Category Archives: My Life

USA 2016 – 12 Touchwork at NACUFS 2016 in the Anaheim Convention Center (2016-07-14) My Life | Photo Gallery 15 JAN 2018

Despite having started off my first ever trip to the USA with some serious Disneyland tourist action, I was of course in Anaheim, California for work purposes – specifically to help man the Touchwork booth at NACUFS IDEA ’16, the 2016 national conference for NACUFS, otherwise known as the National Association of College & University Food Services.

In case you are wondering the connection, Touchwork’s main business focus is providing a platform and solutions in the CX (Customer Experience) space, something we’ve historically enjoyed great success in implementing in the USA university dining services sector. (Our biggest market by far).

Our USA office, led up by Johann Leitner and Carl Mostert, routinely hits the dining services conference circuit in order to cement existing relationships and turn up a few more opportunities in the university space, with Touchwork SA occasionally sending someone (i.e. me this time around) up for the experience.

Of course, this then meant finding a shirt and ironing it first (as a mostly work from home software developer, shirts aren’t something I actually own), before making my way to the Anaheim Convention Center in order to help set up our booth, grab a coffee, and then spend the rest of the day standing around and speaking to anyone who shows even the slightest glimmer of interest in what we have to offer.

Surprisingly, it went pretty well, and I pulled in some nice leads for the team, so come close of day I ended up being rather chuffed with myself (I’m not known for being a people person).

This went on for two days, the length of the showcase/exhibition part of the NACUFS IDEA ’16 conference (which itself ran for about four days).

It wasn’t all work though. The first evening we attended the NACUFS event party, catching the finals of the NACUFS Culinary Challenge, essentially a live Chef food preparation battle as what you would see on DSTV’s Food Network channel or something like that.

Asking the question, it turns out that dining services are in fact big business for American universities. A lot of prestige can be found in this function, hence the focus on profession chefs, and quite often this service is used as a class differentiation between institutions!

(Who knew that someone might actually pick a university based entirely on what food it has on offer!)

We also ended up bumping into one of our very good clients at that same party, and as such decided to leave the bustle behind and head out for a quiet supper with them instead – ending up at a particularly brilliant/upmarket steak place (Ruth’s Chris Steak House) where I ate what was probably the best steak of my life. (Mind you, the wine and conversation were just as good!)

On that note, the second evening after work wasn’t bad either – Carl and Johann decided that catching a baseball game was very much something that I as a first time USA visitor needed to do, a sentiment which I (who played baseball as a kid) most heartily agreed with!

Pictures of that particular outing a little later, I assure you.

So. NACUFS IDEA ’16 appears to have been a decent success, but more specifically for me, was a great opportunity to see how Touchwork utilizes and sells my software on that side of the world, the end result being me given a much clearer idea of what software development our US office needs going forward.

Still, given the amount of tourist things I did along the way sure makes it difficult to think of #USA2016 as a pure business trip! ;)

Related Link: NACUFS IDEA ’16 | NACUFS | Touchwork | #USA2016

USA 2016 – 11 Paint the Night Parade and Disneyland Forever Fireworks (2016-07-13) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 12 JAN 2018

Having now pretty much spent the entire day exploring Disneyland on foot, I found myself gravitating back towards my original starting point of Main Street U.S.A., somehow eager to stake out a good spot among what was quite clearly a rapidly growing crowd lining the edges of the street.

Turns out, the reason for this sudden change of focus for the hordes of people milling about the theme park was actually pretty simple – the time for the big finale pieces had finally arrived, kicking things off with probably the most amazing electric light parade that I’ll probably ever see: the Paint the Night Parade!

The Paint the Night Parade actually premiered in Hong Kong Disneyland back in 2014, but did eventually arrive at Disneyland Park on May 22, 2015 as part of the original theme park’s big 60th anniversary “Diamond Celebration” season.

A spiritual successor to the long-running Main Street Electrical Parade, Paint the Night is Disneyland’s first all-LED parade, utilizing over 1.5 million LED lights to bring to life the special affects of the 8 units and their 76 performers that make up the show.

