Journey to San Francisco

I can’t actually put into words just how excited  I was for this trip. I had never been to the Western Hemisphere before and considering all the trips I’ve done to Europe, it was about time.

On the evening of 30 June, I boarded the full Lufthansa Flight 9545 to Frankfurt. Call me crazy but even though I had only 4 hours transit time, I was excited to be there just because it meant I’d be in Germany again. Since I was going to land at 6am, I had one goal – have a Bavarian breakfast (even though I wasn’t actually in Bavaria).

Frankfurt’s airport is far bigger than I expected, and getting through security was the most intense I’ve ever been through. It wasn’t bad, just long. I was selected for a random security check, along with 2 other girls who were traveling together with 2 guys around their age. I couldn’t tell where they were from and I wanted to ask, but didn’t really get the opportunity. We were told which line to go to, and I noticed that there was a body scanner ahead. The conveyor belt on which we had to put our bags was packed with the trays of other people’s bags, and we had to wait at least 20 minutes before there was space for us to put a tray for each of our bags on it. It was a weird sight because I couldn’t figure out where the owners of the other bags were. There was a pleasant local German officer telling us who she wanted to go first, and what to remove, like our shoes, electronic devices etc. I had to use 3 trays so that I could put my jacket and shoes in one, my hand luggage bag in another, and my handbag, passport and cellphone in the last.

Once my bags were sent through, I waited another minute or 2 before I was called to stand in the body scanner. When I came out of it, they asked me to look at the screen with them. My waist section lit up on the screen and I immediately realized that idiotic me forgot to remove my belt. Because of that, the security officer asked me to step into one of the booths where another officer asked me to remove my belt and then patted me down. They also asked me to remove my socks and fold my pants up a little so they could check my ankles and under my feet. That was just weird, but I let them do their job. It would be very stupid to be difficult in that kind of situation.

When I stood up after putting my socks back on, I went to the end of the conveyor belt where the other 2 girls were. An officer asked who the owner of one of the bags was, and one of the girls stepped forward. When she got to him, he ran something over all the zips before running it through some sort of scanner which sat a couple metres behind him. When he came back, he asked her to open each zip so that he could remove the contents. When he was happy with all her bags, he gave her the all clear and did the same with the other girl, and lastly, me.

The entire process took nearly 2 hours. I later found out that the thing he was running over the zips and into the scanner was actually to check for explosive residue.

Once I got my things and freshened up, I wandered around the terminal looking for a place to get coffee and some sort of pastry. One thing was for sure – I needed to have a beer and a pretzel, because what kind of Bavarian wannabe would I be if I didn’t have those for breakfast? It was a little too early (it wasn’t even 8am yet), and since I still had another 2 hours to kill, I decided to get coffee first, with a butter pretzel. I found a nice small cafe to get both from for about €6 in total, and found a quiet spot overlooking a bunch of Lufthansa jets at their respective gates. I could have sat there all day watching those planes and enjoying my breakfast; being in an airport is one of my favourite things, especially when I can watch planes go by, even if they’re on the ground.

As you can see from my picture above, I got the beer too. I was trying to gauge whether or not I was the only thirsty person at that part of the morning by wandering around the food court. As it turned out, I wasn’t, as there were actually a fair number of people having beer at one of the food stands. The food court was U-shaped, and this “bar” was in the middle of it with tables all around. I needed to order at the counter before finding a seat, so decided to go for a 0.5L draught of the Licher pilsner, a local bier from the Hesse region around Frankfurt. The earliest I had ever had a beer was at 9:30am (in Germany on my way to Oktoberfest at that), so this time at 8:45am, I beat my own record. As I write this, I smile with the same amount of happiness I had while having it. To me it was a small accomplishment and yet another regret I prevented from happening.

I went excitedly to the gate to board my next flight. There were several reasons for that – I was going directly to San Francisco (duh), my plane was an A380-800, the largest in Lufthansa’s fleet, and lastly, I was sitting upstairs. It really was the kind of flight I had wanted to do for as long as I’ve known about planes.

The flight to San Francisco marked the first of many things:

  1. As I mentioned before, I sat upstairs
  2. I was going back in time
  3. The seat next to me was empty for this and every other flight for the rest of my trip
  4. I enjoyed the food so much that I actually took a photo of it
  5. I had a local German beer on the plane
  6. I flew passed Iceland and over Greenland
  7. I went beyond the Arctic Circle
  8. I saw Canada’s Northern Territories

I really did not expect the last 3 things to happen and I realized it when I saw the flight path. Last year around this time, I couldn’t decide whether to go to Norway or Canada, and going beyond the Arctic Circle was one of my motivations behind visiting Norway. It was the perfect moment of serendipity and I still can’t get over the fact that I was actually that far north. Thank you, Coriolis Effect.

Greenland

My seat was rather specious so it made the flight even more enjoyable. There was a sort of ‘shelf’ between my seat and the window which I could open to put my stuff in, so I basically had enough room to keep whatever I wanted to with me without having it on top of me, and I could lie in almost any way I wanted to. Yeah I know, obviously Business or First Class would have been better, but this was damn good economy class. There were actually several seats available in Premium Economy and the flight attendant offered them to whoever was sitting upstairs, but I was so happy in my spot that I opted to stay put.

I barely slept on the flight, especially as we approached Iceland. Because we were technically going back in time, it was daylight for the entire flight. It was rather bizarre. The vastness of Canada’s Northern Territories also fascinated me; I couldn’t get enough of it.

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When I finally reached San Francisco, we had to loop passed Millbrae and Burlingame in order to approach from the south side of the runway. It added another 25 minutes to the flight time which I wasn’t impressed with because I was eager to get off the plane and meet my friend Natalie.

I didn’t know that the runway in San Francisco is pretty much on the water, so the approach was a little nerve-wrecking. It was as though we were going to land on the water and only seconds before we touched down could I see the actual runway.

I connected to the airport’s free WiFi as soon as I entered the terminal so that I could inform Natalie that I had arrived. She knew already because she could see the plane land from her house in San Bruno which actually overlooks SFO. From past experience she knew that it would be a while before I got out of the terminal, but she was shocked that border control was so quick and that I was at the baggage claim within 30 minutes of leaving the plane. The border control officer only asked how much money I was carrying and checked the address at which I was staying before asking how I know Natalie. He was happy when I said I had met her at my cousin’s wedding and they had done a Contiki trip together. Funny how our worlds collided.

Baggage claim was a pain in the ass because there was confusion as to which carousel contained the bags of which flight, and I found myself having to go back and forth between carousels 4 and 5 with some other passengers from my flight because whoever was announcing it couldn’t make up his mind. For a second I thought “Nice first impression of America”, but I quickly dismissed it because that kind of thing can happen in any airport, and the Americans I know are intelligent, not those “cash me ousside” types.

