Posts Tagged ‘coffee’

Hout Bay Heaven

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Sentinel Peak’s distinctive shape looms over the picturesque harbour of Hout Bay in the mid distance. A gentle swell rolls in from the southern Atlantic ocean, ending its journey on the bay’s white sand beach.  Van Morrison and other like artists’ songs fill the breakfast nook’s dining space as we “tuck into” another sumptuous full cooked morning feast at the Amblewood bed and breakfast.  Trevor, our gracious host, beams with pride as we “mmmm” and “ah” after tasting the perfectly cooked and wonderfully presented meal.

Themba, Trevor and June’s beautiful golden labrador, wanders in occasionally to check on our progress.  He knows that he will get to savour any left over delights and we are sure that he is hoping we will not eat all the food on our plates.  When Trevor comes out to top up our tea and coffee he gives Themba “the look” and Themba reluctantly exits the dining room.  He knows that it is only a matter of time before the left overs are laid before him.  He is the master of the house after all.

Patiently Waiting

The views, the atmosphere, the food, the hosts and the company of my Princess make the breakfast experience at Amblewood a very pleasurable experience indeed.

Life’s very good.

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Coastal Views and Mountain Peaks

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Looking out from the window of our plushly appointed bedroom at Amblewood B&B our eyes feast on the towering mountain peaks that surround Hout Bay.  The area is a geological paradise and we are keen to explore it more.  Today we are headed for the Cape of Good Hope.

After another sumptuous breakfast we “mount” our hired steed (read Citroen car) and make our way to the beginning of Chapman’s Peak drive .  We pay our entrance fee and set off on the scenic drive.

Coastal Princess

Chapman’s Peak looms above us and the picturesque Hout Bay drops behind and below as we head south on the winding coastal road known around these parts as “Chappies”.

It’s not long before we pull over to the first of many lookout parking areas – each offering their own unique view of the Atlantic coastline.

The white blossoms of coastal trees contrast beautifully against the azure of the inlets below.  Cold, gentle breezes rise up from the ocean below and cool us down as we capture this beautiful scene on our Canon SLRs.

The construction of Chappies started almost 100 years ago – an engineering marvel in its day.  9 kilometres and 114 curves carved out of the side of mountains high above the Atlantic ocean.  Another example of the ingenuity and persistence of mankind.

We stop frequently to take in the grandeur of the mountains and the vastness of the ocean. Sitting and admiring nature without taking any photo’s or video is one of life’s pleasures and we remind ourselves today that this must be done often.

For more great information on traveling in South Africa, check out our like minded friend’s reviews here “100 Best Things To Do In South Africa”  Jen Miller is an avid traveler and writes some great articles on her blog.

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Chillin’ Over Coffee

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Today’s conference session was quite short – the conference concluded around lunchtime.  The final pieces of the “puzzle” were put in place and we all departed with a completely different outlook on the way forward with our business.

We shared lunch with some of our business partners at another one of the funky restaurants lining the streets of Austin then headed back to the costume shop to drop off the costumes that we had rented for the 80’s party.

We met a wonderful couple here over the weekend – Rafael and Jasmine.  Rafael is a doctor from Laredo, Texas and he and his wife a lovely people.  They are an example of the people that are a part of Agel.  People who know that they are a part of something very special and people willing to work with others to help them achieve their maximum.

Rafael and Jasmine drove us to/from the costume shop before they departed on their 4 hour drive to Laredo.  It was great to be able to spend some more time with them.

After returning to the hotel we caught up with Diane (Sandra’s sister) before she flew out for Calgary.  She had a 12 hour!! layover in Houston on her return – yuck!!  She was returning to Calgary’s -43 degree weather so she probably didn’t mind a few extra hours in Texas.

After saying goodbye to Diane we went back to a very unique little coffee shop that we had found a couple of days before.  We met up with some of our team there and spent a few hours catching up on emails and immersing ourselves in training.

The training continued into the night as we all went out for dinner together too.  The outcomes from this training were and will continue to be very powerful for us and the business partners that spent time with us yesterday.  We will all be moving forward with a significant amount of momentum – great stuff.

We managed to get to bed at a reasonable hour after starting our packing for the flight to Amsterdam tomorrow.

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Immersing In The Greatness Of The Great Mosque

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

After our visit to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda we returned to Xi’an’s city centre and made our way to the Great Mosque.

The Great Mosque is one of the oldest, largest and best-preserved Islamic mosques in China and its location is northwest of the Drum Tower (Gu Lou) on Huajue Lane – an easy place to find on the local tourist map.

The Great Mosque is definitely worth visiting if you are going to spend anytime in Xi’an.  The centuries-old mosque (circa 724AD) has some wonderful history and the unique mix of architecture (traditional Muslim and Chinese styles in the buildings) is stunning.

