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Author Archives: LFThomas10

About LFThomas10

I'm a second year Masters candidate, working on a degree in International Affairs at George Washington University. In my third semester I've decided to cast off my ties and have traveled to South Africa for a semester at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. This blog is here to document my stay, and hopefully give friends, family and visitors an insider's view of Africa.

Holiday Day 8 – Last Day of Fun

Whoa, guys.  Apologies for my absence, but I have spent the last week writing the first of three papers I have due in the next two weeks.  At least this is much more pleasant than paper writing.

So, on our last day in Cape Town, which was a Saturday, we got up early and met Georgie in town at the Neighbourgoods Market which is held at the Old Biscuit Mill in town close to the waterfront.  The market was amazing.  There are two components to the market, basically clothing, jewelry, antiques, handmade goods, etc.  And then there’s the FOOD.  The amount of stands that were set up for food and beverage were astounding, and everything looked amazing.

The first thing we did was grab a cocktail.  Jacob went with a locally brewed beer, Georgie had a mojito and I had a strawberry mule, which was basically a strawberry mojito with ginger beer.  We then walked around the clothing and jewelry area of the market. This part had a lot of local designers, which was great to see.  Sadly, everything was far out of my budget so I did not purchase anything.  In fact, clothing in general in South Africa is super expensive.  There’s no equivalent to our Forever 21 or H&M, which is probably a good thing, since my suitcase was already pretty full when I came over here.

After we were done with this, it was definitely time to move onto food.  We stopped at an organic chocolate shop, and while Jacob bought dark chocolate bars (definitely not my favorite) I opted for candies and truffles.  I could seriously eat 2 pounds of chocolate candy in one sitting.  I’m pretty sure I have at one point or another.  My favorite from their collection was one that they hadn’t named yet, but it tasted exactly like a pancake wrapped in chocolate.  I was lucky I only bought one, I would have eaten those for days. We then did a loop of the food market to decide what to eat.  It is gigantic.  The variety was amazing.  On offer were breads and pastries, meats and cheeses, sandwiches, crepes, belgian waffles, omelets, pizzas, flatbreads, curries, chinese food, sausages, indian food, smoothies…and even New York bagels.  I didn’t try one, but to be perfectly honest they didn’t look quite right.  But it’s hard to get bagels like they are in New York.  I can’t wait to shove one in my face when I get back.

Georgie got a sandwich and Jacob and I got a crepe and a belgian waffle.  I ordered a waffle that had bacon and maple syrup on it, and the woman making them said, “Sweet and savory…that’s very American you know.”  I think I know something about it, Ma’am.  Definitely made me chuckle.  Jacob and I then loaded up on supplies for our next activity of the day, which was a 4 hour whale watching trip.  We got sandwiches, bread and cheese and some sweets, including some of the most delicious macarons I’ve ever had.

We said goodbye to Georgie and headed down to the V & A Waterfront to embark on our whale watching adventure.  We were on a nice big boat which offered lots of room for relaxation.  I think I love being on boats more than I love being on land, so it was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.  We also got to see amazing views of Capetown and the north coast from the water.  Sadly, we didn’t end up seeing any whales, but we did see dolphins!  I’ve never seen dolphins in the wild so it was very exciting for me.

We ended the day with a sundowner in Camps Bay, right on the beach at a bar call the Sandbar.  We enjoyed fancy cocktails while watching the sun go down along with the people on the beach, and it was a perfect way to end our vacation.  It’s true that a sunset in Cape Town is unlike any other, and the sun setting perfectly over the water was an amazing sight to see.

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Holiday Day 7 – Cape Town Fun

On the Friday of our vacation, Jacob and I got up and met my friend Georgie at her flat in town.  I met Georgie through Keri, as they went to high school together, but she is now at the University of Cape Town.  Georgie took us up to Lionshead, which we were planning on hiking.  Lionshead is a peak right next to Table Mountain, aptly named as it looks like…a lion’s head.  I’m sure that there’s a large sample of people out there who think that it’s blasphemous that we skipped Table Mountain and just did Lionshead.  However, hiking Lionshead, while still strenuous, requires only about 2 hours, compared with the 4-8 that it requires to hike up and back Table Mountain.  Table Mountain also requires a guide, as there are multiple ways to get up there and no easy path.  Finally, I hate cable cars so I was not about to take that up and back.  Sorry, I felt the need to explain myself.

