Wednesday, February 26, 2014


What do you do when you just graduated with your PhD and are between jobs and have a friend going to Africa?  Tag along, clearly.  I met E in the Johannesburg airport and the adventure began.  We first flew to Livingstone, Zambia to see Victoria Falls.  The falls straddle the Zim-Zam border, so logistics were a little crazy, but I am glad we went to the national parks on both sides.  The falls seem impossibly wide - more a conglomerate of a bunch of falls mashed together.  In some places, the mist from the water falling 100 ft. below was so dense that you couldn't even see the water.  And it frequently felt like it was raining.  

Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

Vic falls

It's really wide!

So many rainbows

In Livingstone, I got my first taste of nshima/pap/sadze, the corn-based staple served with meat and veggie stews.  It's super yummy.  The locals usually seemed surprised that I wanted to eat it all through the trip.  To be fair, they probably eat it every meal of everyday, all the time.  But when I'm in Africa, I'm not ordering a friggin hamburger.

I love African food!

We took a long, heavily air-conditioned bus ride from Livingstone to Lusaka.  We stayed in a super odd hostel before catching a morning flight to Mfuwe, near the South Luangwa National Part.  We were picked up at the airport (airport pickup is so nice) and taken to the safari camp, where we would spend five days.  We went on safari drives twice a day and filled the afternoons with naps, eating, and yoga.  The wildlife viewing was spectacular, and our guide was amazingly perceptive and knowledgeable. It was cool not just to see them, but to learn about their behavior and habits. Also, since we were there a couple of months after spring, we saw a ton of baby animals!  BABY ANIMALS!

The view from our safari tent, complete with barking hippos

Hippo fight!

And a baby zebra.  So awkward


Us in the safari truck

Saddle-billed storks.  They have hearts on their chests

I love baby elephants.  Also, the elephant butt in picture-in-picture.

The chameleon that our guide somehow saw in the brush 
while driving in the dark at 30 mph

Full, happy wild dog

After five great days in the bush, we traveled to Kariba, Zimbabwe for safari #2.  We spent three nights on the Zambezi River with two local guides.  It was astoundingly beautiful.  E and I both became bird enthusiasts (it's not just for old white ladies, though maybe we are approaching that demographic).  We both got pretty sunburned the first day and spent the rest of the time wearing long pants, long sleeves and jerry-rigged hand covers.  A good portion of the time on the river was dodging hippos (whom we could see) and crocs (whom we could not see, but I assume the guides could).  The guides were both super great; it was amazing to see how much they loved the animals.  We camped on sandy islands and eat like queens.  English breakfast is a big thing in Zim - protein, protein, and more protein.  On day two, I realized that I was actually relaxed, and couldn't remember the last time I'd been so at peace.  Probably on our honeymoon.  Relaxing is great.  You should try it sometime.  And by you, I mean me, more often.

Elephants crossing on the canoe safari

Hippo prints


And again

Fisheagle, the national bird of both countries. 
Cooler than a bald eagle.

After saying goodbye to the canoe folks, we took a private plane to Harare, the capital of Zim.  Erin was very excited to sit in the front seat of the Cessna.  Too bad he didn't have extra headphones so we could listen to the fancy pilot talk.  We spent a day in Harare eating ice cream and haggling for curios.  

Erin in the cockpit of our private plane to Harare


I went on my own to visit my friend, A, in Pretoria, South Africa, where she is working.  We went around town and saw all the government buildings and Afrikaaner sights, which are a little odd, post-apartheid.  We made an African dinner for her housemates, including pap, chakalaka, greens, and squash.

All in all, it was pretty swell.  I think I'd like to come back someday with Matt and maybe kiddos.  There's so much to see!  I am always a little nervous before I go to a region that I'm unfamiliar with, like it will be another planet.  And it never is.  There are always just people, going about living.  For me, travelling isn't as much about seeing things.  It's more about understanding the world and people so I feel more grounded at home.  And about remembering that I can be brave when the need arises.

Monday, February 24, 2014

European Adventures 2014

Over the holidays, I went on a trip to Italy with my family, and followed by visiting some friends in France and Belgium.  The first (and one of the best) things we did was to go on a foodie tour in and around Bologna, which included a trip to a traditional balsamic vinegar producer, a parmagianno reggiano factory, an epic lunch, and a winery.  No surprise that this was my idea.  The cheese place was my favorite, as we got to see the whole process of turning curds to aged parmesan.  

Apparently balsamic vinegar is supposed to be made in the attic

So much cheeeeese

We spent a few days in Venice, somehow avoiding the seasonal rains.  When Matt and I traveled Europe in 2006, this was one of our favorite places, and it didn't disappoint this time.  (Nerd note:  I played Assassin's Creed II, a historical fiction RPG, since then, and it was really cool to see the city in another light).  We spent a fair bit of time wandering around the streets.  Which were less slippery when wet than we remembered.  We also ate some awesome prosciutto and pastries.  And saw a lot of art, including the excellent Peggy Guggenhiem collection.

Puddles in San Marco Square

We ate the one on the left.

After my parents left, I had a week before meeting my friend Erin in Johannesburg, and spent it visiting some friends that I hadn't seen in a while.  Stop one:  Paris.  When I was in high school, I played a solo in band about Pere Lachaise cemetery, and finally got around to seeing it.  It's vast and peaceful.  I met my friends M and G at a cute little cafe and wandered town with them with stops at the Louvre, the new BNF (national library), and a most excellent hot chocolate place.  

A view of Pere Lachaise cemetery

I took first class on the fancy Thalys train to stop 2:  Brussels.  Once I managed to meet up with my friends (train stations are hard) C and M, they gave me a little tour of old town Brussels, which was still lit up for the holidays and scattered with Christmas markets.  We had some awesome brunch - which is apparently a big thing in Brussels.  We also went to the Parlementarium, a museum on the European Parliament, which was really well designed.  In my favorite part, each visitor got a little kiosk to push around a map of Europe and watch videos associated with different places.

We stopped for a Liege-style waffle drenched in chocolate

Stop 3 was Bruges.  I had spent a couple of days alone here in 2006, and it's always been one of my favorite European towns:  cute canals, chocolate shops, charming building facades.  I had a day to myself before meeting friends, and decided to spend it determining which chocolate shop has the best chocolate truffle.  The abundance of types of truffles (butter, ganache, coated, rolled) undoubtably compromised my science here, but I ate 11 truffles and determined the best to be from Pur Chocolat in a little lane by the Bejinhof.  

Two of many truffles

Bruges at dusk

I met my friends S and O at the train station and went to their sailboat home to catch up and enjoy a wonderful carbonnade that O made in the little boat kitchen.  We took their little dog, Kiki, on a long walk through town at night.  In the morning, they brought a traditional Belgian Sunday breakfast - pastries!  We went to see one of the history museums in town.  It had a lot of cool things, including a mustache cup designed with an extra piece to keep you mustache dry as you sip your tea.