Thursday, June 9, 2011


Vienna. Did we tell you that in South Africa they call hot dogs Viennas? It's true! When a hot dog is all on it's own, it's a vienna. When it's in a bun, it becomes a hot dog. They asked us, "ahahah! but what do you say if you want a vienna then?" We say, "you ask for a hot-dog-without-a-bun." Boy oh boy was that hilarious.

Now we are in hot dog town. Vienna. Except they call them Frankfurters.

We found Rachael!
It is exceptionally wonderful to be with Rachael. She has invigorated our trip!
 We are all staying at our friend Carolyn's house. Carolyn is the best host. She has taken some time off to hang out, and is very good at setting up glorious adventures for us! Everything you read below was at Carolyn's suggestion. The day Rach arrived we went for a walk in old downtown. The old buildings just go on and on! It certainly is something to be in Europe. We randomly stopped in at a free cello concert at a big church and also Rachael killed a falcon:

 detail in a church

Next day we did the perfect activity. Celtic traditional trees have been planted in a circle. Each tree is a part of the year, corresponding with birthday, like the zodiac. There are different characteristics depending on which tree you are. This was awesome, plus just labeled trees in general give me chills of excitment. Add to this that Rach is a huge plant kid because of the greenhouse, Carolyn's parents are agro and tree professor and Caryn is a joyful soul and tree lover.... well, we were very happy!

 Caryn's a maple. 

 Rachael's grumpy about being a black pine. 
I'm sure it's a characteristic of black pine people to not want to be black pine.

We had a big day. After the trees we went to market to market. We had lunch and bought 20 euros worth of dried fruit by accident. The we headed off to Schonbrunne Palace, playground, maze and labyrinth.

 oh haha. another tree pic


 palace grounds

tunnel of roses and palace

discovery maze:
 EPIC playground. Yes, you are really seeing this glory.

 This is on a really high hill across from the palace. It was the breakfast nook!

 The Amazing Race. We race through the maze. Carolyn won. 
I was so so so last. Everyone finished waaaaaaay before me.
This picture is from the perspective of everybody else waiting and grinning.

 from the breakfast nook, looking down on the palace and Vienna. 

Amazing vine tunnel!

We finished off the day with a swim in the Danube river. Next day we checked out a kickin art gallery. Then we went to the UN for lunch. Carolyn works at the UN as a market analyst in procurements. Much of the Vienna UN works on nuclear stuff. Loved it there.  That night it was time to visit the opera house to see a ballet.

We arrived at the opera all beautifully dressed (I in Rachael's clothes.... she arrived just when I needed a fashion intervension.) The man at the standing-room-only 4 euro tickets area said, not unkindly, "shorts below the knees. Shorts below the knees." OH NO! We were already running a little late, and now this! Kicked out! We stood outside and considered our options. We could either go home and change, give up, or speed shop. I had already given up in my mind but secretly humoured Rach and Caryn as we dashed off to find H&M.

When I realized they were serious about shopping it suddenly seemed like a big trick, a sick reality tv show. You know, take a person and get them to do something totally out of their element... "Alison. You need to go shopping." "Nooo!!!" "Skirt shopping." "NOOO!" "You have 3 minutes to do it." "WHA-NOOOOO!!!"

We rushed into the store, amazingly found 10 euro skirts in a couple minutes, and bought them without trying them on! For me, this was all quite thrilling. We changed on the streets of Vienna and then RAN back to the opera house.

We walked in, proud, and the man nodded and said quietly "good." He smiled very subtly to himself. I think he was proud of us too. We had made it.

 changing the shorts out from under on the street

before the opera

 After, very happy, even though the plot was a little hazy to us. It had been a beautiful show. 

I learned a lot. 

Check out Rach's account of our adventures in Vienna here!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Our last few days in South Africa

Well Chaps, we are officially out of South Africa and in Vienna!  Carolyn, my friend and former roomie who now lives in Vienna and works for the UN, picked us up from the airport yesterday.  And Ali and I just picked up Rachael (Ali's cousin) from the train station to join us in our adventures here!

But more about Vienna later- for now we'll catch you up on our last few days in South Africa.

After our bird/monkey/elephant sanctuary adventure we headed to Mossle bay, a place that was recommended several times to us by locals saying we shouldn't miss it.  Mossle bay is known for beautiful beaches (like so many places on the coast in SA) and the Old Post Office Tree.


