Cement for our Marriage

The French are so funny. You cannot throw a stompie and hit a French person who doesn’t smoke. In cafes, in the street, they’ll blow their smoke right on top of your baby without batting an eye. They’ll smoke all over your fragrant, Provencal plate of food. Chefs and restaurant owners will sit down with regular patrons and smoke on top of you while you try to savour the taste of their wondrous French fare. You can also bring your smelly mutt to most restaurants and to many hotels.
But God forbid you should pollute the environment by misclassifying your recycling.
For the latter, hefty fines are apparently imposed. You are also, we just learned last night, not allowed to poison rodents in your own home. According to our landlord, Steve, this might just be illegal – he’d have to check but he certainly did not look impressed when we called him over to introduce him to the rodents that have been rudely interrupting our dinner for the past ten days. Steve informed us that these were neither rats, nor mice. Rather, they are “harmless” rodents known as “mulots”, indigenous to the South of France. Sort of like field mice, he described, only bigger.
Much bigger, I’d like to add.
Just one of the South of France’s many contrasts…
That said, we still dream of one day owning a holiday home here. The Husband has decided that inland in the countryside there are “too many insects”. I’m not sure if this means that we should rather be setting our sights on Beijing if we want a holiday home that’s insect free, but we’ll see…
So far we’ve determined that our next French adventure will be on the coast. To this end, we explored the little hamlets of Agay and Antheor, close to St Raphael and just west of Cannes, the other day. Agay was cute but it was Antheor that was really spectacular. A less up-market version of Clifton with cliffside houses overlooking a pristine, turquoise sea. With The Princess perched in her pouch on The Husband’s chest, we descended the 130 steps (I counted on the way up to try and keep my breathing even) to one of the many mini beaches. It is nearing the end of high season now so things are still busy but thankfully the masses have gone home. Because of this, we were able to enjoy the beach with just a few other people. It made our day when we could just overhear a woman near us remark to her partner that The Princess was “magnifique”. We were basking in pride!
The Husband has become rather caught up in the romance of the French language and as such is making an attempt to learn it. The method at the moment involves us lying in bed with him painstakingly reading Tintin in its original French version and me translating. I have to say that he’s learnt quite a lot. Although he still gets confused with his basic Spanish and will find himself asking for “la cuenta” in restaurants instead of “l’addition”.
His love affair with the French language, however, is mild compared to his ongoing love affair with cycling. Over the years as I’ve seen his sporting obsessions go from rock climbing to mountain biking to road cycling, my view has always been: “Have fun, honey, just don’t torture me.” This has worked pretty well for us until two days ago when he drove three and a half hours to summit the famous Tour de France climb of Mont Ventoux. There he overhead a South African accent and proceeded to meet a 66 year old teacher from Cresta who had just ascended Mont Ventoux on a tandem, with her husband, a retired butcher.
“She took up cycling when she was 43,” he told me afterwards, “so there is plenty of time for you!”
I explained what he already knows, which is that when two people both like to be in charge, a tandem is not a good idea. He said he’d asked the teacher whether a tandem hadn’t perhaps negatively impacted her relationship.
“Not at all!” she replied emphatically. “It’s like cement for our marriage!”
I was thinking it’d be more like quicksand for ours, but the next day we went to the nearby Lac St Cassien – a beautiful, azur body of water just 20km from Fayence. Because The Husband can’t sit still, we hired one of those pedal boats. We climbed on, started pedalling and i found that my feet were just going around and around without any effort at all. I asked The Husband if he felt the same but of course it turned out that he was doing all the work.
“You see, baby, it would be just like this on a tandem!” he said.
Now we’re talking…