Natalie was on her way and constantly in touch with me because people who are fetching passengers are not allowed to wait in the terminal. It was a little surreal for me because I hadn’t seen her in over 2 years and we had always chatted with 9-10 hours between us, and now we were literally about to meet each other in person again. Her husband, Alfredo, had gone to get food for us, since I landed at lunch time, and Natalie was annoyed that they might get delayed to meet me. “Don’t worry we’re not gonna leave you hanging”, she assured me.

From swearing at the size of the plane to trying to impress me with a clean car to checking on my physical condition, I knew I was going to be spending time with the right friend.

When I eventually got out of the terminal, I couldn’t see them, but only a minute or 2 passed before Alfredo popped out of the crowd. They were both practically running. We had a bit of a walk back to the car and once we left the airport, we were at Natalie’s place in barely 10 minutes.

We ate some really good pizza and chatted for a while before I showered and took a 2 hour nap (an hour long than was recommended). The jet lag was going to take some getting used to.

Day 1 of 9 in San Francisco had begun.

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Cape Town 2017: Day 4

Monday was our last day in beautiful Cape Town, and we rejoiced the moment we woke up because the sun was out in full force. It was about bloody time, because we could not leave without going up Table Mountain.

We had to check out by 10am and I got ready first because I wanted to take the car to the car wash across the road, not for a wash, but more for a vacuum because of all the sand from Saturday’s beach escapades. I didn’t want to lose the R4500 deposit I had given Hertz so thought it would be best to clean the car as nicely as possible, just in case.

I went downstairs while Surbhi dressed and Premsheela showered and walked straight into the car wash where I was greeted by a relatively elderly Afrikaans man. He agreed to do just a vacuum and asked where my car was. When I turned around to point at it, I noticed something that stopped me in my tracks – the glass of the passenger window had been smashed in. I had no doubt in my mind that they had taken the GPS device. The man from the car wash said he had noticed it when he got to work and wondered whose car it was. I went to inspect it and the GPS was indeed gone, even though we had placed it in the cubby. Whoever had broken in had obviously seen it before we removed it from the windscreen. 

I felt deeply disheartened, but I was glad that we didn’t leave anything personal in the car because we made a point of clearing everything out the previous night so that there wouldn’t be a delay when it was time to leave. I was also relieved that we were not there when it happened. After all, the most important thing was our safety.

I’m not sure what for, but I thanked the car wash man and practically jogged back upstairs. I called Surbhi as soon as I opened the door and broke the news to her. It was a weird situation for me because although I was probably as scared as she was, I still had to be the brave one because it happened in my country and to some extent, I felt responsible. I’m also very protective over both girls so I felt like I needed to make them feel safe.

After checking the document I had gotten from Hertz when I received the car, I called them to ask what the next steps were. They advised me to first go to the Police and get a case number, then bring the car to their Loop Street branch where they would give me another one to use for the rest of the day. I called Marc to let him know that there had been a setback and that we had planned to go to one of the police stations nearby, but he informed me of another station that was even closer which happened to be next door to the gym where he was at. It was 9:30 on a Monday morning and Marc was at the gym. That’s when I really wondered what he actually does for a living but as I mentioned in Day 1, he’s a model.

Once Premsheela came out of the shower, we told her what had happened and what we were going to do. Surbhi had made coffee for me and tried to make me calm down because she could see that I was stressing. I had some of the leftover muffin (there always seemed to be some) with my coffee as I waited for the girls to gather their remaining items.

After doing a quick spot check of the house, we went downstairs where the girls saw the car for the first time. I cleared the broken glass around the window with my hand (much to Surbhi’s horror because she thought I was going to cut myself) and pushed most of it into the car. I didn’t want to risk any glass flying into the girls’ eyes in the back seat while I was driving.

The police station was only about 5 minutes away, and we saw Marc standing across from the entrance with 2 of his gym buddies. He showed me where to go, but like an idiot, I saw that the sign on the gate said “Police vehicles only”, so I drove passed. Thanks, brain, you made me make an ass of myself in front of Marc yet again, because that was exactly where I was supposed to go. I had to make a U-turn and smiled sheepishly at him as I drove into the entrance.

Marc caught up with us as I parked and asked whether the car came with hub caps or not. Confused, I looked at the car and noticed that those too were gone. I know what you’re thinking – which cars even have hub caps these days? Don’t ask, but that’s the shit Hertz put on this car. I didn’t know that stealing hub caps is still a thing. It wasn’t even a bad car; it was what appeared to be a 2012 or 2013 Toyota Corolla.

Marc kindly offered his assistance on anything else we might need after I handed him his keys, especially with regards to the police, after which we said our goodbyes. The girls and I went into the station and I was asked to provide a statement to the comical middle-aged policewoman. I also had to state the value of what was stolen, but had to Google the cost of a set of hub caps as I had no idea what they would cost. Turns out you can get a full set for around R1400.

When we got up to leave, the officer said to Premsheela “Take care of your mom”. We all looked at each other confused, and then realised she thought that I was Premsheela’s mother. It was absolutely hilarious and we still find it so funny. I jokingly call Premsheela my child whenever she thinks I’m giving Surbhi more attention (which is almost all the time, even in Surbhi’s absence).

We went straight to the closest branch of Hertz from there, where they proceeded to give us another car. They said that I would get my refund back but that I’d need to pay for the hub caps and GPS. I couldn’t believe that the insurance I had taken out did not cover the hub caps. Long story short, I never got my deposit back despite me calling them 3 weeks later. They said it would take 21 working days, but it’s been 3 months now and I was never refunded, so the car hire cost me far more than I planned. If I ever decide to hire a car again, which I probably won’t, I’ll never use Hertz. It would have been cheaper for us to Uber wherever we wanted to go, and take a tour to Cape Point considering how far it was.

With all the drama out of the way, we set off for Table Mountain.

I was shocked at how expensive the tickets are now – R265 per adult. That place is really making a killing. We didn’t wait too long in the queue, maybe 15 minutes max. We stopped to have our photos taken at the green screen just before entering the next section to board the cable car. The girls were visibly excited and I was excited for them and myself too, since it had been years since I last went up the mountain.

Words cannot really describe how beautiful it was once we got to the top.

There isn’t much to do at the top of Table Mountain apart from admiring the views, and that’s precisely what we did.

We even managed to take another album cover-worthy photo.

There’s some events in your life that change everything. After all the shit I’ve been through in the last year and a bit, this was one of those events. It was a long-awaited break and these 2 girls were responsible for it.

We went straight to the airport after Table Mountain, timed perfectly so that we could have a late lunch. After checking in, we went straight to Mugg&Bean and devoured our meals in silence because we were all starving. As we finished and asked for the bill, I had a feeling that I needed to look to my right, so I did, and there was Sophia and her mom. They were about to sit down about 3 tables away from us but they didn’t see us at all because the restaurant was so busy.

