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imageStellenbosch was founded by Simon van der Stel, the Governor of the Cape Colony, in 1679, who named it after himself. Stellenbosch means Stel’s bush. It’s in the Western Cape, about 50 km (35 miles) east of Cape Town, and on the banks of the Eerste River (First River, as it was the first river Simon van der Stel encountered when he ventured out of Cape Town). It’s the second-oldest European settlement in South Africa, after Cape Town. It’s also a great alternative to Cape Town—good hotels and restaurants, and gives easy access to the winelands.
It’s a university town—Stellenbosch University—and the campus is a big feature, so it has lots of cultural assets, such as the Sasol Art Museum. We saw many students, lots speaking Afrikaans, but not exclusively so.
It’s a pretty town architecturally in the Cape-Dutch style, the streets lined with many oaks, with lots of small shops, little plazas and alleys lined with cafes, art stores, old-book shops, unique fashions etc. The day we rambled around we found the people all very friendly and the atmosphere in town really nice and relaxed. However, there’s a fair bit of security around, such as in banks and outside public buildings. Many parking attendants, all in a uniform, walk around with portable meter machines.

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imageThe city also favors public art on the streets, such as the Malay Girl (see https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2014/03/19/faces-malay-girl-by-lionel-smit/ ), the Mandela Wall outside the Town Hall (see https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/stellenbosch-sa-honoring-nelson-mandela/ ), and the Huguenot Wall outside the Public Library (see next post).
Stellenbosch, and most of the Western Cape, has a Mediterranean climate, plus hilly, well-drained soils, all of which are excellent for viticulture. Stellenbosch is part of the Cape Winelands, with Paarl and Franschhoek, and the South African wine industry has become world famous, producing really good quality wines.

Wine Discoveries: Israeli Wines

imageimage
imageISRAELI WINES
Our wine world opens up some more, as we make new wine discoveries

This is a pleasant surprise—and find—for us. We hadn’t heard much about Israeli wines, as it seems to be a fairly new industry (at least the more modern commercial one), but we shouldn’t be surprised as it is a Mediterranean country after all.
We are in Israel for a week, mostly for a Solar Fuels conference that Rod is participating in. It’s our first visit to this country and everything is new and different, including the wines. As you probably know by now, we are really interested in wines and wine making, and love to combine that interest with our passion for travel,image so we are always happy when the two come togIether.
The wines we tried in the first few days were really not bad— some even pretty good— especially the red blends. And then we did see some vineyards on the lower slopes of the hills as we drove from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and were told by our hosts that the Jerusalem Hills have good vines. And then we tried a couple of Barkan wines.image

It seems that the Barkan Winery is an up-and-coming one here in Israel. We tried the merlot, which was aged in oak for 18 months and became elegant and velvety. The grapes come from the vineyards in the Upper Galilee and the Jerusalem Hills, which are characterized by terra rossa soil, a cold/cool climate, and dry air. It was a rather mind-boggling experience to be drinking a wine with place names on the label like Galilee and Jerusalem— places we’ve always heard of, even if we’re not religious.
Another evening we tried the Eitan Assemblage (Barkan) with our Israeli hosts and everyone was impressed with this well-balanced wine (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and petit Verdot grapes). All the grapes are grown on the winery’s steep terra rossa terraces of their Kiriat Anavim vineyard, high in the Judean Mountains. That evening our group also tasted the Barkan special reserve Sauvignon blanc from the upper Galilee and were equally impressed with the white wine.
Our Israeli hosts are very proud to tell us that many Israeli wines do well at international wine shows and have won a number of big awards in blind tastings. That augurs well for the wine future here, and we look forward to tasting a whole lot more wines.
In the meantime, we have a couple more days and will try to pick out some other different wines from here.

Yak Tracks/YakTrax

tracks2

Now for something very light-hearted.

What do Yaktrax look like? Something like the tracks of the elusive Bigfoot from North America, or the Yeti in the Himalayas—creatures that some people swear they have seen? Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, is supposedly a cryptid ape-or hominid-like creature that lives in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. The Yeti, also known as the Abominable Snowman, is also an ape-like cryptid that lives in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal and Tibet.

