Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Great Ohio

Before I go to a new place I start forming all these crazy expectations in my head of what it will be like. So, when I knew I was going to Ohio the crazy expectation filled head of mine was working overtime. My expectations were of a place that would have a whole lot of open land with miles of nothingness and nowhere and a bunch of insane hill-billy types that sort of resemble those people from the Hills Have Eyes or Wrong Turn. To say that Ohio was not my top choice was fair enough, I put it down to watching too many scary movies though. And then I got there and I realized how wrongly I had judged, thank goodness for that because being hacked to pieces on an abandoned hi-way was not how I planned to spend a weekend.

Ohio is a place that offers so much more than we expect from it. We expect to be bored by a whole lot of open miles, but instead we can be amazed by the history and architectural uniqueness of the small towns that you pass through every couple of turns in the road. We expect there to be a lack of fun, yet they offer activities out of the ordinary that require you to be just that little bit more adventurous and embrace a side of you that would normally lie dormant, like biking to some town and experiencing their wondrous downtown vibe, taking a tour of the many farms in the area or just appreciating nature at its best, quiet undisturbed and perfect.

Cincinnati offers much in the way of sturdy architecture and friendly people. There are many little shops that will inspire that shopaholic within you to empty those pockets. Over the Rind in Cincinnati is one of the very interesting parts of the city as it holds a great deal of history and tells a story of just how far this place has come. Yellow Springs is the kind of town you go to see what you hope America would be like, a place where you can find friendly people willing to support a few boys selling daffodils from their mothers garden, it is a place brimming with so much soul and artsy vibes you cannot help but want to embrace your inner hippy, oh and did I mention that their funnel fries could quite possibly be the best in the world. Just thought I should mention that very important fact.

It is hard to choose exactly which place in Ohio really stood out for me. It could have been seeing the sparkling lights of Columbus while eating one of the most absurdly original burgers on the planet. It could have been seeing the beautiful farm in Xenia while feeding the ponies and petting the greedy goat. It could be seeing Serpents Mound in twilight and marveling at the grand things of human culture. Or seeing a million other places that are just as fantastic. It is hard to choose when the state of Ohio continues to leave me gaping at each corner.

There are many things that will never cease to amaze you when you take the long road down a dusty hi-way in Ohio. You could meet people who will warmly welcome you into their homes as if you were their beloved family, you could see unexpected and peculiar sights, but most of all you could be amazed when you set aside your expectations and be utterly entranced at what you find within this state that holds so much. Ohio is a place that will continue to defy your expectations and set about to prove you wrong. It will show you the best it has to offer no matter where you are looking, be that at field ready for the plowing or in a busy downtown metropolitan city. Ohio is surely a place you want to put down on your list of places to be.

Safe Travels

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Irish Pride

Being an Au Pair is amazing in that our Area Director’s go out of their way to find exciting things for us to do at our monthly meetings. For those of you who are not too sure what Area Directors are; this is the person in the United States who ensures that we follow the rules, have a great time and we are still living and breathing each month, kind of like a mom (except she can’t ground us when we misbehave, thank goodness for that because I would probably have spent my whole time in this country in my room without a cellphone). And the monthly meetings are the times when we see our Area Director in person. So being March what better way to spend it than at a St Patrick’s Day parade. Just a pity though we could not spend it in true Irish style with a keg or two in our hands singing about the good ‘ol days in our dear Ireland while dressed in green .

Morristown, a beautiful town in Morris County, New Jersey, was the place chosen for our monthly meeting. The weather that day was superb, the sun was shining and there was just enough of a breeze to make it bearable but not too cold. The parade started off with a group of girls dressed in colourful traditional Irish dress dancing to upbeat folksy tunes and skipping and hopping higher than should be humanly possible I thought about trying it but then thought I could come up with much better ideas, I think I will just put this down to the fact that they were young and not that I was certainly very unfit.

With the streets filling up with all sorts of people who had just discovered they all had some sort of Irish heritage, most though dating back probably a couple centuries, some wonderful Au Pair discovered a Starbucks. Now Starbucks is the very way of life for us Au Pairs, it is where we go to meet new friends, to fill our veins with coffee so strong it’s a sure bet we will not be sleeping for the next few days and it’s the place you go to gather your senses when your kids have frayed and dashed each last nerve you had. Starbucks is home. So in we go to gather our little comforts to make the most of standing outside. After all that it was back on the street to watch the parade unfolding before us.

