How I Spent 7 Days in Cape Town, South Africa

I don’t really know when or why South Africa made it to my Top 5 List of Places to Visit but now that’d I’ve been, I can’t tell you how happy I am that it was.  I’m not in the habit of visiting the same place twice, that is except for Jamaica, but I do plan to return to Cape-Town.   After spending a week there, my desire to see Africa has increased tremendously.  I want to see more of this continent, Botswana, Namibia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria.  I would love for my next move to be some place in Africa.

At first I was a little apprehensive about visiting Cape Town while the city was in the middle of a water crisis but everything we read said go anyway, so we did.  We were a group of 6 so we needed a comfortable place to stay that would give everyone their own space.  We booked an Airbnb and an eight passenger van.  We planned to do most of the driving ourselves even though it was on the opposite side of the street and none of us had ever driven on that side before.  We figured it would be all part of the adventure.  Most of the planning of our itinerary we did in advance.  We were ready and excited!!!

Yeah a lot like this!!

Before our flight, I exchanged money at the airport.  The official currency for Cape Town is the South African Rand.  Unfortunately, the kiosk was out of South African Rand so the next best thing, according to the CSR, was to exchange for Euros.  One ZAR is equal to about 0.067 Euros, or 0.083 USD.  I also took my credit/debit cards.

With only one daily, nonstop, 10 hour flight from Doha to Cape Town, leaving at 1:55 a.m., I swallowed two Tylenol PM’s and slept half the flight away.  I was hoping to have a row to myself; I mean how many people travel to Cape Town on a Friday morning anyway, well enough to fill up an Airbus to my surprise.  About 10 minutes into the flight, I was really missing first class. (To read about my experiences in first class click here)

Cape Town is only an hour behind Doha, so we arrived around 11:00 a.m.  We did not require a visa and going through immigration was quick and painless.  I exchanged my EURO’s for ZAR with no problem at the airport and was able to access the local currency through the ATM.  Since we weren’t staying at a hotel, I knew that having cash on hand would be best.  We walked over to Bidvest, our car rental agency, via an underground walkway and picked up our van.

Afterwards we followed Google Maps (I highly recommend downloading this app before you travel), and admired the new scenery on our way to our temporary home.  Btw, the place was perfect.  It was located within a 10 minute drive to the V&A Waterfront, just below Table Mountain and Signal hill, and within 5 minutes of Bo-Kaap.  The townhouse had 3 bedrooms, each with their own en-suites, a balcony with a good view of the city, a fully-equipped kitchen, a rooftop pool and patio (although we couldn’t use the pool due to the water shortage), windows that people could get a glimpse of you showering through, and oh btw, we had a tree in our house.  You heard me right, a tree.  Take a look at this video.

Andrew, our host, was great.  Here is a link to the Airbnb we stayed  and use my link to get $40 in travel credit when you book your next stay using Airbnb.

Arrival day:

We settled into our place, found a vegan place to eat (The Hungry Herbivore) and drove around to check out our neighborhood.  I’ll tell you about the vegan eating scene in Cape Town in a later post. [check back for that one]

Day 1 Shopping Saturday:

Everyone that we knew from South Africa recommended me check out this place called the Old Biscuit Mill or the Neighborgoods market which is only open on Saturday, thus the title of the day.  This is a place not to be missed.  Good for: trying different foods and drinks, people-watching, listening to live entertainment, shopping (although the products are a little on the expensive side for the goods).  The food we ate was delicious except for the vegan dessert but the sangria made up for it.

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Afterwards, we made our way to LongMarket Street.  This was a better place to shop in my opinion.  It was like a huge flea market down town with a mix of stalls with hand-made products and regular stores.  The GreenMarket Square is the best place for tourist shopping of souvenirs.  You will find jewelry, clothing, african material, magnets, art, hand bags, and all sorts of knick knacks.  I purchased an ankara dress for 250 zar (20 usd) compared to the 650 zar (54 usd) I spent on an ankara skirt at the Old Biscuit Mill.  Both of which were a really good price but you get the point.   If you’ve ever been to a port of call off of a cruise ship in the Caribbean island, you can get some sense of what this market square is like but with a little less hasseling.  Be sure to negotiate your prices.  [I was able to negotiate a piece of art down to 50%] But a couple of us gave the seller our business in turn.