After asking for the bill, since the waiter was taking so long, I went to say hi to them. Sophia and her mom greeted me with the same sparkle in their eyes that I had grown up knowing. They said that they were looking for us as soon as they entered the airport and wasn’t sure whether or not we had left, but somehow even though we only had a 10 minute window, we managed to find each other. I kept checking on the girls in that minute or 2 that I spoke to Sophia alone so that I’d be able to pay my share for the bill, but if I recall correctly, the girls took care of it and Surbhi scribbled in her book again. She didn’t tell me what it was until after we got back to Joburg, but I knew she was keeping track of what each of us spent so that they could pay me back for the bookings I had done.

We gathered our things and the girls came with me to spend the last 5 precious moments with Sophia and her mom, knowing that there was a chance they’d never see each other again. I took a moment to look at each of them speaking to each other and it genuinely warmed my heart. Rarely do you witness such moments when complete strangers meet and they speak as if they’ve known each other for years. I guess I should feel proud that I was the link between them.

Cape Town was one of those magical trips that I didn’t realise I needed to do, and I will cherish it forever.

Cape Town 2017: Day 3

Every morning when we woke up, the first thing we’d do was look outside the big glass windows (the ones that stretched from one end of the apartment to the other) in search of the sun. Would we finally be able to go up Table Mountain? No. Sunday was not the day.

We were a little lazy that morning and decided to make it a lazy day. Premsheela wanted to go back to Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town to see the penguins but I really wasn’t keen on driving all the way back there, since we had just passed through Simon’s Town the previous day. We still had to go to the winelands, and Sophia and my high school friend Priscilla wanted to get together that day.

Sophia was in constant contact with me that day because we really wanted to spend some time together, given that me visiting her in Cape Town was so long overdue, and the previous night didn’t work out. Just thinking about what I’m going to say about it in the next few paragraphs is making me smile. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

Constantia

Although it was a dull day, the sun peeped out now and then and it wasn’t actually cold. We embraced the fact that there was no wind either by wearing light clothes. The drive to Constantia was fun – Premsheela had opened a massive slab of Kit-Kat, which my trusty co-driver Surbhi handed to me. That, and chips. I found it very odd having chocolate and chips at 10 in the morning, but I figured stuff it, I’m on holiday. And with Premsheela there, I expected nothing less. 

The GPS took us into the middle of Constantia, which wasn’t exactly where I had in mind, but I knew we weren’t far off from where I wanted to be – Groot Constantia. Constantia is probably the most beautiful suburb in Cape Town as the majority of the homes are Dutch style. The streets are lined with trees and are immaculate. It actually reminded me of Bavaria a little, particularly Schwangau, the area around Neuschwanstein Castle.

When we got to Groot Constantia, the guard at the entrance asked where we were going. I said something stupid like “We’re just going to walk around a little”, and he gave me a brochure saying we could go have lunch at the restaurant. I said it was a good idea and that we’d probably do that, knowing full well we weren’t actually going to do that. I was hungry though.

There was ample parking so I had no trouble finding a spot. We walked around a little enjoying the peace and quiet of the vineyards. The grape trees carried on for as far as the eye could see, and the roads were lined with white and red rose bushes.

After dodging the occasional car for our “road trip” photos, we found what appeared to be a park with rolling grass steps. Only, the steps were large and quite steep. We could have walked around them, but we were with Premsheela, so of course we had to climb. Surbhi and I found spots that weren’t as steep so we could walk up on our two feet rather than on all fours like Premsheela. Surbhi was just as amusing too, as she was taking so many baby steps so that she could stay upright. I couldn’t help but giggle.

Not that there was anything special about them, but we spent a good 30 minutes or so sitting on those steps, mostly trying to take selfies on Premsheela’s phone*. It wasn’t particularly comfortable because it had rained the previous night so the grass was wet, and let’s just say we sat long enough to feel it.

The entire time, I was having an argument in my head as to whether or not to go to Boulders Beach, because on one hand I didn’t want to drive all the way back there, but on the other hand, I didn’t want Premsheela to leave South Africa not having seen the penguins in the one place you can see them here. I try to live my life without regrets, so I didn’t want to be the one stopping Premsheela from seeing something she might never see again. It just wouldn’t have been fair.

I’m not sure what Surbhi was doing here, which is why I included this photo.

*The reason I mentioned us using Premsheela’s phone for taking selfies on the wet grass is because while we were on our way to the Waterfront, her phone decided to crash. It required a factory reset, so we basically lost all the photos she had taken and sitting on that wet grass for so long was for nothing. The photos I posted above are ones that she had sent out to other friends, thankfully, so we got those back.

Boulders Beach

It was already closing on 12pm and time was of the essence, so after taking a quick walk to the wine cellar and having a look around (I know, a total fail considering where we were), we left for Boulders Beach, much to Premsheela’s delight. Constantia is pretty much half way between the city and Boulders Beach, so the fact that I had already driven half the distance and only had 30 minutes more to go made my decision easier. Premsheela offered to sing for me to show her appreciation, but when I refused (knowing how ridiculous it would be), she offered her most prized possession instead: chocolate. I couldn’t help but laugh, and started on the drive to Boulders Beach.

We had to go up the winding road over the mountain again, and this time the views were much better because the sky was relatively clear. We reached Boulders Beach just before 1pm; a good time. We paid special attention to the signage in Simon’s Town this time and it was evident that there weren’t clear enough signs for us to have noticed it the previous day. I felt slightly better.

There was a wooden walkway on either side of the small ticket kiosk – we assumed the left side was for people exiting the premises and the right was the entrance, but it turned out that there was no set direction. It was R40 each if I remember correctly, which I thought was quite reasonable.It as only a matter of minutes before we spotted the first penguin. We were surprised to see them that far away from the water, waddling underneath such thorny bushes. I don’t know if penguins are usually that chilled or whether they’re just used to seeing people around, but it was as if some of them were posing for photos.

We were lucky enough to even see 2 or 3 with their babies. It was the cutest thing – we found them by zoning in on the tiniest little tweeting sounds, only to find that their mothers were hiding them underneath their own bodies.

After a while we came to what appeared to be an “official entrance” to the actual beach, and there was a long queue. We were confused because we had already paid for our tickets and weren’t sure whether this was something else or not. I stood a little out of the line trying to see who was being let through the entrance separate to the one people were queuing in front of, but I was too far to make out clearly. I purposely stood with my right hand visible – the one which was holding our tickets – and it worked in alerting one of the staff who gestured for us to proceed passed the queue. Thankfully we were only in the queue for a few minutes.

One we got through the gate, we were met with an open area where we could see the whole beach. There were dozens of penguins walking around, and what I enjoyed just as much as the view was the weather: there was barely even a breeze despite the fact that we were right on the beach, and it wasn’t cold either. I know I keep mentioning the weather when it came to this trip, but winter is a funny time of year in Cape Town and it’s practically a miracle for it to be dry and not cold, so we took what we could get.

