Couples Vacation

I swear I am going to spend next December in Joburg – it seems to be the only spot in SA with reliable summer weather. I tried Stellenbosch and Cape Town in early December and was treated to gale-force winds and an honestly average amount of sun. Then I tried Keurbooms, Plett and Knysna in mid-December and there was record rainfall not seen in the last two drought-ridden years. Now we’re in Umhlanga where I was preparing to be panting like a little poodle in the heat – except we haven’t seen the sun for three days straight. I have just given up my poolside possie, realising that one can’t really tan when it’s drizzling. I swear, if Joburg were naturally beautiful and had a beach, it would be so invaded by rich foreigners, none of us Saffers would be able to afford property there. We just have to get our head around holidaying in The Big Smoke – best tanning opportunities in the country, no doubt.
As a result of this kak weather, my usual holiday ritual of breakfast-pool-cocktails-pool-lunch-pool-cocktails-pool-dinner, has been rudely interrupted. (Okay, virgin cocktails this time, owing to being knocked up and all). And, as a result of Umhlanga resembling downtown Jozi in rush-hour, The Husband’s usual holiday ritual of cycling-cycling-cycling, has been derailed. So we have invented a new holiday ritual, namely the Spousal Tennis Championships. But this is not just any tournament. It’s a tournament involving a seven month pregnant yours-truly and her viciously competitive husband. The game works like this. The Husband tells me, “Honey, you mustn’t run for the ball”. Sounds sweet, right? But then he finds himself in a tight spot and he goes in for an impossibly short, drop shot. This little challenge has two possible effects: it either makes me stop dead in my tracks to give him a death stare, or it makes me sprint (okay, waddle, quite quickly) for the ball. If it’s the latter, The Husband has the audacity to shout “Don’t run!” To which I respond, “Don’t drop shot me!” To which he has no response. He knows that I know that he just can’t face the prospect of losing a game to his heavily pregnant wife.
And so the spousal tennis champs go… The usual, relaxing stuff that couple vacations are made of.
Tennis champs aside, though, I have learned that The Husband and I have a very different view of how to spend our holidays. I like to pick one form of exercise and then I like to get it over with as quickly as possible – preferably not more than 60 hellish minutes. Thereafter, I feel absolutely justified being a pool-side sloth for the rest of the day. Pool-side slothing activities include reading, napping and eating, with the occasional pool dip here and there but only if the temperature is just right and that there are no kids in sight who might wet my hair.
The Husband, on the other hand, thrives on a strict regime of at least three sports a day. Today’s tennis in super humid conditions, left him wondering whether he’d really had a cardio work-out, just because he sweated up a storm? Anyway, he wasn’t convinced so he decided he’d just make sure by heading to the hotel gym for a bit of aerobic exercise. By mid-afternoon it was time for his standing 3pm personal training session at the gym up the road. Upon his return, he woke me from me poolside slumber because he wanted to know where the swimming goggles were so he could do laps in the pool. And he still wants to sign up for surfing lessons…
The long and short of it is that we either spend holiday time together trying to annihilate one another on the tennis court or we hook up at meal times. (When all else fails, there’s always the food bond). There has however, been one exception when I managed to chain him to a deck chair with his book. That was when he decided to expend his excess energy by passionately explaining to me what he’d just read about the Riemann Hypothesis – all part of his holiday reading on “the greatest unsolved problem in Mathematics”. My gut reaction was to try and distract him and what better way to do so than to go: “Race you to the other side of the pool, baby!” He was almost at the other end before he realised that I hadn’t actually entered the pool. However, he had forgotten about the hypotheseis by then and had moved on to testing how far he could swim underwater.
I’m just hoping this boundless energy is here when there’s a kid diving off his shoulders, another one pulling down his swimming costume underwater and when Mommy is decidedly indisposed on her deck chair, reclining with her book in her one hand and her caipirinha in the other.

Zooolooo Hospitality in the Midlands

Just in case anyone had any illusions that paternalism in South Africa was dead…I can report from personal experience that it is alive and kicking in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands.

First of all, someone needs to tell hotel owners that no-one cares who they are or what they've achieved in their long and illustrious lives. Second of all, someone needs to tell them that we also couldn't give a cr*p about their socio-political views.

