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erinvale estate *south africa*

20 May 2014

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Oh Erinvale Estate.

I fell in love with this place hard and fast. As we arrived through an avenue of autumn-speckled trees and the Cape Dutch architecture was unveiled, my husband and I immediately started seeing imagery. As we only took one camera on this trip, we were practically pacing, waiting for the other to finish… ooh ooh, can I have the camera again?!. We laughed at our enthusiasm. We were just so enraptured with the visual beauty around us. With beautiful manicured and tranquil gardens, friendly staff, and an adorable thatched-roof attic overlooking the courtyard and trees, (and a beautiful email from my mum), I was a very happy girl. After roaming the grounds we settled into our cosy room for a relaxed night of munching on snacks. Those nights where we settle in to relish a gorgeous hotel room are just precious too.

babylonstoren *south africa*

14 May 2014

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While I don’t drink wine, I still love visiting wineries for the scenery, gardens, vines, architecture, animals, good food, photography and slow walks. I had one on my must-do list for South Africa – Babylonstoren. It certainly pleased me, my husband and his parents with its Cape Dutch architecture, expansive kitchen garden, farm shop and garden cafe under oak trees. A beautiful afternoon of fresh food from the garden and leaving our footprints on the orange-tinted African soil.

stellenbosch *south africa*

4 May 2014

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The historic centre of this wealthy university town envelopes you in a charming village of cafes, boutique stores and art galleries. The streets are framed by oak trees dating back to 1760, climbing greenery and an array of architectural beauties that are declared historical monuments. To add to the feel of history of this European-influenced town (and hazards for a vision-impaired wanderer!), open stone drains run down the streets, setting off a meander of autumn leaves on the first wave of clear water. The enjoyment of alfresco dining is evident by the constant presence of well-dressed locals spread across the pathway, including the occasional handsome dog to complete the image. Artisan bread, handmade chocolates and South African coffee fill the nose and taste buds. African wooden homewares and ornaments, hand spun yarn throws and paintings tempt the souvenir or gift seeker. We wandered to De Volkskombuis for traditional South African fare served on white tablecloths, with soothing music playing and copper cooking ware hanging from the walls. Our home for the two nights Coopmanhuijs Hotel, built in 1713, was nestled in the middle of this beautiful area. It was a delight all of its own and a welcome retreat when my eyes needed rest from the bright sun. Our room looked over the pool and outdoor breakfast area – the wooden door pictured with the greenery wrapping our verandah was a favourite sight for me. What a delight.

cape town *south africa*

27 April 2014

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Moments…

A family holiday – this destination with my husband, sister-in-law, her husband and my parents-in-law. The first day that lived up to its Windy City reputation followed by warm, comfortable days. My hair blowing in the wind. Varied and colourful architecture. A rich, turbulent history, huge steps forward, and today’s hope. Wealth and poverty as neighbours. So much barbed wire. Striking hills dropping down to white sands and clear blue waters. Lawhill Apartments with beautiful views and conveniently located next to the V & A Waterfront. 6 of us in one apartment and 1 bathroom per couple – yay! Sitting on our high verandah to watch the sunrise. Relaxing in the lounge room chatting. V & A Market where we had delicious Origin coffee and biltong from Stokkiesdraai. Drinking baobab, hemp seed and moranica leaf in drinks from Dr Juice. Delicious butternut and naartjie (citrus) soup at Karibu Restaurant. Breakfast with my father-in-law’s cousin. Dinner with very dear family friends at Balducci’s. The clusters of trees with only branches up high. On top of Table Mountain, cheering on athlete AJ Calitz as he set a new Guinness World Record. The phenomenon of clouds being sucked down over Table Mountain like a tablecloth. Seeing the face of the lion depicted in the rocks of Lion’s Head. The coastal beauty of Clifton’s Beach and Chapman’s Peak. Delicious locally caught seafood from Mariner’s Wharf in Hout Bay. A private joke between the waiter and I that made us both laugh freely. The horse-country pocket in Noordhoek. Sunset drinks and a walk with family friends on Milnerton Beach. Watching dogs on the beach – always.

* Photo of me looking to the sea by my husband.

tea at sunrise

18 April 2014

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While my eyes give me more and more struggles and the year started off a little rough and left me tender, I feel in all my heart how incredibly lucky I am. Love and experiences.

Friends, we have been travelling again.