When we walked back to the parking lot, we came across a souvenir shop as well as a coffee shop/restaurant which was above it. We thought we could get something to eat take away, but Surbhi and I decided to settle for a cup of coffee while Premsheela browsed around the shop. We went upstairs, ordered 2 cappuccinos, and waited patiently while Surbhi took photos of the random ocean-themed decorations around the restaurant. What was nice about being with Surbhi and Premsheela was that they really were tourists, and I remembered how I am when I’m in a foreign country where I find interesting what a local would normally overlook.

We got our coffee and went back downstairs to meet Premsheela, and she was still choosing what she wanted. I didn’t blame her because there were dozens of miniature penguins to choose from and all were so cute. I was actually quite tired and a little cold, so I waited on the benches outside. I think the girls thought I was still mad about coming to Boulders Beach, but I was actually just a little preoccupied. We were there for another 15-2o minutes while they choose what they wanted. I didn’t want to rush them at all – they are never going to go there again.

The V&A Waterfront

I was keeping Sophia up to date regarding our whereabouts, so informed her as soon as we were leaving. She was at the Waterfront with her mom so there was no rush to get to her since they had no plans for the rest of the day, and she asked me to call when I was close to the city so she could tell us exactly where she was. I did exactly that and found that she was in the Zara at the mall at the Waterfront.

We parked where we had done so on the Friday, and walked over to the mall. It looked exactly how I remembered it from 9 years ago, and I felt a little nostalgic. I walked through Zara while Surbhi and Premsheela went to answer nature’s call. I couldn’t find Sophia or her mom anywhere and figured they were in the change rooms, so I went back outside to wait for the girls. Upon their return, I called Sophia and she said that they were indeed in the change rooms and were now paying. We walked back into the shop and there she stood, in the queue with her mom. I can’t quite describe just how happy I feel when I see or even speak to Sophia. She is definitely my most beloved friend. The warmth with which both Sophia and her mom greeted not only me, but Surbhi and Premsheela with, is something I don’t think any of us will forget.

After Sophia was done paying, we headed to Gucci (if I remember correctly) to get a jacket for Sophia’s cousin from Australia. They didn’t have it, and after Sophia’s mom complained about the price of the tiny underwear (it was like R700 for a pair), we left. I had already told Sophia at least 2 hours prior to meeting about how little Premsheela eats and that we were starving, so as the 2 of us walked ahead of the girls and Sophia’s mom, she gave me some options on where to go so that we could all eat something. I didn’t need to worry about Surbhi at all, but Premsheela was another story. I couldn’t let her go a full day without eating at least one decent meal. I found myself occasionally turning back to check on whether or not the girls were comfortable enough walking alone with Sophia’s mom, and it was evident that they were. Surbhi smiled back at me as a reassurance, and Sophia told me not to worry because her mom loves people from India. It was as if I had introduced the girls to my own family – I loved it.

As we walked to a familiar part of the Waterfront and headed towards the food market, we finally got our first clear view of Table Mountain. Surbhi remembered the big yellow frame we had seen from afar on Friday and asked if we could take a photo there. Sophia assured us that we’d be passing it, so we stopped there when we did. I think what I enjoyed the most was the fact that we were in no hurry at all at this point – it was just a chilled afternoon with people I adore.

Photos done, we headed for the food market where Sophia proceeded to give us a full tour of every stall in the entire place. We were mostly focused on where the girls could eat, and Sophia pointed out her favourite places for both veg and non-veg while her mom guarded a table for us patiently downstairs. The market has a balcony-like area upstairs with a handful of stalls – there was an Indian stall there that served dosas, so it was perfect for the girls. I asked Sophia which stall was her favourite, and she pointed it out to me so I got exactly what she recommended – a pulled lamb flatbread. It really was amazing so I’m glad I went for it.

I went to fetch the girls from upstairs but their dosas weren’t ready. I told them where we were sitting which was literally at the bottom of the stairs, and they agreed to meet us back there. I feel very happy when I see people eating, so when they came down with their food, I couldn’t help but smile at them, especially Premsheela who pretty much doesn’t eat. Sophia and her mom were the most pleasant of hosts too, and I still felt like I was sitting with family. After all, Sophia and I have been best friends for 20 years, so listening to her mom talking to friends who, in comparison, I had only just met, made me feel very proud.

Sophia, you have no idea just how proud I am to call you my friend. Thank you.

After we had what was left of Sophia’s Nutella and banana waffle which she insisted we taste, it was time to say bye. Sophia’s mom’s flight was at 6:30pm the following day, and ours was at 6pm, so we were pretty sure we would see each other one last time at the airport. I really hoped we would, cos that would be awesome.

As we said our goodbyes, my high school friend Priscilla informed me that she was on her way to meet us. Considering I had last seen her 15 years ago, I was pretty excited. Since Premsheela and I had left our jackets in the car, we decided to use the 20 or so free minutes that we had to go back to the car to fetch them before Priscilla arrived. However, since it was dusk, everything was just so damn beautiful, and the tablecloth (i.e. the clouds) was coming over the Table Mountain, so we couldn’t help but stop to take more photos.

By the time we were done wandering around the area, Priscilla had arrived and since we were near the ferris wheel, I suggested that as the meeting spot. When I spotted her, she screamed with delight and we obviously hugged each other. But not just once…I actually don’t know how many times. It was a super happy moment seeing her after that long and I think we were both in slight disbelief that that much time had passed. It was insane.

Priscilla walked with us to the car so we could get our jackets, all the time trying to catch up on what the other has been doing for the last decade and a half. There was so much to say that we had to try to summarize everything, but at the same time it was as though no time had passed. I was glad that I had told her I was coming to Cape Town and will be forever grateful for the fact that she made a plan to meet us at such short notice. I think real friends are the ones who make time in their diary for you; even though she had a full weekend planned, she still managed to squeeze in some time to spend with us.

We had all eaten so we decided just to have coffee somewhere. Priscilla suggested Quay 4, a restaurant adjacent to the water. We choose a table right next to the railing so we got an amazing view of the Waterfront. The amusing part of the evening, apart from Premsheela’s insanity, was the seagulls. There were several times where we thought they were going to fly straight into us, but somehow we managed to dodge them.

We spent a little over an hour at Quay 4 not only catching up but also talking about our current lives, both personally and professionally. It was funny how much we could relate to each other, and I’m not just talking about Priscilla and I. What was good was that the girls got along with her too – the defining moment was without a doubt when she described how the wind hits you in Cape Town. I wish I had caught that on video but Priscilla, you really made our day with that face.

