Category: Africa

Webinar: The Variety of South Africa

Last week I attended an on-line seminar entitled the Variety of South Africa through GoWay Travel.  It is a destination that I’d love to travel to with my children in the future, so I thought it would be good to find out a bit about the country and options available.  It sounds like it would be a good place to take kids as long as they can handle the long plane ride from North America (17.5 hours from New York) .  I couldn’t imagine doing this with a young child but older children could probably handle it.  Currently South African Airways flies from NY and Washington via Senegal to Johanesburg.  Other alternatives are via London then Johannesburg or flying Emirates to Dubai ( 12.5 hours) and then another 8.5 to Cape Town. 

Once you’ve arrived, there are several game parks to choose from.  The Kruger National Park is the most popular, however you must take anti-malarial medication if you choose this one.   A safari in many of the large game parks, would be thrilling for children of any age but many only accept children over the age of six such as  Manyatta Rock Camp that offers elephant back safaris.   You will see, lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, hippos, zebras,  as well as many bird species.  Some of the parks located near the Eastern Cape and Madikwe region are in a malaria free zone and therefore do not require that you take anti-malarial medication.  Some parks in the Eastern Cape will only accept children age 6 and over but  the lodges and safaris in the Madikwe area are very family friendly, such as Jaci’s Tree Lodge.  Some lodges have packages where the first child stays free. 

In Capetown, Table Mountain stands over the city and can be visited by a revolving cable car.  There are penguins to visit at Cape Point, beaches nearby and lots to see in the city itself.  The Garden route is an area with beautiful countryside and lots of physical activities to do.  There is whale watching, Oudsthorn has ostridges that you can ride and Cango Caves to visit.  St. Lucia Wetlands, further up the coast are a breeding ground for turtles, so if you plan your trip right you may be able to witness this event.

 Overall, this seminar was informative, although ofcourse they were discussing primarily the accomodations which they sell on their site.  The information about the country was good and it was a quick and easy way to get an overview and talk directly to people who’ve been there before.  I’ve booked through this company before as they often have really good deals on long haul flights.  Recently they advertised Buy 1 Get 1 Free tickets from NY to South Africa at $1099 for 2 tickets! ( plus many taxes and surcharges) Still a really good deal.

Itinerary Series: Morocco

A journey to Morocco requires the following characteristics in a traveler:

1.  The ability to keep your wits about you as your mind is assaulted with a flurry of sensory experiences.  Fragrant odors wafting from every street vendor and spice market, constant commentary from the street tout that will follow you relentlessly throughout town and high pressure sales pitches to buy ‘beautiful carpets’.

2.  A willingness to change your itinerary at some point or multiple points during your trip as dictated by your bowels.

3.  An appreciation for the stillness that will come, after you’ve watched the sunset over a Saharan dune and are relaxing under the starry sky.

Morocco is a country rich in culture and culinary experiences, not to mention fascinating shopping adventures.  We traveled to Morocco in 2007 using the 2 week itinerary below but I will recommend a shorter duration when traveling with children.  The experience will be amazing but perhaps a bit intense for long periods of time.  If I return with my daughter, I would go to Marrakesh and stay in a hotel in the Ville Nouvelle or Hivernage area that has a swimming pool.  It is still close enough to the medina that you could walk or take a quick taxi ride in to see the snake charmers and performers at the  Djemaa-el-Fna.  At night the stalls sell all types of food, but some fun ones for kids to see would include the goats heads.  Marrakesh has lots of culture and educational experiences but it also has waterparks and camel rides to keep the kids happy.  After Marrakesh, I would fly to Ouarzazate and arrange a camel trek and overnight in a tented camp in the desert.

For those who are interested in a 2 week itinerary, here it is:

Day 1- International flights from North America, often arrive in Casablanca.  If you can get one to Fes directly, I would recommend it.
Rent a Car in Casablanca ( airport ).  Drive to Fes. Stay at Dar Roumana in the Qarmosa Suite.  Fes is an ancient labyrinth where you can enjoy getting lost as you walk past interesting stalls and shops.  There are some good restaurants and you can visit a tannery to see where they dye the leather. 

