Monday, June 30, 2008

"I'm Singing in the Rain..."

So you know how every once in awhile you just feel like being a kid again? Well tonight, Andy and I did just that. When we were ready to go up to bed, as always we needed to take Liddy out one last time. When Andy opened the garage he started laughing and right after I heard his laughter I heard the pounding of rain on our driveway. It was pouring!

All of a sudden I just got this boost of energy and counted to three. Andy was obviously in sync as when I got to three we both ran right out onto our driveway into the pouring down rain. Andy was already in his PJ's (he's a nighttime showerer) and I was still in my work clothes. For as hard as that rain was coming down, our incessant laughter won out.

Poor Liddy probably thought we were crazy, but it was fun to just act like kids again and go stomping in the rain. I hope we didn't wake the neighbors, but if we did, perhaps they decided to run outside and splash around themselves!

"Not on the 4th" Fireworks

Saturday we spent the entire day out on the boat in perparation for Tim's Rivershore Cafe's "Not on the 4th" fireworks show. We got out on the river around 11:30 loaded up with lots of food, drinks, and plenty of sunscreen to get us through the day.

We had seen that there might be some weather issues, but we dodged a bullet and never had any issues with storms. We could see a pretty productive thounderstorm in the distance towards dusk, but fortunately it stayed in the distance.
As you can imagine the water was packed with other boaters all lining up to get a good view. This being our first year attending the show we weren't sure how early we'd need to arrive. While it was great to be out for so long, we could have gotten away with arriving closer to 4 or 5, so good to note for next year!

Since we were anchored close the restaurant by mid-afternoon we decided to take a respite from the sun to get some crabs and oysters. These were our first crabs of the year, and they were fabulous (always helps when you don't have to cook or clean up after them!)

The fireworks themselves were awesome. I was impressed with how long the show was and the only thing missing was the 1812 Overture! It was great being able to watch from the water and it was fun to hear all the boaters honking their horns to "applaud!"

Friday, June 27, 2008

Mid-week picninc on the boat...

On Tuesday night we decided to take the boat out for dinner on the water. The weather was fantastic, not too hot with a nice breeze, and since there wasn't much traffic on the water, our ride was nice and smooth.

We listened to Nat King Cole, munched on some cheese and crackers, and had grilled chicken salad for dinner. It was a great way to spend the evening and we even got to watch the sunset.

We are really getting a lot of great use out of the boat this year, and the summer is still young!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My visit to Budapest (Part II)

As I mentioned before, the best part about Budapest is Greg and Erica. They were such great hosts and they certainly kept me entertained. What was also great was that after all my traveling, I got to relax as well. I was there during the US Open, and I don't think I've ever watched so much golf in my life...but it was perfect and just a great way to spend time with friends that we've missed for so long.

As with all vacations, the food is always a highlight. During my first visit to Budapest I was introduced to one of the local delicacies...goose liver. Trust me when I tell you it is to die for. Greg and Erica had done some research and found out where the best goose liver in Budapest is served, so on Saturday night we all saved up our calories for a fabulous dinner at Comme Chez Soi. This was probably one of the best dining experiences I've ever had. The restaurant itself is very small which makes it very personable. The chef was the one who greeted our table, described the specials, and was around often to make sure everything was just right. The goose liver was beyond belief (served with toasted french bread, cooked apples and a honey balsamic glaze) and I will spend the rest of my life searching for places here in DC that can even attempt to compare.

Another perk to the weather being warm was that cafes were selling gelato all over the place. The place that Greg and Erica frequent serves their gelato on cones and uses a special paddle to shape the tasty treat into a rose. Delicious and artful!

In addition to great meals that we had at various restaurants, we also had several meals at home, which is always a treat when you are traveling. Erica is a great cook, and is very good at being creative with the ingredients in the house. Needless to say, I didn't go hungry!

We also got some fun Wii time in. They recently got the "American Idol" game which provided hours of entertainment (the poor neighbors!! ha). Greg even got to serenade Andy whom we were able to video chat with.

Another highlight was the Hungarian Beer Festival that we came across. It was held inside the Buda Castle, which was really cool. It was kind of an overcast day, so sitting outside (within the walls of the castle) was comfortable, and we got to enjoy different varieties of beers and snacks. It was such a a great deal too, I think we each paid roughly $10 to get in, which got us four beers a piece and a huge glass beer mug to take home. Not too shabby!

I am so thankful to have had a chance to see Budapest just one more time before Greg and Erica come home. Now the countdown is on for their return...

My visit to Budapest (Part I)

What can I say about Budapest other than I absolutely adore it! Andy and I were fortunate enough to visit Budapest over the holidays and I was even more fortunate to be able to go back for one more visit at the end of my South African travels.
Probably our favorite thing about Budapest is the fact that our fabulous friends, Greg and Erica, have been living there for a little under two years. We had such a great visit with them over New Years, and have been counting down their return to the states (just a couple more months!) ever since!

Erica was able to get a few days off from work and Greg snuck out a bit early and snuck in a bit late on occassion, so there was plenty of time to visit, relax and sight see. As you can imagine, the weather in Budapest when Andy and I visited was cold and snowy, and that was just what we had hoped for during the holidays. The weather this time around was sunny and warm, which made the experience seem almost brand new as everything was green and flowery.

My first two days in Budapest we did a lot of just walking around taking in the sites, and snapping some pictures. Here are some shots from City Park (where just a few months ago we had an all out snowball fight people were sunbathing!). I was lucky to see a new addition to City Park, a statue of Ronald Reagan who is honored by the Hungarians for his efforts in ending the Cold War which affected Hungary greatly.

