Monday, September 30, 2013

Camelot Spa, Grand Palm Hotel and Convention Center

Bathroom/changing facilities
The entrance to the spa.
Contrary to when you might think from this blog, I'm not a huge spa person. I typically get a manicure and/or pedicure about three times per year, and have also been known to have the occasional massage every couple of months. However, when I heard great things about the new Camelot Spa, located at the nicest hotel in town, the Grand Palm, I decided to treat myself to a nice Saturday manicure and pedicure and check the place out.

I was really pleasantly surprised by how modern and sleek the spa facilities were. The front desk was very attractive and the service was attentive, if not completely on-point - I had called ahead and booked the spa pedicure and regular manicure, but they had only made my reservation for a regular manicure. Still, I didn't mind at all because they were so nice and I was one of about four people in there, so I didn't have to wait.
Mani Pedi Station

Cute outdoor seating area
 After I checked in for my appointment, I was given a short tour of the facilities and shown to the back, where the mani-pedi stations are located. First, I had the hour-long spa pedicure ($37), which includes an exfoliating rub, hot towel wrap, and paraffin dip in addition to the standard nail filing and painting routine. The pedicure felt quite good and my feet looked about a million times better afterwards! I then proceeded to have the regular manicure done ($20) which took 30 minutes and was pretty much your standard manicure. The girl did a nice job with both and I left satisfied.

However, while the service and facilities were quite good, I was not satisfied with the quality of the products used at the spa - a South African brand rather than OPI which you typically would see at a spa. Just a few days later, the nail polish on my fingers started to chip off and to actually corrode my nails, so that I had to cut them almost down to the quick to remove all of the dead nail. My toenails somehow survived the toxic products, but I was a little taken aback that I'd paid $20 for a manicure, only to have the nail polish corrode away a large portion of my natural nails just a few days later.

That being said, the spa is definitely the nicest place in town if you feel like pampering yourself! My advice would be to either bring your own nail polish if you want a mani/pedi, or stick with one of their other great options for massages, facials. or wraps. Personally I haven't yet gone back to try the other options, but I've heard good things from others who have.

If you want to check it out, visit the spa's website: and see the link at the bottom for their full menu. Enjoy!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A World Safari: 2003-2013

Stonehenge 2003
Stonehenge 2013 (plus a little baby you can't see yet!

 This July marked ten years since Scott and I met for the first time in 2003 at Stonehenge!

Interestingly, we happened to be in London just about a week after our ten-year "meet-inversary" and so we decided to take a trip back to Stonehenge to relive our first time meeting each other. Back in 2003, we were both 18 and had just gotten off an Atlanta-London flight to start a month-long European humanities tour for high school students, as part of a college credit program run by Florida State University.
Arno River, Florence, 2013
Arno River, Florence, 2003

As you can imagine, hormones were raging as a bus full of jet-lagged high school students sized each other up and got ready to explore Europe together (under heavy chaperoning and strict rules on when and where we could go, mind you).

Our first stop was Stonehenge - we went there directly from the airport - and this was also the first chance we all had to get a good look at each other in broad daylight. I guess Scott and his friends immediately zeroed in on my friend and me (forget a bunch of rocks!), because we hadn't been off the bus for more than 15 minutes before he and his friends approached us and one of the guys asked us if we wanted a "bite of my muffin." (We said no in an appropriately standoffish high school girl way). Well, after that great pick-up line, one thing led to another and 10 years later, here we are back at Stonehenge, married and expecting our first child!
Colloseum, Rome, 2003
Trevi Fountain, Rome, 2003

We don't have many pictures of us together from that trip, but by the time our trek through Europe ended in Florence and Rome, we had gotten to be good friends. You can see from our huge grins and the way Scott is encroaching on my personal space in the 2003 pictures that by that point in our trip we had spent some more time together... and photo ops were an excuse to get close!

Colloseum, Rome, 2013
Trevi Fountain, Rome, 2013
Scott and I visited Florence and Rome for the second time together in January of this year, and again it was sweet thinking that we had been in those same spots 10 years ago, right at the beginning of our dating years. We started "officially dating" just a few months after the end of our high school humanities tour, when we were both freshmen at FSU.