Allow me to elaborate…

The Husband and I set off on our annual adventure yesterday afternoon for a two-night stint in the KzN Midlands en route to Umhlanga. I had been dying to visit this particular Midlands establishment – renowned for its award winning cuisine – for years. At 5pm, we arrived and confirmed with the manageress that we would most definitely be "joining them" for dinner. We were told that we should present ourselves at 7pm for aperitifs, which would be followed by a speech by "Mr Blah-di-Blah" before dinner. Mr Blah-di-Blah's name (which I honestly did not catch) was pronounced so matter of factly that she may as well have told us we were to be addressed by Nelson Mandela himself. Although I suspected that Mr Blah-di-Blah was the hallowed owner of the establishment, I couldn't resist asking, "Er, who's he when he's at home?" It was then confirmed that he was indeed the almighty owner.

No big deal, you might be thinking. But The Husband and I have had our fair share of boutique hotel experiences where self-important proprietors actually think your life's goal is to belong to their inner circle. We were really looking forward to a private, romantic dinner to kick-start our holiday and we just had a niggly feeling about this scheduled "speech".

At 7pm sharp, we were seated on the guest house's stately patio for appertifs when, soon enough, Blah-di-Blah came bounding over to introduce himself. We decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and were on our best behaviour, exchanging pleasantries on the weather and other such engrossing topics. He then bounded over to introduce himself to some more guests as they stepped onto the patio. "We've met twice before," they reminded him politely, to which he swiftly responded, "Of course! Jolly good show! I thought you looked ever so familiar!" Yeah, right.

By 7:45 The Husband was ready to eat the 18th century stonework on the guest house walls so I gently asked if we could be shown to our table. "Sure," the manager told us excitedly, "it's almost speech time!"

Oh, goody!

At this point, I suspect the owner sensed the hunger of his guests, and, eager to now get us to our tables, he let forth with a joke for the benefit of his 15-odd guests which resounded across the dining area: "Gentlemen! You pay so much to marry our wives and then you can't even get them to join you for dinner! Hahahahahahahaha!!"

I don't even know how to comment on that, er, joke. I think it speaks for itself – although God knows what it's saying.

But his speech proved even better. Guests were treated to a 15-minute history of the his childhood in the Transkei, playing cricket with his best friend, Prince What's-his-face. During these idyllic times, the Prince bowled, while Blah-di-Blah batted, because, of course, such was the hierarchy in those times. (This was also put forward as the reason behind the Eastern Cape producing international stars like Makhaya Ntini who's "a phenomenal bowler" but who "can't bat".) We were then reminded that nowadays, the inverse is, of course, true: "the white boys" are bowling and black people are batting.

Just then, with no sense of irony whatsoever, he moved on to the topic of his "zooolooo" staff members, for whom it is apparently still "a pleasure to serve". Guests were then told that in many places in the world it is "no longer a pleasure to serve", however, we were assured that here at Paternalism Place, it is still indeed a "pleasure to serve". We were told that we would not experience Swiss hospitality. Instead, we would be privileged to experience "zooolooo hospitality" – something that "takes a little longer", but that is "much better" in Blah-di-Blah's (ahem) humble opinion.

At this point, The Husband looked as though he was ready to throw up. Trapped in my seat, with Blah-di-Blah sounding like he could go on all night (he hadn't ommitted to mention that he'd been a lawyer in his "former life"), I came up with the ultimate act of defiance. I reached into my handbag, pulled out my faithful Tabard stick and began painstakingly Tabard-ing my big toes. Fortunately, my strappy sandals meant that protecting the top of my feet from the mozzies was a really delicate affair, requiring enormous amounts of concentraion. In this way, I was able to drown out the remainder of the discourse, until eventually, mercifully, it came to an end.

At breakfast this morning, our waitress wanted to know whether we'd be "joining them" for dinner this evening. We told them that we would like to, but gently enquired whether they would be any speeches to look forward to? Our waitress informed us that no, there would be no speeches. And I could swear I detected a bit of a twinkle in her "Zooolooo" eyes.

Alas, Alack

Alas, alack! On Sabbatical in Sandton is NOT one of the 10 finalists in the SA Blog Awards' Best New Blog category – or any other category, for that matter. So all of you who meant to nominate me but didn't…feel the guilt. Feel it wash all over you… From my side, I will be wallowing in disappointment alongside a pool in Mauritius next week. The Husband has decided it is the only way to cheer me up.