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Running low on energy and our allotment of the day’s spending, we walked around Long street and found a spot to eat (Royale Eatery), a burger spot with vegan and vegetarian options.  In the shopping center you had to pay 2 Rand to use the bathroom. If you are going to Cape Town, it would be best to carry some of their change in case you need to use the WC (wash closet), some wipes or tissue in case there isn’t any and some hand sanitizer as some of the faucets were turned off to conserve water.

Day 2 Safari Sunday:

Our day started with a drive to Bo-Kaap.  (Click here to learn all about Bo-Kaap)  It’s a beautiful area filled with colorful houses in the creases of Signal Hill.  If you are ever in South Africa, be sure to walk through this area and take many pictures like I did.

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Then we went to Signal Hill. Well we didn’t actually go to the very top of it but we went pretty close.  Here is one of the spots with the best views of Cape Town.  Take a look for yourself.

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If I’m ever in Cape Town again, I will return to Signal Hill and go to the top at night or in the early morning to watch the sunrise over this picturesque city.  Simply breathtaking.

Since there were no decent safari options close to Cape Town, we opted for a Game reserve.  Let me tell you what the difference is between a Safari and a Game Reserve.  A safari is a experience where you can view wild animals in their natural habitat without fences.  A game reserve is privately owned and operated.  In this instance, the owners know exactly what animals are on the property and work to make the environment suitable for them.  (Basically a wider scale zoo)  But we weren’t going to Africa without seeing some animals.  Had I done proper research, I might have opted to go to Johannesburg instead.  Nah, I probably still wouldn’t gone to Cape Town.

Anyway, we booked a sunset Game Drive with Aquila Private Game Reserve in advance. (to learn more about Aquila, click on the name).  Aquila was a very scenic 2 hour drive away.  My eyes were glued to the window or my camera lens the entire drive.  We drove past farms, and settlements (you can read about the settlements by clicking here, I don’t know much about them and honestly the sight of them made me sad so I’m not going to touch that subject), over and through mountains and towns.  I enjoyed seeing many colors and various landforms contrary to my current home.  Aquila is not only a Game Reserve, it also a resort that you can stay on.  There is a swimming pool, bar, restaurant, single cabins on a hill and hotel rooms.

A tour guide carried us and a small group in a 4X4 safari vehicle through the fences to see the animals.  We saw hippos, an ostrich, antelopes, elephants, wildebeast, giraffes and oryx.  We made a pit stop during the reserve and enjoyed libations.  Lastly, we pulled up to a large fence and saw a lion inside and thought that would be the end of it, but then we pulled into that fence and watched as the tour guide got out of the vehicle and locked the other fence behind us.  For a second, I thought being fed to lions would be a horrible way to go.  But then he told us, as long as we stay inside the vehicle, the lions sees us as one but the moment one of us gets out, we are considered fair gain.  As we drove through the huge area, we saw several more lions.   They seemed to put on a show, as they meandered around and sat near us basking in the sunset, then one started howling.  Show off!!!  We left the ‘lions den’ after some time and continued through the reserve.  We spotted rhinos and their babies and zebras too.   As the sun went down on our day, we proceeded home.  Of the Big Five, we only missed the leopard and cape buffalo but it was a fun time.  Enjoy this slide show.

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Here’s my friend Leo showing off.

Since I’ve never been to a real safari, I don’t really have anything to compare Aquila Game Reserve to.  But what I will say is, I’m not returning back to Africa without visiting one.

Day 3 Mandela Monday:

Monday was reserved to visit Robben Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Sight and prison where Nelson Mandela and many other men were incarcerated for political offenses.  This is another must see while in Cape Town. We booked our tickets at www.robben-island.org.za.  We took a ferry 30 minutes out from Cape Town and arrived on the island.  Our first stop was the Prison, where a former prisoner gave us a tour and recount of some of the events that transpired there.  He was very passionate and informative.  I don’t know if I could go back and work in the same place that imprisoned me for year.  He not only works there but also lives on the island as do many other former prisoners.  Our tour included a visit to the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned as well.  Afterwards, we had a rushed tour of the island.  Our ferry was late from the jump to transport us to the island then our tour bus was late picking us up to take us on the rest of the tour.  But listening to this man talk made the trip worth it, but I would have really liked more time on the island.  I recommend taking one of the early morning tours of the island versus the 1 or 3 p.m. ones.

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The Crew

Coincidently, on our way back from Robben island we received a news alert that Winnie Mandela had passed away that same day.  RIP Winnie.

