Sunday, December 17, 2017

Year end letter 2017

The further we travel on this journey through life, the more alarmingly time accelerates. This has been a year packed with experiences and adventures and it is almost over before we have had much time to contemplate the many things we have done. After all the activity, some of it relaxed, other things a bit frenetic, with most week’s governed to an extent by the need to publish our weekly MENU to a growing band of readers. It has been a year with many highlights, most of which we have covered in MENU, which many of you will have had the opportunity to see.
As we are used to telling our stories in the form of photo essays, we will tell you this in the same format.
John has earned a little money for quite a few years by “starring” in advertisements, none of them for local consumption. This year started with riding a vintage motor cycle in a TV advertisement for Sun Life of Canada with 5 brave souls (3 of them in this pic, including our friend Loraine on the right) riding on his shoulder – trying to sell life insurance to senior citizens. Safely bolted to the floor with a huge screen behind to show the moving landscape. Silly, but it paid quite well.
As always, our year has been full of events round the food and wine industry, most pretty happy and we’ve had a huge variety of food, some very ordinary and some wonderful like this Japanese dinner at Kyoto Garden Japanese restaurant
We enjoyed the use of three successive VW Sharan MPVs during the last 13 years and, sadly had to say goodbye to the last of them when maintenance costs for a hard-used vehicle with a quarter of a million Kilometres behind it became too heavy. So we said a sad goodbye and bought something much smaller and enormously more economical: A VW Golf Sportsvan. Great to drive, very comfortable with more “toys” than we could have imagined and saves us about R1000 per month in fuel costs
We decided, some time ago, that we would take an interesting trip each year, usually to a place either or neither of us has visited before. In 2015 it was Turkey and Greece, last year Hong Kong and Vietnam. This year we took a road trip to Scandinavia. John lived in Oslo at the end of the 60s and Lynne had never been north of Holland, so we flew to Amsterdam, rented a car – the manual VW Golf we ordered was unavailable but “would we mind having this automatic Opel Estate with Satnav? – very comfortable, and drove to our friends Peter and Yvonne in Wieringerwaard, a pretty village in North Holland, where we stayed with them,
being royally spoiled for a few days and exploring the area with them
Then off we went, first to Hamburg, in the rain
where a highlight was the bombed St Nicolai Church tower and museum, a memorial to the folly of war and where acrophobic Lynne gathered all her courage and took the lift to the top of what was once the tallest steeple in the world to take in the views over the city and the harbour
Most of Hamburg was destroyed in the horrific fire storm caused by the Operation Gomorrah bombing raid in July 1943. An old Yiddish curse, “May you get what you wish for” is perhaps appropriate. The rulers of Nazi Germany wished for revenge on the victors of WW1 and brought horrific retribution on themselves for what they unleashed on the cities of Britain and Europe. Hamburg has been rebuilt and brilliantly restored, but one perceives that it is in many ways a memorial reflecting the idiocy and horror of war.
From Hamburg, we drove the short distance to Flensburg near the Danish border, where we stayed overnight in a very disappointing AirBnB (in the rest of the trip, they were pretty good to excellent)
and drove up through Denmark to København. We only spent enough time there to take a canal trip, visit the Tivoli Gardens and see a little of the city centre, our goal being to spend a week in Oslo, so spending extended time in other places en route would have made the trip longer than the nearly 4 weeks at our disposal. 
In this photograph, John’s credit card is being used for the last time to buy us a couple of beers (in South African money, R90 for 500ml).
After the canal trip, we took a very crowded bus for the short ride to the station (should have walked, but we were tired) and when we reached the station, John discovered that his pocket had been picked and his wallet was gone – cards, driver’s licence, ID card etc. So next stop was to the very efficient police to report the theft. Apparently it happens often, they blame the Gypsies. Like all the cities we visited, Copenhagen is full of refugees from points south and east. Thankfully, Lynne’s cards were safe, so we could continue.
We spent a few evening hours in Tivoli, but the prices were exorbitant for very ordinary food (Wiener schnitzel, fish and two beers came to DKK549, plus 10% tip = R 1160), so we decided to go to our digs and have a picnic supper – we travel with a good supply.
A small highlight in Copenhagen was seeing this sign in a side street advertising JP Colmant’s Cap Classique bubbly at the bargain price of R358. It sells for R230 from the farm so, from a European perspective, this is a very good price. In comparison, this Shiraz from Riebeek Winery sells for R90 from the winery and was R560 in a Dutch restaurant
In the afternoon, from Copenhagen, we drove a short distance north to our next AirBnB on a farm near Helsingør (Hamlet’s Elsinore) and, the next day, visited Kronborg castle and then took the 11Km ferry ride across the Øresund strait to Helsingborg in Sweden
A four hour drive through the Swedish countryside took us to our overnight accommodation in a wooden cabin near Varberg, rustic but comfortable with all the mod cons we needed but no modern communications; a real get-away-from-it-all. Here you can see part of our travel arrangements; each of our suitcases leaves home with a 3 litre box of white wine. It means that we can have a sundowner at the sort of price we are used to. Our cases aren’t large, we travel light, but we do make room for essentials!
Next stop was Oslo, after a confusing drive through Göteborg where the motorways had changed but the SatNav data had not been updated. We were constantly sent down streets which turned out to be dead ends with the route we needed just across a barrier. We visited the local Ikea and reached Oslo in the afternoon. We ended up in a rather insalubrious area looking for our digs but, fortunately, managed to get our host on the phone and he came and fetched us. What a lovely surprise. We were in a beautiful modern flat in Haugerud, overlooking the city and Oslofjord, equipped with every convenience we could have wished for; our home for 6 nights and a short walk across a bridge to the tube station
