Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Gourmet Boerie: The evolution of an SA favourite

Gourmet Boerie was a restaurant that I had wanted to go to before I even left Cape Town, South Africa, two years ago. When I made my return to the city last month, I was determined that I wouldn't let the chance to visit slip by again.

Located at 8 Kloof Street in the CBD, this eatery takes a much-loved South African foodie classic to the next level.

For those who haven't grown up in South Africa, a boerewors roll is something that every local would be very familiar with. To break it down, boerewors is a type of sausage and it's the very composition that makes it so special.

Over 90% of the sausage has to be meat (with the remainder going to spices and other ingredients), and no more than 30% of that meat can consist of fat. Stuck in a roll and topped with caramelised onions, this is the simple snack that I associate with my childhood, from sports days at school to braais (read: barbecues) at home. The South African hotdog, if you will.

It is also the meal that I associate with my late-night university years. Londoners, you have your kebabs; in South Africa, a boerewors roll bought from a dubious streetside stall run by an even more dubious character outside that gig/nightclub was our post-party guilty pleasure feast.

With all of these memories in mind, I was keen to experience the gourmet version of the boerewors roll I already knew. Since a foodie adventure is no fun on your own, I invited my beautiful and talented friend, Jess, to join me.

Stepping into the restaurant, my first impressions were of a hip yet relaxed environment, perfect for an after-work dinner. With the exception of some indoor picnic benches, most of the seating involved long tables, which encouraged a communal atmosphere.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

48 hours in Strasbourg

When I think of Strasbourg now, I am immediately inundated with memories: leaning medieval buildings, covered bridges, an impossibly tall cathedral, a glass of wine by a canal, a cobblestone-filled public square, bright flowers, an early-evening boat cruise and some of the best biscuits I've ever eaten...

Even though I was only in this French city for about 48 hours, I'm amazed by how much of an impression it has left. In comparison, I've been on longer trips to other destinations, yet the specific moments from most of those have faded. 

Meanwhile, my memories of Strasbourg are so vivid that I could imagine being back there at this very second. It would appear that this special city has truly left its mark on me.

But, as always, I'm getting way ahead of myself.

My June trip to Strasbourg started with a Skype call. My sister appeared on the screen and announced that she would be coming along, rather last minute, to a conference in France. Since she lives in Cape Town and I hardly get to see her, I immediately blurted out that I would come to see her, even if it meant sleeping on the floor of her hotel room.

When the day of departure arrived, I took the short flight to Strasbourg and, after a taxi ride to her hotel, I was reunited with my best friend.

Us Dubaniewicz girls don't like to waste time so, after many hugs and dropping off my bag upstairs, we headed into the city to start our explorations.

A musician playing along one of Strasbourg's many canals.


Situated at the heart of Strasbourg is Grande-Ile, the historic centre of the city. This area is notable for many reasons. Apart from being spectacularly beautiful, in 1988 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the very first time that this status was given to an entire city centre.

I reckon this is the perfect wine barrel size for my personal use.

The stork is common to the Alsace region and, therefore, all sorts of related memorabilia can be purchased. I *almost* bought a stork hat because, well, STORK HAT.

Predictably, this is the most touristy part of Strasbourg, with its concentration of museums, churches, souvenir shops and restaurants. This didn't deter us, as we soon found that it was easy to escape the crowds by darting down one of the narrow side streets of Grande-Ile. 

The half-timbered buildings, which are considered some of the most well-preserved medieval structures in the world, made us feel like we were in another time entirely. This especially came into effect at night, when a whole street would be lit by a single lamp suspended low by a wire. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

High tea at Fortnum & Mason

When I think of afternoon tea, two things immediately spring to mind. One, as a South African expat having read far too many Jane Austen novels, there is nothing more quintessentially British than an afternoon tea. The second: indulgence - pure and utter indulgence. 

Last month, thanks to Sunny in London and Zomato, I won a giveaway for an afternoon tea experience. And this wasn't any old afternoon tea; we were going to Fortnum & Mason.