So, we got to the bottom of Lionshead and hiked our way up.  The beginning of the path is steep but wide.  However, as you get higher it gets much more narrow and precarious.  I am a clumsy person by nature, so I took serious caution as we ascended.  We also chose to take the path that involves rock climbing and the use of chains to help yourself up, which is way more fun than just walking.  When we made it to the top, the view was outrageous.  You could see all the way up and down the coast, the Twelve Apostles, which are the peaks to the south of Table Mountain, Robben Island and miles of ocean.  After about 10 minutes of admiring the landscape we hiked back down.  We decided to drive up Signal Hill, which has another area at the top which afforded some lovely views.  By this point we were starving so we headed into town for lunch.

Georgie took us to a place downtown called Beluga, which had awesome sushi and delicious char siu duck buns.  We also indulged in a post-workout beer and then decided it was time to take a nap before evening festivites.  For dinner, Jacob and I headed to the Bombay Bicycle Club in downtown Cape Town.  It’s a kitchy type of restaurant that’s heavily decorated, and the serving staff is casual and lightly costumed.  Along with being a fun atmosphere, the food was really good.  We started with fried camembert, and then I had eggplant parmesan.  However, Jacob’s dish was the best.  It was their specialty, which is a chocolate-chili sauce over a filet.  Almost like a molé sauce, except the chocolate was more pronounced and there was a good amount of spice.  So good.

Georgie met us for dessert and a drink, and then we headed out to party.  We went to Fez Club, which apparently has been recently renovated.  The club was huge, with a big, elaborately decorated dance floor.  There was also a nice rooftop area when we needed some air, cause it was seriously crowded.  The club had kind of a burlesque-y vibe.  There was a girl who came out on a trapeze over the crowd while we were dancing.  There was also a girl with some kind of glow-ropes.  Finally, the most hilarious act of the night appeared.  These were two girls, one dressed in white lingerie and one in black lingerie, but they were wearing Darth Vader and Stormtrooper helmets.  They were also toting light sabers.  It was like every nerd’s ultimate fantasy.

Needless to say, the night was pretty entertaining.  At about one we decided to go home however, because we were feeling a little old.  The drinking age in South Africa is 18, and I’m pretty sure everybody in that club was more like 16.  I started to miss New York, where I still feel pretty young on the bar scene. Anywho, we had an early start planned for the next day, so we decided to head home and turn in.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Holiday Day 6 – Fancy Dinner # 2

After a long day of wine tasting and a good nap, a Jacob and I were ready for our next dinner.  Our friends Greg and Roger were in town for the South African advertising awards, and made plans to join us at La Colombe, on the Constantia Uitsig wine farm.  A couple of years back, La Colombe was voted No. 12 on the Pellegrino 50 best restaurants in the world, so needless to say we knew we were in for a treat.

The atmosphere at La Colombe was quite different than the Roundhouse.  While the food and service were still of the highest caliber, the ambiance was much more laid back and casual, which I quite enjoyed.  The servers were very conversational, while at the same time super knowledgeable about the food.  The best part was the open kitchen, which gave the dining room more of an alive vibe and you got to see the cooks at work, which I always love.

We started off with a bottle of sparkling wine from Constantia-Uitsig, made in the traditional Champagne style, because it’s one of their specialties and it was lovely.  Unfortunately, my stomach was being uncooperative, so that was all the wine that I had for the evening and it was perfect.  We each had 3 courses with a little palate cleanser in between the first and second course.

For my first course I had pan fried foie gras with seared quail breast, a confit quail leg, quince puree, parnsip crisps, caramelized endive and a quail and quince jus.  OMG I could eat that dish every day, it was amazing.  Jacob had scallops with langoustine glazed confit pork belly, smoked parsnip puree, black forest ham veloute, crisp pork crackling and lemon and pea dressing.  Equally as delicious.

For our palate cleansers I had a pineapple granita with a pina colada cream, while jacob had a granny smith apple granita with a calvados foam.  Really nice break from all of the richness.