The actual parade was a wonderful affair. Most of the people were men dressed in skirts, oh make that kilts (I never did understand the difference), walking to the beat of drums, flutes and bagpipes. Glorious red fire trucks passed our way filling up the entire street and amazing us at the sheer size of this monster machine. A mime artist walked by entertaining children in silence, and for two very amazing seconds we experienced that same silence from the children as they tried this imitation, I believe from now on I will be playing this game with my kids. There were a group of people and dogs from the Seeing Eye Dog foundation which is very famous in Morristown and then some more very famous Irish dogs. The Irish wolfhound left most of us gaping with its enormous size, it was truly a magnificent creature.

The parade was wonderful as it left us with great memories. For me it was the chance to meet some great, friends from exotic places in this world, to learn about the Irish culture in a fun and interactive way and to add to my already over flowing bank of memories of my exceptional time in the United States of America.


Safe travels!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Friends, food and Madiba

Nestled snugly in a City that never ceases to stop for just a second is the most perfect reminder of home. A place that is not just a nostalgic reminder because of a name we all associate with our country, but the place bustles with the lively atmosphere of a typical South African shebeen. About 80% of the people there are all natives, so familiar accents and words that many of us hear so seldomly fly around like we are all sitting back at home catching up with old friends. You are greeted with a, “Hey China! Howzit going!” and you promptly respond with, “Lekker bru,” with no awkward glances and feeling for the first time in a very long time as if someone really gets this very unique thing we all share. It is a place for those us who long for the country we all dearly miss to have some sort of connection to, because ultimately that is what South Africa is made up of, a melting pot of amazing people and Madiba in New York City captures this so impressively.

I must admit I had my doubts about this place, recreating an atmosphere and place that completely symbolized the very way of life for every South African in a place that was so completely opposite was going to be a challenge. South Africa lives for the “just now’s” and moves on the ever unpredictable “African Time,” we seldomly stay strangers with people for very long and smiles are given away like candy. In New York City, despite how amazing this place is, you are hurried from one place to the next knowing that every second counts, and most of the time we are so busy glancing down at our feet we forget to see the people who pass by us on the street. Yet our first step into this place was like taking a giant leap out of the USA and stepping into the warm embrace of home.

Madiba was our choice of restaurant for the night because we were meeting some South African friends flying in from the UK. Familiar territory for all. As we walked through the door we were handed an original ballot sheet from the 1994 election, and they had even taken the time to mark off our vote for us. The place was jam packed with people squashing elbows in this knee and standing on that toe. The music playing in the background was a mix of up and coming South African artist, with some of the older more famous tracks in between. At our table we sat down in old style farm house chairs that were all miss matched, and sturdy looking tables that came out of our grandparents’ era.

The food was amazing! We started off with a light white wine straight from the vineyards in Stellenbosch to accompany our starter of “vetkoek” in a sauce of chutney and a hearty supply of “slap chips” drenched in vinegar. Now the hard part came, choosing from the multitude of traditional dishes which would satisfy our appetite and longing for home. At this point in the night when we have all starved ourselves the whole day for the anticipated meals ahead, the decision is a very difficult one. I settled on the tasty “bobotie” and more chutney which turned out impeccably capturing all the flavors of this very scrumptious meal. Kate, Mavis and Jen both tried the “pap en wors” with the side of chakalaka. I had a taste of the pap and have to say honestly that no one can truly make better “pap” then my wonderful “Goggo” back home, but it came a very close second. Kev and Nicole tried the very traditional oxtail, and both raved about the delicious meal.

At this point we were all stuffed to the seams, but how could I leave without trying “iets soets?” After selling off my beanie in exchange for a dom pedro I was hoping it would be worth it. It was great that Kate was paying, but it was also frigidly cold outside that door. The first sip was more than worth it and the rest of that wonderful glass was a delightful bonus.

The night turned into a great surprise. A time to reconnect with all that we left behind at home, to catch up with old friends and to be in a place where we could just have a “lekker jol.”