Maybe Yaktrax look like this?

In deep snow

In deep snow

tracks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, we’ve unearthed the secret of the Yaktrax, but the mystery of Bigfoot and the Yeti still remain. Scientists say the existence of these creatures is a combination of folklore, misinformation and hoax. And yet the stories persist.

Recently, we’ve had some very snowy and icy weather where we live, making walking outside a bit treacherous. My husband prefers to walk to his lab at the university, so we decided to buy him some removable, strap-on cleats to make walking a little less hazardous.

Rod's Yaktrax before he strapped them on

Rod’s Yaktrax before he strapped them on

Yak on steep path

Yak on steep path

Voila the Yak Trax, a very clever play on Yak Tracks. And the YakTrax work very well.

Yaks are bovids (Bos grunniens and Bos mutus), part of the cattle family. They are known as animals that have an amazing ability to walk and climb in the Himalayas, at high altitudes and in snow. Supposedly they are very nimble, so someone who can have tracks like yaks will hopefully also be more nimble in winter weather conditions.

 

Driving up into the mountains of Yunnan, we stop to let the Jeep cool

Driving up into the mountains of Yunnan, we stop to let the Jeep cool

Rod M with our Chinese hosts in the meadow with some of the Gayal cattle

Rod M with our Chinese hosts in the meadow with some of the Gayal cattle

We have not been to the Himalayas, but we have been high in the mountains of Yunnan Province in China, bordering Tibet—but only in summer. On the way up to a research station, where my husband was going to study their herd of domesticated Gayal cattle (bos frontalis), we saw a few domesticated yaks, climbing up a steep path off the steep road, and lower down we saw a couple on a large meadow, decked out with colorful panniers.

The Gayal are found in northeast India, Bangladesh, northern Burma and Yunnan, usually in hill forests. The Gayal are not the same as yaks, but still very interesting, and they are also pretty nimble. As far as I could tell, they look very similar to yaks too, except the horns are flatter and straighter.

A handsome beast

A handsome beast

 

A herd of Gayal cattle

A herd of Gayal cattle

 

 

 

 

General view of Memorail

General view of Memorial

Even today, people still bring items to remember and honor the victims

Even today, people still bring items to remember and honor the victims

The mission statement of the Memorial is “...May this Memorial offer comfort, peace, hope and serenity.” It succeeded admirably for us.

At 9:02am on April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was destroyed in the largest terrorist attack in US history up until that time. One hundred and sixty eight people died, and thousands of others were affected in countless ways.

A couple of months ago, we re-visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial, dedicated on April 19, 2000, the five-year anniversary of the attack. I knew it was a highly significant memorial, but I wasn’t expecting to be as moved as I was on our first visit years ago. Significantly, we were still very moved on this recent visit.

Looking from Gate 9:01 across the Reflecting Pool to Gate 9:03

Looking from Gate 9:01 across the Reflecting Pool to Gate 9:03

Gate 9:01

Gate 9:01

In these troubled times, especially in the aftermath of 9/11 and other more recent horrific shooting sprees, and bombings, a visit to a memorial such as this serves to remind us of the suffering of individual people regardless of where the troubles occur, and of people’s amazing ability to rebuild, to heal, and to make meaning out of tragedy.

We wandered around the outside Memorial first to see the site and setting for this tragedy. What draws one’s eyes immediately is the chain-link fence along the edge. From afar it’s a blur of colors and shapes, but as you get closer the details emerge—a teddy bear with a picture below, a sock, a T-shirt, a card, flowers, a flag. The fence is covered with these kinds of items, so touching, so personal, giving tragedy a face. People are still bringing things, all these years later.

The huge Gates of Time, framing the moment of destruction (one inscribed with 9:01am, the moment before the destruction; the other with 9:03 am, the moment after the destruction), are at each end of the Reflecting Pool, which has replaced the street where the bomb went off. These Gates of Time illustrate so clearly just how quickly a tragedy can happen, how quickly lives can be lost and changed forever.