I’ve drunk rooibos tea before, but it is now firmly entrenched in my sentimental sensory memory bank as South Africa – being woken by drums reaching through the darkest bush and into my toes that danced happily; a hot teapot delivered to our tent with a wide smile and a shy greeting; the sun rising as I sipped my tea and watched the silhouette of trees come into my vision; the vervet monkeys stirring in the trees above us and making me giggle; the first safari drive of the day about to begin so that we may watch more beautiful wild animals in awe. It feels like we were away for months. It was the most luscious freezing of time, our only indicators being the drums and sunlight. I’ve seen, smelt and felt more than I could have wished for.

I feel so very rich in love, lessons and life. To have such triggers to the moments that have shaped me. Now I will drink rooibos tea and be transported right back there to that tent, my mind sinking blissfully into the simplicity, my eyes glazed over in the greenery and my body feeling the breezes and movement of wildlife.

More to share with you of our safari and other South African adventures soon.

*Photo by my husband. Me wearing our group safari shirt, drinking rooibos tea outside our tent at sunrise.

laughing *iceland*

27 March 2014

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An Icelandic horse walked into the bar.
The barman said "why the long face?".

I’m sure he’s heard the joke before but he gave me the due laughs anyway. Yep, I’m still giggling too.

Thank you Iceland.

grillmarkadurinn restaurant *reykjavik*

25 March 2014

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On our last night in Iceland we had an incredible degustation plus extra dishes at Grillmarkadurinn in Reykjavik. Amazing. As usual, our last dinners in a place always stay in my mind as a special closure to that experience. Sharing this last dinner with my husband’s cousin was also special and we were so thankful for the quality time we’d spent with him.

hotel búðir *iceland*

23 March 2014

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*photo of me, dog & drool by my husband

Hotel Búðir really is the stuff of romantic literature. Perched alone on a grassy peninsula, your eyes follow from the white lodge towards the estuary and to the Snaefellsjokull glacier beyond. Turn and brace into the wind to take in the choppy ocean, the quaint staff cabin and the small wooden church. Roam the grassy headland and feel the isolation, the rejuvenating wind, the space. Inside the sitting rooms you want to curl up on a leather couch with a good book or your journal, or just simply to stare at the magnificent view.

Our loft windows framed the most spectacular sunset resplendent of all colours. As the darkness of night settled in, we made our way back downstairs to a sitting area where I made friends with the resident dog. (Of course, you say. Of course!) As we snuggled on the floor, he proceeded to drool all over my jeans and I didn’t mind one bit. Dog hugs are good for the soul.

We made our way into the restaurant to enjoy a quality degustation featuring local produce. We three were the only people dining that night apart from a gorgeous young Swedish couple who had just married in the church that afternoon. She was beautiful in her simple gown, blonde hair in a plaited up-do and a grey cardigan over her shoulders. They talked quietly at their corner table and I silently sent them happy, long-lasting-love vibes. A nudge at my knees and my doggy friend had snuck into the restaurant to see me. I whispered for him to lie down, not knowing if he knew English commands. I was giggling as he lay down at my feet happily. The waiter came later and shoo-ed him out of the restaurant, understandably for a fine establishment, but the cheeky moments pup and I shared made me smile. “I’ll come cuddle you again”, I promised him. Later, as we rubbed our bellies contentedly, my husband spotted the Aurora Borealis forming outside. The boys decided to head out to photograph them. I returned to our loft and sprawled across the bed to write in my journal, sometimes distracted by the howling wind outside. That wind only seemed appropriate given all the other guests at the hotel were hosting their own private mystery party in a separate dining room – sure to have added to the mood! But the icy wind also drove the boys back inside before too long – but not before they came up with a genius way to solve the problem at hand. They set up the tripod in a protected nook, went inside and settled into the armchairs by the window, ordered dessert and operated the camera with the remote control!

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast and a wander around the grounds with my doggy friend. My laughter whipped away in the wind as I realised I couldn’t call him back in Icelandic, but he knew his routine so we let him be as he raised his nose to take in the smells. My husband showed me a snow flake on his glasses and I took in the fleeting beauty of its shape before it disintegrated. We couldn’t get the camera out quick enough, but it is another image imbedded in my mind. Before we left, I sat on the lobby floor again, with a certain canine wrapped around my legs resting his head on me. I thought of my dog at home who loves to snuggle the same way – don’t worry, I still love you the most!