Quelle Chaleur

You know it’s hot when you leave your phone lying out in the sun and it says:
Temperature Warning: I-phone needs to cool down before you can use it.
Since we arrived at our little pad in Fayence in the Var region of Provence, I myself have often felt as though I need to cool down in order to function. The Husband mentioned that perhaps we shouldn’t visit the south of France in August because of the heat, but I totally dismissed his objections, thinking that anything was better than winter. Boy, was I wrong. It is just too hot. It’s hot from about 8am in the morning and it often feels as though it has barely cooled down in the evening. And then there are the mozzies. I thought Africa had mozzies but I’m starting to think we have nothing on the South of France. They pounce at dawn, at dusk and throughout the day. I haven’t had this many bites since our trip to the Amazon. Not to mention wasps and horse-flies. The Husband was literally hunted by a horsefly last night when he went for a swim. He ducked under the water to try and avoid being stung but the buzzing b*stard was waiting for him as he surfaced. And that’s not all. Last night we were finishing dinner when some sort of creature ran across the shade-cloth over our heads. It sounded kind of thunderous so The Sister and I looked up, a bit concerned.
“It’s a bird,” announced The Husband.
“Ah”, we replied.”
But when “the bird” scrambled off the shade-cloth into the tree, I noticed he had a pretty long, skinny tail. It was a mouse. The next thing his buddy went running across to join him.
I swear, it’s the wild west out here.
On the bright side, however, our villa is a gorgeous Provencal style house with beige stone walls and blue shutters, overlooking a much-needed and magnificent pool. One needs to dip in the pool every twenty minutes or so to avoid overheating, like an I-phone. And so The Princess has had her first swims, although she knows that this is not quite the same as her bath so she’s a little cautious and clingy.
Yesterday, for some glitz and glamour we went to Juan Les Pins, next door to Antibes, where The Princess swam in the sea for the very first time. She seemed to love it, although she did cling tightly onto her daddy’s ears, just in case. I love the beach set-up on the French Riviera. It’s SO civilized. You hire your sun-lounger with super padded mattress, you rent your fluffy white beach towel and you snap your fingers to get the attention of the “plagiste” (the very tanned, muscular “beacher” dude) who brings you drinks and an extra umbrella, should you so wish. Of course, you pay through your nostrils for all these privileges, but it’s so worth it. Not least because of the excellent people watching the Mediterranean scene affords one. If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s possible to be too tanned, it most definitely is. I have never seen such over-fried Caucasians in my life. They have literally turned themselves into the colour of mud. And I’m not just talking about prune-faced, bejewelled old grannies who were born in an era when no-one knew the dangers of the sun. I’m talking about teens, twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, forty-somethings… all turned pitch black from the sun. At the moment, The Princess has a definite tinge of red in her hair and her skin is absolutely lilly-white. Her daddy is much the same and her mommy is not exactly olive-skinned so the three of us are happy to stick to the shade. The Sister, on the other hand, has been working hard at trying to turn her English rose complexion a darker shade. Charity, The Princess’ nanny, thinks that anyone who deliberately lies in the sun in this heat is deluded. It’s been so hot, that she has gone from being utterly terrified of the water to wading out into the shallow waters of the Med and hanging out in the shallow end of the pool.
The Husband, however, has not let the heat distract him from his cycling obsession. He was delighted to learn that a Tour de France climb went right past our villa’s doorstep and wasted no time getting on his bicycle to emulate the routes of cycling’s greats. Right now, as I type this, he is off on his longest ride ever: a 200km epic. And this is by someone who often refuses to sit outside at restaurants in Joburg in summer on the grounds that it is “too hot”. He is officially mad. I just hope he doesn’t come home dehydrated.  And that about sums up our little sojourn in the South of France for now. I think I need to take my Mac indoors before it issues me with a temperature warning…