Poor Priscilla had to go to work the next day, so we had to leave fairly early. After we finally got the waiter’s attention (we thought he had gone all the way to the paper mill to manufacture the paper with which to print the bill on), we paid and left. Priscilla had taken an Uber to meet us since she doesn’t have a car (she doesn’t need one thanks to Cape Town’s fabulous public transport system called My City, which works like London’s Oyster card), so she walked us to the entrance of the parking lot where we said our goodbyes.

I’m so glad we met up, Priscilla. You were one of the few genuine people I knew from high school that I wouldn’t hesitate to hang out with again. You’ve not changed a single bit, and I hope you never do!

The girls and I headed back to the apartment, pretty tired, but feeling good. That night, after watching some random music videos and some episodes of Full House, we decided to watch Queen, a Bollywood film about a girl whose fiance dumped her right before the wedding which prompted her to go on her honeymoon to Europe alone. I love that movie because she kind of reminded me of my first solo trip which was also to Europe, and I could relate to her character because of that.

If there was a theme song for our trip to Cape Town, “O Gujariya” from Queen would be it.

After watching Queen, we headed to bed. But we didn’t sleep because Surbhi and I had so much to talk about. It was also still too early for Premsheela who proceeded to watch more Full House on what sounded like full volume. Surbhi and I were eventually at the point of wanting to actually sleep, but we couldn’t because of the TV volume. Surbhi then decided to do something about it.

Aisi hai hamari dosti. Tapey girls.

Cape Town 2017: Day 2

It was obvious from the noise of the TV that Premsheela was awake around 5 that Saturday morning, but until Surbhi woke up and went to the lounge to find out what Premsheela was doing, I didn’t realize she was awake too. Premsheela was already watching more Full House, and complained that we sleep too much. Surbhi argued that we’re normal people that need 8 hours of sleep, then came back to snooze. It was definitely going to be an entertaining few days.

The Cape of Good Hope was a 1.5 hour drive away from our apartment, so we left at around 9:30 that morning after having a bite to eat i.e. some of the humongous bran muffin I had bought on the flight. I have no idea what Premsheela ate (though now that I think about it, it was probably chocolate), but Surbhi and I shared the muffin.

The Beach

There are so many gorgeous beaches and viewpoints on the way from the city to the Cape of Good Hope that we couldn’t help but stop somewhere – just before Simon’s Town. We just wanted to take a few pictures, but Premsheela went all the way down to the water and decided to take off her shoes. Surbhi and I eventually gave in and decided to join her. We ended up spending at least an hour playing around in the ice cold water of the Atlantic. The water was so cold that my feet felt as though I was being stabbed with hot daggers.

We left once we were satisfied with the spontaneous frolicking in the water, sandy feet and all.

Cape Point

We got to the Cape of Good Hope around midday and hiked all the way up to the lighthouse rather than taking the funicular. Premsheela marched ahead of us – I think her energy comes from all that chocolate she eats. She really is a chocolate queen. We wanted to take a group selfie with the lighthouse in the background, but as you can see, she was already too far ahead to even hear us properly.

If you’ve ever been to Cape Point, you’d know that it is insanely windy. I think I spent as much time trying to control my hair as I did doing that climb. Of course, even when we only had one shot at a photo of all 3 of us with Cape Point in the background, my hair couldn’t give a damn.

After admiring the views from the lighthouse, Surbhi wanted to take the Lighthouse Keeper’s Trail which is a path that takes you along a sheer cliff-face below the old, more well-known lighthouse, to the new one which Surbhi’s head is blocking in the above photo. I wasn’t too sure about doing it because of the time and also because the sign said it was a 1.5 hour hike there and back. After a little thought I decided to do it because I figured we’d never come there again, at least not together, and I hadn’t done it before either. I let the girls go ahead as I stopped to take photos. Many times. The path was on the right side of the cliff because there was absolutely no wind at all. It was absolutely silent, and all we could see was False Bay below us and the Cape Peninsula encompassing it. It was other-worldly.

The hike back up was…challenging. But everyone knows I my fitness levels are in the negative, so it shouldn’t be surprising. It wasn’t that bad though, I just stopped here and there to breathe and I was fine after that.

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Premsheela wanted to walk back down whereas Surbhi wanted to take the funicular just so she could experience it. She’s like me in more ways than one, and this was just another example of how similar we are. I totally understood her desire to go on it, and I myself wanted to use it too cos I really had had enough of the wind. Premsheela carried on down the same path we had climbed earlier, and Surbhi and I went to find out the cost of the tickets for the funicular. When the guy told us the price, we weren’t impressed as it was just one way and didn’t really want to spend more money unnecessarily. When we turned to leave, he told us he’d do us a favour and charge us only for one ticket, as long as we gave him the money discreetly. We figured we’d take up the opportunity because heck, why not? He then opened the “special entrance” for us and let us through, bypassing all the other people who were queuing. I think he felt bad when he saw our expressions after hearing the price – it was very kind of him. I felt good knowing that someone local had been s0 kind to us, especially to my foreign friend.

Surbhi and I were starving so since we couldn’t see Premsheela (we assumed she was still walking down), we each bought a muffin and something to drink (cappuccino for Surbhi, Appletiser for me) from the shop next to the restaurant overlooking False Bay. Muffins, especially bran or blueberry ones, had become our thing because ever since the flight, it was something we’d share.

I was the designated driver since the girls don’t know how to drive (yet), so I couldn’t eat. Surbhi is without a doubt the best passenger I’ve had. When we were on our way to Cape Point in the morning, she held out a handful of chips for me to take from, and when we left for Hout Bay after getting our muffins, she broke pieces off of it so that I could just grab it without having to struggle or even look away from the road. She did the same with pieces of chocolate too. It’s the little things. Thanks Surbhi.

Hout Bay

Hout Bay is around 40 minutes back towards the city from Cape Point and we headed straight for it. I didn’t actually know what we were going to do apart from enjoying Chapman’s Peak drive and the views of Hout Bay itself. I was also hoping to have some fish from Mariner’s Wharf, the local restaurant in the harbour, but I wasn’t sure if I would be able to since both girls are vegetarian and I would have felt bad to have something non-vegetarian. I didn’t say anything about it though.

Minutes after we arrived at the Hout Bay harbour, Surbhi asked if I want to have the fish. I was surprised because it was as if she had read my mind. I said yes, but that we should walk around a little. We really thought it was going to rain because there were threatening clouds behind us. In fact, there was a different weather pattern in every direction we turned, so we basically just followed the light.

After taking in the views and a bunch of silly selfies (we went a little mad at one point), we started walking back until Surbhi again asked if I want to have the fish. I couldn’t say no, but I knew she hadn’t eaten either so asked if they would both sit down and have at least some chips with me. They actually just wanted to play in the water again, so me having the fish I so wanted was the perfect opportunity for them. I didn’t mind at all, since I’d be able to sit outside where I could see them.