We were fortunate enough to arrive at the mosque just as prayer time was commencing.  The presence of dedicated worshippers and the sound of beautiful chanting made the whole mosque area come alive.

History suggests that Islam was introduced into Northwest China by Arab merchants and travelers from Persia and Afghanistan during the mid-7th century. Some of the travelers settled down in China and married women of Han nationality.  Descendants of these marriages became the Muslims of today.

Mosques throughout China were built to honor the role Muslims played in the unification of China during the Yuan and Ming Dynasties and the Great Mosque is obviously one of the most special of these houses of worship.

The Princess and I soaked up the calmness that was very much present inside the mosque walls and we enjoyed the freedom to take photos and video as we walked around the complex. Tourists and locals alike honoured the significance of this ancient place of worship and noise levels were kept low.

The Great Mosque is a must see for anyone visiting Xi’an.  Take a couple of hours to immerse yourself in the beauty and history of this ancient complex and, if you can arrange it, make sure you visit coincides with prayer time.

Footnote:  After you leave the mosque, turn left and walk about 5 metres.  On the right you will find Jessica’s coffee shop.  Jessica, the owner, speaks excellent English and she is the perfect host.  Jessica was very generous with her time and gave us some wonderful tips on what to see and where to eat in Xi’an.  Oh, her coffee and walnut biscuits are excellent too!

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Freely Frolicking On A Formidable Former Foe

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Some years ago a Chinese company located in Shenzhen purchased  the former USSR aircraft carrier “Minsk”.  The company set up a theme park with the Minsk as a central attraction.

The “Minsk” was decommissioned from the Russian Navy in 1993 after it suffered some major damage in a dockyard accident.  It was subsequently sold to a Korean businessman (I guess the Russians were a little cash strapped in those days) and he on sold the ship to a Chinese company here in southern China.

Today, we decided to pay a visit to the Minsk – now a part of “Minsk World” and check out this former formidable ship.  Of course being an ex-military man and an aviator, I was keen to get up close and personal with some of the hardware on display.

After researching transport options we decided to take a taxi to Yantian – the area where the Minsk is moored.  The hotel staff were very helpful in arranging a taxi and it wasn’t long before we were sliding around the backseat (sans seat belts) of the “standard” Shenzhen taxi on our way to Yantian.

One of the things we both commented on during the trip to Yantian was how well laid out the road system is in Shenzhen.  The taxi driver drove to Yantian via the Eastern Coast Expressway and he enjoyed being able to drive fast!  We never felt unsafe but it would have been nice to have had a seat belt (or two).

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After leaving the expressway we descended down into Yantian via some spectacular winding roads.  Looking back up to the expressway provided us with an impressive sight.  They certainly know how to build roads here in China.

The trip from Lo Wu to Yantian was quite quick (around 15 minutes) and surprisingly cheap (about 40RMB with tips).  Our driver delivered us to the shorefront where the Minsk is located so we didn’t have to walk too far to the entrance of Minsk World.

Despite signs of a lack of repair, the Minsk still look imposing sitting alongside the wharf.  The sheer size of the vessel and the array of weapons systems and radar heads gives the immediate impression of a ship that needed to be shown respect – at least in its day.

We paid for our tickets (130RMB) and crossed the gangway onto the ship.  I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t piped onboard however I did take time to “throw a goffa” (salute) in the direction of the quarterdeck.  Ah….. my 15 years in the navy taught me a few things.

Despite the theme park style entrance (located inside the below deck hangar space) we were glad to be aboard and keen to take a long look around the ship.

Vistors are able to access a lot of the ship’s spaces (below and above deck) and the walkways and displays are designed to allow you to learn more about different parts of the ship and its weapons systems.  We enjoyed reading the “Chinglish” descriptions – a great chuckle indeed.  

After some time below decks we made our way onto the flight deck and got up close and personal with some of the aircraft that were on display.  Unfortunately the ship and the display aircraft haven’t been given a lot of attention in the past few years so they look a little “worse for wear”.  In fact I would not be surprised if they haven’t been touched since they were decommissioned by the Russians back in the mid-1990′s.  They are certainly authentic.

After rubbing the rusting metal and tired paintwork of the jets and helicopters we made our way to the fo’c's’le (there’s the navy in me again) area – the location of some of the ship’s weapons systems – surface to air and surface to surface missiles.  Many of the missiles (inert we assume) are still located in the magazines or on the rails of their launchers.  They are certainly not going anywhere fast but they still look very imposing.  The Minsk was designed to be a self protected vessel and, despite having a support fleet supporting her (in her operational days) she would have been able to launch a sizeable attack on anything that came close (including ships, aircraft and submarines).  Impressive indeed.

From the flight deck we made our way topside for a look around the bridge and the aviation control room.  The now archaic navigation, communication and control systems look like something from the 50′s and in their day they would have required a lot of manpower to operate them effectively.  Indeed, up to 1600 crew were embarked on the ship when it was fully operational.  Not as many of the huge US carriers but still a lot of people.