Day 2
Transfer to Batha Hotel in Fes.  (Dar Roumana was beautiful but booked the other 2 nights.  Batha Hotel was very basic but had a swimming pool and a better location for walking at night.) Spend your time getting lost in the medina, shopping along the way and sampling some food.

Day 3-6
Drive from Fes to Merzouga.  Pass through the middle Altas mountains, stop in Ifrane, a town that looks like it should be in Switzerlimg_0663_editedand.  Continue on to drive through beautiful palmeries until you reach the desert.  Stay at Kasbah Derkaoua for 2 nights and spend one night in bivouac under stars in desert after a camel trek to get there.

Day 6
Drive through Todra Gorge and do some hiking.  Stay overnight  outside Ouazarzate at Chez Talout.  The dining terrace overlooked a palmerie, riverbed and village which we enjoyed walking through the next day.  

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Day 7

Drive from Ouazarzate to Marrakesh
1 night at Riad Nejma Lounge (this riad was a bit far away from the main tourist areas but nice place to stay).  Shop, dine and be entertained at Djemaa El-Fna, wander the medina, visit medersas and view mosques.

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Day 8
Transfer to Jnane Mogador in Marrakesh 2 nights

Day 10
Atlas Mountains – hiking and camping ( this part of our trip had to be cancelled due to gastrointestinal upset)

Day 12-14

Drive to the Atlantic coast, visit the town of Essaouira.  Continue on to Oualidia and stay at Hotel-Restaurant L’initiale.  Relax on the beach and enjoy meals of fresh seafood served by locals on the beach or at nearby restaurants.

Day 14- Drive back to Casablanca for return flight home.

Dreaming of Street Meat

The world is full of tasty delights.  While sitting down to a meal in a nice restaurant can be a great way to end the day, there are lots of other options that are easier on the pocket book and sometimes end up being the food you remember most about a country.  In many places ” Fast-Food” doesn’t involve looking for the golden arches, it is available direct from a local entrepreneur and prepared fresh in front of you.  My husband and I , affectionately call this ” street meat ” because the first time we encountered it, we were terrified that it would make us sick.  It turns out however, that every time we have been sick while traveling, it was after eating at a nice restaurant.

There are of course some guidelines, you need to follow, to ensure that the food is safe for your family to eat.  Always be sure that meat products were properly stored.  Watch to see if it is removed from an ice chest and make sure it is cooked fresh in front of you and hasn’t been sitting out for a while.  When possible, bring your own mug or glass, because re-usable drinking cups may not be washed in safe or hot water.

The following is a list of some of the best street food I’ve enjoyed.  Whenever I get home from traveling, I always want to eat like this but it seems that the key to these regional specialties is the availability of fresh food which we don’t often have access to in North America.

1.  Fresh Fruit, Bangkok, Thailand.- Fresh pineapple and melons on ice are peddled around in glass carts and sold on street corners.buying-fruit

2.  Corn over charcoal- Chaing Mai, Thailand.

3.  Donairs, Halifax, Canada- Atlantic Canadian version like the usual doner kebab, but uses a slightly sweet milk-based garlic sauce and tomatoes/onions. It should be very soaked and sloppy when served.

4.  Grilled mystery meat on any street corner in Asia.

5.  Fresh Seafood on the beach in Oualidia, Morocco.- The fisherman will come around to take your order then set up a BBQ and grill it right in front of you. Oysters are also on this impromptu menu if you are so inclined.Fish in Oalidia

6.  Orange Juice in Djamaa El Fna, Marrakesh- freshly squeezed but I recommend your own glass.

7.  Red Tea Djamaa El Fna, Marrakesh.

8.  Mint Tea, Fez, Morocco.- Made with green tea and fresh mint leaves steeped in you own tea pot with lots of sugar and poured using a special technique into what look like large shot glasses.

9.  Cheese, bread and sausages-Portugal, Spain, France and Italy- A staple found in any market, bakery etc.

10. Gyros,  Corfu, Greece.  – Consisting of meat (typically lamb and/or beef), tomato, onion, and tzatziki sauce, and is served in pita bread.