The fish was to die for – it was as fresh as I expected it to be. It was just battered hake, nothing fancy, and chips. Mariner’s Wharf now also makes their own craft beer called Olde Seadog Beer which is a must. I’m glad I could give it a try because it was so worth it. If Surbhi and Premsheela weren’t real friends, I would have felt bad sitting there eating alone, but that didn’t happen even once. You can tell when people are genuine, and these two girls are. It might seem insignificant, but when a friend warmly smiles and waves at you, it says a thousand words.

We didn’t spend too long in Hout Bay, probably just over an hour. I suppose we could have done more but I myself wasn’t too familiar with what the place had to offer apart from the stunning views. Anyway, I wasn’t keen on driving back at night since I wasn’t familiar with the roads.

We made our way back to the city and something I just had to do was see the sunset from Camps Bay. I had done it when I was last in Cape Town in 2008, and I just had to see it again. It’s funny, I’ve never seen a sunrise in my home town of Durban, but I’ve seen several sunsets in other parts of the world.

We approached the city from the Camps Bay side and had the most stunning views of Table Mountain and Lions Head.

We got to Camps Bay beach not long after, and it was surprising how easy it was for me to get a parking right next to the promenade. We were just in time for the sunset.

Punjab Wok

My best friend Sophia suggested Punjab Wok for us to have supper at – she rates it higher than Bukhara, which is quite something considering it’s the most top rated Indian restaurant in Cape Town. Punjab Wok is near where she lives, in Century City, so she agreed to meet us there. I had been wanting to visit her in Cape Town for several years but I always ended up doing something else. I guess the time just wasn’t right.

Sophia’s mom was visiting from Durban and at the last minute, Sophia had to shuffle plans around, so she could only meet us for around 10 minutes. It was fine though, the main thing was that we’d see her and that Premsheela would eat something. We weren’t sure exactly where the restaurant was so took a few minutes trying to figure out where to park. As we were walking towards where we figured the restaurant might be, we passed one called Tiger’s Milk. Really now, why on earth would you name a restaurant Tiger’s Milk? It looked like a really cool place though – I think I’ll give it a try next time.

Once we got to the restaurant, we just ordered some starters while waiting for Sophia. She arrived full of smiles and energy only 15 or so minutes later. If there’s ever a friend who can light up a room, it’s Sophia. In the short time we spent with her, she took us through the entire menu telling us what was good (everything, pretty much) and asked what we had gotten up to. She asked whether we had gone to Boulders Beach to see the penguins, since we had gone to Simon’s Town. I didn’t realise at all that Boulders Beach was in Simon’s Town (I know) and I knew Premsheela wouldn’t stop asking for me to take her to see the penguins until I did.

Sophia is a regular at Punjab Wok so when the waiter and manager came to say that they’re closing the kitchen at 9pm, she was not impressed. It was only around 8:30. She firmly told them that she knows they just want to go home and that the kitchen does not close at 9, especially when there are customers, so they must not irritate us and should let us order whenever we feel like. They agreed to close the kitchen at 9:30, but even after Sophia left (she also had a quick word with them at the counter), they continuously came to our table to ask whether or not we wanted to order anything more. I eventually asked the manager whether he was telling the couple in the corner the same thing because I don’t see him going to their table as often as he was coming to ours. He said that he did tell them; he knew I was irritated. It’s one thing when you can’t get a waiter’s attention, but when he keeps coming every 5-7 minutes, it becomes annoying as hell. So annoying, in fact, that the 3 of us ended up hurling swear words at him in Hindi with full blown smiles on our faces. I’m sure he thought we were complimenting him. I loved it because since there was only one (white) couple in the restaurant, apart from the girls, no one could understand what I was saying and I could say it at full volume.

When the waiter brought the bill at 9:25, Premsheela couldn’t help but ask what the chai ice cream was, just to have a final dig at him since it was close to the time that they said the kitchen is going to close. He then left the bill on our table and went back to the front desk. We told him that we were going to pay cash, but he didn’t come back. Premsheela wanted to walk out (just to mess with them) but Surbhi and I were scared to push it that far. We ended up just getting up and paying at the front desk. Once we went out of the door, the waiter asked us whether or not we were going to come back. I wanted to just say no and walk away, but I decided to moderate my response by saying “We don’t live here, so I doubt it”. I will probably go back at some point though, but when I’m with Sophia.

We walked away laughing and calling him more insulting names because we actually felt free after leaving the restaurant. The food was good by the way; it was the service that needed help.

It took us longer to get home than we expected because the car’s GPS took us into some dodgy part of the city. I had a bad feeling about it when we took one of the turns, and ended up using Google Maps on my phone to get us out of there. On the way, Surbhi spotted a sign on a building that said “Cape Town”, but because of the font, it looked like “Tape Town”. Let’s just say that was Premsheela’s trigger and for the rest of the night, even till today, everything is “tape”. We are tapey girls; that thing is tape; that person is tape; tape is bisexual because it’s not a straight tape. It was absolutely crazy and Surbhi and I were in stitches.

Did I mention I knew it was going to be an entertaining holiday?

Cape Town 2017: Day 1

In 2013, it took me only about 10 minutes to decide that I was going to take up my relative’s offer to visit her in Switzerland. Roughly 2 months later, I was on a plane. That was the least amount of time I had taken to plan, book, and go on a trip. Ever. Until now.

One of my friends from India who is contracting to my company went back home on Wednesday 17 May. Because we had been so busy with the project that I’ve mentioned several times in recent posts, we could not really go anywhere over the weekends. Surbhi had been saying for weeks that she wants to go to Cape Town before she leaves, but we didn’t know if or when we could make that happen.

By some miracle, we got permission to take the much-needed quick break, considering all the overtime we’ve been doing. Permission was granted on the Tuesday, and together with Premsheela, we left that Friday morning after booking the flights and accommodation on Tuesday night.

When we arrived on Friday, we got our hired car from the airport and went straight to Table Mountain. The weather was dismal and the sun was playing hide and seek with us. We were stuck in annoying traffic and realised that it was partly due to a large truck which was going at around 30km/hr. The horse part of the truck was Stuttaford Van Lines, but the trailer had transparent plastic sides. When we looked inside, there were 2 surgeons inside operating on a patient. I was totally taken aback because I made eye contact with one of the surgeons the moment that I realised what was going on. The girls were totally freaked out by it, and the fact that it was close to one of the hospitals made the whole situation even more believable.

As it turned out, it was just a marketing strategy for a new movie called Bypass. The patient was a dummy, and the surgeons were just actors. Damn, they did a good job!