French Adventure Begins

Fortunately for The Princess and I, The Husband is now so “used to” flying business class for business, he is unable to downgrade to fly cattle for leisure. Even more fortunately, Air France allows The Princess to travel business class for the bargain price of R2,000 – the cost of a last minute ticket to Cape Town but instead, she can go all the way to Paris. She even gets her very own flat bed, although that is about all she gets as she can’t partake in the champers or the fois gras. The problem with babies and business class is that babies don’t know how lucky they are that they’re not in cattle and so they still cry just as loudly. The Husband confessed yesterday he was not very sympathetic to parents with screaming babies in a class reserved for stressed business people in need of their sleep. He used to think to himself, “why don’t those lazy parents just do something?” That was until we were “those lazy parents” on Thursday night. Suddenly, “just doing something” seemed impossible. What was that magic ingredient that would make The Princess stop screaming? It turns out, in her case, it was food. She broke all records by gulping back 200ml of formula at 7:30pm (and that was a top up as she’d been breastfed at 6pm). By around 10pm, in desperation we prepared another 100ml which she drank, in stages, between naps. Under the circumstances, I think she was virtually as good as gold after her meltdown from about 9 to 10:30pm.
At one stage, she was fast asleep on my stomach (she wasn’t as impressed with her flat bed/ bassinet as she ought to have been and preferred to sleep on Mommy) when another baby, somewhere in the plane, was howling. The woman behind us had clearly had enough because suddenly a loud “Jesus Christ!” could be heard throughout our section of the plane. No doubt The Princess’ earlier screaming had gotten to her. Obviously, we felt bad for all our fellow passengers but firstly, there is precious little you can do and secondly, we were just thrilled that when this woman’s temper finally flared, it wasn’t our baby who had been the cause.
Having survived the flight to Paris, we still had a long journey ahead of us:
       four hours in transit at Charles de Gaulle
       a one and a half hour flight to Nice
       a six hour drive to the Alps The Alps was slipped into the holiday itinerary by the ambitious Husband who wanted to take part in a gruelling cycle race on Sunday 21 August, before embarking on the six hour drive to our villa in Fayence.
Air France, however had other plans. When we landed in Nice, only The Husband’s bike and our nanny’s suitcase arrived too. Two suitcases plus The Princess’ stroller had been left behind in Paris. There had been some kind of mistake at Charles de Gaulle and they would only arrive in Nice late on Friday night. With much sadness and negotiating about future bike races, The Husband agreed to forgo his race in the Alps. We now had to find a hotel for one night, before our villa would be ready on Saturday. And so it was that we found ourselves at the Park Inn, with a beautiful view over Terminal 2 of the Nice airport as well as the railway tracks, for added aesthetic value.
On the bright side, we had escaped the cold of Joburg for the beautiful balmy weather of Nice. On the downside, The Husband and I had nothing but the sweaty, stinky, hot clothes on our backs and so could not even take advantage of the hotel’s pool. But we had survived our first international trip with The Princess ….

Avoiding Sport in Aspen

Summer in Aspen is all about the sport. Wherever you look, tanned Americans with bodies to die for are biking, running, hiking, walking, climbing, golfing, kayaking, fishing or playing tennis.

The Husband was in HEAVEN.

When on holiday and surrounded by sporting opportunities, his motto is "which sport's next?" When on holiday…when on sabbatical…when in Jozi…whenever…my motto is: "one sport a day".

I thought The Sister was on board with my mantra, but it seems she can be heavily influenced by The Husband. It was either that – or the Bad Billy's All American Beef Burger she was struggling to digest which made her want to chase me around the tennis court for 90 minutes (at an altitude of 2,400m) AND go jogging – all in one day.

So the next day, before those two got any bright ideas about hiking up the mountain, I came up with a plan for a decoy: a cultural outing. I found it in a brochure in the hotel lobby and it was entitled "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous Tour". I decided to read them the promotional blurb on the tour. It went like this:

If you like People Magazine, you will love this tour!…You'll see the beautiful homes of Movie Stars, Television Stars, Sports Stars, Music Stars, Super Models, Fortune 500 CEO's and Royalty!…You'll have incredible stories to tell your friends when you get home!

(Capital letters NOT mine, by the way…)

The Sister and The Husband heard this, raised their eyebrows, looked at each other and then looked at me as though we couldn't possibly be related. The Sister then verbalised their thoughts, telling me that we weren't "those kinds of people".

Mission "Avoid Sport" had failed.

And so off we went on what was supposed to be a leisurely, meandering bike ride. The first 5km was utterly pleasant: we cruised along paved, flat bike trails, in amongst trees, alongside bubbling brooks. All very civilised and manageable. But then the gentle pathways turned into monstrously steep hills. Before I knew it, I was huffing and puffing like the Big, Bad Wolf. The worst was, there didn't seem to be any end in sight. In times like these, when I ask The Husband important questions like "how much longer is this effing hill?" or "how many more of these frigging hills are there?" he actually lies to me. He'll say that the hill we're on is the "last one". And when we get to the next one and I call him on it, he'll say that he wasn't lying, because, in fact, this hill is not at all like "one of the frigging hills" I was asking about – it's steeper. By this point, I feel like ramming my front tyre into his rear derailer – not that I would actually be able to identify one of those – but of course he's half-way up the mountain by then and there's no way I can catch him.