Meals to Remember- The Best Food in the World

During this festive season, I’ve been doing a lot of eating and it seems that food begets food.  The more I eat, the more I think about what my next culinary delight is going to be, and so I have been reflecting on some of the best meals I’ve ever had and whether or not I could re-create them.  This is unlikely since, although I love to eat food, I have little time or patience for actually preparing it.  I guess that is why all of the meals on my list, are those that were cooked by someone else!

This will be one of the many posts I will have about food.  The following list is meant to get your taste buds watering.  They are not in any particular order, just the order in which I am recalling each feast.

1.  La Quebecoise, La Paz, Bolivia- On a dark, tree-lined street, where each quaint home, building and business has a wraught-iron fence and a bell to ring to be received at the front door.  It was my birthday, 2003, and we decided to try out this homey French Canadian restaurant, found so far away from home.  Regrettably, I don’t remember the exact name of the dish I had, but I remember it resembled cannelloni and was served with fresh baked bread and good wine.  This restaurant is highly recommended for a date night!

2.  Happy Campground, Rome, Italy- Home cooked meals prepared by the family that owns this campground, were served on a porch or at tables set in amidst the greenery.  Between my husband and I we tried most of the pastas on the menu and they were all so flavorful that we didn’t want to eat anywhere else.  Great place to take your kids as menu was mainly pastas and pizzas that they would enjoy.  The campground had a nice pool and provided transportation to the train station into the city.

3.  Forodhani Gardens ( Night Market ), Stonetown, Zanzibar, Tanzania- This is the place that I learned to like seafood.  Every night the fishermen set up food stalls and charcoal grills ready to prepare their catch of the day.  The choices are endless.  I tried crab for the first time, and have never again tasted anything like it.  It was so fresh, and right off the boat.  I also had kebabs of flounder, swordfish and other delicacies of the sea.  I tried the Zanzibari pizza too.  I will put a disclaimer on this that I got sick following this meal, however none of my other 3 traveling companions did, even though we all ate the same thing.  Even though I paid for this meal after the fact, I am still putting it on my list because it was that good!  Oh, and it was also probably the cheapest feast I have ever had.

4.  Freeman’s on the Alley, New York City, USA –  My meal was a chicken dish that is no longer on the menu, however, my husband ordered the ‘Seared Filet Mignon’ which was to die for.  It was so simple, yet so tasty. It came with a whole roasted onion and a large dollop of horseradish cream.  I’m salivating just thinking of it.  It was also reasonably priced for NYC at $24.   We shared the restaurant with Mike Myers where I had to restrain myself from going to his table and reciting ‘Git in ma belly’ or that will cost ‘ One Million Dollars’.  Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings) was also in the restaurant that evening.

5.  Bha Bha, A Persion Bistro, Naples, Florida- Located in a strip mall but elegantly decorated, this bistro was a delightful surprise!  I went with my family so was able to try a wide variety of fragrant dishes all served over saffron basmati rice.  I would recommend, Shireen Polo with Saffron poached chicken, Duck Fesenjune (a succulent orange braised duck with pomegranate and walnut sauce), and Lamb Bademjune ( done in tomato lemon sauce with eggplants and sour grapes ).  This restaurant was also very accomodating for our baby.

6.  The Press Gang, Halifax, NS, Canada- There are many restaurants in Halifax, I’d like to list but that will have to be a separate post.  For now, I’d like to highlight the Sweet Potato and Blackened Scallop Chowder and Flourless  Chocolate Espresso Cake I enjoyed at this cosy restaurant located in an historic building.

7.  Bar des Imagens/Costa do Castelo, Lisbon, Portugal-  The outdimg_1500oor patio has spawling views of the city and a casual relaxed atmosphere.  The food was prepared with such care.  Suprisingly my husband daughter and I had the restaurant to ourselves most of the evening as we dined.  I ordered a salad prepared with greens, beets, mixed vegies, goat cheese, garlic and oil.  The main course was a chicken dish and then we splurged on a chocolate dessert that melted in my mouth.  I wish we’d had another night so we could go back there!

I haven’t even started to share my favorite Asian cuisine but I think I’ll leave it at that for now.  I’m craving so many things I’m going to have to sign off, while I go make a snack.  I hope your holidays are filled with good food and good company.  Don’t forget to make a donation to your local food bank so that the less fortunate can also eat well this holiday season.  Bon Appetit!


 

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