.  And its official demise was only 16 years ago.  Which means that during our lifetimes, blacks lived without the same rights as whites.  And now blacks live with the same rights as whites, at least legally.

(The seven pillars of South Africa’s current constitution displayed outside the Apartheid Museum: democracy, equality, reconciliation, diversity, responsibility, respect and freedom.)

At the District Six Museum in Cape Town, we learned about the forced removal of 60,000 people from a neighborhood during apartheid.  On our trip to Robben Island, the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years, we learned a little about what prison was like directly from a former political prisoner.  The most informative experience, by far, was the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.  We’ve been to a lot of museums on this trip, and I felt this museum was the most educational and organized out of any of the ones we have visited.  What I liked best was that you could choose to only read a brief overview of each section, or delve into the details should you so choose.  The museum also packed an emotional impact just by presenting neutral facts.  You are randomly assigned a race as you enter.  I was white.  Sean was “coloured” (a racial category used for people of mixed race that had more rights than blacks but much fewer rights than whites).  This meant we were separated upon entrance and each had different experiences in the beginning of the museum.  When we left the museum, together, we could peek back through a slit to see the entry point, where the races were separate.  A reminder about how far the country has come.

Renewing my education about apartheid made me scrutinize race relations much more closely than normal.  I’ve read that the biggest issue today is the drastic differences between the haves and the have nots, and not the relations between the races.

This may be true, but I didn’t see any white people living in the townships and shantytowns on the outskirts of almost every city and town we drove through.  At the beginning of our trip, it seemed like all of the owners, managers and patrons were white in all of the places where we stayed and ate, but the staff was black.  Most of the suburban enclaves we saw were white, with the exception of maids.  The rural, poorer towns we drove through had all black inhabitants.  It wasn’t until East London and further north that we saw more upscale neighborhoods full of black people living and eating there.  Finally, one of the B&Bs where we stayed was owned by a black person.  But in these more upscale neighborhoods, we still didn’t see much integration between blacks and whites.  In Johannesburg, we finally saw much more diversity.  One of the places where we noticed this the most was at a secure suburban mall, where people of every race and color shopped and hung out.

Like crime, race is a sensitive topic in South Africa, so I only have my observations to go on.  I always have the feeling that any observations are incomplete, and can only help facilitate learning more instead of being the final say on any particular topic when I travel.  I’m not sure what all of my observations mean, but my suspicions are that the society has come a long way, but progress is slow.  The fall of apartheid means that both a black and white cop can stand together and demand a bribe from two white people in lieu of a parking ticket – thank goodness for progress, right? – but the effects of years of discrimination, oppression, and violence can’t be erased overnight or even in 16 years.

Guest blog post by Amy at Surrounded by the Sound.   Amy and her husband Sean are smack dab in the middle of a year long trip around the world.    Before they voluntarily became homeless and unemployed, they lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Amy worked as a lawyer and Sean worked as a computer programmer.

–We came across their blog this week, and we were so intrigued with their impressions of South Africa.  Happy travels Amy and Sean.  (We hear they even fight on occasion!)  VISIT THEIR BLOG!

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The 3 most romantic spots in the world

Ok..Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and we get asked a lot…  “What is the most romantic spot that you guys have ever been?”  What exactly makes a location romantic?  What is that “je ne sais quoi” that makes one place better than another?  Obviously, the key ingredient is the one you’re with. The sights, sounds and environs can also be spices that make the recipe work.   So many come to mind, but we narrowed it down to three.  Undoubtedly there are zillion other places on this green/blue globe that are amazing…we just haven’t been there yet.

So what was important to us in selecting these locations?  Our first criterion is that we have experienced them first hand.  Love tested; Love approved.  Anyone that knows us…knows that we have a tendency to fight.  So our locations must be unanimous picks.  (Not as easy as it sounds).  Lastly, we took Paris out the running.  Why?  Every other blogger is writing sappy and lovey-dovey posts as we speak about the “City of Love.” Paris is remarkable, read the other blogs…after reading ours :)  Our last criterion is there must be some sort of magical/mystic quality about the location.  The three places we picked all have magic.

Villa il Poggiale, Chianti, Tuscany, Italy-

How could we use the word romantic without pulling Italy in somehow?  The Villa is a quaint and somewhat difficult to find, a short drive from Florence Italy.   Is this the nicest most expensive B & B in Tuscany?  No, not by a long shot.  And maybe that’s what makes this place so special?  You are not going to break the bank to say a weekend or even a week here.  It is located smack dab in the rolling green hills of Tuscany.  Take a walk down the gravel road behind the Villa, basking in the hills and scenery of Tuscany.  You’ll feel miles away from anywhere. What makes the magic of this place?  It is the little road behind it.  Ok…Luci is a huge fan of the movie, “A Room with a View.”   At one point in this chick Flick, the main characters take an afternoon ride in the Tuscan countryside.  We are convinced that they came to Villa il Poggiale.  It takes you back to old Italy.  The B & B is quaint.  Yes, it does have a humble pool overlooking a vineyard.  It has the cypress trees lining the drive as you come into the property. And, yes the owners are just about the coolest people in all of old Italy.    This place is magical for the dramatic setting…humble accommodations…and five star sunsets.

Now that’s Amore!

Marin Headlands-

Located just across the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the remnants of the fighting days WWII.  (Maybe that’s why we like it so much?)  It harbors a network of abandoned war bunkers facing the Bay.  Drive up along the tops of the hills overlooking the city, the Bay and the Pacific Ocean.  What makes this place so special are the views, and the fog.  For some meteorological reason, this place has the strangest weather.  Often, you are above the fog, and just the tippy tops of the Golden Gate poke through and then the city lights illuminate the fog and it appears to been a golden blanket of cotton balls.  At other times the fog rolls down the hills like water.  There are a number of secluded beaches, a lighthouse, and many fragrant eucalyptus groves along the headlands.  Pack a lunch and take a hike through the trails that go between each of the war bunkers…take a horse ride down to a beach or through a forest.  So many options!

Bring a blanket to snuggle with!

Sirheni Bushveld Camp, Kruger National Park, South Africa—

Kruger Park is one of the largest public game reserves in all of Africa.  South Africa has preserved this corner of its county to celebrate wildlife including lions, hippos, elephants, and cheetahs. Now, there are different levels of camps and lodges within Kruger Park.  Similar to the location above, Sirheni is not the lap of luxury by any stretch of the imagination.  You even have to do your own cooking!  We found the accommodations at Sirheni the best in our Kruger experience. The camp is a collection of modern one bedroom condo-ish looking structures, which have huge back porches overlooking the Sirheni Dam, on the Mghongolo River.  Your back porch is a water hole and views and access are unmatched. As we sat on the back porch we heard a rumble of cracking brush and trees and elephants walked past our porch just 20 feet away.  At one point we literally stood a couple of feet away from several elephants.  The layout of the 20 or so bungalows is well done to create an isolated feel.  As the sun sets, you can watch animals take a drink or cool off from the hot African sun and you enjoy your own beverage of choice or cook a slab of beef on the bbq provided.  In the distance you will hear elephants splashing and hippos whistling.

We share these three locations as our recommended romantic locales…so where would you recommend?  Did we miss the best place?

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