We took quite a few photographs from the higher vantage points before descending below decks into the op’s room and onto the hangar deck – both of which were “disappointing”.  The displays on the hangar deck were geared to theme style tourists and most of them were not operational. Indeed, whilst the concept of a “theme park” probably sounded good, the operator has not really supported the whole business and the whole operation is look a little sad and sorry.  An unfortunate end for this old lady of the sea.

We “stepped ashore” after about two hours (still not piped ashore) and viewed some of the aircraft located on waterfront area before setting off on a walk along the nicely designed waterfront and back into Yantian town centre.

Our walk took us along clean and tidy pathways and past some of the newer apartment developments that are sprouting up in the area.  We were very impressed by the cleanliness of Yantian.  We were also impressed by how quite the area was.

One of the things we liked was the proliferation of bike stations located around the city.  We gathered that the city is modeling the bike hire system on some of the European cities.  What a forward thinking way of designing your city.  We only wish that Hong Kong could do the same!  People complain about the pollution from China but we saw some great examples (bikes, solar heating and recycling systems) of how Shenzhen is doing what it can to reduce the pollution output.  Well done!

We made our way into the small city centre and looked around for a place to have a coffee.  Whilst there were no Starbucks (yet) in Yantian we did find a place called Montreal Coffee.  This lovely quiet restaurant was located off the main street area and we enjoyed sitting in the swing seats and drinking a very nice coffee.  I was expecting some average tasting beverage but I was eating my words after sipping on the wonderful Viennese coffee that was placed before me.  A great way to finish off our time in Yantian.

We asked (in our best Chinese) the waitress for a taxi back to Lo Wu and she kindly walked us out onto the street and flagged down a taxi for us.  The friendly driver took us back along a slightly different route to Lo Wu but it took us the same time and cost the same amount as the trip down.

We would certainly recommend a tour of the Minsk and some time in and around Yantian.  Despite the “dog eared” state of the Minsk and the average state of the displays, the ship, its weapons systems and aircraft are still an impressive reminder of the halcyon days of the Russian navy.

After visiting the ship make sure you spend some time in and around Yantian.  Take a walk around the streets and have a coffee at Montreal Coffee – you won’t be disappointed!

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Three Countries, Two Castles, One Great Day Out!

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Three Countries, Two Castles, One Great Day Out!

Bregenzerwald, Vaduz, Saint Gallen

Thursday, 9 June 2011

I am please to say that The Princess slept well last night – the doctor’s prescription of antibiotic and some natural remedies worked very well.

The alarm woke us at 7.30 but we had some additional time in bed before surfacing – easy to do after being on the go for 10 days or so.

On looking out the window we noted that it was another overcast day here in Bregenzerwald. However, we were not going to let that stop us venturing out to enjoy more of the local region. Three countries worth of travel was our aim today.

The breakfast servings had some room to fill in our stomachs this morning due to fact that we had only eaten a light meal last night before retiring. Not a bad thing given the amount of food we seem to be consuming on this holiday!

We aimed to be on the road around 9.30am and I noted that this was exactly what we achieved as we pulled out onto the quiet street next to the hotel. Our talking GPS guided us out of town and onto the mountain road that we drove across when we arrived two days ago.

The drive up the mountain was quite slow because the higher we went the thicker the fog became. To make things more interesting the roads were wet and there were quite a few repairs in progress after the long winter here.

Fortunately, as we descended on the other side of the mountain we left the fog behind us and the valley we descended into was relatively clear.

We both wondered how the locals made their way to and from these mountain villages during winter – it was hard enough to negotiate the narrow winding roads in today’s conditions.

Our first stop for today was the country of Liechtenstein and, in particular, its main centre – Vaduz. After descending the mountain we drove across the border into Switzerland before quickly exiting Switzerland and entering Liechtenstein – no real border between the two countries.

It was interesting to note the number of light commercial buildings in Liechtenstein – one of the spin offs from being a popular tax haven! Indeed, the populous here in this small principality enjoy an envious standard of living – the spoils are certainly shared.

We found a place to park in Vaduz and went in search of a place for a morning coffee. We found a cafe opposite the car park and settled in for a nice coffee and green tea. A young British couple sat down at the table next to us and we had a chat with them for a while before we all continued on our way. It was unusual to hear some English being spoken!

From the cafe we took a walk around the very small and tidy town and captured some shots on the cameras. We both felt that the atmosphere was a little sterile and commercial for our liking however, we did enjoy taking some distant shots of the castle and in and around the beautiful cathedral.

The rain started to set in a bit so we headed back to the car and set course for St Gallen in Switzerland.

