Thursday, October 29, 2009

Virtual Taipei.

From February to September of this year, I lived without home internet. And at no point did I have a 'life without internet isn't so bad! what did I ever use that for in the first place?' sort of revelation. No, I missed it every day, and having it again (albeit at the slow, expensive, capped megabyte version available in SA) I only appreciate it all the more. Because really, cliche as the phrase sounds, it helps open up the world.

Like, for example, when Bordeaux and I started discussing the idea of going back to Taiwan. Within minutes, we were able to open up a half dozen webpages, blogs, and photo albums to get a sense of what life in Taipei would be like. Here's some of what we've found:

The New York Times offered a list of what to do over 36 Hours in Taipei. It is, of course, a very touristy list-- visiting the observation deck at Taipei 101, or spending $100 on dinner aren't likely to be part of our regular routine. But the list does at least highlight some of the the diverse attractions available in what must be the most underrated city in all of Asia-- and the writer does deserve points for taking a moment out of the high-spending schedule to enjoy a bowl of shaved ice at Ice Monster.

For more general info, the Rough Guide's pages on Taipei are rather useful. The Rough Guide Taiwan was in fact the same guide we used last time we were on the island, as it was clear from the author's writing that he had a real love of the island, and was committed to sharing its best features. More importantly, we found that he gave much more info on eating than the Lonely Planet Taiwan did.

We also scanned Robyn's Taiwan entries over at Eating Asia. She seems to have a gift for finding incredible meals wherever she goes, like the oven baked buns she sampled in Taipei, or the egg and tomato she supped on in Hsinchu. We may have been the ones who tipped her off to visiting Hsinchu, but when we make it back there, we'll be following her tips on where to go eat once we're there.

By far the best guide that I've found for eating in Taipei is at a hungry girl's guide to taipei, a blog of restaurant reviews from around the city. The reviews are descriptive, It also covers food trends (like the abundance of Frozen yogurt shops popping up around town).

And of course, there are my own entries on the island on this here blog. Look over my entries, and you'll see as my low expectations were continually blown away by Taiwan's incredible food, friendly people, and unique local style.

Anyone have any good web resources on the island? Or any other sites you go to when you need a little virtual vacation?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Looking back, looking forward...

One of the pleasures for a traveller in keeping a journal (or a blog, as it may be) is the strange pleasure of looking back and seeing how much one's life can change in a matter of months. Just by opening this blog's archives to October's pasts reveals a strange succession of past lives...

I am currently a resident of Cape Town, working in a local market, more settled than I've ever been, yet looking back to Asia and the Americas for a possible escape...

One year ago, we were in Southern Thailand, writing guides for Travelfish on the islands of Trang. The setting was beautiful but the schedule was intense, with our task of one island per day requiring us to spend most of our time on boats and buses, rather than on the beach. We did at least get lucky now and then, like this incredibly generous meal of curry and rice that we shared with some locals on Ko Libong. We had already made up our mind to head back to America, and then on to South Africa, and were trying to make the most of our last days in Asia.

Two years ago, we were just getting settled in Bangkok, learning how to make the most of the metropolis, and recording our observations, like these mannequin legs we spotted in Patpong. I was still very new to teaching, hating the tie I had to wear, but loving the opportunity to explore Bangkok. It was a little hard for me missing autumn in a tropical clime, but I was constantly finding new foods to try, new sights to engage me, and new parts of the city to explore...

And it gets even stranger if we look back beyond this blog, to three years ago when I was living in Cape Town, working on my Masters in African Studies, still relatively new to my relationship with Bordeaux, and figuring things out. We had just made plans to head to Asia together, a new continent for me, and one that I could hardly imagine...

...and finally, to four years ago, when I was a recent college graduate, just about to leave Los Angeles. I was preparing for a trip through the Middle East, after which I would be on my way to South Africa. I had left my job, given up my apartment, and was preparing to say goodbye to my home, completely unsure of what the future looked like.

Anyone else notice a trend? Always moving, packing up, travelling. Always a little displaced. What sort of progress is made in this drifting? And is that even the point? It can't continue this way forever, surely, but right now I don't know that it can continue any other way. At the very least, all I can say is that I'm eager to see what the next year will bring, and the next...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

St James.

It seems like every time I get out of the city I head straight for False Bay-- but given the bay's blue-green waters, pale sandy beaches, and stunning views, I think that's understandable. Our last picnic on the other side of Table Mountain took place at St. James, a tiny spot between Muizenburg and Kalk Bay that's little more than a train stop and a tiny crescent shaped beach. But that intimacy works in its favor-- since it is without the throngs of surfers that crowd Muizenburg, or the tourist buses that line Simon Town's main road, St. James is a quiet little spot of sand, perfect for relaxing with a book or a blank mind. There's even some tidal pools-- both the big artificial kind for splashing in, and the little natural kind for observing some aquatic friends.