Day 4 Trekken Tuesday:

A visit to Cape Town is incomplete without going to Table Mountain. But not only did I  ‘go’ to Table Mountain, I CLIMBED IT, All The Way To The Top.  And it is way too big and important to just get a piece of this blog post.  It needs it’s own post.  So sorry wonderful followers, you will have to check back for that one.  BTW, that’s me and my friend Britney taking a rest halfway through the climb, in the featured image at the top.

After trekken Table Mountain, and a quick wardrobe change, we went to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.  Britney, our flower enthusiast, really wanted to go.  She makes it her business to visit botanical gardens when she travels and now she has made me a convert.  When I was younger, my family and I used to go to the annual flower show in Philadelphia but that was the extent of my knowledge.  But a botanical garden is on a higher level.  I even found a flower named after my sister, Ericka. This is another must do while in Cape Town.

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Enjoying the view 

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Here is the famous Kirstenbosch Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway- enjoy the slide show

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Next up was Chapman’s Peak, a scenic drive on the side of a mountain.  You pay a small toll before you start the drive.  We had to pay 45 Rand because we were were driving a van.  The route is also patrolled.  Vehicles drive from both directions as well as bikes and motorcycles.  Don’t fall asleep on this road or you probably won’t wake up.  It’s a little unnerving but Britney’s husband Quahn handled it with ease while Britney closed her eyes at several points during the drive.  Neither of us wanted to take that same route back home.

We rode Chapman’s Peak, then through Simons Town, a maritime naval town, to Boulders Beach, a sheltered beach made up of inlets between granite boulders.  It is here where the African colony of penguins live.  Unfortunately, we went to the website which said the beach would close at 6, we arrived at 5 and were told it was closed.  Sad faces.  I’m seeing a pattern that arriving early for sights in Cape Town is best.  Thankfully, a few rebellious penguins were around the area and I was able to get a few photos of them.

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To end our day, we went to the Waterfront to enjoy a seafood dinner.  It was the most expensive meal we had during our stay and while it was good, it wasn’t worth the price.  We ate at the Harbour house.  We figure the location had something to do with the price, and we were spoiled with the cheap prices of eating thus far.  Check back for a post on how this shady vegan faired during her stay in Cape Town.

Day 5 Wino Wednesday:

Apparently, according to Vogue, Cape town is “home to some of the most prestigious wineries on the planet” (www.vogue.com) so of course we wanted to see for ourselves.  We scheduled 3 wine tours in one day.  We would drive in a big circle.

Our first stop was Chamonix located in  Franschhoek.  Its a small farm and winery and the most expensive of our three tours. (100 Rand pp)  We tried 6 wines and didn’t like any of them.  We sat on wooden benches infested with some sort of green baby bugs.  Then we walked through the wine cellar and out to the vineyard.  It was pretty but unimpressive.

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Stop #2 was Babylonstoren. It is a Cape Dutch farm that also has wine tastings.  You walk through the farmland to get to a glass encasement which is where the tasting takes place. We also taste tested 6 wines here and did not like any of them either.  However, the place is beautiful and the vibe nice.  We didn’t get any food but the service was on point.  We needed to taste quickly so that we could make it to our last stop and the waitress was on it.  This place was much cheaper than Chamonix, (we paid 35 Rand pp) and better.  They have a farm, hotel, spa and restaurant.  Our experiences were gradually improving.

Our last stop on Winery Wednesday was to Waterford Estate.  This winery was by far the best of the 3.  We pulled up and were like “WOW! Now this is more like it.”  We had two tastings scheduled here: regular tasting of 6 wines and then a chocolate pairing tasting with an additional 6 wines.  We actually got to taste 14 wines and on the 14th tasting, we found a wine we liked.  It was sweet and very tasty and the chocolate that went with it was delicious too.  We paid for some bread with balsamic because by then we were famished and the ‘wine’ needed some food.  Even the bread was great!  Our waiter was an infectious young lad that entertained us.  We walked around the vineyard for a little while and met a family that lived in Cape Town.  They invited us to their beach house and if we had met them earlier on our trip, we would have taken them up on their offer.

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Our day ended with half of us finding some vegan food and the other half finding some chicken and a resounding toast and other debauchery on the rooftop enjoying the night view.

