Sunday, October 30, 2011

Breakfast Review - Sivatherium Coffee Shop

If you have read my previous post on digging up fossils and you know what a "Sivatherium" is, then you would've probably figured out that this coffee shop has something to do with the West Coast Fossil Park. Yes, before we left for the digging site tour we ordered our breakfasts to have it ready on our return. That was probably the only mistake we've made with our breakfast because when we returned most of the stuff on the plate was already cold. They might have made it just before we left instead of making it just before we returned. But, the friendly service and the best looking Cappuccino ever made up for it.

Seeing that according to the fossils found here there must've been some weird looking bears roaming this part of the continent many years ago, I decided to order the Big Bear Breakfast for R49. What I liked about the breakfast was that it could really fill a hungry bear's stomach.  I also liked the "ouma brood" (Grandma's Bread), which compared to the lightweight spongy stuff you usually get when you order white bread, was actually tasting like real bread. This was food for real men and reminded me a lot of the breakfast you get at the Farm Yard Farmstall....just without the flies and traffic noise. What I did find funny was the spread of herbs, spices and sauces they put out on the table, like they were doubting the final proof of their own cooking. I only made use of the Khoisan Fine Sea Salt, locally "mined" from the sea. I was wondering what would make a person come back here, and it would definitely be the breakfast first and then the fossils close second. I believe they are planning a whole new building closer to the digging sites, and I am sure that they would then upgrade the place and make it even look more appealing to the coffee shop visitors.

I however doubt whether I would soon go back here for breakfast, not because of the breakfast itself, but just because I feel that I've been here, done it and got the T-shirt. I would however suggest that you come and look at the fossils and if you are planning on having breakfast as well order your breakfast on your return from the digging site and not before you leave. Not a bad place, definitely worth a visit.

I Dig Fossils

My son has been going on about dinosaurs for a while now. They have been talking about them at school, he has seen them on TV and he has many books about them. All he still needed to do was to dig for some fossils and he would be happy. Finding dinosaurs around Cape Town is not an easy task, but finding fossils is not that difficult. I thought it would be a great opportunity to take him to the West Coast Fossil Park and learn a thing or two myself on digging up fossils.

The West Coast Fossil Park is situated on a piece of land close to Langebaan that was previously used for phosphate mining. While the mining activities were going on, about 80% of the fossils were lost in the process. It was only after a while that someone mentioned the fossils and eventually the area was declared a national heritage site. That was when they really started digging up the fossils of many animals that are now extinct. The site looks like a burial site for animals over thousands of years, because this is the site with the most amount of diverse species in the world all together in one small area.

When we arrived at the site we were the first visitors for the day.We paid the R50 per person fee for a guided tour and also ordered our breakfast before the tour started. Kids under 5 go free. A short walk through the museum was followed to a drive down to the "digs" as the tour lady called it. Here my son just wanted to get into the dirt and dig out some fossils. Fortunately we could explain to him that the site is only for people who has a lot of patience and experience and that a beach spade would not exactly do the trick. Yet again I learned that even at my age I could still be wowed with things I have never really took much interest digging for fossils. It was amazing to see the dig site and how they go about finding and identifying fossils. What looked to me as just ordinary rocks were actually fossils with more information in them than my external hard drive were I store my pictures in. I always thought I never had the patience to be a fisherman, but I am sure I would've wrecked a couple of fossils as well had I been a paleontologist.

After the short visit to the dig site, we returned to the lab to look at some more fossils that were found there and how they are being sorted, numbered and eventually put together. I still think that sometimes this is as good as guessing how the earth was created, I mean they can even predict what colour the animals were...or can they really? What I do know is that there are some strange looking skeletons that does not fit the profile of the animals we currently have around Cape Town, so maybe these dinosaurs were for real. Well, at least my son believes they existed.