And since it isn't that far from Kalk Bay, you can still hop over there for dessert at Ice Cafe, one of the best reasons to visit False Bay. This time, we opted for Turkish delight flavour. Yum.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

cocktail hour with primitives: The Popular Cup.

Cape Town's bright, sunny summer days set the perfect mood for a little outdoor entertaining. Unfortunately, Cape Town's wind can kind of ruin that mood-- which is why we had to move our picnic indoors this afternoon. But might as well make the best of the situation, and serve a little summer wine punch for those willing to make the trek inside.

Entertaining with Wines of the Cape, a South African publication from 1959, recommends a 'wine cup' for summer gatherings. 'For cool thirst quenchers and refreshing summer drinks no enterprising hostess could do better than a "wine cup" - usually a well-blended bowl of wine, soda water and fruit with a dash of special flavouring for extra zest and mystery." I'm ignoring that bit about the hostess.

For our picnic on the carpet, we adapted Entertaining's recipe for a 'Popular Party Cup'. It's a refreshing combination of white wine with sherry, with a nice touch of bitterness added by candied orange peel. We used a cheap Chenin Blanc which had a pleasantly grassy flavour with hints of summer fruit. It made for a perfect sunny-day cocktail, not too sweet, and just boozy enough to add a nice soft glow to the afternoon.

The Popular Cup
1 bottle inexpensive white wine (I used a Welmoed Chenin Blanc)
1/2 cup sherry
small slices of candied tangerine slices, can substitute with orange slices or lemon rind
soda water

Mix the bottle of white wine and the sherry in a pitcher, and add the fruit. Leave to chill in the fridge for at least an hour. To serve, put two ice cubes in each glass, scoop in some of the fruit, and pour 1/3 punch to 2/3 soda water.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The most beautiful city on earth?

Maybe it's cold feet or an effect of the beautiful weather today, but I'm suffering second thoughts about actually leaving Cape Town. Because part of me really wonders: is there anywhere more beautiful to live than Cape Town?

Now, if I make some lists, it doesn't exactly come up high. LA has better museums and restaurants, with the added bonus that basic services in the US are run much better than they are in South Africa; Bangkok has better shopping and a far more exciting eating scene, and is great for a traveller since it is located just a cheap flight from all of Southeast Asia. But Cape Town has such a brilliant lifestyle, with the mountain and sea (man, I've become such a Capetonian cliche with that line), fairly affordable living, and (during the summer) fantastic weather. There are some fantastic cafes, an inspiringly independent design scene, and the city just has such a distinctive style that really works for me...

Maybe we can make it work to live here just in the summer? Any advice?

Anyone have any cities to compete with Cape Town in the beauty category?

Travels of a different gentleman.

I'm currently reading Somerset Maugham's The Gentleman in the Parlour, which is really evoking memories of life in Asia, as well as helping me to think about some issues I've been mulling over. Obviously Maugham lived in a very different era-- one in which gin pahits were served for breakfast, and the use of racist slurs was perfectly acceptable in polite conversation (I'm glad we're moving beyond the racism, but I wouldn't mind bringing back the pahits, actually)-- but much of his themes are still relevant for the modern traveller. Particularly, it probes questions of why we choose to leave our homes, why we travel, and we seek homes in distant climes.

I'm really trying to work out why I travel, what I hope to get out of it, and where I hope it leads me. I'll share my conclusions, if I ever happen upon any.

Anyone have any answers? Why do you travel? Can one live their life completely untethered?

Pictured above: Luang Prabang, Laos, one of the most idyllic destinations in Southeast Asia. I don't know if I could ever make Luang Prabang home, but I certainly wouldn't mind going back.

Friday, October 16, 2009

To the Americas.

Within the space of two weeks, our travel plans have developed from an imaginary escape to something of a concrete plan. And it's looking like next year will be our year of the Americas. After spending the past several years on any continent but my own, the idea of this 'homecoming' is kind of exciting. We're hoping to spend some time in my native New Mexico, visit Los Angeles and San Fransisco, spend time around Vancouver, then fly down to South America for a long sojourn of America south of the equator. Planning this trip has made me realize how little of the America's I've seen. As much as South America represents a great unknown for me, even San Fransisco and Vancouver will be practically new for me.

Anyone have any tips of what to see, do, or eat in San Fransisco? Or Vancouver?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

around town/cape town: Cute neighbours.