And the rest really is history... we have been traveling the world together ever since!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Spa Day at Etali Safari Lodge, Madikwe

Watering hole
Last weekend I took yet another trip down to Madikwe to check out a new lodge I hadn't visited yet - Etalit Safari Lodge. This time I traveled down with some friends in town rather than my usual husbandly companion. We didn't stay overnight, but had heard good things about the spa at Etali and so decided to treat ourselves to a Ladies' Spa Day south of the border.

The pool
The day started with drinks out the on terrace overlooking the lodge's watering hole. We sipped our drinks and watched zebra and impala gather around the watering hole for their midday refreshments... quite a lovely way to spend one's time. A tasty buffet lunch was served outdoors and we all helped ourselves to (very unladylike) portions of beef stew, baked chicken, bean salad, and bread with malva pudding and custard for dessert.

Spa treatments came after lunch, and this is where the day turned a little weird. There were five of us in our group, and we each had booked manicures (45 minutes each) and full body massages (one hour each). However, the lodge only had two spa staff working that day, which meant that they saw us two at a time and the rest of us had to hang around for four extra hours to receive our own spa treatments. That meant six hours total to do five pedicures and five massages! Because time was running short - Gabs is about a two hour drive from Madikwe and this was a Sunday afternoon - we decided to cut down on our original plans and just do either a pedicure or a massage each. I chose the massage, which was great and very relaxing, but I was disappointed that the lodge hadn't properly scheduled our spa treatments to allow us enough time to do what we wanted. That was poor planning on their part.... they should have started some of us before lunch.

The scene of the crime - day visitors out staying their welcome!
At the end of the day, we had a nice visit to Etali... after all, who wouldn't love lunching outdoors with a view of the animals and a massage afterwards?! However, the day could have been a lot better. We felt discriminated against as "day visitors" - sure, we weren't spending the night, but we were spending $100 each for the day and could have been a potential source of referrals and extra business for the lodge. They didn't see it that way, and chose to treat us more as cheapo bums who couldn't afford to stay there for the night. The clincher came late in the afternoon, when were sitting by the pool waiting for our last friend to finish her spa treatment. We practically kicked out of the pool area and told we needed to leave the lodge and now.... ostensibly because of Madikwe's rule that day visitors leave the park before dark, but I suspect also because we were taking up valuable pool space which could be better used by the lodge's more valued overnight guests.

My final review? A great day, but compared to the level of service I've found at Madikwe's other lodges, especially Mosetlha and Motswiri, Etali was nothing special. Save your money, or spend it somewhere else.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

UK Day Trip vs. Chinese Day Trip

As part of our R&R trip this summer, we spent about a week in London, including a day trip to Stonehenge and Salisbury. Coming from three years abroad in less developed countries - two years in China and a year in Botswana - we marveled at the streamlined efficiency and ease of living that is everywhere in the UK. The trip to Stonehenge and Salisbury was no exception - hop on the Tube to Paddington Station, purchase a ticket for one of the regular trains from London to Salisbury, ride an hour in an assigned seat on a lovely, quiet, and clean train, and there you are in Salisbury! Want to go to Stonehenge? A nice gentleman from a legitimate tour company walks the train offering a convenient bus package to Stonehenge. Yes, you can pay by credit card right there on the train, and the tour to Stonehenge leaves every thirty minutes from several strategically located bus stops throughout Salisbury. There are also cabs in an orderly queue outside the train station should you choose a more private mode of transportation. It's as simple as that!

It was interesting to imagine undertaking a day trip of the same distance in China and speculating about what the differences in experience would be. In fact, there was no need to speculate because we had taken multiple trips like this while living in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province as English teachers and then in Shanghai after that. No matter how many times you've experienced the Chinese Day Trip, each time you manage to convince yourself that this time, this time will be different. After all, you tell yourself, it's only a quick trip. I speak Chinese. I know Chinese people. I've done this before. How hard could the trip be, right? Wrong! So, so wrong.