Quite an interesting excursion which really triggered my interests. I might just get myself a little spade and a brush and start digging in my back yard. Who knows, I might still discover the "missing link" under those Agapanthus Africana.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Portuguese Man o' War

The Western Cape weather for this time of the year is rather strange at the moment. The northwestern that has been blowing for weeks now is about 180 degrees out from what we usually experience this time of the year. In every kite surfing shop you find frustrated kite surfers who feel they are being robbed from time in the water by this strange phenomenon. The kite surfing season should have started already, but seeing kites in the water has been few and far between the last few weeks. The only good thing about this wind is that the water is relatively warm, so it is nice for swimming and surfing, but that's about it. The onshore wind doesn't help much for the waves either, so there is really nothing much good in what is happening at the moment.

This afternoon I took my son to the beach with the hope of getting a few pictures as well. The breeze was rather chilly but not preventing him from getting wet from head to toes. He was really enjoying the water, but I noticed that the constant wind had blown a magnitude of blue bottles (Portuguese Man-of-war) towards the shore, and it wasn't going to be long before he gets tangled in their long tentacles. I took a few pictures of them on the beach. They are quite unique organisms and definitely worth reading up on. After putting my camera away I joined him in the water, guiding him away from the blue bottle without putting too much emphasis on them. One sight and he would've left the water immediately. Then of course it happened. A scream that turned heads as far as the car park. He got stung on his leg. After a huge commotion we eventually calmed him down. It is widely believed that urine makes the burn go away, but I wasn't going to wee on my sons leg in front of 200 plus spectators. With a bit of "Zam-buk" ointment and a promise of an ice cream we eventually managed to save the day.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

One step at a time

What seems like "basics" to most people who have had an SLR camera for more than 6 months, myself on the other hand took a while to get to know my camera. The fact that there is an "auto" option has prevented me from really exploring the possibilties of my camera. Last weekend I went to a "Basic inroduction course to your SLR camera", and after they showed us how to take it out of the box and switch it on, we looked at Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. I've read about these things before, so I knew exactly what it was, I just never played around with it before. Why would I, I have an "auto" option remember? I did however realize that there are a couple of things I wanted to do in the past that I could never achieve with my point-and-shoot, and that if I don't play with the camera's manual settings I probably would never be able to do it with this one either. One is making that weird water flowing effect. Somehow I could never grasp the relations between Shutter Speed and Aperture, so when my water was "flowing" then my picture was too bright. So, after my course my first attemp was to see if I could get this right, and the closest flowing water I could find was in my fish pond. Here is my results. I'm taking it one step at a time, ok?!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Breakfast Review - Oona's

I haven't done a breakfast review for a while. Not that I don't do breakfasts anymore, but just because I seem to frequent the same places and don't explore that much anymore. I think that after finding the places I like most, I don't seem to find the need for discovering new places. Last weekend though I was in town on my way to a photography course. My wife suggested a place she had been to previously and we decided to have breakfast there. It wasn't my intention to take picture of the place and to review their breakfast, but I thought seeing that I don't blog that much anymore, I might as well do it.  This morning a friend of mine living in New Zealand was telling me via email that she loves reading my breakfasts reviews, so here it is.....

So finding this place was a bit difficult as there are a lot of construction going on around Wembley Square. Parking outside was a problem, but I was on my bike and ended up on the pavement right in front of the entrance door. My wife in the car parked somewhere else and arrived a couple of minutes after me. The friendly waiter asked me if I would like to have some coffee and pointed out that their "Basic Brunch" at R39 is a very good option because it includes the coffee. What he didn't tell me is that you start with bacon and eggs as the "basic" and everything else you add costs you extra. Oh, I think there was a single slice of white toast included as well. My wife was a bit better off than me because she ordered extra fruit and "pancakes" (to me it looked more like flapjacks). I eventually had to eat one of her toast slices and one egg because I knew that I was going to be starving by 12 am, and that would've been smack bang in the middle of my photography class. The appearance of the food on the plate looked good, except that my bacon looked more like an insult to my ability to distinguish between a "portion" and an "excuse for a portion". I didn't take pictures of my food as it was finished before I thought of taking out my camera. The colourful meal in the picture however is what my wife had ordered and the second one was for my son.