Warm beds, cosy reading rooms, moody wind, inspiring views, good food, great company, and a dog. Perfect.

roaming west *iceland*

20 March 2014

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After a wonderful two nights in Reykjavik we headed back out into the countryside, with us an additional traveller. Our coffee date with my husband’s cousin in London the week before had resulted in his spontaneous decision to join us for the last few days in Iceland. With room in the car and no accommodation yet booked to enable flexibility around the Northern Lights, we were ecstatic to welcome him into the adventure. Lo and behold, the previously booked-out Hotel Búðir that I had earmarked had two rooms become available. Proof that sometimes loose or even no plans can result in the best tangents in travels. It was a really special time for us to roam around, laugh, hug each other in the cold, take photos, do silly poses, eat good food and talk with our beloved cousin. A precious few days that we treasure.

I took less photos on this part of our trip as I got what we termed landscape photography fatigue (!!), but it was also perfect in that I just enjoyed the walking, playing, laughing in the snow, jumping in the grass and sitting down to drink in every aspect of the wonderful moments. Memories locked in the heart, mind and all the senses.

cafes *reykjavik*

18 March 2014

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We started the day at Reykjavik Roasters (formerly known as Kaffismiðja Islands) for a light breakfast and my husband’s caffeine-ation. It was full of locals – young people absorbed in books and settled in comfortable chairs, mums with prams enjoying their coffee, and a delightful group of women of all ages sitting around a table knitting and chatting. It was one of those moments where you felt so beautifully installed into the daily rhythms of a place.

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We enjoyed a hearty second breakfast/early lunch a couple of hours later at The Laundromat Cafe. Scoring a corner window seat, I was pretty happy, warming our bodies from the inside and watching the local hipsters. It always helps that I got to say hello to a cute dog as we left. I had earmarked this place in case we actually needed to use the awesome laundromat downstairs, but as we didn’t we just snuck a quick peak and admired the concept.

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Gló Restaurant was on my list and literally appeared in front of us just as I was starting to drop from hunger. It satisfied my craving for salad that always hits if I go too long without one when travelling. Every day they serve raw food, a chicken dish, a vegetarian meal, soup and desserts. Ingredients are sourced from Icelandic farmers wherever possible. This branch in the city is in a central location upstairs and our corner window table was a delightful position from which to do a little people watching on the street below and watch the changing light.

There are a lot of cafes and restaurants in Reykjavik and this sampling was quite perfect for our day of urban exploring. We also enjoyed a special final meal in the city, which I will share in another post. Our tasty adventure that mingled among all the scenery, commenced in London, continued in Iceland and concluded in Florida. *belly rub*

reykjavik *iceland*

16 March 2014

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I have a thing for cities by the water with mountains in the background. Reykjavik was a perfect interlude between our countryside adventures. It was a calm 4 degrees Celsius but it felt warm compared to some of the spots we had been visiting in the days before! It was good to spend a whole day on our feet, doing what we love to do – urban exploring. This charming city is small enough to see in a day and we adored our mix of cafes, street art, cultural buildings, expensive and evolving residential areas. It all felt so cosy and intimate, a sometimes random tapestry of homes interwoven among the backyards, shared fences, bare trees, hedges, propped up bikes and roaming cats. I think the cats were attracted to our bag of goodies from a deli where a lovely lady gave us her time and many samples to expand our tastebuds. On the shaded sides of the streets the ice made for some slippery parts – we noted that runners went past on the sunny side. This kind of forethought is so foreign for us Australians!

This day in the city was precious. (Will share the cafes we visited in another post)

That evening we watched the stunning sunset over the city from our hotel before rugging up for a Northern Lights tour. With the cloudy weather the first few days we were yet to see them and we wanted to increase our chances. Some months before our trip I had a rather momentous letting go when I decided that I would not do night photography of the Lights. I knew that the environment would be challenging for me, so I had decided I would just relax beside my husband who was excited to capture them. On my auntie and uncle’s farm before the trip I had sat on the ground hugging my dog while he practised. Even after a long time in the darkness I could only count 25 stars, while my husband could not even begin to count the huge number he saw. From this I knew there was a chance I might not see the Northern Lights, but damn I’m grateful for those 25 stars. I decided I would live the Northern Lights through his photos and words and my other senses.