The Sister wasn't helping matters either. She took to this whole hill thing like a duck to water and soon she was wanting to see if we could cycle to the next town, Snowmass, just to "see what's there". And so, on I rode – or rather, on I wove because the hills were so steep I couldn't actually ride up them in a straight line. I kept thinking that I could have been swanning around the holiday homes of the rich and famous, listening to some American tour guide gushing about their marble kitchen counter tops and who they'd allegedly shagged on said counter tops.

Infinitely more appealing.

Three hours, one spate of tears and one numb bum later, we returned to Aspen. As we were wheeling our bikes back to the bike hire place, we passed a gorgeous looking jewellery store. But it wasn't just any jewellery store. This store had a very special sign in its window. It went like this:


Gotta love this town.

A Pair of Previously Loved Yves in Aspen

It is not every day that cycling trips lead me to cut price designer shoes. The last cycling trip, for example, took me to Badplaas. Other cycling destinations that spring to mind are shopping meccas like Op-die-Berg, Grabouw, Viscos and Himeville.

You get my point.

Aspen, however, is a little gem of an exception – if your Daddy's a billionaire. Still, I was content just to stare lovingly at the window displays of Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel, J Crew and Fendi. I tried to go in to some of these stores to stare lovingly at the wares from the inside, but a part of me always feels like the salesgirls are onto me…they take one look at my Havaianas and they know I have absolutely no intention of buying a single thing. I've always admired a good friend of mine who has absolutely no qualms entering any sort of luxury store whatsoever – even the ones with those 2m-wide tuxedoed doormen out front. Her policy goes like this: "If I earn more than the shop assistants, I'll be coming inside – in my takkies". Great policy. My shrink and I are working on it.

Anyhoo, things got infinitely more exciting yesterday when The Sister and I discovered "the consignment store". We ventured in a little apprehensively, expecting a bit of an Oxfam-style set up. What we found was a little bit of heaven. So, "consignment store" is code for second-hand. Instinctively, we'd already worked that out. But here, they don't degrade their vintage designer merchandise by using terms like "second-hand". No. One refers to the luxury items as "new or like new" and on occasion you may hear, in hushed tones, the term "previously owned". Whilst the word "new" deserves a bit of an eye-brow raise, the words "like new" are totally authentic. Imagine a store filled with tons of immaculately preserved Kate Spade pumps, Manolo Blahnik slingbacks, Robert Cavalli cocktail dresses and Chanel handbags – all looking as good as new. In fact, looking even better with their significantly reduced price-tags.

Between us, The Sister and I may have tried on every piece of footwear in our size, determined to provide these orphaned shoes with a loving new home…

I fell for a pair of pointy Yves St Laurents with heels alot higher than anything I've worn since the start of my sabbatical. My half-hearted lament of "but when would I wear them?" was met with the following shocked retort from The Sister: "When would you NOT wear them?"


Besides, who can say no to a pair of Yves St Laurents with a Nine West price tag?

So, just to prove to myself that my new acquisition had deep-seated logical foundations, I wore them to dinner last night. I have to say that the three and a half blocks between the hotel and the restaurant resembled physical torture I haven't experienced since compulsory cross country in high school.

I'm blaming it on Aspen's cobbled streets – quaint to look at but very hard to navigate in stilettos. When I turned to The Sister for sympathy – or perhaps to blame her for talking me into buying this weapons of torture – she was like, "Duh! You put your plakkies in your handbag and your change your shoes around the corner from the restaurant! And PS: You'd never survive in London."

Vin de Sable on a Beach in the Camargue

After four days in Barcelona, The Sister, The Best Friend and I made our way by train to Montpellier, France.
Once we’d converted from train travel to car travel, our trip in the surrounding Camargue region quickly turned into European Vacation Three. What do you get when you cross three chicks, a 1.2 horsepower hire car, and no GPS? The answer: many trips around…
and around…
and around…
and around…
and around and around and around
French traffic circles.