Day 6 Thrill Seeking Thursday or Bust:

Is a trip complete without indulging in something thrill-seeking? What is your opinion on this?  Well, our Thrill Seeking Thursday was a Bust.  With all of our planning, we never locked in an actual event and our quest to find thrills was unsuccessful, that is of course outside of Table Mountain (check back for the full story on that).  I wanted to take a gyroflight but wasn’t sure if I’d actually have the heart to do it.  We all wanted to do ATV’s or Tree Canopies or both but when we drove to a place that offered it, over an hour away, no one was there.  So instead of doing nothing, we headed back down to Long street for more shopping.

Day 7 Farewell Friday:

On our last day, we packed up, said goodbye to our Cape Town home and got some breakfast.  This was an unusually long post, I know, but thanks for sticking in there with me.  Hands down, the worst part of vacation is leaving and returning to everyday life.  Perhaps one day, vacation and everyday life will be one.  That is my goal!

In all, I had an amazing time in Cape Town and traveled with a very fun group.  I see a second trip to Africa in my very near future.

Here is a list of things I wanted to do but missed: Visit Philadelphia-Town in South Africa, that many South Africans don’t even know exist.  I wanted to go just so I could say I was home in Philadelphia but really I wouldn’t have been.  Drive to Cape Agulhas- the geographic southern tip of the African continent and the beginning of the dividing line between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  Visit Cape of Good Hope- rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula. A common misconception is that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa.  Relax at Camps Bay Beach.  Drive over Bloukrans bridge.  Eat at Willoughby’s.  There is a lot you can see and do in 7 days in Cape Town but you will also miss things.  Until next time…

I would love to hear from you.  Have you ever traveled to Cape Town or any part of Africa? What was your experience like?

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I absolutely love this picture that I took on the way to Boulders Beach

Why Cape Town Should be on Everyone’s Bucket List

“Welcome to the Mother City” is the sign you see when you leave the plane and commence to walking through Cape Town International Airport.  It was a welcome sign!  Let me start first by saying, 7 days is not nearly enough time to experience the mother city, but it was enough time to realize why Cape Town should be on everyone’s ‘Bucket’ List.  Here are my top 5 reasons:
Scenery

Beaches, Mountains, Color, Unique Architecture, and Amazing Wildlife you get it all in Cape Town. But don’t just take my word for it, check out these pictures.

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The Climb to Table Mountain
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Clouds descending from the Mountain tops over the city
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Greenery
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Views of the City from Signal Hill
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Sun setting over a Game Reserve
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Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
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Beautiful Beaches
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Bo-Kaap
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Glass homes on hills
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Aquila Game Reserve– Rhinos, Zebras
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Penguins at Boulders Beach


Food

I traveled in a group of 6 people with different eating habits, vegan, vegetarian, selectitarian, and carnivores and no-one had to compromise as finding good food was in abundance.

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Vegan Edo wrap
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Mushroom Kabobs at the Old Biscuit Mill
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Avo toast- Old Biscuit Mill
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Paella- Old Biscuit Mill
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Dessert at the Old Biscuit Mill
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Pulled Pork Sandwich- Old Biscuit Mill
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You read that right, Ostrich Shwarma. They also serve Antelope and Alligator in South Africa, among other game meat
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Jarryds on Sea Point for Breakfast, Buddha Bowl
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The infamous, Butternut Squash Salad at Tasha’s on the V&A Waterfront

Affordable

One South African Rand is about 0.083 USD, which means American Dollars go very far. Almost every time, our group of 6 dined out, our bill was under $100 usd total. Sometimes it was as low as $50.00. Several times we ate at vegan restaurants and eating vegan is not cheap but it was there. Shopping for authentic hand-maid items was cheap too. We did most of our shopping at the Green Market and on Long street.

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Wine

Cape Town is a renowned wine region so visiting some wineries is a must do while there. We visited 3 in one day, Chamonix, Babylonstoren, and Waterford Estate and enjoyed wine tasting at all of them. Although the wines weren’t my taste (I’m a sweet red kind of girl and most of their wines are dry), it was still an enjoyable experience, especially driving through the wine country. My favorite was Waterford Estate.

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Chamonix’s wine cellar

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Babylonstoren glass house setting
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Waterford estate-glamorous
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Wine and Chocolate pairing at Waterford

Culture and History

This country is recovering from an ugly past, but facing it and educating others is a way to prevent it from repeating itself. It’s also a form of therapy. This therapy is evident in the voices of the Robben Island tour guides who were once prisoners there during apartheid.

The culture is seen and heard throughout in the dialects, vibe and food of the African natives. Be still and listen to the voices and the music and visit the museums. Enjoy the colors and diversity all around.