Safe travels!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Part Four: I'm in Miami

It is a Friday night and I cannot go out because it’s snowing. So, I thought I would catch up with my blog since I have been neglecting it terribly for the last few weeks. I have done a great many exciting things since the last time I posted anything, so hang in there and if like me you have nothing to do on a Friday night, grab your mug of steamy hot chocolate, a huge bowl of chocolate ice cream and a chair and read away. Or anything chocolate for that matter. I hope I provide some sort of entertainment for you tonight.

So we ended off the road trip saga in Key West, Florida. I have one more fascinating destination to tell you about before I can close off that chapter. This blog takes place in the unbelievable city of Miami, Florida. A place where the party, literally, never stops.

Having spent a really fun, lazy day in Key West, we took a rather slow drive up to Miami. Slow because the fastest you could drive at any one time was 50 mph and that was if no cops were in the nearby vicinity. We arrived in Miami and made our way straight to our hostel, because I was a grumpy person and Kevin was almost on his deathbed. The one great thing about America is that most major cities number their streets, so when you’re navigating your way through unfamiliar territory at least you can kind of feel like you have some semblance of hope that you know what you’re doing. So the hostel was on 9th and Something Street, this would make it easy, especially for someone like me who needs things to be made very simple. I am driving and I find the numbers and I count along in my head, just making extra careful. There I go, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10. Something wasn’t quite right there. So I turn around and start again. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10. Not right again. They say third times the charm so one more time. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10. Somehow I just knew I should have listened during those math lessons, but well too late now. Eventually, in his near death state, Kevin wakes up, relieves me of the horrendous task of driving and manages to find the street, the 9th one. If you’re lucky with numbers, you’re lucky with numbers.

One thing I have to say about Miami though is that hostel are certainly not for the fate of heart. If you go there expecting a place with a comfy bed, noise free, personal space and a clean bathroom, you would have better luck booking in at the $1000 a night, 5 star hotel down the road. It was my first time ever in a hostel, and to say the least it was like a huge cultural shock. Almost like packing my bags, flying way over the ocean and living in another country with no familiar face. It was almost that bad. While it is an awesome place to meet people from all over the world, I met some girls from Russia who were probably here competing for world’s tallest human, a guy from Cambodia who spoke better English then an English speaking person, and someone from Germany who wasn’t too sure what country he was from. The bathrooms were a place you entered and didn’t judge too closely anything you found that slightly resembled a foreign specie. In order to keep your sanity about you, just go in there do what needs to be done and leave. That is the only way to survive.

Miami is this place where they have the most amazing specials. Being the shop obsessed individual I am, I cannot under any circumstances pass up a bargain. It would go against everything I stand for in life. But these “amazing specials” tended to drift towards the more adult beverages. A special is a special, I was not about to let this one pass me by. So after huge cocktails and recovery sessions on the beach, it was time to make our way back to yet another hostel, this time we had our own room, to get ready for a night out on the town. Now the main building for the International Hostel is but three blocks away from where we were staying. Keep that in mind, three blocks. We go there to make our reservations for the night and then walk over to our apartment style hostel. Well, Kevin and I made it there anyway. I spent an hour getting myself ready for the night, and still managed to watch a movie and helped some poor lost traveler from Brazil, or was it Spain? I cannot remember, try find his friends who abandoned him at the airport. So three hours later and there I see Shaii and Kate walking down the street, with a huge bottle of water and rationing off a chocolate bar like their lives depended upon it. What had happened to them you may ask? They too got lost somewhere between the three blocks they had to walk from the main hostel to where we were staying. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that they walked in one continuous circle for three hours. I think after the first 10 minutes I would have been bored. But kudos to them for persevering the way they did.

Miami was really great. We didn't just spend our time on half priced cocktails and shaking our booties in clubs. We managed to see a little more than that. We saw the amazing beach, went on a boat cruise around the harbor and got to ogle celebrity houses and ended off our time with an insanely delicious meal at a very fancy restaurant. So, go to Miami all you young at heart and if you feel especially brave go try out a hostel, it will be sure to change your world.