In our defence, we were trying to find a beach bar whose address was listed as: “au bout du petit chemin” (at the end of the little road). This was literally all that was given as a physical address on the flyer we’d picked up in Montpellier. When we eventually found “the little road” and the bar “at the end” of it, admittedly the road had no name. Still, the name of the village would have been a nice clue. On the bright side, we got to see more of the Camargue and it's flamingos during our  traffic circle joyrides.

Our next stop was a wild, windswept, 9km long beach, known as “l’Espiguette”. Several wrong turns and a number of rounding roundabouts later, we discovered the beach. It was well worth the joyrides. It reminded us of Noordhoek beach in some ways, except it's much more expansive and possibly a little less wild. Here it is:
Despite the many signs stating that the beach and its surrounding ecosystem were protected, we were greeted almost immediately by a coffee-shop-cum-snack-shack only about 10m from the water's edge. I was thrilled since we’d been driving for hours and I was desperate for the loo. When I reached the “bar”, there were two people sitting at a table looking super chilled out. It was hard to tell if they were customers or if they were running the place, they looked so laidback but there was no-one else around so I assumed they were in charge and asked them where their toilets were. Unfortunately, this was met with an amused grin and the following response.

“Welcome to nature – where they are toilets everywhere: behind the dunes, in the sea, everywhere!”

Not exactly the answer I was looking for. But I was pretty desperate so I duly ran off to find a dune, or a tree, or something.

Or something.

The dunes were cordoned off by a little rope with nature conservation signs all over the place and there were honestly no trees. Desperate, I ran into the car park wondering if I could take a leak behind our car. No such luck either. Parked next to us were a pair of 60-something French hippies in their David Kramer-style volksie bus, tucking into their supper and grinning at me.


I decided to try the other side of the car park, hoping it’d be more deserted. Just as I was about to bare my backside behind a conservation hut, a car crawled past. I waited for it to leave but then seconds later, another car appeared from the other direction. And just after that, a surfer strolled back to his car and proceeded to tie up his board in pain-staking sl o o o o o o w motion.
By now I was beyond desperate and, illogically, started running across the car park like a mad-woman with my packet of tissues, hoping that the answer to my problem would somehow be revealed to me. Nothing. I couldn't believe it. The beach was 9km long, it was practically deserted but there were just enough cars dribbling across this massive parking lot to completely prevent me from taking a leak. It felt like a conspiracy!

After I developed a small stitch from tearing across the car park, I adopted the “who cares-no-one-knows-me-here” approach and squatted behind a parked car. I think the universe must’ve taken pity on me because, mercifully, I had just pulled up my pants when the next car came past.
I arrived back at the beach to find The Sister and The Best Friend worried that I’d been abducted by the hippies. Not that worried, though. By this time they’d made friends with the snack shack peeps. Very hospitable peeps, at that. As I arrived, I was welcomed with open arms by the very man who sent me into the tree-less wilderness to wee. He introduced himself as Jean-Pierre. We later learned just why he was so very comfortable abluting in the wild – he actually lived inside the snack shack from May to September and had done so every year for the past seven years. Luckily, this was no ordinary snack shack – this was a French beach café and what would a French beach café be without some good old French wine? No sipping on Coca-colas while we watched the sun set in this natural sanctuary. Instead, we were able to enjoy the view while sampling the local vin de sable – literally translated as “sand wine” but figuratively translated as “yummy”.

Several carafes of vin de sable later, Jean-Pierre and his head-waitress were well on their way and at one point they were jamming to SA music from The Sister’s I-pod. Here they are in action:

Life's tough in the South of France.
By the time the sun set, it was after 9pm and we still had no accommodation booked for the night. We decided it was time to say goodbye to the crazy snack shack peeps and to go in search of shelter. Jean-Pierre offered us his “spare room” (the snack shack’s deck, to be precise) but we declined, tempting as it was to get up and brush our teeth in the Mediterranean the next morning…

‘Sexy Beer’ on the Beach

I still remember watching the news on the day that topless tanning became legal in SA. It was around the mid-nineties and I recall being grateful that SA was at last letting go of some of the puritanical vestiges of our past. But when I caught sight of these bronzing beauties on Barcelona’s beachfront the other day, I started to think that the top-less tanning law may have had some positive spin-offs:

As it turns out, the view above was nothing compared to what we were about to witness. About half an hour later we saw someone strolling across the beach, absolutely stark frigging naked. Yip – 100% kaalgat from head to toe. We checked the bodies around us to see if we’d accidentally plonked ourselves down on a nudist beach, but no – everyone around us had their crown jewels covered up. The good thing about having one, lone, naked ranger on a beach full of bathing-suited people, is that it’s okay to stare, because, hell, everyone else is staring their heads off.

