Thursday, July 2, 2015

Riebeek Kasteel Week - Part 1

What to do in Riebeek Kasteel

This trip was a "gelukkie" or - a little bit of luck - in English. Some friends were going away and they offered us the use of their home in Riebeek Kasteel. I suspect the main reason was to give their much-loved pets a bit of company. They have four dogs and three cats. Although a house-keeper feeds them daily and they get taken on regular walks, it's not company. We could certainly help out. Plus, my other half and I welcomed a chance to have some down-time away from home and responsibilities. And to be in such a beautiful part of the world was a bonus.
View of the Riebeek valley
Riebeek Kasteel is 1/3 of a trio of small villages along with Riebeek West and Hermon nestled close together in what's known as Riebeek Valley.  Riebeek Kasteel is named after Jan Van Riebeek the 17th century Dutch founder of the Cape. Jan Van Riebeek sent Pieter Cruythoff on an exploration into the area in 1661. Riebeek Kasteel is one of the oldest towns in South Africa. Kasteel means castle and the majestic mountains nearby are called Kasteelberg or Castle Mountain. The Riebeek Valley attracts the type residents who strive to preserve and restore the architecture, heritage and ambience of the area. It's a place where folk retire or creative people flock in their droves to eat good food, grow great wines or olives, make beautiful things and live well - away from the stresses of big-city life. It's a safe and open minded community. We like that.
Grapes at Pulpit Rock
Riebeek West and Riebeek Kasteel are close together and would have been one village were it not for a dispute over where to build the local church. The dispute was never resolved and two villages formed right next to each other. With two separate churches. The circumference of Riebeek Kasteel is just under 4 kilometres which means you can hear the church bells ring out the time of day and night within the town. Reminiscent of French villages. You can also hear roosters crowing in the morning. We took the dogs for a late afternoon walk every day. It's a great way to explore this not exactly big place. We got to see beautiful Cape Dutch style homes - old and new. And the odd Tuscan "themed" home! Sigh. Tuscan homes are a bit of an obsession in South Africa with the nouveaux riche. Such a pity when we have beautiful authentic architecture to draw from. People grow olives, figs, lemons, pomegranates, prickly pears, quinces, avocados, dates and I even saw amatungulus growing in a garden. What is an amatungulus you may ask? It's a type of plum native to South Africa that has a thick white sap.
A much loved pet
The house we stayed in is a 60's home restored to fit the area. It's been redecorated with an open plan kitchen and lots of access to outdoors and light. The decor is fresh and modern with a slightly Zen feel. Think stainless steel kitchen counter tops, natural stone mosaic tiles, discretely placed Buddhas and lots of votive candles scattered about. Fortunately Riebeek Kasteel is just over an hours drive from Cape Town (about 80 kilometres) on the N7 past Malmesbury. Many residents are willing to make the commute so they can live in Riebeek Kasteel. Others keep a second home in the village. Which means week-days are quieter. However come week-ends things perk up. A lot. You will be surprised at how many bars and eateries exist in Riebeek Kasteel. And how full they are. For a population of around 3000 - this town can buzz. 
In the town square
The pets made our break that much more for us. Each animal has such a distinct personality. Starting with the dogs, Dog One doesn't just wag his tail, he wags his entire body and head in different directions like a slinky. Dog Two loves the pool. He suffers from FOMO. We had to make sure his leash went on first so he was assured of going on a walk or he would get most upset. Dog Three is a strong dog. She took me for a walks. She also thinks she is a small dog and can fit on the bed. She's not. Dog Four is old. Not so keen on going for walks. The matriarch of the group.
Guess who slept on the bed?

And then the cats - Cat One spends most of his days in a vacant lot nearby and comes home to eat. He doesn't like dogs. But he NEVER missed a meal. If he wasn't on time, he would actually grab me to make sure I fed him. His carbon copy Cat Two eats, sleeps and lives on the kitchen counter. She drinks water from a glass - not a bowl. Cat Three moves about four times a day. Twice to eat brekka and supper. And maybe twice more to shift from sleeping on the dresser to sleeping on the bed and back again. Ah the life of such adored animals!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Gloucester Fortnight - Part 4

To read about this trip from the beginning - click here.