For our main courses, Jacob had a sous vide filet of veal, warm ballotine of morel mushrooms and sweet breads, steamed langoustine, buttered pomme puree, pea salad and black forest ham salad, and mustard beurre blanc.  Again, another amazing dish.

Finally for our desserts, the table split three.  First was a rose panna cotta, which was not my favorite because I don’t love panna cotta and I don’t love rose flavored things, so that was kind of a wash for me.  However, the other two were amazing.  There was a terrine of chocolate and peanut butter with apricot puree and a chocolate sorbet.  It tasted like a candy bar and was amazing.  Chocolate and peanut butter is not a big combo over here…no reese’s to be found anywhere 😦 so I was thrilled to have this dessert.  Second was a tonka bean creme that was served inside of a chocolate cigar and served with a spice cake.  Tonka bean is a South American bean that has notes of vanilla and almond to it, and it made for a perfect custard.

Finally, once again we were brought a giant petits fours tray to pick off of with the bill.  There was turkish delight, coconut marshmallows, madeleines, an incredibly rich chocolate truffle, and meringues.  They also brought some homemade caramels, which are definitely my weakness.  It was really a perfect meal.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Careers Evening

I am going to interrupt the relating back of my vacation experiences to write a blurb on an event tonight on campus.  The event was a Careers Evening, put on by the South African Institute of International Affairs.  The format was pretty standard: come in, grab some brochures and talk to some organizations, and listen to a presentation from 4 present practitioners in the general field of international affairs, followed by a q & a session.  In this case there were 2 presenters from government, both civil and foreign service, 1 presenter from the private sector and 1 presenter in media who is a director and broadcaster on one of the news channels here.

Some of the presentation was very similar to what I’ve encountered back home.  Build up your skill set, with important skills being writing, networking, adaptability, communication, research, etc.  Understand that your career path may take many different turns as it’s not like being a doctor or a lawyer, where you pretty much know what job you’re going to be doing for your entire career.  Yes, I’ve heard this all before.

What was more striking to me were issues that were more specifically African, as well as some of the attitudes that were presented.  As an outsider it gave me incredible insight into what people like me are facing here, and the ways in which they approach career building and job searches.  Africa, and here specifically South Africa, are different from America in that the economies, government and countries are still relatively new compared to the rest of the world.  There are amazing opportunities for young people as the economy and different sectors are expanding.  Especially skilled labor has a unique opportunity to grow quickly within a career in a way that isn’t as easily achievable in America.  At the same time, entrepreneurial activity is skyrocketing on the continent.  Uganda has the highest percentage of new entrepreneurs this year in the world, and South Africa is fourth on that list, according to one of the presenters.  Entrepreneurs are something that can easily be associated with American business, but Africans are making it into their own beyond just business into things like social entrepreneurial efforts.

Yet everybody in the room had the same concerns that we all do.  How do I get a job?  What do I do if I don’t get a job?  How can I help a career to grow and adapt while still doing my best work?  The most humbling experience for me was the presenters looking at this group of students and telling them to lose their sense of entitlement.  They made it quite clear that you’re going to have to start from the bottom, copying briefs and making copies in order to move forward.  And if you’re not able to immediately get a job in the arena that you want, maybe you have to go flip burgers or shovel fish (the presenter’s words, not mine, haha) until you do get an opportunity to use your education.  Whoa.  They are addressing a room of South African students, many of whom have come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have been able to acquire an education for themselves.  Many of them will be supporting their families with whatever job they manage to get, and in an economy where unemployment is at least 30%.  And yet, they are being told to understand where they are in their life and be willing to build from the bottom.

I wish more Americans had been there for this seminar.  I know that sometimes I fall into a trap of entitlement, and I’m sure that my colleagues at GW, who mind you are very well educated and experienced but often still young, feel the same way.  And yet our unemployment isn’t even half of South Africa’s, the opportunities available to us are considerably more diverse and better paying, and even the crappy jobs aren’t actually that crappy.  I was grateful for the reality check that I received, and once again am reminded that it takes hard work, humility and a little bit of luck here and there to get where you want to go.  I’m fortunate to be where I am, receiving an education, studying in a foreign country and learning from the diverse group of people around me.  I hope that I can bring a little bit of that back home to spread around.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Holiday Day 6 – Wine Country

On Thursday it was time for wine tasting.  The most famous region for wine tasting in the Cape is Stellenbosch, but at the recommendation of a friend who had been in the area a year prior, we headed towards Swartland instead, which is a little bit more north and west.  This turned out to be a great choice.  This region is more up in the farmlands in the area, and many of the wineries are on farms that exist for other purposes as well, like wheat or beef.  The nice thing was that we were seeing more boutique kind of wineries and the people who were pouring the tastes for us were the actual winemakers.