Oslo has changed enormously since John lived there in 1969 and 70. Oil money has brought great development. Public transport is superb and relatively inexpensive. We bought Oslo Cards for about R300 each (after a 50% pensioner discount) which gave us full access to buses, trams and trains, plus a few ferries for a week. Buses, trains etc run on a 10 minute cycle 24 hours a day, so one seldom waits more than a few minutes. Our car stayed in the flat’s basement parking for our whole stay. Norway gives a 20% tax rebate to purchasers of electric cars and you can charge your car at no cost at any kerbside charging post, so one has never seen so many Teslas and other electric cars such as Nissans, BMWs, Kias etc.
Some of the attractions have hardly changed. The Norske Folkemuseet is a collection of historic buildings which were transported, many over 100 years ago, to a park in Oslo and gives a great reflection of rural life in old Norway. The wooden Stavkirke church is over 800 years old
One of the highlights was visiting Ivar and Elisabeth Tøsti, John’s friends from his time in Oslo, whom he hadn’t seen since they lived, briefly, in Johannesburg in the early 70s. They gave us a lovely dinner, enhanced by an Allesverloren Shiraz. They live in the flat previously owned by Ivar’s parents, so it was very familiar. We left after midnight and the trip home by bus and train took only about 30 minutes.
The Viking museum is most impressive. Viking ships from about 820 to 900AD were unearthed roughly 100 years ago from graves and rehoused in an elegant vaulted building together with numerous other artefacts from the Viking age. A great place to spend a rainy afternoon.
Sadly, it rained most of our time in Oslo while the Cape was experiencing terrific storms. We took a “selfie” of ourselves in the Studenterlunden park in the middle of Oslo, enjoying a sandwich in light drizzle
We searched for the photographic studio where John had worked, found the building, but it was gone. Sadly, we only discovered on our last day that they had moved to the next block. We went in and spoke to a lovely lady who turned out to be the wife of John’s former boss Svein Sturlason. He was at the palace photographing the King at a ceremony, so we missed a special opportunity. We took a walk up to the Palace anyway and enjoyed a lovely walk in the beautiful Palace park, full of spring blossoms and birds
And then it was time to leave, so off we went, driving south through Sweden, with an overnight stop at a pretty farm near Värnamo, south east of Göteborg and about 450Km from Oslo
From there, it was a short drive to Malmö and the impressive 8Km bridge over the Øresund strait to Sjælland, the island which is home to Copenhagen, bypassing Copenhagen and driving straight on to Odense island and our destination for the next couple of days in the country outside Bogense, an apartment in a house belonging to a school principal
We explored the Bogense district, visiting the local nature reserve, the town, its harbour and the very pretty surrounding countryside
On the way back to Germany, we stopped in the city of Odense, Hans Christian Andersen’s home, where his house is preserved as a museum and the surrounding streets have been kept much as they were in his life time
After an overnight stop in Kolding, we drove on to Kiel, where Lynne had found us a superb apartment in a recently renovated Victorian house. We went in search of U995, one of the last German U Boats, which is preserved on a beach as a war memorial. We were in luck, it was open to the public at no charge as part of the German naval Association’s open day, so we could go aboard and walk through the extremely cramped accommodation
Then a quick visit to Lübeck, home of the world’s best marzipan and garnted what the French would call “Appelation Controlée” status by the EU. We stopped at the two most famous marzipan emporiums, bought some treats and treated ourselves to coffee with the most delicious marzipan cake ever made
Then it was lickety-split back through Germany and Holland, with an overnight stop in Germany and a visit to Arnhem to the scene of the famous battle en route to Schipol. Lynne booked us into the Radisson Blu at Schipol, where we could take the car back the evening before our daytime KLM flight home, with a shuttle to the hotel and then back to the airport in comfortable time to check in the next morning
Then back, as my mother would say, to “old clothes and porridge”, to Cape Town in the winter, praying for the sort of rain we had in Europe which never came in the quantities we wished for.
A special celebration of a special life in August; Lynne, born at the same time as modern India at midnight on 14th August 1947, celebrated her 70th birthday. We had a fairly small celebration, about 30 friends and family at home, with mounds of bought in sushi from our favourite Chinese restaurant, special dishes prepared by the hostess and some friends and some suitably great wines. Later, we celebrated with lunch at Foxcroft in Constantia, just the two of us and a bottle of Danie Steytler’s 1947 Chenin blanc, made from vines planted in 1947
Amid all the usual eating and drinking, we had one more excursion when we were invited to review the historic Lord Milner Hotel at Matjiesfontein in the Karoo. John had an overnight stay there on honeymoon in the freezing winter of 1974. Happily, the service, the rooms and the weather were much better than they had been 44 years previously and we enjoyed a couple of interesting days there with a brief excursion to the SA Astronomical Observatory at Sutherland
And so, life continues at a merry pace. We’re taking a break from it all till mid January. A bit of essential domestic maintenance to look after, Christmas with friends and Clare and then, in early January, a 10 day break at St Helena Bay on the West Coast. Books, beach, some good food and wine and valuable R&R.
We’re very proud of Clare. While working with all her responsibilities as Academic Manager of the SA College of Applied Psychology, she has studied with great dedication and graduated cum laude with her Bachelor of Social Science Honours degree in Psychology.
And then it will be back onto the merry-go-round. We are already receiving invitations for 2018, the most exciting being to the annual RMB Starlight Concert at Vergelegen in March. And another trip is planned, this time to Portugal, especially the Douro, and a bit of Spain.
We wish you all a happy Christmas, Hannukah or simply Festive break and hope that all your wishes for 2018 will be granted
And a huge amount of love
John & Lynne signature for Sendblaster.JPG
If you would like to have a closer look at our Scaninavian Odyssey, we published it as a series of blogs:          MENU's Scandinavian Odyssey 1. North Holland

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