Visiting Cape Town, South Africa – Part I

First, let me apologize for the extended delay between both South Africa posts and posts in general. Some weeks I manage to balance things better than others and the last couple of weeks (with the end of the academic year) have been harder to manage. But alas, here I am and here you are…Hello!

Jumping back into our South Africa adventure, we left the Cradle of Humankind on a Monday morning and flew to Cape Town via Kulula Airlines. Our other choice of airline was Mango (affiliated with South Africa Airways), but the Kulula flight matched our travel preferences better, so off we went in the bright green jet.DSC_2342

Upon landing in Cape Town, we purchased shuttle tickets with the MyCiti Airport shuttle service (for only about $6 per person), which took us to Cape Town city center. From there, we had our guest house (the Albatross Guest House) arrange for a cab driver to pick us up in his minibus. This arrangement was strategic – the guest house knows exactly how much it should cost to take us from location A to B, so the cabbie isn’t inclined to rip them off. We just reimbursed the guest house upon our arrival and didn’t have to worry about negotiating with a driver.

After having spent almost a week in the company of Jimmy from DGV Transport (with his plush minibus and incredibly gracious service and company), it felt quite odd indeed to ride in an older minibus with a complete stranger. It’s funny how we all grew so close to Jimmy in our relatively short time with him. I think it’s because he was so tolerant of us and was so incredibly accommodating. Jimmy, if you’re reading this – we miss you!

Alas, I digress. Back to Cape Town. After our awkward drive with the strange driver, we arrived at our Guest House. While Albatross was a modest guest house, it was comfortable enough and it had one major thing going for it – location, location, location! Just two blocks from the ocean and 10 steps from a Hop On, Hop Off tour bus stop, we were right exactly where we needed to be to get the most out of Cape Town.

Since we arrived relatively early in the day, the first thing we did was to take the city bus (just plain ol’ public transportation) to the V&A Waterfront (about 3-4 miles from the guest house). We passed a stadium that was built for the World Cup on our way there.

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As you can tell, it was a beautiful day and the V&A Waterfront was hopping indeed.

DSC_2349The Waterfront is the height of luxury that reminded me very much of the ritzy parts of South Florida. There were yachts aplenty, an extensive upscale mall and even a ferris wheel. We were far more concerned with one thing, though – food! Being situated directly on the water, there were no shortage of seafood restaurants there – I was in heaven.

DSC_2347What’s more, the food in Cape Town was relatively inexpensive, which we found to be true in the entire country. My 20 piece sushi/sashimi combo (pictured above) was only about $20. What’s more – that was the most expensive meal I ate for the entire trip. It was far more typical to spend $10 per meal, even for steak.

After we lingered over our meal and walked around the Waterfront for a bit, we decided to walk back to our guest house. It was such a gorgeous day and we had all the time in the world, so a 4 mile stroll seemed the perfect end to our day.

DSC_2357We arrived back at our street just in time to watch the sunset. It was magical.

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We settled in for the evening and woke up early on Tuesday for a busy day – our plans included taking a ferry out to Robben Island. This was my most anticipated part of the trip. I could not wait.

The ferry launches from the V&A Waterfront, so we made our way back there, grabbed some lunch and prepared to depart. This was the sign posted at our point of departure.

DSC_2387After a 40 minute ferry ride, we disembarked on the island that was first a leper colony and then a prison reminiscent of our own Alcatraz.

DSC_2388We passed by the guard tower on our way to our bus, which was the first part of our tour.

DSC_2389As we loaded onto our bus, I noticed that there was an inscription on the side. It said: The journey’s never long when freedom’s the destination.

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The bus took us around the entire island and we got to stretch our feet at one point with a breathtaking view of Table Mountain. Here’s me and my mom (or “Momma C” as the students christened her).DSC_2402

The bus finally made its way back to the highlight of our tour – the prison facility. What’s remarkable about the prison tour portion of the excursion was that our tour guide was himself a former political prisoner who served 8 years at Robben Island.