Just kidding. I wish.

No, we are off to this fair island because he is riding in yet another cycle race – another cycle race disguised as a holiday. Although, this time, I intend to go on a concerted Strike de Soigneuse. After all, I am a Saffer – striking should be in my blood. I'll be silently picketing at the pool behind my dark glasses, my book and my margarita and The Husband can go off and do as many little circles around the island as his heart desires.

To celebrate the arrival of Spring, I took myself off to a Zumba class this morning. Admittedly, I have not shaken my tush to those sexy Brazilian beats in a long time. Normally, I am intimidated by a classroom full of hot chicks who really can move their little backsides to the beat of the music. But that's the beauty of being on sabbatical – it was just me and a bunch of middle-aged housewives, WAY past their prime. Thank God. So we all looked a bit like "white-chicks-can't-dance" – because, let's face it, we generally can't. The hilarious part is that the instructor had a beer boep the size of a Jabulani soccer ball. (In fact, I think that may be an understatement.) But boy, could he dance! Just goes to show…

Anyway, thanks to my class-mates, I came out of there feeling like Shakira (but with more clothes on) and ready to take on this beautiful Spring day in Jozi.

Hope the traffic doesn't suck too much and you make it home in time for a sun-downer on your balcony!

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:

"YOUR HUSBAND CALLED. HE SAID BUY ANYTHING YOU WANT".

Gotta love this town.

Leaving Las Midlands

We left Karkloof Spa on Saturday 6 March. But not until The Husband had been brutalised by the resident Thai masseuse. She was fresh off the boat from Ko Loon Poo or wherever, which I guess is supposed to make the experience doubly authentic. Only snag was: she was still trying to come to grips with basic English. Statements such as, “STOP! That HURTS!!!” apparently only illicited giggles from her. She was also unable to understand: “No, not leg massage – back massage, yes?” At this, she apparently nodded and giggled and made all the right noises to indicate that she understood, but then merrily continued bashing The Husband’s back.

Eventually, The Husband decided to try a different tack. It went like this: “Su Lin. I go shop….. I ask milk….. I get Singha beer….. I say ‘NO!’…….. I say: ‘I want milk’……. Again, I get beer……. I shake head….like this (husband shakes head vigorously)….. I say ‘MILK!’ …..Finally, man give me milk…… I happy…..I smile….(husband smiles)….. You understand, Su Lin?”

The universal metaphor of the in-store milk and beer mix-up. Of course. I always forget that one.

And The Husband’s wonders why I don’t know what he’s talking about half the time.

Amazingly, though, Su Lin did actually understand. She grinned, giggled and nodded (as one would expect by this point) and then promptly began pummelling his thighs.

50 minutes into his 90 minute massage, The Husband limped out of the Spa. His right leg was in such a spasm that he asked me to start the drive back to Joburg. Just to explain: this is not normal behaviour. Unless we’re on our way to a big cycling race and he doesn’t want to “strain his legs”, he drives. Always. He is such a shocking back-seat driver that I’m perfectly okay with the arrangement.

“Fine,” I said, “but I’m blind-folding you.”

Since he took up cycling, I’ve started carrying one of those aeroplane eye-masks in my handbag. One peep about my driving and I threaten to whip it out and make him wear it. If he refuses, I threaten to get out of the car. Very mature all round. But it usually shuts him up. For about 15 minutes – but it’s 15 minutes of bliss.

On this particular car trip, he had the post-cycle-race munchies. After he’d finished every Jungle Bar, banana, piece of biltong and anything else he could lay his hands on, he passed out. When he woke up about an hour later, he started moaning for Nando’s. I promised to stop 113km later at the big petrol station outside Harrismith. He whinged for a bit and then passed out again. And then I managed to miss the bl**dy turn-off. It’s really badly sign-posted when you’re travelling north, I’ve decided. Plus there’s nowhere to turn around once you realise you’ve missed it. We were trying to get back to Jozi as quickly as possible to see The Sister for 24 hours, before she jetted back to London, so I starting thinking I should just laugh off Nando’s…

Eventually, I decided the risk of a hungry Husband was far too great and I managed to turn around. With an espresso and a chicken burger in his belly, The Husband rediscovered his sense of humour and we continued our drive to the Big Smoke in peace.