Lasting for approximately 20 minutes, this spectacle of light is accompanied by a mix of arrangements of Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley’s “Baroque Hoedown” and Owl City’s “When Can I See You Again?”.

The parade is led by the Peter Pan unit, featuring Rosetta, Silvermist, Iridessa, Tinkerbell, and Peter Pan. Following closely behind is the Monsters, Inc. unit (Sully and Mike), and the Cars unit (Lightning McQueen, Mack and DJ), before making way for the spectacular Little Mermain electric watercolors float (featuring Ariel, Sebastian, Flounder, King Triton, and Marlin and Nemo from Finding Nemo).

After that comes Toy Story (Jessie, Slinky Dog, Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the Aliens), followed by Candlelight Dreams (Belle, Rapunzel, and Cinderella), and then the hugely popular (based on the crowd’s roar) Frozen Fractals float (featuring of course Anna, Elsa, and Olaf).

The last unit to come rumbling through is Mickey’s Lightastic Finale, featuring Goofy, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, and Sorcerer Mickey Mouse!

The parade is a wonderful, musical, and colourful assault on the senses, and was most definitely a highlight of the  day for me.

Not that you have a chance to catch your breath mind you. No sooner had the closing notes of the Paint the Night Parade rung out, when the iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle sparked to life with all its bedazzling lights, causing the crowd to quickly shuffle further down Main Street (towards the hub) in order to jostle for a better view.

The reason for this move was of course to catch a glimpse of Disneyland Forever, the nighttime spectacular at Disneyland that premiered on May 21, 2015 (again as part of the theme park’s 60th anniversary celebration).

Weaving a 15 minute long narrative while depicting iconic scenes from many of Disney’s classic films, Disneyland Forever incorporates an incredible mix of fireworks, projection mapping, fire, lasers and searchlights to bring a truly spectacular closing show to life.

Now I’m already a huge fan of projection mapping and the incredible tricks it can play on your senses, but when you combine this technology with fireworks and story at the scale that Disney does – the end result is simply just “wow”.

Honestly, what an incredible experience, and quite probably the best way that you could ever cap a day out and about in a theme park off with! The music was rousing, the visuals and narrative inspiring, and the fireworks simply put, astounding.

There really isn’t any more to say than that.

Anyway, the smoke cleared, the crowd started leaving, and I found myself exiting the gates and trundling down the road to grab a bite to eat from my very first American McDonalds – purely because this is something that we have in SA and thus I wanted to compare.

As it turns out, the American McDonalds experience (especially in terms of flavour) is actually a lot better than what we get back home – which came as a bit of a surprise really, considering how little I think of McDonalds at the best of times!

A short bus trip back to the hotel and given the long day I had just got under the belt, I was soon fast asleep in my surprisingly comfy Holiday Inn bed.

Of course, I did take a few photos of the night, purely as a reminder for myself, but obviously they’re not great given the fact that I used my phone for the photography – nevertheless, here they are in all their fuzzy glory:

So, with the first day fun now well and truly over and done with, next up was the real meat and potatoes of why I found myself in the USA in the first place – NACUFS Idea ’16.

Related Link: Paint the Night | Disneyland Park | Wikipedia | #USA2016

High Tea at the Belmond Mount Nelson in Cape Town (2017-11-07) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 09 JAN 2018

On the 7th of November last year, Chantelle and I celebrated eight years of marriage to one another. To commemorate this special occasion, we decided to head out to Cape Town for High Tea at city’s famous Pink Lady: the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel.

With its name taking inspiration from Cape Town’s Table Mountain and the fame of Lord Horatio Nelson, the historic Mount Nelson Hotel (now owned by the Belmond group) first opened its doors on the 6th of March 1899. It was the first hotel in South Africa to offer hot and cold running water, and it was described back then as being ‘even better than its London counterparts’.

Today this five star luxury hotel, complete with gardens, restaurants, a spa and a host of other amenities, holds on to its status of being a place of accommodation that achieves that perfect mix of tranquility and class in the middle of a bustling urban environment.

