One of Johannesburg’s cute neighborhoods

LOCATION: Housesitting in Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Forecast was rain all day. Happily wrong! Sunny. High 75

Our homeowners made us some home-made mayonnaise on Christmas Day, so we are trying to eat it up before it spoils. So, every day for lunch we have some sort of sandwich using lots of our leftover meats. The homeowner also baked us some homemade bread that we are enjoying.

After another one of these nice lunches, we headed out to Melville. It is a cute, little neighborhood about a mile from the house. Downhill all the way, it made for a nice walk. Its main street is full of shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants. Many are closed for the holiday weeks, but we stumbled upon Sips, a cozy wine bar.

We each had a nice glass of wine (as their beer selection wasn’t up to George’ standards) and enjoyed watching people stroll by. It seems to be a nice, integrated village with a lot of artsy-looking people.

We bought some wine and beer to tide us over until we leave. Not wanting to carry the bottles or struggle up the hill to the house, we caught a tuk-tuk back home. Fun!

As soon as we got home, it was time to take the dogs for a walk. We loaded them in the jeep and went to the dog park. The park is so massive that we can explore different parts of it each time we visit.

DINNER: White chili —- with chicken, white beans, onions, garlic, bell pepper, cumin, and cayenne. Finished off with some cream. It turned out so well, that I think I might enter it in a chili cook-off we are having in our village in Texas when we return.

Chillin’ in South Africa

LOCATION: Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Light rain all day. High 63

After being spoiled by sun and warmth every day, we had a not-so-nice day weather-wise today. We made the best of it relaxing in the house. I read an entire book (again) and George did a marathon on Netflix.

I think we bought way too much food the last time we went grocery shopping and now I am trying to figure out how to eat it all up in our remaining week. The dogs may benefit with some hamburgers and scraps of meat, as the homeowners are vegetarians.

In the afternoon, it was too muddy to take the dogs to the dog park, so we walked them around the neighorhood. It is not very enjoyable as ferocious dogs bark behind gates at each house. Our dogs don’t like the barking, and BInks lunges from time to time. We do, however, like to see the different architecture of the houses and the flowers.

Back home, we got a fire going in the firepit/braii (BBQ) pit area. It reminded us of camping – we miss it!

DINNER: One of our purchasing mistakes. Instead of 2 small pork chops, we picked up a big pork roast at the grocery. We baked it and drizzled it with a balsamic vinegar sauce. Quite tasty, but TOO MUCH FOOD! Side was sauteed zucchini strips (called marrow here), green onions, and mushrooms.

Our highpoint of the day was Skyping with our daughter in the evening. So good to hear her voice! With an 8-hour time zone difference, it is hard to find a good time to do this.

BOOK: “Final Account” by Peter Robinson. This is part of the British detective series I read from time to time. I enjoy it because it takes place in North Yorkshire, where we had a lovely housesit.

An adventure to Soweto

LOCATION: Housesitting in Johannesburg, South Africa

WEATHER: Sunny, and cooler. High 68

Today’s fun event was an outing to Soweto. Soweto is a South African township (sometimes called slum, or poor neighborhood, or shantytown) that was built in the Apartheid years by the government to house black people away from whites. It became the main hotbed of anti-Apartheid resistance and fighting. When gold was first discovered here, blacks from all over Africa came in search of work. Many ended here. During Apartheid the government built plain, but sturdy, brick and mortar houses for the poor. Today, Soweto is a township of about 1.5 million people, 99.99% black. We saw a lot of neatly kept “regular” houses as well as some very nice upper-middleclass looking homes, plus a lot of cardboard and tin lean-tos. It is a vibrant community, known for its music, culture, and strong sense of community.

We took an Uber to Soweto’s main street. For you readers in Mission – it kind of reminded me of going to Progreso….One street is a tourist street with restaurants and vendors selling their wares. Tourist buses disgorge white tourists who visit the main attractions – The Mandela House and a museum built in honor of the first student killed in the anti-Apartheid uprising.

Nelson Mandela grew up here. Here is his house, now a museum

Some enterprising person named the restaurant across the street after him..

It is amazing that two South African heroes lived in Soweto just a block from each other – Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

Another newer well-known Soweto-born person is Trevor Noah, host of the Late Night Show in the USA,, and author of a very good book – “Born a Crime”. Check it out!

We strolled away from the tourist section and happened upon a beauty shop. In real need of a haircut, I asked if someone could give me a trim. The owner stepped out and said he would do it – for $6.

I”m sure they do mostly black people’s hair. The lady next to me was getting some kind of complicated straightening done; another lady was getting her long hair braided into an intricate do.