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Former Prisoner now conducting tours at the same place he spent years imprisoned, Robben Island
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Prisoner explaining a picture of Nelson Mandela when he was imprisoned at Robben Island
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Mandela’s cell
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Former Room of Prisoners and old beds

Cape-Town is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve visited. It is diverse in population and landscape. The food is tasty, the music will get you moving and there is no shortage of things to do. If you haven’t already, what are you waiting for… Add it to your list! Thank me later.

Check back to read how I spent my 7 days in Cape Town, Vegan Eats, and Tackling Table Mountain.

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What’s this Expat Been up to…

It’s March 2, which means about 75% of school year number 2 overseas is complete.  It also means I am less than 30 days away from my first trip in over 6 months.  Let me just say, it was extremely hard keeping my feet on the ground for the last 6 months, watching others fly above me.  But I had a goal to meet and that was more important.  Now that, that goal has been met, I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am for this upcoming Spring Break.  I will not reveal where I am going yet, but I will say, it has always been in my top 5.

So what have I been doing, you might ask, since I haven’t been trippen’, a lot actually…

I began this year, training for a 5K.  I’ve always wanted to run a 5K but never stuck with the training.  So I dowloaded the ‘couch to 5K’ app for the 3rd time with determination.  By the end of January, I was ready.  The farthest I’ve run so far has been 4 miles straight in under 50 minutes.  And that is really saying something for this girl that couldn’t run more than 5 minute straight less than 4 months ago.  Everyone knows the  ‘Happiest 5K on the planet’ is the Color Run and I completed it on January 27, 2018.  The weather was perfect and I was amongst thousands of people.  It actually wasn’t a real 5K but I ran the entire 2.65 miles while most people walked.  I felt accomplished!  It was fun but I’ll probably never do it again.

I didn’t particularly like all that color dye being thrown in my face as you can see from this clip;

Indeed I was fighting the colors.

And all that smoke from the colors almost sent me into a panic attack.  Next time, I will just stick with a regular run. But boy was it fun!

Since the color run, I’ve really gotten into fitness.  I even tried my hand at Aerial Yoga.

20180207_202130.jpgI enjoyed the one class I went to, but I did not enjoy the headache I endured afterwards.  So unfortunately, aerial yoga is not for me.  I have been working out 5 days a week for the last few weeks, abs and core classes twice a week, circuit classes once a week and weight lifting the other two days.  The student center at QF offers free classes and I wish I knew about them sooner, because everywhere else charges.

On February 4th, I witnessed my hometown Football team win the Superbowl!  I couldn’t believe I wasn’t home to participate in the festivities.  But I was cheering from afar.      GO  E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!!!!

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There is a huge indoor trampoline park here in Doha called Bounce.  One night they hosted a teachers only night.  Prior to this, I never went out on school nights, but it was for teachers and it was free so why not.  Me and a few of my teacher friends had a damn good time bouncing around like kids.  The next day, we were so sore.  Who would’ve thought jumping around on trampolines would be so exerting?

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Two week ago I won tickets, from an online sweepstakes with Virgin mobile, to the premiere of Black Panther.  It was so good, that the next day, Darryl and I dressed up in our African attire and went to see it again with the BSOQ Facebook group.  Well I had already purchased tickets to see it on opening night with the group before I won tickets to the premiere but I enjoyed seeing it twice.

I’ve been to two embassies within the last 30 days, but not for the reasons you may be thinking.  For the first time in my life, I gave blood.  I saw on Facebook that the embassy of Sri Lanka was hosting a blood drive and I signed up for it.  They seemed very happy to see us there and surprised to see Americans and a female.  It felt good, well not afterwards, because my arm was sore for days, but helping others felt good.  I went to the Thai embassy for a cultural event they were having.

And of course what would fun in Doha be without Brunch..

And with all this fun, my girlfriend Britney and I with our camera man Quahn managed to shoot our first food show.  Stay tuned for more on that soon.

So as you can see I’ve been pretty busy.  As far as work goes, it has not been the happiest place for me, but I’m not miserable either.  I actually learned to love my students this year, after a rocky start, but they are actually my happy part of the work day.   I don’t fit into a certain box that gets you promoted here and I believe in turn I was turned down for a promotion for which I am highly qualified.  Also, my whole team is different this year and we don’t mesh well.  I could go on and on about what I don’t particularly like about work this year but honestly there is more to being here than work and ultimately I won’t be here forever, but for now, it’s not so bad that I feel the need to leave.  So there is no need to bore you with complaints.  I hate when people complain and complain but don’t change their situation, so since I choose this situation for now, I won’t complain any further.  But if you really want to know what work is like here for this teacher, drop your email in the comments and I will send you some real talk.

