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!