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18 July 2014 -
One glorious sunrise:
Once we entered through the gate= Time to Keep Your Eyes Wide Open! There could be animals...anywhere. And everywhere.
So... far there aren't many animals. Croydon asked the drivers of a passing vehicle for any unusual animal sightings. Turns out, a pride of lions took down a baby giraffe not too far from our location. Let's go find the lions!
As you might have guessed, we're not the only ones that want to see these lions (lionnesses). Croydon is jockeying for a position to view them but not everyone is acting very courtesously. At one point while we were waiting for a closer look we saw a kid sticking out his head from one of the vehicles ahead of us. Yikes! That kid was very fortunate that the lions already had full tummies as otherwise he might have been lunch!!!
While I would have loved to continue watching these lions eating and chilling out - we've got other places and animals to see!
I did end up buying a Pilanesberg Map & Guide Book - to help us identify all the animals we're seeing at the gift shop.
At two different points during our drive we saw elephants. The first time it was too far away to get an acceptable photos which is a bummer as about three or four elephants (with one baby elephant) shooed away two rhinos.
The second time we saw elephants was just ahead of our vehicle. Best to stay faaaaaarrrr away from them. Wow! Can those animals move fast or what! They just passed in front of our car and they're now nearly out of viewing range! That was FAST!
Well, I would call that a successful day!
Time to head back to our lodgings for the night.
A view from the road- unfinished houses waiting for their owners:
The sun is setting and we've got two fires lit in two different fireplaces (in front of our cabin). Croydon and his dad are getting ready grill up a bunch of meat that we bought the previous day. We're going to have a proper braai!!! (South African BBQ). Debbie and I are working on getting the veggies prepared....the grocery store did most of the work for us. :-)
The kids have been in our cabin and they claim there is a strange, fluttering noise inside our cabin. Uh oh. I walked in and sure enough there is SOMETHING in our room! Debbie- without any fear at all- walked into our cabin with a plastic bag and captured the culprit...A BAT!!! (there are a couple of gaps in the roof/ceiling). Want to see it???
Debbie is my hero!!! Thank you for capturing this little beasty. Now the girls and I can sleep well...knowing that the bat is gone.
WHAT A DAY!!! I don't know about you but I'm exhausted! It's been yet another day filled with so many wonders I never thought I'd get to see in my life. Thank you Debbie and Croydon (and Croydon's parents) for a wonderful and fun day.
PS. The girls are already begging to go back to South Africa. Apparently the bat didn't scare them away!!! LOL.
17 July 2014-
Today we're packing up from our friend's house and heading toward Pilanesberg. You'll just have to wait and see what's in Pilanesberg!!!!
Here's Debbie's lovely welcoming garden (she's a big time gardener):
On the open highway...I spotted several people standing along side the road. They're waiting for a taxi. These taxis aren't what the kind of taxi we usually think of - they're minivans- and they apparently rule the road!
We made a quick stop at Croydon's sister's house. I'm sorry but I didn't take any photos there. We dropped off Croydon's motorcyle and we picked up Croydon's parents who will be joining us on our trip to Pilanesberg.
After our brief stop we did a quick shopping trip for a BBQ dinner...after all, we're in South Africa - so we should do a braai dinner, right???
Pretty awesome, isn't it? Very rustic and utilitarian...I do love it!
Debbie tells us that we should load back up into the vehicle...there's some place very special we have to go to tonight.
The location is extremely close to our lodgings- it's a...let's see, what to call it? A breeding facility for animals to be sent overseas (as in zoos). What kinds of animals???
Our hostess here, Yolande, helps to raise the animals (I think only big cats). She's more like the cats' mother. She took us around so that we could get a closer view of some of the animals they have here at this facility.
We got to meet and pet toddler lions. They're fiestier than what I'd expected! They're exactly like a toddler - they like to bite and play (they don't mean to hurt or harm). However, they play a little harsher than what we're comfortable with. They like to jump, bite, and claw (and hence we're holding tight on to the kids):
Those are Croydon's parents in the photo above.
Lion fur, by the way, was quite rough and course. I was expecting it to be softer (like the caracal's soft fur). Will it get softer with time??? Don't know. I'm not about to pet an adult lion to find out!!!!
Ava ate her yummy piece of cake. Yes, it was good.
It was a glorious day filled with all sorts of new adventures. South Africa does not fail to impress!
16 July 2014-
We're heading back to Jo-burg today but we still have a few hours in Cape Town to check out another site.
Several people recommended that we go check out the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens....well....why the heck not??? Let's go!
Before we go here's one last look at Table Mountain- as seen from our B&B in Stellenbosch:
After our quick and uneventful flight back to Jo-burg we're ready to jump into Debbie's van and head back to their house. However, there's a slight hiccup in this plan as the van won't start!!! We think the battery is dead. Croydon did manage to get one of the parking lot security guards to come over with his battery charging gear but it's not working. Darn!