So, will I visit the place again? For the service and atmosphere, yes. For the menu, probably not. I don't like it when I leave a restaurant with an empty stomach or an empty wallet. If I wanted to fill my stomach at Oona's I would've had to empty my wallet. Fortunately my wife paid this time and helped my semi-empty stomach out with her great ability to "share food".

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sunderland beach in 10 minutes flat

It is my last day in Sunderland before I return back to South Africa. It has been two longs weeks, and mostly to blame on the weather. Today, after two weeks of cold, wind and rain the sun decided to come out and the wind died down. I took quick stroll to get my last Fish & Chips from my favourite fish shop. With only my iPhone I managed to take a couple of pictures. This is my Sundderland in 10 minutes flat....

Breakfast disaster

On the left is a typical breakfast my wife would make me at home. On the right hand side is the breakfast I had to be content with this morning at the Roker Hotel here in Sunderland. Now tell me if I have reason to complain...? Note, the piece of bacon was already cold when the plate was put on my table...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sunrise in Sunderland

If and when the sun does shine in Sunderland, it can really be something to appreciate...

UK's local dish...or at least in Sunderland

On my first trip to France many years ago I had McDonalds the first night because I was too scared to order anything from a menu that was written in French. This totally freaked out my wife who is a food fundi and would've done anything in her power to try all the local dishes. So, I eventually decided that even though it is more 'safe' and easy to order a Big Mac in most countries, I will at least try one local dish. I have been to the UK many times before, but never actually looked into what their "local dish" might be, probably because it is so similar to what we eat in South Africa. I have found that the food here compared to the way we have it in South Africa tastes a bit bland. No wonder the locals worship the likes of Jamie Oliver and that foul mouthed Gordon Ramsay who dared to add something with flavour to their food and then sold themselves to the world as "food experts". I think their are housewives in South Africa that make better food than those two, they just don't advertise themselves as well and will properly never receive the recognition they deserve.

So, I was looking around to see if I could find some restaurant that might give me an indication of what the people around here eat. I have seen the "English Breakfast" on the menus, but apart from that dark round thing on my plate which resembles a black ice hockey puck, everything else that is part of the "English" breakfast, you can find in almost any restaurant in South Africa that serves a descent breakfast. So, guided by what I could see along the main road on the Sunderland beach front, I figured that the local dish must be "Fish & Chips" then. People are prepared to stand in long queues waiting to be served and there are in a radius of 1 kilometer probably 10 Fish & Chips outlets selling exactly the same, fish cakes, pork sausages....and chips. All deep-fried in oil. So I decided to join the queue and see what the local dish tastes like.

The prices are  more or less the same in all the outlets, between 4 and 5 quit for the "dish of the day". The fish all seems to be from the same species too...which is Cod. I have not seen Haddock around. If you want to add something on the side you would go for a deep fried pork sausage in batter, maybe deep-fried scampi in batter or simply leftovers from the batter that stays behind in the oil...aptly called "batter". I have to mentioned that the chips here are similar to what we call "slap (flacid) chips" in South Africa, and probably the best take-away chips I've ever had outside the street corner Portuguese Fish & Chips cafes from South Africa. The fish, which once you get through the batter, is not bad tasting either. When you eat it with the batter however, you consume enough vegetable oil to fuel a Massey Ferguson for 8 hours non-stop. There will definitely be strong competition once the world moves over to diesel fuel, and with the proposed "fat tax" that they want to introduce in the UK to fight obesity, don't be surprized if the price of UK's favourite dish rises to 10 quit overnight.

If you like to treat yourself every now and then, do try this. Even if it is just for the sake of the chips. If you are into health foods and weight conscious...stay clear! I am for sure having one last Fish & Chips before I return to South Africa next week....