I also saw a memorial that was dedicated in 2006 that honors the Hungarians who revolted against the Soviets in 1956. It is a great monument that illustrates how one by one the Hungarians bonded together to try and win back their country, a battle that they sadly did not win. So you can see why the end of the Cold War was so important to this country.

I also got to see the Buda Castle and the fantastic views along the Danube River made even more fantastic by how plush and green everything was.

It was great to do so much walking, something we did a lot of in January, but due to the chilly temperatures were often tempted to hop on the metro or trams. With temperatures in the 70's and sunny skies walking from place to place tended to be the way to go.

Of course all that walking required some rewards, so one afternoon we stopped at a little Wine Cafe' and munched on some antipasti and sipped on some great Hungarian wine.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The streak has ended...

Well folks, I'm sorry to say the "No Starbucks in the morning" streak has come to an end. However, I might add that I had good reason for paying for my morning cup o' joe. My parents came for dinner last night and stayed over as it got them on the road to North Carolina much quicker this morning. As a result, I woke up early to make homemade blueberry waffles (one of the perks of my jet lag is that waking up early is rather easy to do) and thus by the time everyone left, our 12 cup pot of coffee was depleated. I sent Andy to work with a to-go cup of what was left, and I took one for the team by stopping in at my old stomping grounds. As good as this $2.05 Venti coffee tastes, I much prefer our homemade brew!

PS: Budapest blog is coming...stay tuned!!!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Secunda (June 8-11)

After our wildlife adventure, we ventured back towards Johannesburg where we grabbed lunch at a very nice mall. The mall was just like ours at home. The family told me this would be my best and aside from the overpriced airport, my last opportunity to do some shopping. They made it their mission to make sure I found a few trinkets to take home with me. They could not have been more hospitable. After we finished our shopping we got back in the car and headed towards Secunda.

Secunda is really only in existance because of the petroleum refinery and mines that Sasol runs (Sasol is the company I am here working with.) Sasol employees about 20,000 people in this town alone. Needless to say, aside from my hotel, there isn't too much to see. My hotel is nice, however it is very commercialized. For those of you who have stayed at the Grosvener in Disney World, this is basically a smaller version of that, minus Mickey Mouse of course. My room is decorated with pictures of Washington, DC and George Washington. Makes it kind of hard to remember that I am actually in South Africa, though I must admit the view from my room is great! Fortunatley last night Jaco and his colleageu Anton, took me out to a local restaurant for dinner. It was decorated very nicely, and the food was exceptional. They helped me choose what to get, and somehow I ended up trying some chicken livers as an appetizer and grilled Ostrich for dinner. It was definitely better than the food they were serving at the "American Cafe" restaurant in my hotel.

So far this trip really has exceeded my expectations. I hope to bring Andy here one day, as it really is a great country and extremely affordable.

My Safari (Sunday, June 8)

Sunday morning, Jaco, who I had been working with to organize this trip, and his family came to pick me up at my hotel in Johannesburg. His mother, wife, 6 year old daughter and 3 year old son all came along for the ride.

We drove to a small game reserve, about 40 minutes from the hotel. It was a nice drive and mostly it was nice to have people to talk to again. They speak Afrikaans here, so the children couldn't really converse with me, though the daughter is starting to learn English, mostly through nursery rhymes. She sang "Humpty Dumpty," "Jack & Jill," and "This Little Piggy..." for me. Adorable!

I had known ahead of time that I would be going to a "Small Game Reserve" and for whatever reason, I had it in my head that it meant "Small Game" rather than a "Game Reserve" that was small. Driving in they informed me that we'd most likely see all of "The Big 5" aside from the elephants. I was so glad that I had been mistaken. We saw all kinds of animals, included giraffes, zebras, tons of birds, monkeys, and most impressively, lions.

We were fortunate to be there on "feeding day" as the lions can be somewhat hard to fnd at other times. It is amazing that you can just drive your car around and all of a sudden come across a pack oflions munching on a cow. Local farmers will give the reserve their dead cattle, so long as the cow died of natural resources. This means the lions have lost their desire to hunt, but on the bright side, they are always guranteed a good meal. Had I been able to open my window and had arms just twice my length, I could have pet the male lion (note that even had I been allowed to open my window, I would not have, just making a point!). Sadly, my pictures didn't come out to great as I was snapping them from inside the car, but I did my best. It was definitely amazing to see these animals so close, and without a cage in the way. (Note, the picture with the fence is an area where the put a few lions so that guests are guranteed to see at least a few lions on their tour, the other ones were "cage free.")

They had one area of the reserve where you could get out of your car and walk through a tent like area where they have all these amazing birds. They definitely have some interesting looking birds in South Africa, and it was great to be able to get up close to them. Also, in the parking lot, there were monkeys running all over the place. I stood about 10 feet from one, which was very exciting. Sadly they do not have any chimps there, but these sufficed.

After we got back in the car from seeing the birds we drove around for an hour or so. In most parts you could drive with the windows down. In fact, the kids had a blast being able to stand up with their heads out the sun roof. I did close my window briefly when we came across some ostrich. They are huge and literally look like gigantic feather dusters! One of them was literally right next to my window.

It was a great day, and while we didn't see all of the "The Big 5" I was just thrilled to have seen the Giraffes, Zebras, and Lions (oh my?!) :)