As a born and bred Southern Cape girl, I’ve always struggled with the Highveld landscape. I love the city, but I can’t quite get used to the geography. On this particular Sunday evening, however, Gauteng honestly looked gorgeous. (Yes, I do realise how hilarious that sounds). We were on the N3 and I think we were around the Heidelberg off-ramp. It was about 6pm and the sun was this incredible bright orange ball in the sky. It created the kind of light that photographers dream about. Even the usually boring, barren landscape looked beautiful as a result.

Best of all, it wasn’t raining and there was no mud.

Bring on the Big Smoke.

Pinky & the Brain – Again

It’s official: the more The Husband and I travel together, the dumber we get. First there was the time we missed our international flight out of the Bahamas because we meandered to the check-in desk 61 minutes before take-off. We sort of subconsciously assumed – since the whole of the Bahamas has a population the size of George – that backwater airport rules would apply. I mean you don’t need to rock up at cute little George airport a full hour before your flight, right? Turned out that check-in closed 60 minutes before take-off and so (after being duly cr*pped on) we were hastily checked in. We then got stuck in an almighty US immigration queue (yes, US immigration INSIDE the Bahamian airport – who knew?) and missed our flight to Miami. So instead of flying Nassau-Miam-Vale, we flew Nassau-Miami-Dallas-Vale. Perhaps the greatest punishment of all was not the three back-to-back flights. Rather, it was having access to nothing but Delta’s wholesome selection of on-board potato chips and peanuts for 12 hours straight.

Next, there was Pinky & the Brain Part One. This occurred two months ago, when we (okay, I) miscalculated our arrival date in Buenos Aires by 24 hours, leaving us without a hotel room the day before Christmas Eve.

Thirdly, ladies and gentlemen, may I present the absolute coup de grace on the International Travel Dumbometer. Pinky and the Brain Part Two has a similar beginning to Part One. At 5am on Thursday 4 February The Husband awakes with a start. We are booked to depart for a skiing trip in Austria at 5pm on Friday 5 February.

“Do I need a visa for Austria?” he goes.

We both freeze. Okay, deep breaths. Let’s apply our minds. (Where are our minds?) We locate the passport. We check the Schengen visa expiration date. 31 January 2010. Four freaking days ago! We are screwed. I can’t quite believe it. We planned this trip months ago. We’ve been lining up our gear on the bedroom floor for the last week: ski jacket, snow boots, ski goggles – the works. We even have the little thin, thermal gloves that go under your ski gloves. But the rather huge matter of eine kleine visa for Osterreich just did not cross our minds. Not once. Not until 36 hours prior to departure.

On the bright side, yours truly is A-for-away with my British passport. Screw Stuyvesant cigarettes: an EU passport is the international passport to smoking hot, travel pleasure. Every time my eyes rest on that burgundy beauty I sigh happily and thank my grandmother over and over again, for giving birth to my father in the snow.

I pretty much resign myself to the fact that it’ll be solo skiing for me for at least three or four days until The Husband can sort out his paperwork. I spend the whole of Thursday moping around and wondering who the heck is going to carry my skis from the hotel to the ski lifts? Those bad boys weigh an absolute ton. Life is so unfair. (And we are such morons).

In the meantime, the husband manages to secure an interview at the Austrian embassy first thing on Friday morning – i.e. the day of our supposed departure. Upon arrival, he is greeted by the following sign: `’POOR PLANNING ON YOUR PART DOES NOT NECESSARILY CONSTITUTE AN EMERGENCY FOR US” Er, good point. The only option is to plead complete and utter stupidity (not an act, if you think about it), to apologise profusely and, well, to beg. All of which The Husband duly does. He then endures a justifiable amount of finger wagging and tongue lashing from Klaus von Whats-his-face (deservedly so), before – miracle of miracles – Klaus marches over to a computer terminal, starts punching in data and tells The Husband to report back at 12pm when there may or may not be an answer from the Motherland. “But,” Klaus counsels, “don’t be too hopeful because all civil servants knock off at 12pm sharp on a Friday.” ’Course they do. Das is der government!

Mercifully, Pinky and the Brain Part Two has a happy ending. At 12pm yesterday The Husband was issued with a 7 day, multiple entry Schengen visa. Look out Austrian Alps – Dumb and Dumber have arrived! (Plus we’re Saffers on skis which means we’re armed and dangerous…)