I'm taking these little guys as a sign that spring is really here. These goslings are residents of the Company Gardens, a large public park and botanical garden that sits across the street from my apartment. They're Egyptian Geese, a beautiful species of fowl with dark masks and brilliant green feathers on their wings, and one of Cape Town's most unusual avian residents.

And after this and Friday's post, I probably run the risk of becoming some sort of strange blog about cute fat birds...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sleep with the Stars.

Any trip I take around the world would ideally include a layover in my beloved Los Angeles. Thankfully I will have a place to crash when I make it back there, but that doesn't mean I can't imagine an escape to one of these retro lodges. In some ways, their diverse styles evoke different eras, different facets of Hollywood...

...from the aged and slightly worn hotels of the city's early years, where one can picture a struggling writer trying to polish a script... the iconic and glamorous playgrounds of its golden age, where starlets sat poolside, and producers met over coffee in the Fountain Room... the fantastically glitzy motor lodges of the space-age '50s, where sun-seekers ended their trip along Route 66.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Attacked by guinea fowl.

On a recent sunny morning we decided to take breakfast outdoors . It went quite well, until our outing was broken up by a flock of helmeted guinea fowl.

We had stopped on the way at the bakery at Jardine, which I'd been wanting to try for months. The bakery is quite brilliantly designed-- just a window and a glass counter facing onto the street, so patrons can order coffee, pastry, or sandwiches, then either enjoy them on the high sidewalk tables (standing only), or take them to go.

We ordered some croissants and lattes, and took them up to Signal Hill. It was a little windy, so we had the picnic grounds entirely to ourselves. We grabbed a table from which we could look onto both the sea below and Lion's Head behind-- private breakfast with a brilliant view. I had chosen an almond croissant, which was fantastic. I was just finishing it up when we were set upon by the guinea fowl, who were eager to gather up our crumbs.

So at least they were guinea fowl with good taste.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Suid Amerika.

While it's wanderlust in general that's driving us, there is one particular destination that is becoming central to our escape plot: South America. It's a continent I know very little about, having only been once, on a week long trip to Peru, but that I'm intrigued by. So we're starting to research, looking at a route that would take us from the jungles of Colombia, down through the mountain towns of the Andes, to Buenos Aires, which by reputation must be one of the most fascinating cities on Earth.

Anyone have a destination in South America to recommend?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The UN makes their own list.

Just as I was coming up with my list of where I'd like to live, the UN put out their own version. Their list is topped by, in order, Norway, Australia, Iceland, Canada, and Ireland. I have to say, my list looks a little more interesting, no? At the bottom of their list? Niger, Sierre Leone, Afghanistan. My home country came in at #13, while South Africa came it at #129.

As far as I can tell their list is primarily organized by: where can you live without getting shot, and where can you earn a decent living. And well I won't disagree that those are important qualities in a home (I like not getting shot, and should I ever earn a decent living, I wouldn't mind that either), clearly everyone has their own definition of livable. What make a place livable for me? Excellent food, balmy weather, an attractive urban centre, a decent arts scene, good cafe life...

What qualities do you desire in a home?

Monday, October 05, 2009

A dangerous list.

I’ve been carrying around a dangerous list in my pocket. It’s a list of the world cities that Bordeaux and I are dreaming of including on an around-the-world tour. It follows, roughly in order:

1. Cape Town, South Africa
2. Vancouver, Canada
3. Bogotá, Colombia
4. Buenos Aires, Argentina
5. Istanbul, Turkey (pictured above)
6. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
7. Hanoi, Vietnam

Ideally, we’d semi-live in each spot, spending a few months there working and really getting to know the cities. In between, we’d hope to visit a few places as well: we’d spend some time in Pretoria and Limopo visiting Bordeaux’s family; some time in New Mexico visiting mine; hopefully we’d get to see a few US cities that Bordeaux hasn’t yet been to, like San Francisco and Seattle; we’d travel overland through South America, taking in Ecuador, Peru, and Chile; we’d visit London, maybe Amsterdam; and hopefully return to Bangkok and Taiwan.

Eesh, now that I look over this—how long would this trip take? And how feasible would this even be? English teaching jobs are kind of the standard traveller’s work, and I don’t really know if short-term teaching positions are that frequently available.

But these are the kinds of escapist thoughts in our heads lately…

And it’s probably a bad idea for me to ask this (as if I need more encouragement), but if you could live in any other world city for a period, where would you live?

Friday, October 02, 2009

eatingCULTURE/tastes: Full English.

Opinions in eating.