Starting out as a humble joint venture in 1707 between royal footman William Fortnum and his landlord Hugh Mason, where the aim was to sell grocery items, Fortnum & Mason soon became an unstoppable force in the UK and beyond. A supplier of food items during times of war as well as the inclusion of Fortnum & Mason goods in the first Everest expeditions, the business' connection with tea materialised due to its strong relationship with the British East India Company in the 1700s.

Fast forward more than 300 years later to 2012, and this will be the exact time when the Queen visited Fortnum & Mason to officially open the resident tea salon named in honour of her Diamond Jubilee.   

The view from our seats: the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon.

With this sort of reputation preceding it, we arrived at the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, located on the fourth floor of the Fortnum & Mason headquarters at 181 Piccadilly, feeling excited for what awaited us.

My companion for the day was my boyfriend, Chris, who hadn't experienced a proper afternoon tea before. 

Ready for afternoon tea! 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Cycling Cape Town with AWOL Tours

I've just returned from an incredible three-week stay in Cape Town, South Africa. While I was there, I was on full-time duty as my sister's maid of honour for her wedding. Nonetheless, when the opportunity to take a tour with one of South Africa's most exciting travel companies came my way, I just knew that I had to take some time out.

With the day confirmed, I was all set for my City Cycle Tour with AWOL Tours.

After meeting the team at AWOL's HQ at the Victoria and Alfred (V&A) Waterfront, I was supplied with a helmet, as well as my glorious green steed for the day.

Truth be told, I wasn't overly worried about the fact that I hadn't been on a bicycle for years. It's the thing you never forget, as the saying goes. I am sad to report that I was an exception to this, as my brain took a good long while to compute what I was attempting to do.

A few shaky circles later and, thankfully, no face-planting on the V&A's cobblestone walkways, we were on our way.

Despite Cape Town's at-times rather terrifying traffic situation, our guide for the day, Mark, constantly checked on all of us and made sure that we were safe at the trickier crossings.

The Waterfront itself was our first stop, where Mark explained the history of the area, its significance in modern tourism, as well as the origin of its name. Since Queen Victoria was married to Albert, it would seem that this would be the logical name. But, since it was Alfred, their son, who actually visited Cape Town, it's his name that was chosen in the end.

The V&A Waterfront, with the iconic Table Mountain in the background.

Mark recounts the history of the Waterfront.

It was this mix of history as well as the quirkier facts about the city that made the tour so interesting. I grew up in Cape Town and lived there up until two years ago - yet there were so many things that I hadn't heard before I went on the tour.

Over the next three hours, we covered a lot of ground. 

We paused at historical spots, including the Castle of Good Hope, City Hall (the site of Nelson Mandela's 1990 speech following his release from prison), the Houses of Parliament and, the city's main thoroughfare for food and nightlife, Long Street.

In front of the Castle of Good Hope.

The setting for Cape Town's City Hall.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Exploring Cantabria: A glimpse of Santillana del Mar

My encounter with the Spanish town of Santillana del Mar can only be described as a fleeting one, but that does not mean it did not leave a strong impression.

On the contrary, the very first fact that I heard about Santillana del Mar immediately affirmed that I would like the place very much.

"Santillana del Mar is a town that is founded on three lies," our guide announced.

I was already intrigued. 

The lies come from the very name of the town:

1. 'Santo' implies that the town has something to do with the life of a saint. It doesn't.

2. 'Ilana' means 'flat'. Santillana del Mar is located within a very obviously hilly landscape.

3. 'Mar', of course, means 'the sea'. The town, although located in northern Spain, is not a seaside destination.

Always one with a soft spot for the quirky, I had, after that introduction, already decided that my experience of Santillana del Mar would be an overwhelmingly positive one.

Located about 30 km from Santander and near the world-renowned Altamira Cave, Santillana del Mar is often referred to as a living museum. As our walking tour progressed, I could definitely see why.

The town is easily explored on foot, as the oldest part of Santillana del Mar is compact. Filled with cobblestoned streets and alleyways of irregular widths, these thoroughfares are lined with some of the most exquisite - and most well preserved - medieval buildings I've ever seen.

Decisions, decisions! Picking the right tapas bar is never as easy as it should be.

I adored this building purely based on the fact that none of the windows had the same size.

Just some of the medieval houses in central Santillana del Mar.

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