Later on, we were able to work out what had given the nude dude the balls (pun completely intended) to prance around in his birthday suit. The secret was revealed to us in the form of a beach hawker, who approached us offering not your usual selection of Dairymaid – no – he was selling cans Spanish lager. “Sexy beer! Sexy beer!” he exclaimed waving the cans in front of us. We politely declined. He looked wounded for a second but then he narrowed his eyes as though he were sizing us up and tried the following instead: “sexy drugs! sexy drugs!”

Nothing like knowing only 3 English words to completely focus one’s sales efforts.

That evening, as we walked around the vibey little alleys in an area called Born, the products and services on offer were to get even spicier. We had paused to discuss whether we would have pizza or tapas for dinner, when I heard a voice near my ear. It seemed to being saying “Steaks! Steaks! Steaks!” Although I don’t like strangers coming close to me at the best of times, a little bief-steak was sounding like a good way of breaking the deadlock on the pizza/ tapas debate. Instinctively I turned in the direction of the voice.

BEEEG mistake.

I was confronted by a scruffy little man whose eyes lit up as I looked his way. And when he stared repeating himself I realised what he’d been saying all along. It wasn’t steak at all. Nope – it was “Sex! Sex! Sex!”

Despite the sexy drugs and the sexy beer we’d been offered earlier, I could not have been more taken aback. Once again, I politely declined. “Thanks, dude. I’m married so I wouldn’t be keen either way, but I respect the fact that you’re trying to feed your family, so I’d like to give you some hints on your marketing efforts: if you’re the guy who’s actually delivering the service, then best of luck. However, if you’re working on behalf of some sexy Spanish gigolo, you might wanna whip out a picture of your boss for potential consumers. I think it would really enhance the sales drive. Hasta luego!”

Okay, so that’s what I would have said if I hadn’t been so completely freaked out. What I actually said was, "Oh my God! AAAAHH! Help!", ran towards The Sister, clung onto her little legs for dear life and didn't stop shaking for a good five minutes.

A South African in Barcelona

I experienced some panic in my first few hours in Barcelona. There were strong signals that my girls weekend could turn into a solo expedition – The Sister and two friends were supposed to be arriving from London but EasyJet had started cancelling some of their London-Spain flights because of an air traffic control strike by the French! (Not just Transnet who enjoys a bit of strike action, apparently). Planes have to fly over France to get from London to Barcelona, so the girls were in danger of being properly stranded. Then there was the Best Friend who’d missed her Barcelona connection because a diabetic medical emergency had stopped her from disembarking in London. She was also now potentially stranded in London because of the frigging Frenchies on strike.

Despite these bad tidings, I decided to make the most of this new city and left the apartment to go and explore. Armed with absolutely no information on Barcelona (besides Vicky Cristina Barcelona – duh) I decided to do what women do best: ask. I walked into a café on my street corner and, in very broken Spanish (with some Italian thrown in for good measure), I said something which probably sounded like:

“Where is walk, city, famous, beautiful, tourist, nearby?”

The Gran and Gramps behind the bar could not have been more charming and, happily, they seemed to understand precisely what I was saying – when in doubt, use muchos key words. Within minutes, I had enough information on nearby attractions to keep me occupied for many hours – that is, if ever left the café because Gran and Gramps couldn't stop chatting. After a long chin-wag, they asked me where I was from. I told them I was from South Africa. Response to my nationality abroad never cease to amaze me. The Apartheid regime was almost as internationally infamous as the Nazi regime and yet tons of people the world over seem to be surprised that there are white people in South Africa. Gramps, for one, was having none of it. He was convinced that I was having him on. I've experienced this reaction so many times that sometimes I get a bit impatient, but this old man was such a honey that I tried to humour him. I told him that I knew it sounded incredible but that it was absolutely, one hundred percent true.