Picture this:

You wait in a throng of people to board the (also clean, efficient, and modern) Chinese Metro (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou) to the Huoche Zhan (train station). The train is jam-packed with boisterous travelers and you have to use the pointy part of your elbow to carve a hole in the human wall that greets you when the train doors open. Fortunately, you are at least eight inches taller than everyone else on the train, so you secure a firm grasp on the greasy metal bar running along the ceiling to help keep your armpit from colliding with the head tops of a cluster of people standing crushed against you.

Finally, you reach the train station and again strategically use your elbows to penetrate the solid mass of humanity standing between you and the doors. Once inside the train station you squint your eyes to decipher the blur of Chinese characters in front of you and finally locate the ticket booth. You join a seething, unruly line and after forming a human blockade with your husband to prevent cutters-in-line from succeeding in getting in front of you (with mixed success) you finally reach the ticket counter, manage to communicate to an awe-stricken ticket agent what you want in Chinese (you can speak Chinese?!), and obtain what you think are two tickets to your destination. Already mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted, you stumble aboard the train and find your seats, hoping to collapse and spend the ride recouping before you are once again expelled into the pulsing throng of people that is China.

But, you can't relax yet! You find that a young couple have settled themselves into your seats and are happily talking loudly, listening to Chinese pop music on their cell phones, and eating oranges and throwing the orange peels on the floor of the train. You check your ticket - excuse me, we're assigned to these seats, you explain in Chinese. The couple laughs and wave their hands ambiguously. Oh, you can sit anywhere! They smile and pop more orange slices into their mouths. You look around the train and realize that all of the other seats are full. No, we want to sit here because these are our seats. You smile back but the smile is strained; more of a grimace really. Your cheeks begin to flush as you realize that you are steeling yourself for a confrontation. In Chinese. Fortunately, the couple look intimidated by your size (again, you and your husband are at least eight inches taller than they are and your couple has about 100 extra pounds on their couple). They mutter (stupid foreigners, they don't understand Chinese culture) and roll their eyes as they get up and let you sit in your assigned seat.

You sink - nay, collapse! - into the seat, which is slightly sticky and smells like citrus - and close your eyes. Peace at last.... until 30 seconds later when a Chinese kung fu movie comes at full blast on the TV monitor directly above your head. You sigh, turn up your iPod to block out the noise, and realize that you haven't even left the train station yet. And the day wears on....

One thing (there are many) that I have taken away from my time living in China is a true appreciation for experiences like our trip to Salisbury and Stonehenge, where everything was just as easy and smooth as we thought it would be from the beginning - just there and back with no unanticipated challenges along the way.  Despite what you may think from this blog entry, I enjoyed living in China and I do find myself missing the vibrancy and excitement (and exhaustion!) of every day life there. While something as simple as a metro or train ride can turn into an unexpectedly frustrating experience, there is certainly never a dull moment in China, that's for sure! It's been a year since we left China but it is still a refreshing treat to go somewhere like London and not have to worry about using your elbows to board the train, confronting an orange-eating couple who are sitting in your seats, or communicating in a foreign language which no one quite believes you can really speak.

These are the small things that we miss when we are abroad!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mosetlha Bush Camp and Eco Lodge, Madikwe Game Reserve

 Two weekends ago, we had yet another (wonderful) long holiday weekend away for Botswana's President's Day. We decided to take advantage of four whole days off to head back down to Madikwe Game Reserve, an amazing safari destination located 30 minutes across the border from Gaborone in South Africa. At Madikwe, you have the opportunity to view the "Big Five" - lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo, and leopard - while experiencing five star luxury at one of the game reserve's 20+ safari lodges. Like many safari destinations, Madikwe lodges are known for the five star comforts and gourmet food they offer, luxury that is made all the more spectacular by the beautiful, peaceful setting deep within the bush. We've visited a couple of different Madikwe lodges (see my post on Motswiri Private Safari Lodge) and this time decided to save some money, and mix it up, by checking out the game reserve's only non-five star lodge: Mosetlha Bush Camp and Eco Lodge.
Our cabin

And what a cool experience that was!