After a week of scoffing yummy food we knew we had better do a Parkrun. The weather was much better and we both did the Newent Parkrun, then went back to the guesthouse and watched James Martin's cooking show while washing and getting read to go to Gloucester. The key sights  - also known and the Gloucester 12 are: -

  •     Gloucester Cathedral
  •     The New Inn
  •     Gloucester Folk Museum
  •     St Mary de Crypt
  •     Gloucester Docks
  •     The Old Bell
  •     Beatrix Potter Museum
  •     26 Westgate Street
  •     Blackfriars
  •     Roberts Raikes' Inn
  •     Brunswick Square
  •     St Oswald's Priory

Gloucester Cathedral
There was the Crucible art expo on at Gloucester cathedral so we popped in there. Apparently some of the Harry Potter movie scenes were filmed in the Cloisters. Then we had lunch at the Guildhall. The Guildhall was having a One Direction special and was swarming with teenage girls. Then we took a stroll over to Gloucester Quays. Here old harbour warehouses have been restored and you can eat, shop, watch narrow boats tie up for the night, explore preserved old boats or read info boards scattered about giving info on how the quays worked in days
Bourton on the Water Cotswolds
gone by.

We headed back into town and had a take-out jacket potato at award winning pie shop just before they closed. We needed to have an early supper before going back to the B & B.

Sunday morning our guesthouse owner had come to terms with the demise of her cat and all the traumas of traveling so we decided to have her award winning breakfast. It was good. And good value. They do tend to go on about award winning this and award winning that in the UK. Almost every place had some award
Bourton on the Water Cotswolds
whether it was biggest pub, best pub, smallest pub, most loved pub, widest selection of beers pub. Basically every second place had won some award or other.

After breakfast our host kindly lent us a book on scenic drives in The Cotswolds. I don't know why we thought we could do it in a day. It's not a massive area (100 miles from north to south) but there are a LOT of villages and you mostly travel along narrow lanes which slows the trip right down. Houses in The Cotswolds have a distinct character, many built in honey coloured Cotswold stone. Timber and thatch also feature in local architecture. Development is limited to preserve the historical ambiance. You can also cycle or go walking through The Cotswolds. Go to for more info. Sundays are busy and families flock into the region to wander around the villages, shop, eat ice-cream, have lunch,
Burford Cotswolds
visit museums about local industriess and characters, or just hang about. If you fancy something completely different try the - Museum of Mechanical Music - .

The area in and around Gloucester has such a wide variety of things to do. From our walks in the Wye River Valley next to Wales, The River Severn, the country fair and book expo near Cheltenam, Gloucester itself and the historical buildings to The Cotswolds. We got to see a lot. The following morning we headed back to London to my husband's aunt. She had a fortnight without us and I can say hand on heart, was pleased to see us. If only for a few days.

For more on other places to visit scroll to My Holidays and Trips.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Gloucester Fortnight - Part 3

To read about this trip from the beginning - click here

Turnip Tossing Championships
The following day we planned to do a Parkrun in Newent. We woke up to rain, but ever hopeful, got dressed and drove to the Parkrun venue. It carried on raining so we abandoned the idea, despite plenty other enthusiastic runners not shy to get wet. Back at the guesthouse they mentioned on BBC1 News it was 10th anniversary of Parkruns. All the clubs had brought cake and were celebrating. We missed out! BTW Parkrun is a free 5 kilometre run that occurs globally in parks around the world.

We watched Saturday morning cooking with James
Old fashioned cider press
Martin on telly and then decided to visit to Cheltenham. Why Cheltenaham? On TV they mentioned there was a literary festival there. Also it was a much bigger place than Lea and we needed to do a bit of shopping. We headed straight for the Tourist Info and asked for a brochure or guide. They wanted to charge us for it! Not a lot - but that was a first for us. We declined and wandered around the town poking our noses in alleys and walking up
streets. We also popped into the book fair.
Forest Showcase Food and Drink Festival

After a few hours on our feet we headed for Wetherspoons where we had a beer and supper. They were having their International Beer Festival and were promoting beers from all around the world. Some really interesting beers to be had. Wetherspoons are a chain of pubs known for bargain prices. We couldn't exactly complain. One pint of beer, 1 large glass of red wine and 2 jacket potatoes with bean chilli and a mixed salad with dressing came to £12.

We stopped off at a Mini Tesco, bought snacks and a local TV guide, went back to room and watched BBC - much better than our local SABC!!! We had asked the owner of the B & B if we could buy a salad and eat at the communal table but she wasn't happy about it. Which is why we ate at Wetherspoons.

The next day we set off to the Speakhouse Hotel to
Lydney Outer harbour
do the Forest Showcase Food and Drink Festival in the Forest of Dean. It's a big event with over 70 stalls. The stands are a mix of (HOOF) Hands off our Forest activists and Citizens Advice Bureau to a cider press in action and lots and lots of cider stalls. And there were craft beers, bespoke bakers, cookery demos, harvest crowns, children's play areas and heaps more. We also got to watch the annual Turnip Tossing Championships - you read that right.