Some of the Memorial Chairs

Some of the Memorial Chairs

Survivor Tree in late winter

Survivor Tree in late winter

The highlight is the Field of Empty Chairs, in the green grassy area that was the site of the Murrah Building. There are 168 chairs, one for each life lost, including 19 smaller chairs for the children. The chairs are made of bronze and stone, each glass base etched with the name of a victim, and individually illuminated at night.

A park ranger told a poignant story of how the final chair design was chosen. Apparently many people liked the chair concept, perhaps because so many of the victims were office workers who frequently sat on chairs. The adults at the meeting wanted to discuss this further, but a 10-year-old boy stood up and said that he didn’t care what the other people said. He liked the chairs, because any time he missed his dead mother he could go and sit on her chair and it would be like her lap and he could remember her. Who could resist such a touching statement?

Another high point is the Survivor Tree, a large American elm that was badly damaged by the blast but, with lots of care, has survived. It is a symbol of resilience, both of Nature and of humans. We found the circular promontory around it a good place to sit and contemplate the whole Memorial.

The Reflecting Pool reflecting the Museum

The Reflecting Pool reflecting the Museum

The Oklahoma National Memorial Museum in the former Journal Record Building, also badly damaged by the bombing, has interactive exhibits on two floors. It takes you on a chronological self-guided tour of the story of the bombing and its after effects, divided into ten chapters. Many graphic and moving pictures, video clips and interviews, and artifacts rescued from the blasted building, combine to give a very personalized and poignant experience. We were stunned and shocked all over again. I felt as though these atrocities had been done to me too.

In my opinion, the Gallery of Honor is the most touching room in the exhibit. Around the edge of this circular room are photographs of each victim. Many also have items selected by the families, such as watches, medals and awards, wedding or other pictures. The most heart-breaking are the toys with the photographs of some of the children.

We all leave changed in some way. The events themselves were so dramatic, and the message from the Memorial is so powerful, and yet does help soothe some of the anguish. As is written on the Gates of Time, “We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence…

The Museum is open 9am-6pm Mon-Sat and noon-6pm on Sunday.

Adults $12; seniors, military and students $10; children under 5 free.

The park is open all the time.

The web site is excellent and has much information.

http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org

St Louis: Sasha’s on Shaw

 

A great shot taken by Rod Mackie through the window to us inside

A great shot taken by Rod Mackie through the window to us inside

A Lovely Wine Bar
4069 Shaw Boulevard, St Louis (corner of Thurman)
Not far from the entrance to the Missouri Botanical Gardens.
Open Mon-Sat 11am-1am, Sunday 10am-12am

A delicious plate

A delicious plate

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http://www.sashaswinebar.com

Rod M outside on the patio

Rod M outside on the patio

Our daughter lives in St Louis and we have visited Sasha’s many times, at different times of the year—in the warmer weather we sat outside on the patio but in the cooler weather people can still sit outside, as two outdoor fireplaces have lovely fires. Inside, in winter, there’s also a cozy fire with big stuffed chairs and couches around it. We sat there December 2013, to celebrate our daughter’s graduation from nursing school.
It’s a lovely place to go for a small celebration, or just to hang out with family or friends. Buy a bottle of wine—or two—and a cheese or meat platter for a relaxed couple of hours.
The last time we were there in October we were happy to use their new menu on individual tablets (some iPads), which was easy to navigate. The wine selection is pretty extensive (whites, roses and reds), plus there are a number of local beers too.

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Sonya D and Nathalie M. Happy graduation

Sonya D and Nathalie M. Happy graduation

We’ve always been happy with the service there and love the ambience—informal, but bustling. The wine racks stacked at odd angles up to the ceiling are different to most others we’ve seen and the toilet doors are covered in wine corks—very innovative, as all wine lovers realize that corks collect up very quickly and then…what to do with them?

The side of Rise's building sports a colorful mural

The side of Rise’s building sports a colorful mural

buildingfullRise Coffee, 4180 Manchester Ave, The Grove (the street with a lot of fun murals).