Mosetlha is an eco lodge, which means that there is no electricity or running water available at the camp. Accommodation consists of rustic, open-air cabins and shared toilets and showers. This was actually much better and a lot more fun than it sounds; Mosetlha managed to provide extremely comfortable facilities while still maintaining its commitment to green, eco tourism. While the cabins were open air, and it got quite cold at night (down to 40 Fahrenheit) as it's currently the Botswana winter, we were provided with plenty of blankets and a hot water bottle to keep us warm throughout the night.

The worst part was having to get up in the middle of the night to use the toilet - each group of three cabins shared a communal toilet and shower block which was a minute or so (COLD) walk from where Scott and I were sleeping. Luckily, the path there and the facilities themselves were fenced in; the camp itself is entirely open to the rest of the reserve and throughout the course of our stay, we had both a lion and a hyena come wandering in during the middle of the night! Wouldn't want to encounter either on a sleepy, contacts-less stumble to the bathroom!
Donkey boiler- getting ready for a shower

Mosetlha campfire - our evening activity
Taking a shower was one of the most fun parts of the stay. Because there is no running water, the camp provides a couple of "donkey boilers" so that everyone can heat up their own water for a shower.  Once the water is a comfortable temperature, you pour a bucket into the camp shower, hoist the bucket up using a convenient pulley system inside the shower, and turn the spigot on. Voila - hot water comes out and you have a perfectly nice shower. The toilet is a "ventilated improved pit" or VIP toilet, which is basically a pit latrine with wooden boards and a toilet seat fixed into place over it. Except for a (slight) odor at the end of the day, and the fact that we had to flush with a bucket of water, I honestly couldn't even tell that I was using anything other than a traditional toilet.

With only nine cabins, the camp is very small, giving an intimate back-to-nature feel to the entire stay. All meals are communal, prepared over the campfire and served family-style at a lovely outdoor dining table. My favorite meal we had was bobotie, a traditional South African casserole-like dish consisting of ginger and curry spiced, minced meat with a baked-egg topping. Served piping hot straight from the campfire, it was absolutely delicious and hit the spot after a long afternoon of game driving.

Here, leopard leopard.
Speaking of game drives... they were also fabulous. We saw a leopard for the first time ever - they are quite difficult to spot due to their reclusive nature and tendency to hide in trees (typical cat!). We were very fortunate to not only spot the leopard but also be able to follow close behind it for about 30 minutes in our game drive vehicle as it paced through the bush. The leopard was stunningly gorgeous and it was quite awe-inspiring to be so close to him. We also tracked five young lions as they sought out a place to cat-nap for the day, watched young lion cubs chowing down on some (bloody) breakfast, and saw elephants, zebra, rhino, and more!

And there you have our Mosetlha schedule - eat, game drive, eat, game drive, eat, sleep. Repeat. A girl could get used to a routine like that! For anyone looking to have a peaceful, refreshing, back-to-nature safari experience while still enjoying creature comforts and without actually camping (shudder!) I can't recommend Mosetlha enough. I hope you get the chance to check it out!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Whirlwind of Change (and Travel)

Wow! I can't believe it's been three months since I last posted on here. The time has gone by so quickly, and I know exactly why! Some major life changes (well, primarily one major life change!) are due to take place in our family in another few months. That's right; we're expecting our first baby! We are absolutely thrilled to be expanding our family and since we found out back in April that I am pregnant, it's been hard to think about anything else. We are beyond excited about the cute new addition to our family! :) Our little baby boy is due on December 23, which means that because medical facilities and hospitals here aren't up to U.S. standards, we will be heading home in November for the delivery, and won't be back to Botswana until sometime in February next year.

Other than Baby talk, we have been keeping very busy with travel during the past few months. We were gone in May and June on a whirlwind trip to London, Iceland, Florida, and back to London again! It was a fabulous trip and great to revisit some favorite spots in London and explore all-new terrain in Iceland. We really enjoyed Iceland and got to see a lot of the place in just six days! Here are some photos of our trip... most posts to come shortly (at least before another three months have gone by):

Monday, April 22, 2013

Wo Hui Shuo Yi Dian Dian Zhongwen!