The first stop we visited was Nassau Winery, although the wines are bottled under the Black Ridge Label.  We met the farmer and winemaker, who was unbelievably welcoming and kind.  He and his father own the land and the grapes, and the winery is relatively new.  Immediately he brings out 6 bottles of wine for us to try.  My eyes popped out of my head because I was driving and it was only 10:00 in the morning.  However, we jumped right into it.  We tried a 2010 sauvignon blanc and a chenin blanc, and then moved into a 2007 cabernet, shiraz, pinot noir, and a cab/mourvedre blend which is a popular blend out here.  I will not bore you with our tasting notes, but the wines were refined and delicious.  We had a great conversation with the winemaker about the farm, his family, what he does out here and our lives in New York.  At the end of it, he said he felt bad because he didn’t have a proper tasting room (we were tasting in the barn where the wine was actually made…gee, darn) and he felt unorganized.  Despite our fervent protests explaining that this was actually how we preferred it, he offered us two bottles of wine to take with us and we readily accepted.

Our next stop was Abbott’s Hill Winery, which was a bit of a mission to find, because it’s not on the map, it’s not on the GPS and there is no sign for the turn off.  We ended up having to call the winemaker, Diane, who happily met us and drove us a good ways back on a dirt road to her farm.  Again, we were tasting in an old dairy shed and she once again had many options for us.  The first thing we tried was their first go at a rose to the point where the bottles didn’t even have labels yet.  It was great, light and subtly fruity.  We then tried everything else.  Good lord, there was a lot.  A couple of different vintages of cabernets and shiraz, and mourvedre by itself that could have almost been a dessert wine.  It was all good.  At the end we decided to buy a bottle of the rose and it was time to move on.

By this point, I was beginning to not feel great because my stomach was still pretty wonky, plus I had been drinking wine for 2 hours.  We drove into Malmesbury, one of the towns in the center of Swartland, for lunch.  At the recommendation of the first winemaker we went to Barry’s Beef & Barrel.  It was a restaurant/kind of saloon in the middle of town that would have looked comfortable in the middle of wyoming or montana or something.  We were definitely a little out of place, as it was mostly farmers having their lunch (with a lot of beer) and I was absolutely the only female in the place.  However, the food was awesome.  Surprisingly enough we had meat; Jacob ordered a burger, which ended up being a double patty open face sandwich thing, and I had schnitzel.  When they put the schnitzel down in front of me I laughed out loud, because I’m pretty sure it was at least 16 ounces.  It covered the entire plate, spilling over the edges.  Needless to say, we had to wrap some of it to go.

Our final stop was Swartland Winery, which is the biggest winery in the region.  They had a more conventional tasting room, but tastings were still complimentary.  Their tasting list had probably about 25 wines on it, and they are happy to let you taste them all.  Sadly, we were not able to make it through the entire list, but we did get to try some of their reserve wines and ports.  In the end we bought a dessert wine that was actually closer in profile to a white port.  We were also beginning to wonder if we were going to be able to fit all of the wine in Jacob’s suitcase.  At this point I was sadly totally done.  We had plans for a couple stops after this, but I was feeling exhausted and sick, so we cut the day short so I could get some rest before our next posh dinner.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Holiday Day 5 – Fancy Dinner # 1

After Jacob and I took a brief rest in the afternoon, we headed into town for a “sundowner,” aka: cocktail at sunset.  We went to the Radisson Blu hotel on the waterfront, and it was perfect.  The deck of the bar is literally right on the water, so we enjoyed our drinks to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore.  We got there right before sunset so we got to enjoy a fantastic canvas of colors as the evening wore on.