(To be honest, I kind of have to believe what they say – this place definitely does amaze when it comes to first impressions!)

For Chantelle of course, afternoon tea (or high tea as it is otherwise known) at the Mount Nelson is old hat – she’s done it more than a few times in the past, but for me it was definitely a first.

And admittedly, I have to say that I rather enjoyed the experience.

For a start, the newly renovated tea room is now light and airy, apparently very different to the darker, more reserved space Chantelle has previously experienced.

The setup is simple enough: you get shown to your table, you get assigned a tea sommelier (or a waiter if you’re unlucky), get a stand of savour finger eats placed down in front of you at your table, and then proceed to select two teas from a very exotic (and extensive) list of teas (while continuously heading over to the exquisite dessert buffet table to fill up on treats whenever you run short).

For reference, my first pot of tea was the Pu-Erh Royal 2009 red tea, followed by a pot of Lapsang Souzhong smoked black tea. Chantelle on the other hand gave the rather dramatic Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls oolong tea a go.

We had a particularly interesting tea sommelier (which is apparently now a thing) who spent a fair time talking tea with us, plus, given the fact that we were there for our wedding anniversary, we were even treated to a special little Happy Anniversary plating – much appreciated of course.

Sadly though, our romantic outing for two took a strange turn towards the end of the tea service – turning on our phones revealed that Emily’s school had been trying to get hold of us. Thanks to a MAJOR fire that was moving in onto Gordon’s Bay from Sir Lowry’s Pass, schools were being evacuated and basically we needed to abandon everything and get home fast!

Of course, being stuck more than an hour away from home meant that we had to phone up anyone and everyone in order to make a plan that ensured the kids were safe, and after a quick but slightly panicked stroll around the gardens to admire the exquisite Dylan Lewis sculptures out on display, we strapped in for a rather nail biting drive back home  through traffic.

(For reference, we were all safe, but the blaze on the mountain was massive, gutting a few houses and causing much panic and evacuations, before eventually turning back in gale force winds and heading up over the mountain again. Quite a spectacle to see the mountain at the back of our house burning so bright orange for the next couple of evenings! Also, turns out the saying is true – if you live in a fynbos rich area then you are pretty much guaranteed a major fire every ten years or so!)

Anyway, back to the high tea experience – it was actually really enjoyable to have done:

In Summary: Afternoon Tea at the Mount Nelson is an expensive outing to be sure, but definitely one worth doing if you’re looking to treat your partner to something that is special and perhaps just a little bit out of the norm.

Related Link: Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel | Wikipedia

USA 2016 – 10 Downtown Disney in Anaheim (2016-07-13) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 06 JAN 2018

Having now had my fill of the many, many lands of Disneyland, I decided to escape Disneyland Park (more specifically its crowds) by hopping on to the Disneyland Monorail and catching a ride over to the Downtown Disney District, an outdoor shopping center and promenade that lies nestled between Disneyland Resort’s two theme parks and all its hotels.

With no admission ticket required to access the area, Downtown Disney was apparently designed to attract local residents and to encourage extended stays in the resort district, so despite carrying one or two Disney dedicated stores and a bit of branding here and there, the promenade is refreshingly home to a lot of businesses not featuring a princess or mouse ears in their logo!

Hungry and with feet reasonably tired following such a long day of walking about, I ambled down the promenade, browsed through a couple of the retails stores (the art in the WonderGround Gallery was amazing, the World of Disney pretty cool, and the Lego Store of course interesting as always), and grabbed what turned out to be a particularly tasty sandwich from the Earl of Sandwich – right next to the AMC movie theaters and across the street from the ESPN Zone sports bar.

(Bad choice, I know, but I really liked the idea of sitting outside and watching people go by).

Anyway, bottomless sodas are so much fun when you’re not used to having them around back in SA.

Refreshed and refueled, I hopped back on the monorail and headed back to Disneyland, eager to catch the late afternoon and evening parades!

Related Link: Downtown Disney | Wikipedia

Ambling about the Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve in Lakeside, Cape Town (2017-08-07) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 03 JAN 2018

The Zandvlei Estuary is the largest of the eight estuaries on the False Bay coastline, and more importantly, is the only remaining functional estuary/wetland on the False Bay Coast.