Sunday, October 9, 2011

More Sunderland

On Friday the clouds moved away from the sky for much of the day, but when I got time to get to my camera the sun was already tired of doing a bit of work for a change and was heading home. I tried to get a few shots, but was so impressed with the waves that were breaking compared to the first week of "flat surf" that I spend too much time trying to get a "pretty wave picture" and eventually missed out on taking more pictures of Sunderland. Yesterday it was raining again and today doesn't look much better. Maybe I should forget about the colours and go for black-and-white pictures instead.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Lighthouse

I was chatting to a Scottish friend of mine asking him when the sun will come out again in Sunderland so that I can take a few pictures. When I arrived in Sunderland on Saturday the sun was shining. I did take a walk on the beach with my camera, but you know what it is like in the UK when you take out a camera on a beach where there are children playing. It's worse than taking out an AK47 in Sandton. So I was a bit overly cautious and consequently never got the opportunity to take a picture of what would probably the biggest landmark in Sunderland. The lighthouse at the end of the pier which has been closed off to the public because the structure probably looks too shaky for the authorities who are scared of getting sued. As he was telling me that there was no chance of sun, the sun miraculously broke through the clouds and cast a weak light on the lighthouse. I grabbed my camera like an optimistic media photographer running after a skirmish between the police and UK rioters hoping to at last get a picture of the lighthouse who had been eluding me since my arrival.

In my rush I did not think of taking both lenses, so when I got to the beach I realized that the lighthouse was too far out to get a decent picture. Fortunately the sun held out for longer than the usual 10 minutes and it gave me an opportunity to go back and get my other lens. The pictures however was probably not worth it, but at least I got the picture and saw a bit of sun again.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I am in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear at the moment. That is somewhere in the Northeastern part of England for those who didn't know. Admittedly I was one of those who didn't know a few months ago, but today I can say that I have seen a fraction of this side of the world at least. So I arrived at the guest house where I will be staying for two weeks with only my room key under a cushion in the foyer to greet me. So different from South Africa where an open unattended door will not only leave you without a key, but without the furniture as well. Last night I slept in this guesthouse with no-one around. I learned this morning that the owner was away, but that I can make myself comfortable in the meantime. Despite the "No Vacancy" sign outside, I seem to be the only one occupying the one of seven rooms. I missed breakfast because I didn't know where to get it, but also in the meantime discovered that I have to go to the guesthouse next door for breakfast. I will make sure I don't miss that tomorrow morning. So I have a place to sleep and a hope for breakfast tomorrow. That means I am sorted for my two weeks in Sunderland.

On the weather side it was great when I arrived yesterday. The sun was shining and everyone was on the beach. I took a stroll, but didn't really take any pictures. This morning however it was overcast and I could see it was going to be a rather rainy day. For the rest of the week the predictions look fair again, but one never knows in the UK. What I now need is some sunshine so that I can take some pictures..

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Uh, that's wrong!

The joys of having information at hand. I was having dinner at a hotel in Entebbe, Uganda. The steak was so tough that I tried all the knives on the table with the hope of finding one that can cut through the steak, but with no avail. After finishing my meal, I asked for the bill. It came to 30,500 Ugandan Shillings. I asked the waiter if I could pay with dollars, because I have no shillings on me. While he went back to find out what it would be in dollars, I took out my iPhone and checked on the currency exchange application what the amount should be.

"That would be fifteen dollars, sir". "No" I said, "I think you have made a mistake". He looked at me as if I was telling him that my being there was just a figment of his imagination and that I wasn't there at all. I saw that I need to elaborate so I showed him the exchange rate on my iPhone. "It should be 10 dollars, 62", I said. "OK, I'll go back and make sure", he said and left.

A few minutes later the waiter returned and told me it would be 11 dollars then. I ended up giving him 12 dollars, tip included. I hope that the embarrassment he suffered for trying to rob in me broad daylight at least would make him think twice next time when he just sucks out an amount from his thumb to screw another unsuspected visitor to his country. I am so glad I had this information with me, and be sure, when you travel to Africa, do yourself a favour and check the exchange rates.