A few weeks ago, a Cape Town food reviewer for the Mail & Guardian wrote about where to get a good breakfast in Cape Town. While he actually picked some fantastic spots, he kind of lost me when he stated that South Africa had ‘luckily’ inherited the tradition of the Full English Breakfast. I don’t know if I’d call that luck, really. While an English breakfast can be a fun late-morning binge every now and then, a big plateful of greasy meats, over cooked vegetables, and bland eggs is actually a rather unappetizing thing to be greeted with as you wake up. Perhaps worse, I find that the flavours of bacon and sautéed mushrooms mix terribly with coffee.

This came to mind recently while Bordeaux and I were on our little honeymoon in the Karoo. We were served a Full English Breakfast at our first guesthouse, and while they’d done an attractive job with the presentation, we both groaned with the thought of being served the exact same stodgy breakfast for every morning of the trip.

Thankfully, our other guesthouses came through for us. The hotel in Barrydale served a delicious vegetable frittata garnished with lots of crisp herbs and edible flowers—not only did it look beautiful, but it was really nice to start the day with something so fresh. Our guesthouse in Greyton gave us options: the Full English was there, but we opted instead for yogurt with muesli and fresh fruit. It’s simple, but it’s about my favourite way to start the day, really (and it goes perfectly with a cup of coffee).

There are so many great options for breakfast—pancakes, omelets, French toast, home-made granola, fruit salad, poached eggs, Dutch babies, salmon and crème freche with a little dill-- I don’t know why Full English is so popular. And it’s not that I’m opposed to red meat in the morning, either. A scramble of some eggs and boerewors (South African sausage) would at least be a fun local take on the Full English (A Full Afrikaner Breakfast?). Basically, I just think that a Full English is as uncreative as you get with breakfast—especially for a guesthouse. Part of traveling is experiencing different places –why not serve a breakfast that makes use of seasonal produce from the area, or unique local ingredients? Part of the fun of coming to New Mexico is waking up to blue corn pancakes—I bet there could be some fantastic breakfasts made to reflect the flavours of South Africa.

What’s your favourite breakfast? Have you ever had any really fantastic breakfasts while you were traveling?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

By the Sea.

The shoreline of Cape Town’s False Bay is draped with a string of small towns. While each one has its own unique charms and attractions, Kalk Bay in particular is worth a visit.

Just on the other side of Table Mountain, sheltered between rocky crags and a skirt of sapphire water, lies one of my favourite places in the world: Kalk Bay. It’s only a thirty-minute trip from Cape Town city centre, yet it feels worlds away. For though its history and character are distinctly South African, this balmy settlement glimmers with enough resemblances to the Mediterranean or coastal California that a visit always makes me feel as if I were on holiday.

Kalk Bay is known for its fishermen, and you might spot the chefs of some of Cape Town’s best restaurants bargaining with them as they bring in their catch. The town is also something of an enclave for artists; within its short stretch of waterfront blocks you’ll find welcoming cafes, unusual galleries, and shops filled to the beams with antiques. Some of the most rewarding shops lie off of Main Road, hidden in discreet alleys. Weaving up and down these narrow streets, we browsed among the work of local throwers at the Potter’s Shop, and reminisced among vintage biscuit tins at the Cook’s Room.

I usually head straight for Olympia Café when I'm in Kalk Bay. Its interior is always suffused with an inviting golden light, thanks its face of high windows that look onto the sea, making it a warm and comfortable place to relax over a latte and an almond croissant. But I’d heard good things about Boulangerie, a tiny French bakery located up one of Kalk Bay’s steep side streets. We finally found it tucked among some bougainvillea behind the Artvark gallery (ok, the chalkboard at street level helped), and settled into a table on the patio. Their lunch menu features rustic sandwiches with fillings like bacon and brie, or oven roasted chicken, served in crunchy baguettes or between slices of wholesome farm breads. The meals are light and uncomplicated, perfect for the casual, breezy setting.

Boulangerie's desserts almost gave us reason to linger—the dark chocolate brownies with cherries were particularly convincing—but we’d already made up our minds to try out The Ice Cafe. I’d often seen queues in front of this ice cream parlour, and was curious to if it was deserving of the crowds. We squeezed in among the throngs, and placed our orders: we each got a single scoop of rum and raisin. It arrived in an unexpected shade of pink, a massive ball of rose coloured ice cream that made me feel just a little silly as I took it outside. Thankfully, the rich, slightly boozy flavour of the alcohol-soaked-raisins helped keep me from feeling too childish. Though if a trip half-an-hour out of town can evoke the feeling of a childhood holiday to the beach, it might not be worth fighting it.