Anyway, 28 days ’til my trip, and less than 3 months ’til the end of the school year.  I have managed to find fun things to do outside of traveling but it’s about that time to get another stamp.

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A picture of the Doha Skyline during the Supermoon

Things I wish my Parents had Taught me About Planning for the Future

So now I’m 40 and it doesn’t make sense to blame my life on my parents, but it does make sense to re-invent myself and teach my children what I wish my parents had taught me. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my future and my past.   I’m Forty-Years old, gosh, typing that makes it feel too real.   When you are young, you don’t think about when you’ll be 40.   But now that I am, there are some things that I wished my parents would have told me that maybe could have put me in a different situation.   Maybe I would have listened, possibly not.   When you are young, you think you know everything and most young people live for the day.   That mentality has its pros and cons.

My father, God rest his soul, was a drunk for as long as I can remember.   He and my mother separated when I was still a toddler.   I visited him often and on occasion he gave me money as a young teenager.   At the age of 17, I went to live with him, where I was allowed to do whatever I wanted and he didn’t know anything about parenting.   My mother, was a preschool teacher.   She was a single mother for years but I had a couple of step-fathers too.   She worked two jobs for a long time.   I was much younger than my siblings so I spent a lot of time alone.   When I was 12, she decided to return to her religion and I had to too.   It was a very strict religion, no more holiday celebrations, or friends who weren’t in the same religion.   For a while I was happy, until the later years of high school when the rebel came out and I wanted no parts.   I resented her for taking away the holidays and my childhood friends.   Everything was about the religion with her and college was even discouraged for fear of bad influence and no real need to plan for a future in this current life because there wouldn’t be one.

I’m sure my parents did their best, my childhood wasn’t bad.   I’m grateful to have made it to this age, because I did some really reckless things in my youth and I am not blaming anyone but I really wish my parents had taught me…

The importance of maintaining good credit- Credit saves you money.  The better your credit the less you have to spend up front and in the end.  In the past, I’ve had two repossessions and plenty of small bills that made it to my credit.  Thankfully, they happened early on.  I’ve spent the last two years rebuilding my credit and my credit is pretty good now.

If you get a good job, stick with it and build a retirement fund.  If you get the job while young, stay and retire from it.  You’ll be able to do the job you want without worrying about the pay because you will have money coming in from the job you worked for years.  And you will be one of the youngest people you know, not working so hard at 40.- I’ve been working since I was a teenager.  [My mom did insist on my independence, for that I owe her a great deal of credit.]  I’ve had some good jobs too but I never stayed long, always looking for something else.  Til’ this day, I still have difficulty remaining at any job for more than 4 years.  My mom worked as a teacher until she retired, why didn’t she teach me to do the same? I even worked for the state of PA as a case worker for four years.  The retirement plan was great and I could have retired from there in my early 40’s with a good pension, but no-one told me that.   Instead I left the job to go to college full time, which brings me to my next thought….

Go to college right after high school and get a degree, it gives you options- Had I gone to college right out of high school, perhaps I would not have job-hopped so many times.  I had a full ride scholarship to college but no-one encouraged this, so I got me an apartment instead and a job.  [I got great grades in school.  I was very smart.  My mother stayed on me about those grades too]  I went to college later, after a husband and two kids and with those degrees came so many better opportunities.  At least I went but I could have saved myself a lot of heart ache and pain, had someone, anyone, told me to go early.

Invest, build a portfolio- This is something I’m just educating myself about.  I wish I had invested early, built a portfolio and gave myself future stability.

Marry someone you can grow and build with- Recently I read about a couple that did not marry for love, but for growth instead.  This got me to thinking… this is very smart.  Love fades, but growth keeps moving until you choose to stop it.  I’ve been in relationships where one person is trying to grow and the other is simply content where they are- (Me and my ex-husband)- notice I said ex.  It doesn’t work.  Eventually you grow to resent that person or the two of you grow apart.  It doesn’t feel good.