The beauty shop itself is a ship container

I was pleased with the outcome

We wanted some typical South African braii (BBQ). We were going to have this street braii, but it was just chicken and we wanted some meat, too. Street braii —

So we went to a braii restaurant and ordered their mixed grill.

This was supposed to be for one person, but we shared it and were stuffed. It came with pap – a traditional side dish here, similar to grits in the USA.

Of course, we had to pair our lunch with a Soweto lager.

Our waitress introduced herself as T.K. She kindly let us take her photo so I could send it to our daughter whose good friend is also named T.K.

Uber back home, through the sprawling township of Soweto. (Name came from SOuthWEsternTOwnship)

We took the dogs back to the dog park for their daily romp.

DINNER: Since we had meat at lunch, we opted for leftover vegetarian lasagne for dinner.

BOOK: I finished another! “American Spy” by Lauren Wilkinson. A book that someone had recommended about a black female FBI agent. 4 stars out of 5.

Perfect weather in Johannesburg

LOCATION: Housesitting in Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Beautiful. Sunny, and perfect temps – around 75 high

It was a very lazy day. I finished another book and George watched Netflx, with the dogs napping nearby.

I read a post from a friend in Retama Village, the community we live in part of the year in Texas, in which he said he has lined up his campground stay for the 4th of July weekend. That made me realize that I needed to get on the stick and get something reserved, too. Campgrounds fill up quickly on those holiday weekends. So, I worked a bit more on our summer camping route and reserved 4 nights around July 4 in an RV park in Vermont. I hate that we have to plan so far in advance! Later, I will start working on booking weekend stays, but I think we will play it by ear during the weekdays.

In the late PM, we loaded up the dogs in the jeep and drove to the dog park, about 4 miles away. They just love running around. Most dogs are not on leads and they play together nicely. Binks, our huge Ridgeback, jumps into every stream and pond in the park. We have to watch him closely, as he likes to raid people’s picnics on the grass. After a good walk, for both the dogs and for us, we returned home for sundowners, as they say in South Africa.

We enjoyed the beautiful evening near the pool while George fired up the brai (grill).

DINNER: Grilled chicken, the last of the leftover Christmas dinner sweet potatoes, and spinach salad.

BOOK: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow; Travels in South Africa” by journalist Gavin Bell. He writes about his observations of post-apartheid South Africa, interviewing blacks, whites, and coloreds on his route. 4 stars out of 5. His writing reminds me of Bill Bryson, one of my favoriite travel writers.

Merry Christmas, South African-Style

LOCATION: Housesitting in Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Very pleasant. Sunny. High 80

I chopped and cooked all day Christmas Eve day, to prepare Christmas dinner for our homeowners. They are vegetarian, so all the menu items are vegetable-oriented, so lots of chopping to do. I am glad that we can put the peelings in the compost and worm garden.

After a welcome home champagne toast with the homeowners, we had a nice Christmas dinner. Menu was –
– Vegetarian lasagne
– Grilled mushrooms with mozerella (a Jamie Oliver recipe)
– Sweet potatoes
– Green beans with grilled onion rings (not the store-bought kind)
– taboulleh – using a ton of fresh mint and parsley from their garden
– American-style fruit cake

It all turned out well, although the homeowners have stomachaches from their trip to Ethiopia.

Boxing Day (Dec 26) was quiet. George and I took a walk to a little neighborhood shopping garden, to get some exercise. It is a cute area with restaurants and high-end shops surrounding a garden area with tables under lots of shade trees. One restaurant was open so we had drinks and cooled off from our walk. (We took a $2 Uber home as it was quite hot, and uphill)

In the afternoon, the homeowners and we took the dogs to the dog park. The dogs are enjoying all the attention they are receiving from 4 humans.

Back home, George made some of his good guacamole with South African (round) avocados. Too bad we don’t have margarita ingredients! We settled for beer.

DINNER: No one felt much like eating – neither they with their sensitive tummies, nor we with full tummies. So, we just had some leftover Christmas veg – beans and sweet potatoes.

BOOK: “Somewhere Safe with Someone Good” by Jan Karon. This is our book club book for January, back in Texas. I have read some of her books before. Nice, homey feeling. A tad too strong on the religious side for my taste. 4 stars out of 5.

Ups and Downs (down today) of housesitting

LOCATION: Housesitting in Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Rain during the night made it much cooler. Most sunny (although weather prediction was 90% rain). High 68

We spent the morning booking flights and hotels for our return trip. It isn’t easy! If we booked a flight all the way, it would be at least 35 hours on planes and in layovers! So, we broke up the trip with hotel stays in between legs. Here is our plan…

January 6 – Johannesburg to Dubai – about 10 hours
Two nights in Dubai
January 8 – Dubai to Barcelona – about 8 hours
Two nights in Barcelona
January 11 – Barcelona to New York City – about 9 hours
Overnight in NYC as we will miss connnecting flight
January 12 – NYC to Austin, TX – 4 hours
January 12 – Rental car back to Mission – 6 hours

It will be kind of fun to check out Dubai. I have been to Barcelona before, but it was a long time ago, and it will be nice to see it again.