After we finished our drinks, we headed to our dining destination for the evening.  We ate at the Roundhouse restaurant, which is located up on the cliffs in Camps Bay, which is another ocean side neighborhood that is just a bit south of downtown Cape Town.  Getting there was a little bit interesting.  It was dark, and driving in these neighborhoods got a little bit nerve wracking as we were up in the hills, the roads are super narrow and twisty, and I had no idea where I was going and was relying on a questionable at best GPS.  Basically it’s like driving up in the Hollywood hills without any lights and less guardrails.

When we got close to the restaurant, the GPS had us turn onto a road named Roundhouse road, and there was a street sign, so it seemed promising. However, this road was not paved and was directing us into a heavily wooded forest area, with no signs of lights or life to be seen.  Confession time: A) Sometimes I can get a *little* dramatic, and B) I am afraid of the dark.  I have always been and always will be.  It CREEPS ME OUT.  So, as we were driving I was absolutely certain that the GPS had decided to turn against us and was leading us into certain, Deliverance/Blair Witch style death.  Fortunately, my totally legitimate fears turned out to be unfounded, and the road did eventually lead us right to the restaurant.

The Roundhouse is an old house that once was owned by a navy admiral back in the 18th century, and from there it turned into a hotel and then a restaurant.  The service is super fancy impeccable French service, to the point that there was someone waiting with a flashlight to escort us from our car to the restaurant.  Somebody was always there to open a door or pull out my chair for me, and we were never left wanting for anything.  It was definitely a little intense, but nice for a once in a while experience.

The food was amazing, French with a couple of modern twists.  I would like to apologize ahead of time.  I was EXHAUSTED at dinner, to the point where I was falling asleep between courses and had to run to the bathroom to do jumping jacks to wake myself up.  I know.  Classy.  Because of the state I was in, I did not think to grab a menu or write anything down, so I’m going to have to relate what we ate to you from memory, which is going to be sketchy at best.  I am disappointed in myself.  But oh well.

We had 3 courses, and there were 2 amuse bouche plates with a petits fours plate at the end as well.  That’s a lot of food.  The first amuse was a cauliflower cream piped on a tiny little cheese biscuit, which was lovely.  And I love cauliflower, which may be weird, but I will eat cauliflower anything, which meant it was a good way to start the meal.  After we ordered our wine (and again, apologies, I have absolutely no recollection of what we drank) we got our second mini-course, “fish and chips.”  It was basically a potato chip with a fish foam/paste/cream thing, and appropriate garnishes.  Fun.

For our first course we had a potato and onion “risotto” with a soft poached farm egg.  I love eggs on and in everything, and I love nothing more than breaking yolk into a dish and turning it into the most delicious sauce.  This course was exactly what I wanted it to be.  Our other dish was representative of the ocean, which meant there was some kind of fish in there.  I do not remember what kind of fish this was, but it was firm and white and delicious.  The component that made the dish, however, was the pickled mussel.  OMG I love pickled things but who knew how delicious pickled seafood could be.  There was also some kind of cream and foam, and all combined the dish really did taste like the beach.  It was wonderful.

For our second course, our first dish was pork neck, with a traditional accompaniment of South African samp.  Samp is basically broken down dried corn that is cooked to the consistency of a thick polenta, and usually served with some kind of sour milk, as it was here.  I love pork everything, and the neck was perfectly tender.  The richness of the samp and the acidity from the milk made for a perfect complement.  Our other dish was venison tenderloin.  I love venison to death, and the meat was cooked perfectly.  I mean, we’re in South Africa, they really do know how to treat meat.

For dessert we had 2 more dishes.  First was the chocolate dish, which was chocolate in 6 different textures.  It was definitely intense, and for a girl that has moved away from chocolate in the past few years (I know, it’s been a tough separation), it was a bit too much.  However, the other dessert made my life complete.  It was a passion fruit soufflé, which is in my top favorite desserts of all time.  The first one I ever had was at Vong in Chicago with my mom, and it changed my life.  This one was equally as delectable, and was also served with a yogurt sorbet which cut some of the tartness of the fruit.  YUM.