Still, looked skeptical. Finally, he decided to demonstrate to me just how silly my little story sounded.

“If you’re South African,” he said, “then I’m Chinese!” and he pulled up the corners of his eyes on either side and nearly killed himself laughing.

I was liking the Barcelonians more and more.

By now it was about 5pm and I wanted to check whether the girls would be able to catch a bite to eat chez Gran and Gramps when they (hopefully) jetted in at about 11pm. So I asked them what time they closed shop, to which Gran replied, “Oh, we close at 1.”

I was like, “One a.m. in the manana? Seriously?” I could barely remember the last time I was awake at that hour, let alone working. I felt tired for her.

Welcome to Barcelona:
9:30am: the city's a morgue, except for a few tourists
10am – 12pm: shops open for a little taste of the work day
12pm – 4pm: Leisurely lunch and then SIESTA, baby! (who can argue with them there?)
4pm – 8pm: shops open
11/ 12pm: dinner
1am/ 2am: clubs open
4am/ 5am: the dance floor is packed
8:30am: clubs close for the night, er…I mean, the day…

Serious body clock adjustment required for us Anglo-saxons!

Natalie, Angel, Barcelona

I'm always on high alert when I travel overseas. Kind of ironic for a Joburger, I know. I think it’s some kind of Moonbag Mentality of “they rob you over there”. It was instilled by my mother when I was a teen and it's somehow never left me. Arriving in Barcelona the other day was no exception. I was only meeting up with friends later in the day, so I was traveling into the city alone and was thus on extra high alert.

We'd reserved an apartment on-line, and, as the first to arrive, I had to collect the keys and pay the agent. I had dutifully sms'ed the agent – one "Lorgia" – to up-date her on my arrival in Paris. I then let her know once I’d touched down in Barcelona. I informed her once I'd picked up my bags. And then I sent her a last little sms reminder that I was in a taxi, on my way to the apartment. Just to be sure that I wasn't left standing on a street corner waiting for her.
Well, my plan completed back-fired. When I reached the apartment entrance, Lorgia was nowhere to be seen and I was indeed confined to the street corner with two big-ass suitcases, looking like a homeless person. Nice.
Absolutely no sign of Lorgia and no answer from her cell.
To make matters worse, an annoying little man kept sticking his head out of the window above me, trying to chat me up in Spanish. He was also signaling that he’d open the entrance door for me, but I was having none of it. I was a street-wise Saffer and there was no ways I was going to fall for his offers to let me into the building while I waited for bl**dy Lorgia. I would just wait patiently (okay, impatiently) in my sweaty, stinky travel clothes, in the boiling sun for this woman.
Eventually the silly cow answered her phone. When I told her that yes, I was outside the apartment building, as arranged, she seemed genuinely surprised. She then told me she’d let me in. “OMG!!!” I thought, “She’s been INSIDE the whole friggin’ time. Grrrrr”.
Next thing, the entrance door was buzzed open. I stepped inside and nearly collided with the annoying little man. “Oh God – you again,” I thought, but he was bustling around me so I decided I would let him drag my two humungous suitcases up the stairs. Not my problemo if he wanted to be so ingratiating. I just needed to find Lorgia and then I’d get rid of him.
He seemed to be moving my bags with purpose and because I had no clue which apartment this woman was meeting me in, I confess I kind of followed him. Straight into an apartment. Which turned out to be empty – i.e. no Lorgia.
Now I was alone with the annoying little man who was suddenly not only annoying but also completely freaking me out. Where was Lorgia? "Donde esta Lorgia, dude?" To which he replied that he was Lorgia’s colleague and that I needed to give the rental money to him, not to Lorgia.
“Ja, RIGHT, dude! Do you seriously think I was born yesterday?” Okay, that's what I wanted to say except that those words don’t form part of my miniscule Spanish vocabulary. Plus I was locked into an apartment with 40kg of luggage in a completely foreign city so perhaps it wasn’t good to antagonise the man…
I managed to get across the notion that Lorgia had NOT told me I would be meeting with a “colleague” of hers. So, until he could provide some kind of proof that he was Lorgia's colleague, he wouldn’t be seeing one single cent from me. Of course, if he was a full-on baddy and not just a con artist, then he could always just whack me over the head and grab my hand-bag but I was holding thumbs that he was an first tier criminal and not into knives, etc.
“Me llamo Angel,” he said (pronouncing the first syllable “an” like the “un” in “under” and the second syllable “gel”, like the first part of the Afrikaans word geld – i.e. with a hard “g”. ) That was his proof? Telling me that he was named after a religious symbol? I gave him a look that said “you’re gonna have to do better than that, buddy boy” and tried to look super hardcore, when inwardly, I was petrified. Had I survived the streets of Joburg only to be conned/ mugged by a guy named “Angel” in Barcelona?
After about an hour of Angel saying his name and insisting that he was Lorgia’s colleague and me giving him the death stare, the elusive Lorgia eventually returned our 17 missed calls. She confirmed that yes, Angel was her errand man and I could safely hand him my cash. Er…thanks for letting me know, lady!
So that's how we ended the staring stand-off. Angel handed over the keys, I handed over the cash and he shuffled off into the streets of Barcelona.
It took three days before I was convinced that he wasn’t coming back to raid the apartment with his spare keys. Seriously, though, can you really trust a dude called Angel?
Apparently you can but I wasn’t taking any chances.