George did some yard work. He loves to trim- I just hope the homeowners will be happy with his work, as I think he got a little carried away.

We took the dogs to the park near here, not the one we have to drive to. Binks is a Ridgeback/Great Dane and is huge. He must weigh about 175 pounds, but normallly he is quite gentle. On our way to the park, I got distracted, watching a tuk-tuk go by. Suddenly Binks lurched to growl at a dog behind someone’s gate. He pulled me down and dragged me , still holding onto the leash, across the street with him. I got all scraped up and bruised. A car passed us and kindly stopped to make sure I was alright.

Back home, we had a restorative drink by the pool. I think I will live…

DINNER: Lentil curry over rice. I used some of the spices I bought at the market yesterday. I think it turned out really well. Delicious and easy.

BOOK: I finished another one of the Alexander McCall Smith books about the Botswana lady detective – “Kalahari School of Typing for Men”. Light and fast-reading. 4 stars out of 5

Stormy Sunday in Johannesburg

LOCATION: Housesitting in Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Pleasant in AM; Thunderstorms in the PM. High 73

Today’s outing was to a Sunday Market we had seen advertised. It was a combination of arts & crafts, as well as food stalls, children’s play area, and food court.

The first thing we spotted was an Indian stall selling bulk spices in small packages. Just what we need for some of the recipes I have lined up, including some for Christmas dinner. This will be so much better than buying whole jars, as I don’t need so much.

I was a bit tempted to buy some of the cool artwork and craft items, but we just don’t have room in our backpacks for carrying more, and we don’t have any place to display stuff in our tiny house or Airstream. So, I did not succumb.

We bought a huge, smoked turkey leg that we will warm up for Christmas dinner, from a stall featuring smoked meats. We also bought a fruit cake from the Lions Club fundraiser booth. Trying to do some traditional things for Christmas.

We found the food court, relaxed with a craft IPA, and watched some of the entertainment.

We chose some Indian food for lunch among many ethnic food options

Then, to Woolworths to buy some regular groceries. Woolworths is a combination of USA’s Target and the UK’s Marks and Spencers food stores. I don’t know if it is in any way related to the Woolworth dime stores we used to have in the USA. We bought just a few things as we will stock up tomorrow for Christmas.

Back home, we worked on our trip back home. We have been on a wait list for a cruise from London to Fort Lauderdale, but that doesn’t look like it is going to work. So, we will bite the bullet and fly all the way home.

I had just entered lots of information on a booking of flight and hotel to Dubai, when the electricity went out, and with it, of course, wifi. Poof! All gone. George had been on Skype hold for 30 minutes to talk with our bank. Just when he finally got an agent, he lost connection due to the outage. (Curse words here!) The electricity goes out quite often here.

Since we couldn’t do anything, we decided it was a good time to take the dogs to the dog park. We walked around a bit, and then the heavens opened up and we got drenched.

Home again, the electricity still hadn’t returned. I decided to get dinner going while it was still a bit light. (We have a gas stove). Just as I was setting the table for a romantic, candlelight dinner, the lights came back on!

DINNER: Shrimp ‘n Grits – in honor of housesitting friends that will be housesitting in Charleston, South Carolina soon, home of many good restaurants featuring this dish. I found polenta here, not grits, but it is close enough. I made the grits using broth from the shrimp shells. I sauteed red pepper, onions, garlic, and shrimp and served with the grits. Side was salad including fresh basil and parsley I picked from the garden. We are getting spoiled with these herbs.

BOOK: I normally read e-books on my tablet. Concerned about electricity and not wanting my computer battery to die without the ability to recharge it, I selected one of the homeowner’s books. “The Golden Egg” by Donna Leon is a series featuring a detective in Venice. I liked it as it brings memories of Venice’s food and vibe. 4 stars out of 5.

After dinner, we watched a good Netflix movie – “The Irishman”. Great acting

Johannesburg neighborhoods

LOCATION: Housesitting in Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Sunny. High 80. Afternoon scattered thunderstorms

I worked on my Christmas menu and subsequent grocery shopping list in the AM, and did laundry (ho-hum) 🙂

Since it was a nice day, we decided to walk to a cute-looking pizza place in the neighborhood next to ours. Like most big cities, Johannesburg is made up of the main city center, then a lot of suburbs. The population is about 13 million, but more if you include nearby Pretoria.