The sun is slowly starting to set and it's cooling down quickly. Thankfully, Debbie managed to get in touch with her very good friend Fransie- who came to our rescue in her brand new Jeep. Yay for Fransie!!!! Thank you! Croydon stayed behind with the van and waited for a friend to help him get it started again. Hooray for friends!!!!!!
15 July 2014-
Yep...it's been SEVERAL months since we took our trip to South Africa trip but I am DETERMINED to finish posting photos from this trip.
Today we're heading out to Robben Island - the island is home to the famous prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for nearly two decades.
We need to be at the boat early this morning so we're heading to Cape Town (from our B&B in Stellenbosch) extra early to grab breakfast at a cafe close to the marina. Yesterday we made enquiries as to where we had to go to get on the boat shuttle.
Table Mountain this morning: (still lovely)
Well, so getting to the shuttle boat was a little more confusing than what we'd anticipated. It was NOT where folks said it would be the previous day. We had to make a mad dash across the marina to a different location to get on board. Mercifully we made it!
There's nothing quite like riding a boat and the breeze blowing across your face. So refreshing and invigorating! (just ask Ava!)
16 November 2014 -
Good morning! We got to sleep in this morning- wow! What a luxury!
We discovered at the breakfast bar that you can order foods, such as won ton soup. Yummy!!!!
The pandas we saw yesterday were the real reason we came to Chengdu. However, we do know there are other things to see here. The front desk helpers at our hotel gave us suggestions on what we could see today and we've narrowed it down to two locations: Jinli (walking street lined with shops) and Wenshu Yuan Monastery (which is only a five minute walk away from here).
We took a taxi to Jinli (short cab ride through a Chinese city that looks similar to the many Chinese cities we've seen). Jinli is next to a temple (it costs 60RMB per person to get in...at the moment I don't think I'm for viewing it). However, check out these interesting looking walking area with shops and restaurants:
15 November 2014 -
We hopped on a plane late Friday night - out of the new Tianjin airport terminal. ***Wow! It's nice, big, and has everything I could ever want... like Starbucks. Yes, I'm laughing out loud at myself. Whoever thought that Starbucks would be The Thing that elicits gasps of joy when I find one??? Silly. I know.***
We just desperately needed to get out of Tianjin and see something new. And, at the same time, cross something off another destination from our China Bucket List.
Where to this time???
You might be asking yourself, "Astrid, what's in Chengdu?" and the answer is very simple...."PANDAS"!!!!!
Pandas, or xiong mao 熊猫 as it's known in Chinese, live in a very tiny pockets of wild habitats near Sichuan province (which Chengdu is the main city). No, we didn't see the pandas in the wild. That would have been AWESOME. Instead, we checked out the cute pandas (and yes, they ARE CUTE) at a place called Xiong Mao Ji Di (xiong mao literally translates to "bear cat").
We stayed in a really beautiful hotel called Buddha Zen Hotel in a walking area of Chengdu. It was very close to a Wenshufang Monastery (about a five minute walk away).
I read on trip advisor's website that we should get to the panda place early in the morning, after they open at 8am to beat the throngs of Chinese tourists. Hence...the slightly grumpy looks from fellow family members when they were told they couldn't sleep in on Saturday morning (when we arrived very late the previous night). Can you blame them? No.
8 September 2014-
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!
We've learned that mooncakes are part of the tradition that goes along with this Chinese holiday.
We've tried purchasing and eating mooncakes in the past. Some were good...some were edible ...but many were just down right awful (sorry, I just don't find cakes filled with fish paste to be delicious). That is largely due to the fact that we couldn't ask what the cakes were filled with. Or we could ask but we might not understand the answer!
I've decided to take matters into my own hands and make my own! That means I can fill them with whatever I WANT ....and what I want to try is Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread). Yum!
I found several recipes online but this is the one I actually followed as it seemed easier, he explained the steps, and -most importantly - I had all the ingredients. Instead of the coconut filling (which I bet would taste good too!) I used Nutella.
After making the dough according to the recipe's instructions I rolled out one small chunk of dough at a time. Next I carefully oiled and floured the molds (so that I might have some chance of releasing the cakes from their molds). Then I carefully pushed the flattened piece of dough into the mold (making sure that it went up the sides of the mold). In go several spoonfuls of Nutella. (mmmmmm!!!! and maybe eat a spoonful of Nutella. Just maybe.) Last, roll out another tiny piece of dough, place on top of the filling and seal the cake shut.
Check out the tray of mooncakes (almost ready to be baked):
Did I mention that I own lots of wooden mooncake molds? How many do I have? Hang on...let me go count them.
I have ten molds.
When I've had some Chinese friends come over for a visit they've noticed these molds AND apparently I have a LOT of them. ;-) I like them! I'm trying to build a collection of them as they're quite beautiful in their simple and utilitarian way.