Budget- So many people live above their means.  Before I moved into my first apartment at age 17, my mom held the money that I saved and my father doubled my total.  It was enough to pay the deposit on my apartment and buy some furniture but I was almost evicted within the first year because no-one taught me to budget.  I still struggle with budgeting but I’ve learned the value of paying my bills on time because the longer I let them go unpaid the more money I have to pay in the long run.  And once you get behind it can be almost impossible to catch up.  Now I save first, pay bills next, purchase what I need, and then decide to save more or enjoy the rest.  Very soon I hope to add invest in there somewhere.

Leave your home and travel- I’ve only ever lived in Philadelphia until I moved to Qatar to teach at age 39.  What a deprived life.  I’ve learned so much since moving abroad about life.   I only remember traveling on the East Coast as a child, and never on a plane.  As an adult, I was scared to death of flying and avoided it until I had no other choice but to fly for job training to take care of my sons while they were young.  I can’t help but to think, if I had been exposed to traveling as a child, that fear would not have engulfed me.  I’m still afraid of flying but I no longer allow that fear to keep me from seeing the world.  And to ensure my sons don’t carry that fear, I’ve taken them on many travels and moved them across the world.  Traveling is the best education anyone can receive, trust me.

Live for today but plan for tomorrow, because before you know it, you’ll be 40

So now I’m 40 and it doesn’t make sense to blame my life on my parents, but it does make sense to re-invent myself and teach my children what I wish my parents had taught me. 

 

What do you wish you had learned earlier in life?

 

Back to Work

Well, the worst thing about winter break is that it ends.  Sadly, tomorrow it’s back to the grind.  Three weeks off was great and even though I didn’t get to travel (yes, I tamed my inner travel bug) I still enjoyed it immensely.  I got some much needed rest but I am sure that no matter how much rest I got, my morning will look something like this…

I’m not even kidding either.

I’m sure my student’s will have forgotten everything they’ve learned and they will be tired too so I won’t be alone.

The good thing about staying local was that I was able to see my Al Jazeera news report, rest and not spend a lot of money.  Returning back to work means spring break is not too far off and neither is traveling, so I’m looking forward to the second half of this school year.

Today I met up with some of the ladies from The Brothas and Sistas of Qatar facebook group and had high tea at the Shangri-La again.  It was a nice way to end the winter break.

I’m just happy I wasn’t in Philly where they were enduring harsh winter weather.  I don’t miss it, sorry friends.

A Review of The Spa at the Warwick Doha

Today was my first time using the Spa at the Warwick hotel. I usually start with a 5 * rating and then delete and add stars according to my experience.

When I entered the hotel, I was instantly overtaken by the smell of smoke. I felt like I was in a casino in America before they added smoke rooms. For someone with Asthma, I automatically made up my mind that I would never stay here. Minus 1*. (not the spa’s fault but still a part of the hotel)

When I arrived to the 7th floor which is where the spa is located, there was no-one there to greet me. I had a 5:00 appointment and I was on-time and there was no-one there. So I took a seat and waited. Five minutes later, a gentlemen arrived and walked passed me on his mobile phone and just nodded. Less than a minute later he walked back passed again and I asked him if anybody was working. He told me that he was calling someone. (He must have been someone in charge) Someone did come about a minute later, handed me paperwork to fill out and confirmed my appointment. Seven minutes later I was in room. This is unacceptable- Minus 2 **

My masseuse was very nice. She said she was from Thailand and apologized that she did not check back at the desk at 5 to see if her appointment had arrived. (valid but why is there no hostess or receptionist on duty).

After being taken to my room, she (my masseuse) had to set up because she was late. So while I tried to undress she was busy lighting candles and had to go and get me disposable underwear because there was none in the cabinet. Minus 1* star

My massage was nice– 90 minute full body massage. She adjusted the temperature when I was feeling cold. I asked her to write her name down so I would remember it. Plus 1* star for the nice massage.

The price was great and I used the entertainer app, so I get one free massage to use another day. Plus 1*.

After the massage I went back to the front to pay and complete a survey. Several male customers were there talking too loud for a spa but whatever. My masseuse neglected to write her name down for me for which she probably forgot. No stars taken away for that.

All together 3 stars for this spa. I will be back for my free massage but I wasn’t impressed by the service or the smoky hotel. Do better Warwick.