Kath & Kim Go´Round the World

Long haul flights in cattle class are always a gas. Last night’s was no exception. I was seated in my safe, little, escapist aisle seat, scanning the passengers as they came down the aisle and playing games with myself to figure out who my neighbour would be. As long as they were skinny and practically mute, I was happy. Of course, the more you hope for Kate Moss’ Russian-speaking, distant cousin, the more likely you are to find yourself next to a 140kg Chatty Pants. As Murphy´s Law would have it, along came one of the largest young lasses I have ever laid eyes on – and plonked herself next to me. Not only did she spill over onto my seat, but she was with her (much smaller) back-packing buddy and they were chatting away in strong, Australian drawls at the top of their voices. It was official, I was on a 10-hour flight with Kath and Kim.

I swear these chicks could hear my thoughts because as I nicknamed them “Kath and Kim” in my head, they cracked open a packet of salt & vinegar crisps. Still munching open-mouthed on her crisps, the smaller chick dialed home on her mobile and I had the pleasure of overhearing her very loud, very lengthy conversation: 

“Mum. Hoi.”
“Yee-ah, so we’re on the plane.
"Een Johannesburg.”
“She hesn’t hed a cigarette een 9 hours en she’s pretty grumpy.”

At which point “grumpy” friend to my left screamed, “hooi-ey!" (I think she meant "hey!”) and elbowed her mate in the ribs. This sent their packet of salt & vinegar crisps crashing to the floor, giving off an even more pungent, vaguely nauseating, vinegary aroma. On the bright side, the demise of the packet of Lays immediately got both girls attention, the chick on the phone yelled “gotta go, Mum!”, and they attempted to dive between the seats to try and retrieve their pre-dinner snacks. Much to the consternation of the Skinny B*tch Air France stewardess who looked on disapprovingly. Which got me really motivated to help Kath and Kim find their packet of Lays. Before I knew it, I was on my hands and knees in the aisle rifling under the seats in front of us, along with the girls. "Got them!¨I yelled triumphantly and the three of us bonded instantly over my successful expedition. The friendship cemented itself when the French cow told me to "Move out of zee way!"
Before I knew it we were chatting away about life back in Mumbaragaloo or wherever and their up-and-coming round the world trip.
What did I learn? That you can´t judge a book by it´s cover – obviously – but also that you truly can´t trust a skinny chef. "Kath" is in her third year at gourmet chef school back in Oz and I´m willing to bet that she cooks like a demon.
Anyway, I´m pleased we made friends because this morning I woke up with my mouth wide open and my head on her shoulder.
"Oh my God, I´m so sorry," I said as soon as I shot up from my slumber.
"No worries!" she grinned and I got a violent whiff of stale salt & vinegar. Then again, I´m sure my breath didn´t exactly smell like Aquafresh because "Kath" reached into her bag and handed me an Australian breath mint. 
Fair enough, mate.