It was a bitterly cold and windy night up on that mountain. I held the tripod steady and tried to stop my teeth from chattering. The tour guides handed out hot chocolates and our guide soon learnt that I needed a little extra assistance and was very kind. I listened to the movements and laughter of other tourists weaving among our convey of parked 4WD jeeps. For me, it was pitch black and I found it amazing that everyone could run so freely while my body was very tense and still. I couldn’t see my hand waving in front of my face. How could they see? Where was the edge of the mountain? Wow, I really am that legally blind. My husband showed me a photo in the back of the camera to give me an idea of our surroundings. I learnt then that we were on a large flat mountain top, not standing on the edge of a cliff like the wind made me feel! Sometimes, in my photography and love for the small things, I can almost forget how little I see physically. It was a big reminder up there on that mountain and was quite a hard emotional experience for me. My husband saw the Northern Lights, low intensity but there all the same. I was by his side. He lovingly comforted me as I choked back tears.

My husband’s long-held dream came true. And that was gift enough for me.

when the clouds lift *iceland*

12 March 2014

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After two very comfortable nights at the Hali Country Hotel, (and relaxed, quality meals in their restaurant) we were finally able to see the secret behind the clouds right behind the family-owned sheep and fish farm on which the hotel sits. It was our last morning there, and we eagerly threw on layers and ventured outside. I was striding towards the water, which was only metres from our window and then my husband said to turn around. I swore in awe and my husband laughed. He loves my joy at discovering something in our surroundings that is so obvious to others. Lifting my head up, along and around – so that stunning, steeply-rising craggy, snow-capped mountain was what was hiding behind us!!! Whoa.

We drove back to Jökulsárlón again and my husband took some amazing photos of the bright sunrise on the beach. Looking towards the sun hurts my eyes, so I turned around and took in the colours changing on the mountains. Yet again we were the only ones on the beach so I felt brave and went solo adventuring up the black sand dune. My solid hiking boots a freedom-enhancer, protecting me from rolling my ankles over the rocks that I couldn’t keep track of, and was frankly too puppy-dog excited to try. At the top of the dune I sat down and felt free and awesome, overlooking the car and the man who travels the world holding my hand. As I headed down towards the water, I came upon a log (tunnel vision can make a discovery like this so fun!) and set up the camera to take a self-portrait. The first shot in the series is me half-sliding off the log as I misjudged my step – I got the giggles. It’s pretty powerful to laugh alone and lovingly at one’s imperfection, isn’t it?

When we went back to the lagoon itself we came across tourists on location for the first time in two days. In the clearer morning yet more mountains and the glacier itself were unveiled. While it was perfect to see the greater landscape, we also realised the cloudy morning was a gift too in that the blues in the ice were more vivid in the subdued light. The best of both worlds.

More scenic driving as we worked our way back towards Reykjavik. Dramatic mountains. An icy wooden bridge. Turf covered buildings. Meeting a museum researcher who let us inside one. Wobbly woolly sheep bums as they run. Lava fields. A rainbow. Freshly caught lobster. A warm cosy cafe with a view. Being the only two people standing behind a waterfall at sunset – cold and happy. Hot chocolate. Driving across a snowy pass and down into Reykjavik, ready for some urban exploring the next day.

what you can’t see *iceland*

11 March 2014

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Believe me and anyone who tells you (with that sparkle in the eye that comes from visiting Iceland), that there are so very few trees. There’s an occasional cluster around a farm, but this really is the mystical barren land you’re led to believe in via photos. The lack of trees means that photos can hide secrets from the viewer in all that starkness. I can’t convey to you via my landscape photos just how windy some of the locations were. The kind of wind that you read warnings and guidelines about in Icelandair’s inflight magazine. The kind of wind that gets so fierce in some areas that only one person can get out of the car at a time, hanging on to the door. The kind where I was leaning back into the wind on the top of an extinct cinder, feeling like a kid. Yep, feeling alive.

Hilarious video of a fashion shoot. Trying to riding a bike into it. A stormy Reykjavik city.

*photo of me ready to photograph a glacier by my husband.

so… what do you do?

10 March 2014

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bracing myself for the cold & beauty of Iceland (photo by my husband)

Eugh. That loaded question. I get that it’s a way to start conversation and find a commonality from which to converse, but still… eugh. Apart from the fact that what we do for work isn’t all that defines us, how does one answer when it’s not a simple “I’m an insert profession title”. And how does one answer when they care a little too much about what others think? Well, here’s my start on conquering this concern publicly. I feel we are non-judgemental friends here, aren’t we?