Safe travels!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Part Three: A Life of Laze in Key West

The wonderful thing about a road trip is that you are never bound to a destination or how you will travel. If a place piques your interest than staying an extra night is an option, if by morning you find that it just does not add that certain excitement you expect, then packing up and leaving is as easy as that- packing and going. So, with our New Orleans part of the journey coming to an end, choices had to be made. Where to next? How were we going to travel? Did we stay an extra night? Being Christmas morning and just about everything shut down but the trusty old Starbucks (where we all made hurried calls back home, lest we land up in mom’s bad books and had to forgo a Christmas gift for next year), the best choice was driving another 20 hours straight through to Key West, Florida. Now it all seemed very practical; no accommodation costs (we would be sleeping in the car), we could actually fit this unique destination into our travel itinerary and we had something to do for Christmas day since everything was locked tighter then my brothers secret stash of money. But thirty minutes into the drive and with another nineteen and a half to look forward to, you have to wonder what possessed you to think that driving so long would be such a brilliant idea. The car begins to feel like a moving prison cell, the radio sounds much better when it’s playing static then the endless hits radio stations keep leaving on repeat, and you much prefer the company of the four other people in the car with you when they are dead to the world rather than awake and breathing. In this case I mean when they are napping, but the thought did cross my mind a time or two.

Arriving in Key West, Florida is like driving into a place that does not quite understand that life in other parts of the world revolve around busy schedules, hurried work lives, screaming children and far off thoughts of that idyllic retirement all alone on a secluded island. Key West is that place we all dream of going to, to unwind and forget that we have a job to go back to. It’s the place where a, “I’ll see you in 5 minutes,” can mean anything from 5 hours to 5 months. You set your own pace here, or none at all for that matter. Arriving bright and early the next morning we made our way to a Laundromat to do laundry. Yes, even on vacation this heinous task will still present itself. With laundry in and taking its sweet time to run through a cycle, I spotted a bag of homemade nuts, raisins and m&m mix in the car and with my stomach and me having many life changing conversations in that car over the hours, I eagerly grabbed it before someone spotted the loot. And then what would walk across my path? A rooster. Now you should know this about me, I am a sucker for poor, starving helpless things, even when that perceived starving helplessness is in my head. So, my only option was to feed this poor thing with the only food I had available to me. My stomach was already protesting, but I was doing this for the greater good. I love m&m’s and my absolute favorite kind are the blue one’s. So seeing as I was not going to eat the other colours, I began throwing them out to the Rooster who quickly devoured his morning meal. After about 5 minutes of this and thoughts that maybe chocolate was not the best choice for a morning meal I quickly switched and gave him raisins instead, figuring a fruit a day would keep doctors away and all that. When I decided that overeating was not an indulgence this fine looking Rooster should partake in, I abruptly ended our meal together and bid him farewell. Unfortunately he did not quite get the farewell part, and instead took it as in invitation to invite his fellow chickens. Well, at least Shaii got some great pictures in between running away from chickens and throwing them food to encourage better poses for his photo’s.

With laundry all done, our next stop was food and a doctor’s office. We did not harm anyone in the process of this road trip, but the ever stoic Kevin did manage to get himself sick. Remember that unhurried pace the citizens of Key West choose to enforce in their lives? Even doctor’s offices implement this concept. So after about the second hour and no sign of Kevin emerging out the air conditioned building; Kate, Shaii and I made ourselves comfortable by rolling the windows down low, leaning our heads back and just slightly closing our eyes. Now if you were to do this anywhere else in the world you could find yourselves without a car and a couple of limbs, but considering the time it would take for people to do this and all the work it would be we figured we were more than safe in this community. What seemed like an eternity later, Kevin finally came out with a prescription for Strep Throat and a mood blacker then a starless night. And not a drop of sympathy from his fellow friends.