I had also downed a double espresso so that I could keep myself awake on the drive home, which I did manage to accomplish.  But I promise you, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Holiday Day 5 – Seals, Baboons and Penguins, oh my.

So.  Even though I was weak from 6 hours of tummy sickness and only had about 3 hours of sleep, I would be damned if I would let it ruin our vacation.  So, at 7 am Jacob and I hopped out of bed and headed out for our first activity: snorkeling with fur seals.

To get to Simonstown, which is where the dive shop was, from Hout Bay, we had to drive over Chapman’s Peak.  It’s an absolutely stunning drive, especially that early in the morning.  Think Highway 1 in Northern Callifornia, all cliffs and ocean and beautiful scenery.  The weather had turned around since the night before, and it was the perfect way to start off the day.  We met up with our instructor, Justin, who took us to the dive shop where we got fitted for wetsuits.  Let me tell you, getting into a wetsuit is not an easy feat.  It is, however, worth it when the water is absolutely freezing, as it apparently always is in Cape Town.  So, wetsuits donned, we headed south a bit to Miller’s Point which is where the boat launch was.  Seriously, everywhere that we went offered amazing vistas.  There is not a spot where you would not want to take a picture in this part of the country.

We were on the boat with about 7 or 8 scuba divers.  Jacob and I have never gone through the whole training, as it takes a long time and is expensive, so we decided to stick with our snorkels.  The boat took us on a 10 minute trip to “seal rock”, which is where a lot of the seals like to hang out.  When we told people what we were doing, they seemed to be pretty concerned about sharks, especially Great Whites, as they’re known to hang out around Cape Town in large numbers.  However, apparently the area we were in doesn’t really them, and I am happy to report we had absolutely no sightings.  When we got to the drop point, Jacob and I got all hooded up so that we ended up looking like seals as well.  Then we were into the water.

The seals were hanging out in small pods in the water, and you swim up to a certain point and then let them come to you.  After about 10 minutes of having you in the water they get used to you, and then become very playful.  They would swim right up to our face and then turn and dart away, swim circles around us and seemed to enjoy playing the following game.  I wish I had an waterproof camera so you could see how amazing they were while swimming.  It was outstanding to see these guys in the water, seeing there different personalities and getting up close with them.  The experience was definitely worth it, and I’m so glad I didn’t cancel despite my illness.

After an hour we got back in the boat and headed back in.  As we were getting changed and back into our car to move on, we had a run-in with a little more wildlife.  Baboons live in the hills and mountains down on the point there, and they definitely like to come down when there are cars and people around to see what they can get for themselves.  They are really smart and also really aggressive.  They know how to open car doors and get into things, so you have to make sure you and your belongings are quite secure.  While we were loading up the car we saw some people chasing a baboon away from their area, and we decided to get in the car to get a closer look.  The baboon came towards us and another car, and immediately jumped onto the windshield of the other car.  It then seemed to catch my eye and started to come towards us, and I decided that it was then appropriate for us to make a hasty exit.

Our next stop was Boulders Beach, which is home to South African penguins.  This little guys live on the beach and up in the low vegetation on the hills, and I think they’re pretty protected as there are lots of fences and what look to be breeding areas that have been set up by caretakers.  The funny thing about these penguins is the noise they make.  It kind of sounds like a donkey, so they’ve managed to get the nickname of jackass penguin.  At the beach there is a large boardwalk that we could walk along, and the penguins generally chill right behind the fences so that you can get a good look at them.  They’re pretty friendly, and are pretty used to people coming to stare at them all day.  The boardwalk itself was beautiful as well.  Cape Town is known for it’s wildflowers, and it is peak wildflower season at the moment, so all of the bushes were bursting with color and lovely smells.  Which helped to make up for the smell of the penguins.

After the penguins we headed north to Kalk Bay for fish and chips, as it is one of the specialties of the region.  Per the recommendation of our instructor, we went to a place called Lucky Fish, and it was perfect.  For about 10 dollars we got three huge fillets of hake, a huge bunch of chips and 2 beers.  They wrap it all in paper for you, and you just find a seat by the water, unfold it and tuck in.  The fish was super fresh, and it was a great way to end the first part of the day.  After that we went home to rest a bit before our dinner, which I’ll tell you about next time.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2011 in Uncategorized