 The story of the Post Office Tree is as follows:

In 1500 Pedro de Alaide, on his return journey from the east, left a letter in a shoe or iron pot under a large tree. In the letter he warned of troubles he had encountered near Calcutta. In 1501 this letter was found by Joao da Nova, en route to India. In this way the first Post Office in South Africa was founded. The large tree, a Milkwood, has been declared a provincial heritage site and is generally known as the Post Office Tree. Any mail posted in the shoe under the tree gets the special post office tree mark.

From Mossle Bay we headed north from the coast up to Oudtshoorn to visit a ostrich farm and to see the caves.  The caves were pretty commercialized (Alison had fun recalling a caving experience she had in Guatemala and how this was very very different.  If she hasn't told you this cave story you must get her to.  Its hilarious.)  The caves pretty much are paved on the insides, and they have also rigged lighting up so that one can get a good view of the caves.  They were very beautiful.

At least a three story mall-like entrance to the caves. 

In the 1960's to 1990's they used to hold orchestra and choral concerts in the first chamber of the cave, which is HUGE!  That would have been so neat!  Unfortunately they had to discontinue this due to vandalism which would happen during the intermission and also all the CO2 emitted by people was damaging the caves.

We then visited a Ostrich farm, where bird whisperer Alison made best friends with a Ostrich by riding it!
Ostriches necks are sooooooo soft!

 Here we are with the Ostrich feather boas we wish we still had.  
They were only around $200.00.  No probs.

The Ostrich farm was really interesting.  We learned all about the Ostrich industry. It crashed in the 30's because of the increasing amount of cars. Women could not fit in them with a huge feather in their hats so they quickly went out of fashion.

Ali standing on a ostrich egg.  They are so strong!

Some interesting facts about Ostriches:
They do not have very large brains- their eyes weigh 60 grams and their brain only weighs 40!
Ostriches eat rocks because they have no teeth- so the rocks stay in their stomach and help them digest their food.
They can run up to 80 KM per hour.
One Ostrich egg is the equivalent to two dozen chicken eggs- and if you want to eat one, the best way is scrambled (according to our tour guide).
Ostrich eggs are so strong that the chicks cannot break out of them on their own.  After 48 days in that egg, the mother breaks the egg by stomping her babies out.
  Alison: Caryn LOVED the ostriches. They peck really hard to get this food. 

Caryn: After Ostriches, we were off to Cape town!  Cape town is beautiful and there was so so so much to do!! Needless to say there is still a lot for us to do when we go back some day!  Highlights included a wine tour (where i got slightly inebriated).

Alison: True story. There I was, feeling ill and watching the gold fish pond outside the last wine/cheese estate when Caryn walks out, presenting cheese and proudly exclaims, "I have no idea how i bought this cheese".

Caryn: It was a fun day!

Alison: As someone who does not exactly like wine yet, I still have to agree.

 View of one of the vineyards

 This was a really cool wine estate (Villiera Wines).  Since they opened they have always been very natural and ecologically friendly.  They even keep 1000 peking ducks on their property for natural pest control!  The vineyard also use mostly solar power and built houses on the property for all of their workers!  It was really neat- and their wine was really good too.

Alison likes oak barrels more than wine. 

Art at a swanky estate.

 Note all their awards on the back wall.

Goat at the wine and cheese estate. 

Caryn: In Cape Town we also did a tour of the cape Peninsula.  Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate with us to go up Table Mountain, so we just had to enjoy the view of it.

Seal island on our cape peninsula tour.

These majestic blobs are seals!
Peninsula landscape
 Alison: The main reason we went on the tour was to see penguins. It was worth it, they are fantastic little guys. It's weird to see them around shrubs and so much green.

Here we are on the actual Cape of Cape Town/ Africa. If you zoom in on a map of South Africa, this is the little jutting down part. It's not really the most south part of Africa though, it's the most south-west.

As a part of this tour we did a very short bike ride (only 3kms) through the Cape Point park.  The bikes were a little sketchy, but it was really fun.
Lighthouse at Cape Point.
View from the lighthouse.

 old town hall. 
 This is past where they use to sell slaves and across from where they used to have public executions.

St. George's Cathedral where Archbishop Desmond Tutu worked.

Alison: A Chartes style labyrinth at St. George's. I got up really early one morning and walked it. 
That is the first time I got up before Caryn.

All over S. Africa are beaded crafts, mostly little hippos and things. 
But this was a life-size Nelson Mandela!

Caryn: So we only have a week left in our trip! And we are spending it here in Vienna with Carolyn and Rachael.  A wonderful way to end this trip :)  More to come on our adventures here... for now thats all!