Info on River Severn
Once we had enough we drove to Lydney Harbour to see the River Severn. Who knew it's the second most tidal river in the world? It has a range of up to 15 metres! From there we popped into Chepstow in Wales. We were so close, how could we not? The Tourist Info lady gave us a map and marked out a drive we could take that would deliver great views of Chepstow and the river. We also wandered around the ruins of Chepstow Castle. Then we headed back to our B & B for an early night in anticipation of our raw food course.

Monday to Friday we did the Feast 2014 course at Harts Barn Cookery School in Mitchelsdean. Wow! What a life changing experience. When we decided to go vegan we wanted to go the whole 9 yards and
Chepstow Castle
eat raw as well. Our reasons for becoming vegan are ethical. We cannot reconcile the horror inflicted on animals to satisfy our appetites. In addition - going raw is a healthy choice. Man is the only species that eats cooked food. If we had to subject our body parts to the temperatures we apply to our food we would have 3rd degree burns. So why do we cook? I don't know. Here's what we do know. Cooking destroys most (not all) nutrients and compromises others. (Protein is way less digestible after being cooked) That "caramelisation" that we love on oven baked and roasted food is plain old burning and apparently a
Raw cookies
known carcinogen. Yikes! We wanted ways to eat more than a salad. And we certainly learned a lot. Read more on my husband's blog - Meat Free Everyday on Blogspot.

The course was hands-on. We watched how to make food. Then made it ourselves. Ten of had us had our own stations in the kitchen complete with blenders, food processors and utensils. We got to work with a sous vide machine, a dehydrator, high speed blender, a mandolin and a spiraliser. The techniques used in creating raw versions of regular foods were shared with us. A person can imagine raw mueslis, salads or smoothies without too much of a head twist. But
Raw cheese, raw bread, raw chutney with thinly sliced fruit
how about soups, cheese, pizza, biscuits, yogurt, gnocchi, custard tarts, bread and Phad Thai? The flavours of raw food are much more powerful since they have not been damaged. Apple pie and cream, chocolate truffles and creamy pastas don't have to be bad for you if you re-invent them as raw treats. And are even more delicious than the cooked versions. What I most liked was we could take a recipe and customise it. We were encouraged to play with flavours.

We ate all the food we made - a bit tricky with our evening meals as our B & B wasn't keen on us using a table. Also we were all inadvertently detoxing. I cannot honestly say we eat raw all the time now, but I don't cook nearly as much as I used to.  I try to steam or blanch food rather than use our oven but we certainly eat a lot more raw food meals now.

Read the next bit by - clicking here.
Find our experiences of other places by going to the My Holidays and Trips page.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gloucester Fortnight - Part 2

To read about this trip from the beginning - click here
The Brits are a nation of passionate ramblers and the Ross on Wye area is full of walks - long and short. You
Boat Inn cider stop
could do the Offa's Dyke National Trail which is 177 miles. It meanders between the Welsh/English border. Or you could try one of myriad much shorter walks. We did the Puddingstone and Pubs Walk on our first day which is a 3 mile circular hike. The guide brochure suggests you allocate 3 hours to complete
Prisk Wood on Puddingstone walk
it. It's an unbelievably beautiful route. Puddingstone is a particular granite that is gritty and hard wearing. It was made into millstones and used to mill amongst other things - apples to a pulp. The area is well known for it's ciders and there are two pubs on the walk where you can sample local ciders. I had a Black Dragon and my other half had a Hazy Daze. I also ate my body weight in blackberries which grow wild on the walk. A person can see why the Welsh have dragons and faeries in their folklore. The countryside lends itself to fantasy.

The following day we decided to explore towns in the area. We also needed to catch up on comms so found a cafe with wifi. There's not a lot for vegans or vegetarians listed on (vegan website) so we decided to self cater from the second night on. Just because we have a limited diet does not mean there isn't good food for other people. There is a food
Angidy walk
route you can take which has artisan bakers, craft beers and ciders and organic cheeses. After lunch we set off to Symonds Yat (East) to take in views. Symonds Yat trail is only 1.4 miles which is just as well as we started late in the day. No idea what a yat is but at Symonds Yat Rock you can apparently see 7 counties! I can't say I spotted the counties but it is a wide view.

The GPS went berserk en route to the yat and took us down a steep and narrow road. So narrow we had
Tintern Abbey
to pull in BOTH side mirrors and ended up driving into someones property! They have road signs telling you to ignore GPS signals. Pity we only took notice of the signs AFTER our experience.