And the mooncakes I made? Well, they were quite tasty and they were eaten up quickly. Maybe next year I'll try making them again and changing things up a bit (different fillings).
16 August -
Mark and Annika had been discussing building a forge. He thought it would have to wait until we moved to a more permanent location. Until he realized he could build a small one in our back yard- right here, right now!
With the assistance of our Chinese friends and our driver we got all the necessary materials (Mark even had an iron table built at our nearby metal market).
Mark wants to create knives.
Annika wants to make swords.
Me? I'm going to wait and see how it goes for them and then decide to give it a try.
Now, if you're curious- the base is an iron table that Mark had custom built at our local metal market. The fire bricks were purchased by our driver (who must think we're completely NUTS). One of our friends helped by the fan (and probably other pieces). Mark built a little "oven" that is fired by coal or charcoal. The fan helps keep the fire blazing hot. It NEEDS to be HOT in order to work the metal. You stick your piece of metal into the forge (the oven), let it get red hot, pull it out with tongs and then work on pounding it with a hammer on the anvil (while holding it FIRMLY with a special gripping tool). You can only pound it a few times before the piece cools down. Then it's back into the fire for another round. Right now it's just a matter of trial and error for us - we're experimenting to see what works best.
What ever will we create???
14 August 2014-
We arrived back in Beijing YESTERDAY (13 August) and TODAY (14 August) the girls are back in school (actually, they missed the first day of school).
This is a year of BIG changes.
Annika is in Grade 6. That means she's now in secondary school...and in the Han Building. She's now with the Big Kids! Yikes! Things are dramatically different between grades 5 and 6. (for one thing, the secondary school isn't the best at keeping the parents informed. Grrrrr....) It's a good thing Annika appears to be ready for this big change.
Ava is in grade 3. The same grade Annika was in when we moved to China! Wow. Time is flying by too quickly. She's moved up to the second floor of the primary school building. (with the Small Big Kids)
27 October -
Yesterday I went to the large veggie market, Ti Bei, with my Chinese teacher, Lia. I've been curious to try new (to me) vegetables but the trouble is - how to the heck to prepare them? That's why we took our Chinese lesson to the veggie market.
By the way, I have tried on my own to ask what things are called in the market and I've even tried asking how to eat them BUT until yesterday I wasn't able to understand the answers.
We spent one hour walking around the veggie market- barely scratching the surface. So many unknown veggies, not enough time!
I bought a few varieties to try: fresh bamboo shoots (zhu sun) along with mushrooms, taro root (yu tou), water chestnuts (bi qi), winter squash (chang nan gua), and some greens (no idea what they're called; I think they're sweet pea shoots...tasted like it anyway).
I didn't manage to take any photos at the market: not enough hands! (busy shuffling between taking notes and managing my purse)
Here's what I bought at the market...like I said there are TONS of veggies to try; I just sampled a few:
I was told to peel and thinly slice the bamboo shoot and stir fry it with some mushrooms or meat. I bought mushrooms along with the bamboo. I did a little reading on the internet on bamboo shoots and I read that they're supposed to be cooked thoroughly due to an acid so I decided to peel and boil it before adding it to the stir fry. Along with the mushrooms and bamboo shoot I also stir fried cubed tofu. It ended up a quite tasty dish!
Water chestnuts:I would have never guessed these are what water chestnuts start out looking like! They always come in tin cans. You wash & peel them and you can eat them raw or stir fry them (chao yi xia). We tried them raw- crunchy & not our favorite. I think next time we'll add them to stir fry.
Small taro roots:
I was told you're supposed to first wash these, then steam them (unpeeled) until soft (when poked with a chopstick). Once they're soft they easily pop out of their skins. Slice them and eat with a little bit of sugar. It's got a weird texture (it's VERY starchy; read: slimy) but it's nice with the little added sugar.
Here's chang nan gua (or at least that's what I think they called it). It's one of the MANY kinds of winter squash they have here. They just don't seem to have any pumpkins! This particular variety you buy by the kilo (they cut off how much you want...I'm pretty sure this variety of winter squash is the kind that grows HUGE.
They told me to slice the squash and steam it. I don't remember what seasoning I was supposed to use. Lia also told me it makes an excellent soup (tang...which is also the same word for sugar- so imagine my confusion when we're talking about how to prepare the veggies).
I have bought and used this winter squash variety before- I've baked it. It's a nice replacement for butternut squash. Yum!
Here are the greens I bought:
See? Don't those look like pea shoots? They do to me and they taste like it too...although my ayi disagreed. I didn't quite understand how to prepare them (I think you're supposed to quickly cook them). I ended up doing a super quick stir fry (chao yi xia) with a little garlic (suan), sesame oil and soy sauce. Yummy!!!