I hadn’t driven a manual car for at least 2 years, so I was slightly nervous driving around a city that was relatively foreign to me, especially up the windy road to Table Mountain. I felt like such an idiot when I eventually found a parking but couldn’t figure out how to put the car into reverse. Before my BMW, I drove my dad’s VW Polo, and one had to push the gear to the extreme top left to put it into reverse. I tried that several times with this car (a Toyota Corolla) and I just kept going forward. Eventually, I went so far forward that 2 cars were able to parallel park behind me. Eventually we just sat in the car waiting for someone to park in front of me so I could ask them. Only a minute or 2 later, a young local couple showed up, and, visibly embarrassed, I asked the guy if he could help. He chuckled and got into the car while telling me that all I needed to do was lift the top of the gear up while shifting. I had never used a gear like that before, so I didn’t feel so bad after that. It was still pretty funny though.

Unfortunately, once we got to the ticket station, we were informed that cableway was closed because of the wind. We didn’t know what to do because going up the mountain was pretty much our only plan for the day. We spent a few minutes considering our options before deciding to head down to the V&A Waterfront. Even if we couldn’t do anything, we could at least enjoy the beauty of the place.

The hunt for accommodation

We wandered around the waterfront for at least 2 hours and even considered going to the Two Oceans Aquarium so that we could be indoors and avoid the occasional drizzle and cold wind. It turned out to be a little too expensive considering we would only spend an hour or 2 there so that we’d make it in time for check in to the guest house we booked at in Camps Bay. Despite the dull weather, we got ourselves an ice cream sandwich from a Crumbs and Cream stand right outside the aquarium. It’s never too cold for ice cream.

When we eventually arrived at the guest house, there was no one to receive us. All the doors and gates were locked, and we didn’t know how to get in. I called the owner and he had forgotten that he didn’t send me an access code or directions on how to enter. It was like a puzzle getting into that place: first there was a combination lock on a box against the wall next to a gate which, when opened, gave us access to a big door key that was stuck with Prestik to the back of the box in which it was in. Then we had to use that key to unlock another box close to the ground which contained an envelop marked “Welcome pack”, inside which lay a set of keys. One of those keys opened the gate, and another the door behind it. The third key opened the door to the actual guest house.

We were uncomfortable as soon as we walked in. Let’s just say the place was not at all like the pictures made it out to be. Besides it being tacky, it smelled as though the windows hadn’t been opened in months. The bathroom was a scary sight too; it was as if we were in a jungle thanks to the blue mosaic tiles and plastic roof. We only spent around 1.5 hours there trying to come up with an escape plan. Long story short, we cancelled the booking and bolted out of there, only to spend the next 2 hours or so looking for an alternative within our price range on booking.com. My best friend Sophia was on the phone with me trying to help us out too, and eventually we found the perfect place titled “Convenience by the sea”. Sophia found it very amusing, but I knew it was just a description of the place as it was clearly an apartment.

The embarrassing first meeting

After securing the booking, I called Marc (the guy letting the apartment out) from Surbhi’s phone, and he quickly agreed to meet us there within 30 minutes. I thought it was brilliant that he’d be available at such short notice. We found the place easily and parked in the space in front of the apartment building, next to the front door. We waited patiently in the car for a few minutes, since we were only 5 minutes away. The apartment is in Three Anchor Bay, which is an area in between Green Point and Sea Point. Barely 10 minutes later, a very good looking guy showed up at the door. He was looking at his phone so I asked Surbhi to check hers in case he was calling or messaging on it, because I was convinced that he was the guy I had spoken to on the phone. I thought that his face matched his voice. I told both girls not to stare at him because he’d be able to see that the 3 of us were all looking at him at the same time, and it would have been creepy!

When Surbhi’s phone didn’t ring and the guy went inside, I thought I was probably wrong about who he was. A minute or two later, a petite woman entered the building. I figured it was another resident. Suddenly I noticed movement on my right so I turned to look – the same good looking guy had come out of the side entrance and was walking towards me smiling. That smile instantly confirmed that he was Marc.

We all got out of the car and he introduced himself to each of us. I don’t know if it was just me, but I pretty much became like a blithering idiot because he was so insanely good looking. He said that our timing was perfect since the cleaner had just left, and the apartment had only just become available as the last guest had left that morning. He then asked if I could move the car a little to the extreme left of the parking as that was his parking. I don’t know why the girls got back into the car with me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was because they were just as starstruck as I was.

Because there was a small gutter in between the parking and the road, I had to move the car very slowly as I was scared I was going to scrape the bumper on the road. Let’s just say I went a little too slowly and I stalled the car not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES. I wanted to kill myself; it was without a doubt the most embarrassing moment of my life. When I got out of the car, I told Marc to forget what he just saw cos it was my first time driving a manual in a very long time. He chuckled pleasantly and said it’s ok and that these things happen. He was so nice.

He broke our hearts seconds later when he said that his girlfriend was waiting for us upstairs. Turns out it was the woman we had seen entering the building minutes earlier. The girls and I gave each other looks of approval the moment we entered the apartment as it was not only clean and tidy, but also bright, airy, and kind on the eyes.

I really don’t remember her name, but Marc’s girlfriend said that she noticed us in the car but wasn’t sure if it was us, and I said yes, we saw her and Marc too but I told the girls not to stare cos it would be creepy for all of us to be looking at them at the same time. It was quite amusing, and they were so warm that I didn’t feel embarrassed to say that. Besides, what could be more embarrassing than stalling the car 3 times in front of an audience?

Marc was also nice enough to waiver the deposit of R1500 because he said we look like decent girls so he doesn’t foresee any trouble. If you think I’m exaggerating about how good looking he is, ladies, do yourselves a favour and google Marc Buckner. Yes, he is a model. You’re welcome.

The apartment was just off a popular main road which had lots of restaurants and supermarkets too, so after getting some groceries for the next few day, we headed to Posticano, an Italian restaurant that Sophia recommended. Surbhi is a foodie so she eats anything (vegetarian), but we weren’t sure what Premsheela was going to have. Long story short, Surbhi and I ate while Premsheela sat and watched us. That girl is crazy, but she did make something to eat once we got back to the apartment.

We were pretty exhausted by the end of the day and were already in bed by 10pm. Premsheela decided she was going to binge watch Full House on Netflix until passed 2am, so Surbhi and I didn’t actually sleep much till after that.

I knew the next couple of days was going to be a lot of fun.

USA and Canada: The trip I’ve planned the least

This trip should be very interesting. The project I mentioned in my previous post has been moved yet again (with good reason) and this time we are targeting the end of May. I hope to God that that’s the last time it’ll be moved, but the last thing we want to do is sacrifice quality just to meet a date. Fingers crossed.

Thanks to this project, I am now working 10 hour days every day, which is not at all normal for me. There are the odd 11 and 12 hour days here and there too. My body has actually adjusted to it now and I’m not sure whether or not that’s a good thing. I am also attending training now which is awesome, however I missed the past 2 weekends because classes ran over both Saturdays and Sundays, from 8:30am – 4pm, so I’ve been having 7 day weeks. Thank God for the Easter weekend break. Thereafter, classes will be exclusively on Saturdays.