DSC_2417He spoke to us about his own struggles, but he also walked us around the facility – sharing both history and memories.

The portion of the prison with dorm-style housing.
The portion of the prison with dorm-style housing.
Nelson Mandela's former cell.
Nelson Mandela’s former cell.
The long walk to freedom - making our way out of the prison block.
The long walk to freedom – making our way out of the prison block.

As we walked out of the prison facility and made our way back to the boat, we passed by the iconic sign that thousands of prisoners viewed with dispair.

DSC_2431As the tour wound down, I reflected on my own convictions. Is there any right on this earth that I feel passionately enough about that I’m willing to go to prison for? To die for? Robben Island was the one stop on this South African adventure that transformed me back into the role of student instead of professor. I’m humbled by the resolution of those who fought for the right to be treated equally, yet frustrated by the fact that this equality is yet to be realized. Will it ever be realized? I don’t know. What I do know is that the country of South Africa is beautiful and complicated, as rich in history as it is in natural resources.

I’m so thankful that I finally got to visit Robben Island. It truly was everything that I thought it would be. Stay tuned for Part II – our visit to Table Mountain (oh and cue the ominous music – it was intense!).

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My Latest Insanity: Training for a Half Ironman

Those of you who have been reading for a while know one very fundamental thing about me: I’m certifiably nuts (particularly when it comes to exercise). I blame it on being a competitive swimmer for half of my life, but unless I have a big fitness goal to work towards, I’m like a lost ship at sea. I feel listless, grumpy, out of sorts.

However, the second that I pick a race of any magnitude, everything comes into focus. I feel calm, determined, happy. I was thinking about the root cause of this phenomenon and I think it all comes back two things:

(1) I have a goal-oriented personality. I have never been a spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl. I’ve tried to be that person and it just makes me a nervous wreck. I’ve come to terms with it. Hello, my name is Cyn and I’m a scheduler. I schedule everything – work, leisure, cleaning,… It’s OCD, but it works for me.

(2) My childhood was ruled by the calendar (starting at the age of 7). My swim team handed out a calendar every month. It had each day’s workouts written on it, planned swim meets, and even suggested caloric intake. In short, everything in my life (literally everything), revolved around getting those pool workouts in.

Those habits die hard and the second that I have one month worth of workouts written down, I feel an incredible sense of relief. I know what you’re thinking, “Um, shouldn’t you be telling this to a therapist?” Rest assured my friends, one of my besties is a clinical psychologist and she assures me that all is well. It’s just learned behavior.

Okay, now that I’ve spelled out how and why I’m certifiably nuts, let’s get to my latest venture: The Half Ironman. In case you’re not up with the latest triathlon lingo, a half Ironman is a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile run. I briefly flitted with the idea of doing a full Ironman (so 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile run), but there’s a really good chance that I would have killed myself in the process. The full would have been a bit too much of a good thing (if you’ll recall what I went through to finish a full marathon 4 years ago), so I thought the half Ironman was a good goal to have. It met my necessary criteria – it is challenging, but doable and I definitely need to train for it.

That training started this week. Here’s my May training plan:

May workout scheduleWhile I’m going to do my best to stick with this schedule strictly, let’s be real. Life happens. I have a full-time job, a husband and two children. Sometimes, I don’t get to drop everything to make sure that I get in a workout. So the way that I’m approaching it is that each day’s workout is not set in stone. Instead, I’m focusing on the number of each type of workout (swim, bike or run) that I need to get in on any given week. So if I miss the swim one day, I’ll make it up the next day so long as I still get three swims in a week. Make sense?

So far, getting into a groove has been the hardest part of starting this latest craziness. On day 1, I forgot my ID card needed to get into the pool so I had to switch the swim to a run and yesterday, I had a hell of a time getting my bike set up properly on the bike trainer (seriously, it took me like an hour) so I had to cut my ride short. Today, I forgot my swim cap (good thing I have short hair!), but I swam anyway. Oi vey.