The pizza was quite delicious. We sat on the patio under some nice shady trees. We shared a bottle of wine, then brought the rest of the bottle home. Unlike in the USA, the markup of wine in restaurants is not much. Today’s bottle, a really good shiraz, was about $8.

Here is George – with leftovers.

Too full to think about walking back home, up a hill, we took a cheap Uber home.

We took the dogs to another neighborhood for their afternoon walk. When it started to thunder, our dog Annakin started having a fit. Our homeowners had warned us that this would happen. We got him home, and he huddled in the shower until the storm ended.

DINNER: In a word: strange. The homeowners had encouraged us to use up some crab sticks (the fake kind) that a previous housesitter had left, as they are vegetarians and did not want them. I was apprehensive as the crab has been in the freezer a full year, but I thought I would give it a go. I found a Jamie Oliver recipe for crab and chick peas. I sauteed some onion and garlic and mixed in the crab and beans, all with lemon juice and herbs from the garden – chives, parsley, and basil. George ate it like a champ. I wasn’t too happy with it.

Quiet days in Johannesburg

LOCATION: Housesitting in Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Quite pleasant. Yesterday a bit hot – 90

We have established a nice routine. Mornings are spent on computer and reading (Karmen) and TV (George) while the dogs lounge, and follow us around.

We use Uber to go out and about. Most rides are about $4. Today we took an Uber to the Craft Beer Library, a cute little restaurant/pub not far away. It has the largest selection of beers that we have seen so far in Africa. We had a nice lunch of sausages and pretzels

In the afternoons, we take the dogs for a walk which they LOVE. We rotate between a large dog park and a neighborhood park. We drive the owners’ jeep to the large dog park. (The drive there is always breathtaking!) The dogs especially like it when there are lots of other dogs around to play with. Most are off leash and they frolic around..

Then, the best part of the day…..sundowners, as they call happy hour here. We sit around the pool and enjoy the birds, fish in the pool, and cool breeze.

Tonight we made gin and tonics with fresh passion fruit, right off the vine. A new favorite!

The passion fruits are just now ripening. Every day we pick 3 or 4. We just cut in half and scoop out the fruit. It tastes tropical to me. There are hundreds on the vines. As we were sitting outside, one fell off the tree and plopped on our dog’s nose!

DINNER: The last of the chicken thighs – one wrapped in bacon (for bacon-lover George). Side was broccoli and cheese. Last night was stuffed mushrooms. George grilled the mushroom caps, and I filled them with a mushroom/rice blend. Salad on the side with fresh basil from the garden.

BOOKS: “Malice in the Palace” by Rhys Bowen. One of a series I read off and on.. A detective story about a British royal who gets herself in mischief. 4 stars out of 5

Johannesburg’s contrasts

LOCATION: Housesitting in Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Perfect. One reason for the pleasant temps is that we are at about 6000 feet in elevation

We took off in the AM, via Uber, to do another day of hop on/hop off bus. Security here is a big thing. All of the doors in our house have two sets of locking doors. Our house, like all houses, has a gate in front, and an electric fence surrounding the premises. So, it takes us awhile to get all locked up. I don’t know if all this security is necessary, or if people are just paranoid.

Once downtown, we stopped at a pharmacy to buy some ibuprofen. We went to the prescription section to select it. The clerk wrapped it up, put a price tag on the package, then locked the package in a little cage (like a bird cage) with a lock. She told us to take the cage to the cashier who would unlock the cage and we would pay for it there. We asked why the big deal, just for ibuprofen. She said it is to prevent customers from ripping open the box between the pharmacy and the cashier, then not paying. Wow!

The hop on/off bus first took us through the beautiful suburbs again. The extravagance is something else. The houses are huge with beautiful gardens, swimming pools, and tennis courts. Many have a personal guardhouse in addition to all the other security.

Then, we went through the main parts of town. The contrast is shocking.

We hopped off the bus at SAB – South African BreweriesMiller. They had been the second largest of the 4 biggest breweries in the world – after Anheuser-Busch. Just recently, Anheuser-Busch bought out SAB, so the SAB Museum was closed. We stopped anyway to have lunch at their remaining bar/restaurant. When we got off the bus, an employee of the bus company insisted on escorting us to the restaurant, for safety. Wow! We had some good ribs and a South African stout on the patio.

Once home, we got in the jeep and drove to the dog park. A police truck was there, doing paperwork with a guy whose car had just been stolen in the parking lot. I guess the parking attendant (whom we pay about $.15 each time we park) wasn’t watching close enough.

DINNER: The homeowners had left us some fresh okra so I fried it up, southern style. Main dish was sauteed shrimp, with onions and garlic.