The rest of our time in this breathtaking place was spent lounging and drifting into bouts of much-needed sleep on the warm beach with the ocean at our toes. With the sun slowing descending against the horizon and realizing I had forgotten my camera in the car, Shaii and I made the mile long walk to fetch it. How could we come to Key West and forgo a picture of the sunset? With the camera strapped securely around me, we made the arduous trek back to the sleeping beauties on the beach, but somehow got side tracked when Shaii spotted an Iguana. This prompted me to tell him that in South Africa we have the same except with one flick of their tail they can break your legs, and then screaming that one was coming for us. It brought tears of joy to my eyes to see him get so scared and uncertain. Believe Shana or lose my legs were probably the thoughts colliding in his head. We also got to explore a fort complete with cannon balls and dingy prison cells and still made it back in the nick of time to take the most gorgeous photos of the sun slowing slipping behind the ocean.

With the sun set on this part of our stay, it was in the car and off again to a new place and a whole set of new memories to be made


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Part Two: Forever Altered by New Orleans

In life we have all these outrageous social classes and groups that separate us from one another. You have the ultra-conservative people who balk at the sight of some of the shenanigans the liberals undertake in, then there are the business type who work harder than they intend to play, there are the family-orientated who make changing a diaper seem like the next best thing after a grand reception with the president (well, this may depend on the president who offers you that grand reception), and then there are those wild college students who at the age of 30 are still there studying the effects that ethanol will have on the organs. In normal life we do not mix, we are required to each stay on our dividing sides of class and tolerate each other. Yet, come to New Orleans and you will see a meeting of the classes that will so baffle and intrigue you at the very same time. More specifically, set your foot amongst those walking the tar on Bourbon Street; mingle with a lady old enough to be your grandmother, talk politics with a child barely out of a high school classroom and boogie all night with someone who could quite possibly be more formal and stuffy than your father. On Bourbon Street this is the way of life.

Arriving amidst peak hour  traffic after seeing the inside of a car for too long, the best and most logical thing would be to find our hotel, take a shower and sleep until waking up would actually make us happy people again. We arrived at the hotel, where I was trying very hard to keep my judgment well hidden, and found our room. Walking the corridor to our room was like standing outside the KFC in Dundee, South Africa. Being the Christmas season it kind of made you feel nostalgic for all of two seconds, and then the smell really hit and having reminders of home did not seem that important anymore. So after taking about an hour to unpack the car (none of us got the memo to pack light), we made plans to be out the door by 7pm because Kevin was going to show us how to really party. It never happened that way; it was a kind of rough estimate of what time to get up.

First rule to remember when partying: always, always have something to eat beforehand. It makes the headache the next morning only a little less as intensifying. Being in New Orleans you have to try the food no matter how absurd it may sound. If you do not it is like going to France and completely missing Paris, it is just not done. There are many options and something will satisfy your curiosity, being the adventurous people we were we decided to try a sampler of all the different kinds of food. And Shaii being a vegetarian opted for the cheese pizza (at the end of our trip he has officially tasted more cheese pizza then anyone I know). My favorite was the Gumbo, I know it had rice in it and some other stuff (sometimes it is best just to eat and not ask). So with the bellies all filled up it was time to go see Bourbon Street for the first time, and be transformed.

Now many people think Vegas is the party capital of the world, yes they may be right, but Bourbon Street in New Orleans is thee party capital that does not distinguish between people. If you decide to make a night out on the town in your fluffy pajama’s with cute white bunnies then good for you. If you have just come from a long day of exploring other parts of the city with your huge camera bulging in your front, your white socks pulled up smartly somewhere between your calf and knee and your flowery flip flops on your feet, then there is a place for you here to. The one very interesting thing about New Orleans is that alcohol is permitted on the streets, just not in the container it comes in. It is kind of like the philosophy most parents have about their teenagers, “We know terrible things are abounding in your rooms, but just close the door and we can pretend it’s not really there.” Another very important rule to remember when going out is to always carry a phone or in the worst case remember your friend’s number. I sadly did not heed my own advice here and got separated from the group somewhere between meeting a new friend, trying to scream a conversation to a stranger and dancing the night away in a smoke filled room. When deciding that Bourbon Street had come out a victor this first night, I waited to tell my friends it was time to go and could not find a single familiar face. Now the time comes when you want to rewind the hands of time, charge that phone and carry it with you. With hundreds of bars and clubs and places to be on that crowded street, finding my friends was like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. So against everything I had ever been taught by my wonderful parents, I went home with a stranger so he could help me get a hold of my friends and find the hotel I was staying at. I was lucky that night; I never went home with an axe murderer who would later feed me to the alligators. This person helped me find my friends and hotel and even dropped me off at 4 in the morning, now that is real Southern Hospitality for you. I do, however, not recommend this to anyone.