On our third day in the area, we checked out of hostel and set off to do Angidy River Walk and see Tintern Abbey. I don't know why I expected to see an Abbey. I guess because it wasn't described as a ruin. Which it is. Tintern is an ex abbey. Apparently King Henry VIII dissolved abbeys, priories and  monasteries between 1536 to 1541. He removed roofs, helped himself to valuables and destroyed beautiful and historical buildings. Not very nice of him if you ask me. No different from some current despots.

Angidy Trail takes in an old wire factory and meaders
Wire smelting on Angidy walk
along the River Wye. You can download walks in the area free from After our walk we drove to Lea and checked into Lea House B & B. The owner was on holiday but a neighbour let us in. Not a lot to do in Lea and we didn't feel like trying to find a place to eat so we munched on snacks in room and watched telly. The owner arrived late and was stressed about lengthy delays to her flights. Unfortunately her cat had been run over and expired. She wasn't happy.

Move on to the rest of this post by clicking - here.
And read about other places we have visited by clicking on the My Holidays and Trips page.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Gloucester Fortnight - Part 1

YHA Welsh Bicknor
The background to our fortnight in Gloucester was that we were booked to do a raw food (which is a NOT cooking) course there. My husband had seen Deborah Durrant at the 2013 London Vegfest and signed us up to do her hands-on Feast program. The course is expensive for South Africans. The current exchange rate is grossly unfavourable for us to say the least! But we're both passionate about wholesome food. And if it helped us in our forays into raw food, then it would be well worth it. More on the course later.
River Wye

We arrived in London and spent a few days with my husband's aunt as per usual. She's 90 and has a love/hate feeling about us coming over. She lives alone in a large 4 bed roomed house in North London. It's getting harder and harder for her. My husband has the awful job of trying to get her to accept care. His aunt loves when we're around to help with things she can no longer do. She also feels safer when we're in the house and likes that we clean and prepare food for her. Or take her out to the local pub for a meal. But she struggles to remember when we're coming and going. It startles her when we walk in the house. So we keep our stays short. The raw food course ran from Monday to Friday so we added the weekends on either side to our time in Gloucester.
Typical steep narrow road

My husband hired a car from Enterprise Car Hire. We always use them as they're the cheapest if you figure how to get the best price. (We don't get paid to say that) We usually take the smallest or second smallest car. For the fortnight it cost £360. (Excludes fuel but includes £10 per day insurance) I booked 3 nights at a YHA youth hostel in Welsh Bicknor which cost £15 per person. Includes bed linen, but not towels. You can hire towels for £2. All food is extra but at those prices it's to be expected. Supper was
Symonds Yat West
£7.50 for a main course, £3.50 for a local craft beer and £8.95 for a bottle of French wine. The food, beer and wine were all good. My husband had a Vegetable Thai Red Curry and I had a Veg Balti.

The YHA hostel in Welsh Bicknor is set in a gorgeous location amongst historical buildings right next the River Wye. It's at the bottom of a narrow steep lane that does not accommodate two-way traffic. A bit of a problem if you encounter a car as you may have to reverse backward up a narrow steep hill.
Symonds Yat Trail
That's how it is and no-one makes a fuss. We saw deer, wild birds, squirrels and rabbits - every time we went out.

I used youth hostels exclusively when I traveled Scotland with friends a few years back. Despite the name Youth Hostels, they are not exclusively for youngsters. I had only positive experiences. However we stayed at one in Brighton together earlier in the year. The first time my husband has ever stayed in a hostel. We were disappointed. (Read about that in My Holidays and Trips at the top of the page)

I gave the hostel in Brighton a bad rap and I wish I hadn't. Maybe I needed to know more about how hostels work. Not sure if it was a YHA hostel. Basically YHA are a charity. They strive to provide accommodation at rock bottom prices. Obviously funds are limited so if you want designer decor, luxe linen and gourmet food - well then give them a miss. But if you just want a place to sleep that provides the basics then youth hostels deliver.

Here's what you get -

  • friendly and helpful staff
  • bunk beds with clean linen - you pay extra for a towel
  • shared amenities - showers with hot water
  • you can self-cater or have low cost meals - I consider myself a fussy eater but I was happy
  • heating
  • local tourist information and brochures
  • some places have TV and wi-fi - some do not
  • basic furnishings - furniture and carpets can be a bit tired
  • decor is not a priority
  • some things are due for repairs like leaking taps or a lick of paint
  • affordable accommodation in key locations i.e. near to scenic walks or in cities
    Ross on Wye

Find Part 2 - on this link.

On the - My Holidays and Trips - page you can read more about other destinations we have visited.