I have had a remarkably different life, achieved on a world scale and held some interesting jobs and titles that stemmed from that. I’m proud of my achievements but it’s a journey that can’t be shared in a quick sentence. It’s a story. Perhaps when my self-esteem is a little low, I launch into that story because I want them to know I too am successful, interesting and smart. Occasionally that type A in me rears her head when provoked. Sometimes I don’t actually feel the egotistical need to share my life story and I’m also aware that I don’t want to monopolise a casual conversation of pleasantries with it. Other times I prefer to keep my story for friends with whom I have a deeper relationship with. And. Sometimes I struggle to say the most relevant answer today. Not because my husband and I don’t treasure it, but because in society it is sometimes less valued, something to be justified, something to be thrown into a cycle with a whole lot of busy-ness, not pursued alone. Because sometimes when I’ve answered this way, the other person shuts down and assumes I have no interesting facets to me and then turns away. Because you can see that people don’t understand how you can be a housewife in your 30s if you don’t have (and don’t plan to have) kids. The best way to describe my role is…

I am a housewife.

There, I said it. My first role is to look after the health of our home and us. It wasn’t planned, it all happened quite organically, but it works for us. When we met, I told my husband that I wasn’t much of a cleaning, cooking, domestic type of girl. Ha, we laugh at that now! We are happier and healthier because of my shift to a traditional role. At the start of 2007 I resigned from a stressful management position. I have never sobbed with my whole body like I did during the year on that job. I had never hated my phone until that year. I had never had panic attacks on the way to work until that year. While it was an achievement that looked good on paper, it was killing me, and the extra money stopped being any kind of compensation. Worse still, some nights I had to close my eyes while talking to my husband because of the pain and fatigue. Uh huh, I want to spend that precious resource of my fading vision on looking at the faces I love, not draining them in a lonely, stressful job.

Since then I have done the very occasional freelance and voluntary work but my priority has been the health and happiness of our household. If something starts to affect that, it goes. I don’t think we truly knew the greatness and simplicity we were allowing to come into our lives when we took that step. The immediate benefits were clear in less pain in my eyes and much less stress. I can now see the other gifts we gave ourselves – my time and energy to devote to our health, our life, our relationship, our families. And his time too. A colleague once asked my husband how he is able to produce such quality work. My husband replied that a big part was the support of a wife at home. Wow, how is that for a validation of the value of my traditional role? I am also incredibly lucky that he reinforces the importance of rest and never makes me feel bad for those times where I can’t live up to my own expectations due to my health needs.

So, what do I do? I cook, clean, declutter, wash and iron, digitise, run errands. I go to the farmers markets. I create words and photographs. I make sure birthdays are not forgotten. I support my husband in his work. I give love. I give time. I prioritise. I walk and cuddle with my dog. I research for our adventures both locally and abroad. I listen, assist and discuss family matters such as my aging grandparents. I help others with their projects and dreams. I share my photos of gatherings with loved ones and make them smile at the memories and the people. I digitise my family’s keepsakes for sharing and safekeeping. I figure stuff out about life. I am a teammate to my husband. I face this whole going blind thing with a smile, sometimes through tears and sometimes with setbacks. I manage my conditions as best I can in order to be healthy. In looking after myself, I have more to give others. In short, I guess you could say, I attempt to create joy for myself and others around me.

The child who dreamt she would wear a power suit and make lots of money, to the girl who succeeded on a world scale in a very untraditional role, to sampling the management life, has now grown into a woman who creates value with domestic duties. We live in a time where you can take any path in life, traditional or not, and that is cause for celebration and freedom. But sometimes I think there’s too much focus on being on all paths simultaneously – to be everything to everyone – to the detriment of many things and people. In our efforts to be a progressive society it seems that being traditional is now frowned upon – how sad. I’ve been on both paths and am rich in experiences and personal growth for it. I have a lot of respect for the high-flying successful women, but let us always remind each other of the deep-seated beauty and value of caring, loving, feeding, creating, listening and nurturing in this increasingly fast paced, short-attention-spanned, machinated, status-driven world.

p.s. Juanita wrote about her thoughts last year too.

jökulsárlón glacier *iceland*

7 March 2014

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On our 3rd morning we woke to heavy cloud cover – but you know I was still happy! This region was very quiet when we visited in off-season autumn, so we felt like the only people in this spectacular landscape, and often we actually were. We started at sunrise on the beach delicately avoiding the ice sculptures as though works of art, and then wandered under the bridge to the lagoon, both of us snapping away on our cameras. (Love this photo of us huddled over one together wearing several layers and gore-tex). Glacial ice on a beach. Black volcanic sand. Vivid blues. Seals floating without a care. Ice snapping and splashing into the water. Somebody pinch us!