Before you think that New Orleans was a one stop party destination, I will assure you we did see more of what this truly rare part of America had to offer. We drifted through the French Market by day somehow being bargained into buying things that just touched the corner of our eyes. We ate more food than I think humanly safe, but savored every last morsel. And after lunch we had coffee at the famous Café Du Mont, where icing sugar brought out the child within and the coffee just refined the behavior. We watched passengers embark on the last Steam Boat and were greeted by a homeless man making many exuberant sounds; Shaii seemed thoroughly delighted in communicating in this manner. We took a tram ride to nowhere and back again just because we could and enjoyed it regardless.

If it is at all possible, every person should make a stop in New Orleans at least once. To see what a meshing of the social classes and cultures is like. To see difference as something that makes you special and not what separates you. Albert Einstein once said that, “The distinctions separating social classes are false; in the last analysis they rest on force.” I think when he said this he must have been dreaming about the faraway place of Bourbon Street, New Orleans.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Part One: An Introduction

I have survived the impending doom of the end of the world, and now am at this very moment am undertaking an event just as life changing. I am now on a road trip from New Jersey down to New Orleans for my Christmas vacation, with three of the most unique specimens of mankind on board our interesting ship of a car. Sides have been chosen, and re-chosen more times than the unlimited miles of quaint road between point A and B, and war has been declared. As of yet the enemy is unknown and the cause, well that is undecided too. Let me introduce you to each opposing force occupying a space much too small for each implied thought of self greatness.

First up on the list is Kate. This list is going in alphabetical order with the last person being the most likely to succeed this impeding friendly war known as the Winter Road Trip. Kate is Czech, and for most that should be information enough, but since that will not suffice for others let me elaborate. Many times I fail to quite describe just how truly unique Kate is. So I will resort to making references to fairytales. Kate is like a dainty Princess in an Ivory tower, very beautiful but very useless. The beauty charm works very well in most cases like when photos are needed and, umm I am sure there was something else too. And for Kate, the useless thing works very well in a car. In a car Kate is just like a Princess, stuck in her Ivory Tower unable to do anything relying on her minions. Oh, but she does encourage and entertain us with just how amazingly similar the Czech Republic is to America. Five minutes into our road trip I feel as if I have seen more of the Czech Republic then most of the states I have passed through on our 22 hour drive down.

Next is Kevin. The SUPER glue (because any ordinary spit and stick glue is not good enough for Kevin) that holds the constantly perceived  fraying pieces together. The long road down to New Orleans has been made less boring with his one of kind renditions of classic songs, that all somehow seem to portray our less than desirable qualities. But as they say many life lessons are taught through the words of a simple song, apparently Kevin has caught on to this theory a lot quicker than most. Thus far Kevin has exhibited very human-like qualities (or alien depending on who’s glasses you use to view this scenario from), a minor number of insults and a relatively small head for awesomness. But this is just the start.

Shaii’s name just came up in my mind and all my fingers wanted to do was type away. But I will use constraint. Shaii in normal circumstances is like my much loved arch nemesis. On the road trip he has evolved into the much loved one man comedy show of an arch nemesis. Shaii has this wonderful way to make you feel very liked and insulted from just one word out of his mouth. And he has this, to me, annoying penchant to sing themes songs to my life. Although I love the feeling that I live the movie star style life with all the travelling, constantly being serenaded with Bob Marley’s Who Shot the Sheriff is not my idea of the ideal theme song for my time in life at the moment. At this moment though he has added a new song to his playlist for my life, I can still hear it echoing in my head unless of course that is his voice. I like big butts and I cannot lie….

And the last person in the car? Well that’s me.

Oh, and we did make it down to New Orleans somewhat fuzzed out on Nyquill (Shaii), having lost only about two hours of sleep out of a normal twenty four hour day (Kate), smelling a tad like a fresh patch of stink weed (Me) and much convinced of his ability to party like a sixteen year old (Kevin).