These are the kinks and hiccups associated with any new schedule, but I’m happy to say that in spite of the week 1 errors, my head is in the game. I feel grounded, focused and ready to tackle this. I have four months to train and whenever I start to get tired (which is often!), I just remember how good it feels to be strong. I’m not the fastest by far and I certainly don’t have any delusions that I’ll do this in record time, but I’m a finisher and nothing in this world feels more satisfying than cross a finish line after the end of a grueling battle of mind over matter. That feeling, my friends, is worth every 5am wake up and every sore muscle. Promise.

 

Tiny Dancer

Lordy, help us. Our house has been taken over by all things ballerina. Tutus, Swan Lake (as performed by the Paris Opera Ballet) on repeat and dancing. Lots of dancing. While our sweet Lexi can’t start taking classes for another year, she’s content to wear her tutus to school, twirl for anyone who will watch and dance the day away. Is this a preview of what’s to come for many years or is this a phase? Only time will tell. For now, we’ll just enjoy the insane amounts of cuteness that comes with a toddler in a tutu.

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Stuffed Mushrooms: A Gift From The Gods

This week officially marks the last week of my semester. Halle-freakin-lujah! It has been an amazing semester, but an incredibly busy one as well. I can’t tell you what a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders now that things are winding to a close. I feel relaxed, satisfied with another academic year under my belt.

I think part of my peace of mind comes from finally feeling settled in our house. There’s a calm here that is soothing. If houses have souls, ours has the soul of a happy retiree rocking away on the front porch. Sure, the kids run around like maniacs and the Irishman and I can scarcely hear each other over the combined cacophony of the Phineas and Ferb sountrack and our barking dogs, but for some reason, I’m not nearly as frazzled by it as I should be. Or perhaps it’s just that my wine consumption has increased. Either way, things feel good right now.

The first visible sign that I’m feeling back in control of things is that I start cooking again. Or rather, that I start experimenting and trying new recipes again. My parents arrived in town a couple of days ago and we finally picked a patio set for the deck (pictures to come soon) so we decided to grill burgers and shrimp on the deck. While we were having our usual baked potato and salad for a side, I wanted to try something new as well.

I found these beautiful, large stuffing mushrooms at our local grocery store so I decided to make baked stuffed mushrooms.

Hello lovelies.
Hello lovelies.

The next step was figuring out what the heck to stuff them with. So, I did what I usually do: I looked at about 20 different online recipes and then I checked the contents of my fridge. The resulting recipe is the brain child of this method and man, it was good.

Here’s what you need:

About 1 dozen large mushrooms wiped clean (gently remove the stems and reserve)
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup onion
6 oz. whipped cream cheese
1/4 cup or so grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
drizzle of olive oil

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees (I started at 375, but the mushrooms started to brown too quickly). Go ahead and dice your mushroom stems, garlic and onion. Next, heat your olive oil over medium high heat in a saute pan. Once the oil is hot, add in the mushrooms, garlic and onion and saute for about 4 minutes.

Cook, baby, cook!
Cook, baby, cook!

In a separate bowl, add in your cream cheese and Parmesan cheese. I prefer the whipped variety of cream cheese because it’s easier to stir and work with, but you could use regular cream cheese just as easily. Once your veggies are done sautéing, add them into your cheese mixture and add in salt and pepper (to taste) as well.

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Once you’ve thoroughly mixed the filling, go ahead and spoon it into the mushroom caps.

mushroom4In case you were wondering, I have the mushroom caps sitting on a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper, which is my favorite non-stick cooking surface. You could use foil or just grease the pan as well. Now, pop these beauties into the preheated oven and cook them anywhere from 15-25 minutes (it all depends on the size of the mushrooms). I started checking them at 15 minutes, but the cheese filling wasn’t bubbly until 25 minutes – these suckers were huge!

mushrooms5Most of my recipes generally get a couple rounds of tinkering before I decide to share them with you, but these stuffed mushrooms were so tasty and so simple to throw together that I wanted you to have the recipe immediately. Hope you enjoy!