This is a relative newcomer to the coffee scene in St Louis and has become a new favorite for many, including our St Louis family.

It opened in October 2013 in the re-emerging Grove neighborhood. Rise is locally owned by Jessie Mueller and her husband Ron Mueller, and they want to focus on creating a local community in the area. The great coffees and baked items from nearby bakeries (donuts, pastries, vegan cookies, quiche, for example) certainly help with this aim. Their coffee speciality is hand-brewed “pour over” style, which we found very good. They also offer many other kinds of coffees and teas.

At the entrance

At the entrance

signstandAnother notable feature is that Rise encourages “pay it forward” as part of a Coffee For The People program and there’s a corkboard with coffee sleeves noting various cups of coffee or other items that have been bought and paid for by a patron, to be used by another patron. This way, folks who cannot usually afford to hang out in coffee shops will be able to join in this community.

The smallish two-story building has a lounge and kids area on the second floor, as they want to encourage people to linger. The Muellers have used handmade lighting and a mishmash of reclaimed, upcycled furniture. There are many other small interesting touches in the décor, which was Bohemian-inspired, and locally crafted.

Different reviewers have used words like quaint, hipster, a gem, cool, with an eclectic chill vibe, neighborly, and we’d have to agree with them all! The servers are all really friendly and the atmosphere is great.

inside

foodtruckRise now also has a mobile Coffee Truck (probably the first in St Louis), which started in October 2014. It’s co-owned by Jessie Muelller and Nick and Sara Endejan, both of whom have been very involved in the Rise coffee shop—he as the manager and she as a barista.

A very nice place and well worth a return visit.

Check out their website for all the details:

http://risecoffeestl.com

facade

signfacade

Nathalie M and Rod M at a table below the rooster mural

Nathalie M and Rod M at a table below the rooster mural

Rooster, at 1104 Locust, on corner of N. 11th Street, St Louis

Rooster is a European-style café in downtown St Louis specializing in crepes, pancakes, special sandwiches and other breakfast and brunch items. They also have a good selection of coffees, beers, and wines, and some say they have the best Bloody Marys and Mimosas in town. However, a Korean friend who went there for the first time told me they disliked the Bloody Mary as too spicy (my guess is that it was just a very different taste for them).

It was busy the day we were there, even though it was the Christmas holiday weekend, and friends tell me that it’s always busy, so it seems to be a popular place. We obviously sat inside, but in the warmer weather they also have outside tables, so you can eat and watch the world go by.

inside

Nathalie M and VIv M

Nathalie M and Viv M

It’s a large place, with a couple of interconnected rooms and a more formal dining area to one side. The interior is tastefully decorated with the rooster theme, all very bright and cheerful; rooster paintings are grouped on walls, a huge rooster mural dominates one side room, metal roosters perch in front of windows and on shelves.

But, besides the warm atmosphere and the friendly and helpful servers, the best thing is the crepes—a great menu with some unusual combinations, both sweet and savory. We went for the savory and had a goat cheese crepe with mushrooms, basil and oven-dried tomatoes; a three-cheese crepe with emmentaler, fontina, asiago, basil and oven-dried tomatoes; and a brie crepe with roasted spiced apple. They all come with some spicy creme fraiche on the side. You can also choose crepes with chicken, bacon, ham, sirloin or sausage, or vegetables, like creamed spinach. All rather inventive!

One of our yummy crepes

One of our yummy crepes

Placemat/menu for drinks

Placemat/menu for drinks

The sweet crepes sounded interesting but we didn’t sample any. For example, Nutella with bananas or strawberries; oranges and cream with crème fraiche and honey.

We found the prices reasonable: most crepes in the $8-10 range, coffees about $2.50.

Open 7 days a week. Mon-Fri 7am-3pm; Sat-Sun 8am-3pm.

Even a frosty rooster on one of the doors!

Even a frosty rooster on one of the doors!

BTW: We were here on one of the days that we were going Cake Hunting for the STL250 celebration. The food fortified us

for a whole afternoon of finding about another 8 cakes!

 

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