That means, "I can speak a little bit of Chinese!" Back when I still lived in Shanghai, I used to modestly respond in this way when curious cab drivers, students, and miscellaneous people on the street asked if I could speak their language. However, the truth of the matter was that I really could speak more than just a little bit of Chinese; actually, my Chinese was quite good! This is thanks to a decent foundation from independent study between college and joining my current job, followed by ten months of intensive Chinese training before my posting to Shanghai. Then, as a visa officer in Shanghai, I used my language abilities to interview up to 200 visa applicants each day! Hard to forget Chinese with all that talking going on daily.

Unfortunately, since moving to Botswana, my Chinese has rapidly gone downhill. There is quite a large Chinese population here, but up until recently I haven't had much opportunity to get to know any of them and scrub some of the mold off my language skills. Nowadays I really can speak only a little bit of Chinese!

Recently though I've found an opportunity to maintain my Chinese, which I am quite excited about. Scott is taking evening language classes at the Confucius Institute (a Chinese educational import that is present at universities in most countries around the world) and so I jumped at the chance to attend his Chinese language corner with the rest of the CI students a couple of weeks ago. At the language corner, his teacher and I had a nice time visiting, and she agreed to become my language partner (yay). So now she and I meet once a week or so and she puts up with me while I try to dust off the cobwebs and remember all the vocabulary I used to know. It's quite fun, and I didn't even realize how much I missed speaking Chinese... or how much I'd forgotten! I've been surprised at how much is flooding back into my brain after just a couple of sessions. It's all still in there, just needs to be revived.

She and I (petite Chinese woman and very tall blonde) get some odd looks while we are walking around UB laughing and speaking in Chinese together, but oh well!  And, after our lessons, I always get hungry for Chinese food and end up missing Shanghai just a little bit. :)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Restaurant Review: Embassy Indian Restaurant, Gaborone

This may be surprising, but there is actually very good and authentic Indian food in Gaborone, due to the relatively large Indian population here. So far I've tried two Indian restaurants in town: Chutney's and Embassy. Although each restaurant has its pluses and minuses, for the most part we prefer Embassy because of its higher cleanliness standards (compared to not-so-sanitary and sometimes funky smelling Chutney's) and less sketchy atmosphere (Embassy is located at Riverwalk, a popular and well-lit shopping center, as opposed to Chutney's, which is located in the Westgate Mall, an older shopping center that doesn't seem too safe at night, judging from the fake DVD hustlers and other shadowy hangers-about in the parking lot after dark).
All our favorite dishes.
Plenty more pages where that came from.

My addiction to Indian food flares up pretty regularly, and last night we set out to assuage one such craving with a delicious meal at Embassy. We typically order the same dishes - a yellow daal, butter garlic chicken, cumin potato masala, garlic butter naan, vegetable Manchurian (like Indian dumplings), and steamed rice... all washed down by a nice, cold Windhoek draft beer. Although the meal is pricier than many in Gaborone - about $40 for a couple - it is worth every thebe and I can't stop myself from going back at least once every couple of weeks. Yum! Since we do visit Embassy so often, I thought I am probably overdue for a restaurant review on one of our favorite restaurants. Here goes, with elephants this time:

1= I wouldn’t recommend it to other elephants.
2=The elephant in the room says this place needs improvement.
3=OK, but nothing to trumpet about. 
4= Trunk-swinging good.
5=AMAZING – trunk and tail- swinging good! 

Trunk and tail-swinging good! Embassy is one of the best restaurants in town, and you can always count on some amazing food.
OK, but nothing to trumpet about. Overall decent service, but the food can take 30-40 minutes to come out.
OK, but nothing to trumpet about.  Sitting outside is pretty nice, but on weekend evenings, Embassy's neighboring restaurant holds a lively karaoke night. If sitting through multiple, drunken renditions of Tiny Dancer isn't your idea of ambiance, sit inside.
Overall Experience
Trunk-swinging good.  Don't let the less-than-perfect score fool you - the food is delicious!