Before leaving Liechtenstein we photographed another mountaintop castle in one of the small towns on the edge of the principality. This little town sits on the border with Switzerland and is close to the autobahn. It wasn’t long before the hire car was pushing 120 km/h (plus) on the beautifully constructed motorway.

Beautiful hamlets built on the side of steep hillsides passed us by (or is that the other way around?) as we drove uninhibited in the direction of St Gallen. Some of these hamlets had two to three churches in them. It appears that the Swiss were just as busy as the Austrians a few hundred years ago! The catholic church had (has) an impressive “capture” area!

The trip to St Gallen took around 30 minutes so it was not long before we were exiting the car in another underground car park (handy in winter no doubt), preparing our gear and setting off to gain an appreciation for this beautiful Swiss town near the Bodensee.

Mother Nature (who has been very kind to us thus far) must not have been told of our plans for the day and she had forgotten to turn off the rain. As we ventured out onto the streets of St Gallen, we put a request in with the weather Gods to have a chat with Mother Nature and ask her to turn of the showers. She received the request!

The showers abated and we were able to walk around the streets of St Gallen without getting wet. Nice one MN!

In a photographic lighting sense it is actually nice not to have a sunny day. The diffused lighting stops the shots being washed out and provides less of a challenge for getting the exposure right (not that we claim to know much about photography or, for that matter, how to get the correct exposure).

The historic buildings in this town (along with the new ones) were beautifully kept and, at times, it felt like walking through a movie set. Narrow cobble stoned streets lined with brightly painted buildings that were complete with beautiful flowering window boxes made for some great photo opportunities. It is easy to see why hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to this area every year – rain, snow or sunshine!

One of the highlights of St Gallen was the cathedral. “More churches?” I hear you ask. Yes. More churches. Like so many other cathedrals, this one was something to behold. From the huge heavy wooden doors at the entrance through to the magnificently painted domes St Gallen cathedral was impressive. It seemed like nothing had changed inside this cathedral since it was built. The smell of the wood and incense played on our senses and we could gain a real sense of the age of this place.

The perfect acoustics in the cathedral meant that you could hear a pin drop – not a good thing for those “under breath” comments about the lengthy sermons given from the imposing pulpit!

We enjoyed photographing some of the flower beds and statues that surrounded the cathedral before we left the church grounds and returned to the narrow streets of St Gallen.

As we returned to the main plaza area we spotted the first Starbucks for this trip. The Princess was most excited about the prospect of downing a Chai Tea Latte so we decided to return “for a brew” after some retail therapy. The Princess had spotted some clothes that she wanted a second look at so we retraced our steps and found the store.

Neither of us found anything we particularly liked in the dozen or so shops went into so we returned to Starbucks and had a hot drink while we took a load off our feet.

Whilst the Starbucks coffee doesn’t compare with some of the great Italian and Austrian brews we have been drinking over the past week, it was nice to sit in “familiar” surroundings and down our hot beverages.

We had an 80 minute drive back to Au ahead of us so we returned to the car and, after finding our “misplaced” parking voucher, we navigated our way out of St Gallen and back onto the motorway.

There was no peak hour traffic to contend with on the motorway so we made good time back to the turn off for the Bregenzerwald area. The trip slowed a little was we crossed the border back into Austria and started back into the mountains.

We were keeping an “eye out” for a roadside restaurant in one of the many small villages that we passed through however, neither of us saw anything that appeared to be open (it was approaching 7.45pm) so I kept driving onto Au.

As we passed the “welcome to Au” sign we spotted a brightly lit restaurant (Ur Alp) and pulled into the car park. Fortunately the kitchen was still open so we took a window seat in the cavernous dining room and reviewed the menu.

We were served by a lovely lady of Bosnian heritage and her efficient service meant that it wasn’t long before we were coating our taste buds with a delightful cream of cheese soup! The cheese used in the soup was produced in Au.

Our soup was complimented by two pork dishes and some salad for the main. Both main meals tasted delightful however, despite not having any lunch, our stomachs told us that we should have shared a main or not had the soup. We were both “Ho Bow”(“very full” in Chinese) about half way through the substantial meals.

After paying our bill and thanking our lovely server, we waddled out of the restaurant and drove the short distance back to Hotel Alpenrose.

We were greeted by Anna Marie and her mother when we opened the main doors of the hotel and they were most keen to learn about our day of touring. What a lovely way to finish our day of touring three countries.

Tomorrow we are off to Interlaken in Switzerland. The drive will take around 5 hours so we aim to be leaving Au around 1000am. We will be staying in Interlaken for 4 days and we look forward to touring this beautiful region near some of the most stunning mountains in the world.

We will let you know how the trip through Switzerland goes in the next blog.

Stay tuned.

Etched In Bronze
[Map]
The Fountain Of Youth
[Map]
Peeking At History
[Map]
Say Ah
[Map]
Hilltop Hangout
[Map]

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