**My review is based on my experience and mine alone**

**Update: I recently revisited this Spa for my free massage and I must say I was impressed by the improvement in service. There were 2 receptionist on duty when my girlfriend and I arrived. We were warmly greeted with a beverage, a warm towel to freshen up and our masseuse’s names. The lemongrass smell was so intoxicating that I bought some of the oil. Our rooms were ready and again the massage was awesome. When our massage was over, we were given tea and a survey.  This time the Warwick received 5 stars from me. They really listened to their customer reviews and up’d their game. They have a new special for February, massage and chocolate Wrap, I will be back for mine and I’ll be back monthly from now on!

Zaffran Cafe- an Indian Gem at the Center

With only a few days left of winter break, I decided to call one of my new coworkers and invite her to lunch. Omaimah is from northern India so when she asked me where I wanted to go, I told her I wanted to experience some real Indian food, what else, duhh. lol

She volunteered to pick me up and treat (she said because this is what Indians do), even though I invited her.  ♥  She took me to an area in Doha that I was very familiar, The Center, where the Megamart store is.  The restaurant, Zaffran Cafe was right on the other side of the market and after all the times I’ve shopped at Megamart, I’ve never seen it.  I have to start paying attention more.  We walked in a door and there were several small stores in this area of The center that was unfamiliar to me.  As soon as you walk in, the restaurant is on your left.

I looked at the menu but asked her to order me something good.  She knows I’m vegan so she tried to be very strategic with what she ordered.  She ordered several items for herself and for me.  She said, she wanted me to taste everything so she ordered one of almost everything and I could take the rest home.

The first thing to arrive was Pani Puri also referred to as golgappa- small fried puff-pastry bowls filled with spiced mashed potato.  They are serviced with spiced water and tamarind juice which you pour into the bowls and then eat them whole.  They are said to cleanse the palette.

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Then the other items were brought over.  There was so much food on our table, we must have looked like two greedy ladies and we didn’t care.

Aloo Paratha and Vegetable Paratha with Indian Pickles (achaar)- Traditional Indian bread made with minced fresh vegetables or potatoes.  The Indian Pickles are there for dipping and for some added spice.  (Also served with yogurt but I didn’t eat that)

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Pav Bhaji- spiced mixture of mashed vegetables or potatoes in a thick gravy served with toasted white bread rolls for dipping and topped with raw chopped onions and a squeeze of lemon.  20180103_121338.jpg

Chola bhatura- a combo of chana masala (spicy white chickpeas), and a fried bread made from soft wheat.  The bread was so puffy when it first came out, then it started to deflate like a balloon.  You use the bread to sop up the masala, then eat a sliver of onion behind it.

Samosa-  wheat flour or maida flour shell stuffed with some filling, generally a mixture of mashed boiled potato, onions, green peas, spices and green chili. The entire pastry is then deep-fried to a golden brown color, in vegetable oil, (speak to the cooks to find out if this is cooked in oil or ghee) served with tamarind and mint dipping sauces.  I was familiar with samosas from childhood.  A friend of my mother’s used to make these; she was from Africa.  So these were sort of nostalgic for me.  Don’t eat that green chili pepper, she warned me.

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Last was dessert, that I didn’t catch the name of.  Omaimah got me this little pastry with pistachios and silver on it.  She told me not to try to peel the silver off just eat it; this dessert is made with an edible silver leaf, not foil.  Okay!

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My take on the food: Everything was tasteful.  I had heard that Indian food can be very spicy but I think they looked at me like –she’s American, better go light on the spices.  The Pav Bhaji was my favorite, so flavorful and delicious.  I had a difficult time sopping up the vegetables and gravy on my bread, so Omaimah taught me how to kind of fold the bread around the mixture.  I thoroughly enjoyed eating with my hands and she even encouraged it.

My take on the service: Service was excellent.  They brought everything out to us rather quickly and they all smiled.  The food was hot and I had no problems with anything.

My take on the ambience: Honestly it’s a hidden gem.  It’s small but clean, not glamorous but it’s not a big time restaurant either.  You can eat in or take out so it’s set up for that. I kind of like the gully places; they tend to have the best food.  Next time, maybe I’ll read this wall while I stuff my face.

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My take on the price: I overheard the manager quote a price to my friend of a little over 100 Riyals.  That’s about $30 USD and that was amazing for all the food we had plus tea and water for two people.  (Note: Omaimah is a regular there and probably gets a good price though)

Would I recommend this place: HELL YEAH! I bought back all my leftovers and couldn’t wait for Darryl to taste everything.  And since it is so close to home, this may be my new little spot when I’m craving Indian food.