Basically, I have no life right now. I have not even had the time to get my Canadian visa yet. The US one took less than a week – I did it in January I think, which should give you an indication of how busy I am since we’re going to be in the second week of April and I still haven’t gotten to it. Next week it needs to happen; come hell or high water!

The visa is probably the biggest thing left for me to do. That, and booking for the Calgary Stampede. If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that I do a fair amount of planning before any trip, but by the looks of things, I’m gonna be winging it for most of this one. I have not even had a Skype call yet with the family I’m going to stay with in Toronto and I kind of feel bad because it’s almost as if I’m only going to be in contact with them while I’m there. That’s really not how I want things to be considering I’ve never met them before.

This year hasn’t totally been about work though, and up until last weekend, I did have some form of a life.

Some colleagues-turned-friends came down from India to work on the project, so I took them out a little bit. They’ve only got about 1.5 months left here – will definitely miss their company!

St Patrick’s Day was the bomb, and since I got sick again and had an awful hangover for half of the next day (just like last year), I’ve decided never to drink more than one Guiness at a time ever again.

A friend and colleague of mine also resigned, and we did something I haven’t done before for her farewell – Paint Nite. It’s basically what they like to call “creative drinking” i.e. paint while you drink. The event, where the artist guides the class in recreating his/her painting, is held at different restaurants around Joburg. Once upon a time I was pretty good at art, and considering my mom was an art teacher, it’s in my blood. I’m not sure if I still have it in me, but I’m happy with how my painting turned out. So besides bidding Steph farewell, this was a small tribute to my mom too.

Judging from what I just wrote, do I really need to provide any more proof as to how little planning I’ve done? I literally have 82 days left before I get on that plane to San Francisco, and instead of working my ass off so much, I should just take half a day to get myself to the Canadian embassy and sort out that visa.

Dammit Aradhna, don’t forget that July isn’t so far away any more.

2017: Filling in more pieces of the puzzle

I think this is going to be a very important year for me. The project I’ve been working on for a 3rd year now is (hopefully) about to come to an end. In less than 2 months we can talk about things other than the project which I know everyone in my company is looking forward to.

It’s been 6 years since I studied and I’m going to change that this year. I’ve spent the last year being not only a Business Analyst, but a Developer, Architect, Team Leader, and Project Manager as well. There were days where I didn’t know whether I was coming or going, but somehow I managed to pull it off. Fake it till you make it, they say, although it was more of a do-or-die situation. I’m not planning on doing anything major, but the fact that I’ll be studying (since I’ll finally have the time and mental energy to once this project ends) is a big thing for me. It’s always nice to have a formal certification to prove your abilities.

If you’ve read my blog posts before, you’d know that there is almost nothing more important to me than travelling.  Last year I was so confused where I wanted to go next, and I had pretty much made up my mind that it was going to be Norway. However, after checking what it was actually going to cost me, I immediately switched over to the second option: Canada.

You might be wondering how bad the cost of going to Norway must have been for me to turn it down. Well, I wanted to do a cruise with Hurtigruten, a proper one where I’d have my own decent cabin and bathroom facilities. It turned out that the price I initially thought I was going to pay was for one of the smallest ships on the fleet that had shared bathroom facilities. Call me spoiled if you want, I don’t care, but I refuse to share a bathroom with strangers. In order to get what I wanted, I’d have to pay for one of the proper cruise liners whose price soared to over €3000 for the 12 day round-trip. I was simply not prepared to pay that on top of my flights, visas, and transfers to and from Oslo, not to mention accommodation in Oslo. I’ve spent less than that touring several countries for almost double the time. So sorry, Norway, but you’re going to have to wait.

For decades my relatives in Canada have been nagging my mom and I to visit, and the time has come to do it. Unfortunately my mom isn’t physically able to do the journey comfortably, so I am going alone. Of course, this isn’t going to be my first solo trip.

I’ve never been to North America before, so I’m very excited about it. Canada is somewhere I’m considering relocating to in the not too distant future, so this trip is not only to see family, but to also scout around to see whether or not I like it enough to see myself actually living there. And yes, I know it’s cold, but the only way I’ll know how cold it really is is to go there myself. I’m expecting summer to be like a winter in Johannesburg, so I’m quite looking forward to seeing if that is really the case.

So where exactly am I going? San Francisco, Calgary, and Toronto. In that order. I’m lucky enough to have a good friend in San Francisco with whom I’m going to stay, and God knows what shenanigans we’re going to get up to for a whole week. We’ve only met twice (at my cousin’s wedding) but we literally talk everyday. Even though there’s a 10-hour time difference, we speak just as often (if not more) than the friends I actually see everyday. It’s insane that I found a twin sister across the Atlantic; who would have thought?

Why San Francisco?

Ok so this is definitely going to sound cheesy (and probably really dumb) but here goes: not only did I grow up hearing about Alcatraz and Golden Gate Bridge, I also spent over a decade of my life watching Charmed and Full House. Several movies that I like to re-watch were also set there. It’s only recently that I joined the dots and realized that all these things I’ve been watching for so many years had one thing in common: San Francisco. It’s also the home of Silicon Valley – every IT person’s ultimate place to work. So it’s an obvious choice, don’t you think?

Golden Gate Bridge

Why Calgary?

One reason: the Banff National Park. I mean, just look at it.

wallup.net

It’s also a happy coincidence that the Calgary Stampede falls in the week that I will be in Calgary. So I guess it’s fate, right?

Why Toronto?

Family, duh. I can never remember exactly how we’re related, but it’s through my late grandmother on my mom’s side. They’ve lived in Canada for around 30 years. I remember first meeting my niece and nephew (who are actually older than me by about 10 years) at my grandmother’s house when I was 4 or 5 years old. We were playing in her garden. It was so long ago, it feels like a dream. I can’t wait to see them again.

Then there’s also Niagara Falls, of course, and the Great Lakes – yet another piece of my world map puzzle that always piqued my curiosity. Hopefully I can also spend a night or 2 in Montreal, but I’ll see how I can work that out.

Right now I’m going through the visa process before I can book my flights. Had I known I had to get the US visa before booking flights, I would have done it last year. Now I can only hope it processes quick enough so that the flight prices don’t soar too high by the time I have to book. I’m so used to the European visa process that I took it for granted that you book your flights before applying for the visa so that you can prove when you’re entering and leaving the country. Oh well, I guess you learn something everyday.

Throughout my life, every single trip I’ve been on has something to do with that world map puzzle I used to build when I was little. There were particular labels on that map, be it countries, cities, rivers, or even lakes, that made me excited every time I picked up that particular piece to fit it in to where it belonged. Physically going to those places now is like picking up that piece of myself and fitting it in that puzzle.

It’s time for another adventure.