Bordered by the Cape Town suburbs of Lakeside, Marina da Gama, Muizenberg and Steenberg, the estuary is fed by the rivers coming down the slopes of the southern extension of the Table Mountain chain.

Given the fact that the estuary occurs amidst an area dense in residential suburbs, the Zandvlei estuary has historically suffered from pollution, encroaching urbanisation and poaching, with the area left neglected for long periods of time.

Although a 22ha area in the north was proclaimed as the Zandvlei Bird Sanctuary back in 1978, it was really only in 2006 when a 204ha area was formally proclaimed as the Greater Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve that the conservation efforts really kicked in. Headed up by the Zandvlei Trust, this got a further boost in 2015 when an additional bit of land was added and the 200ha Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve was proclaimed in terms of the Protected Areas Act.

The reserve functions as a fish hatchery, with it being one of the most important estuaries for recruitment of fish such as garrick, steenbras and two species of stumpnose. The surrounding wetland is an important habitat for birds (with around 166 species on its official list). It is also a vital habitat for amphibians and about 20 species of reptile such as the angulate tortoise, marsh terrapin, mole snake and brown water snake.

Interestingly enough Porcupines, grysbok, otters and mongoose can also occasionally be spotted in the reserve.

There is an environmental education center up in the northern section of the reserve, as well as a 1.5 km circular walk, complete with bird hides and picnic tables. Past the wetland area are large grass lawns along the banks of the estuary, open to the public (free of charge) and as such, creates a much needed green belt/recreational space for the local residents.

Given that I work in the area (yes, yes, I know that I’m technically only in office there one day a week), I often get the urge to stretch my legs and get some fresh air come lunch time – meaning more often than not I grab something to eat from the shop, pop down to Zandvlei via Boyes Drive, and tuck in while hopefully watching some sailboats on the water courtesy of the nearby Imperial Yacht Club.

Failing that, the birds are pretty entertaining too.

So, as you might have noted by now, this then is exactly what I did on this particular day back in August last year. A tough life, I know… ;)

Related Link: Greater Zandvlei Estuary Nature ReserveZandvlei Trust

Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018 My Life 31 DEC 2017

I’m not sure what has happened to be honest, but I blinked and somehow 2017 appears to have come and gone. Being an adult, being married, being a parent to small kids, working full time (even if from home), playing a lot of video games, and heading out to explore each and every weekend sure seems to speed time up a fair bit! ;)

Consequently, any of the other things that I thought I would most definitely get around to in 2017, i.e. learn a new skill, get healthy, and perhaps socialize a bit more pretty much all fell by the wayside.

On that note, the blogging front didn’t fare all that much better – you probably noticed (if you are a longtime reader) that I didn’t exactly post a ton of new content this year. Honestly, I took (and enjoyed) a bit of a break from creating content, the result being that this was the year with by far the least amount of blog posts attributed to it since the site’s inception in 2007.

I’ll do better in 2018, promise.

It’s not like I don’t have content to post mind you. Tallying up the amount of photo folders linked to 2017 sitting in my Google Drive yields the number 137, of which only 66 have thus far made it onto An Exploring South African as one of my photo gallery posts.

In other words, plenty of local places worth visiting guaranteed to still to appear on these pages! (All that said, I did properly embrace Instagram this year and and have to admit, am totally loving it! No idea what I didn’t join the platform sooner. Facebook and Twitter on the other hand though? Meh. Couldn’t really be bothered with those two.)

In terms of the family, Emily had a fantastic year at the Vergeet-My-Nie playschool. She is clever, cute, mischievous, playful and super loving – everything you could wish for from a three (soon to be four) year old.

Jessica also had a fantastic year, with the repeat of Grade R at Gordon’s Bay Primary the absolute best decision that we ever could ever have made for her. Her emotional maturity has blossomed, both her work and work rate have improved, her physical conditioning and coordination is a lot better, she’s maintained her charming cheerfulness, and now she is SUPER excited (and ready) to tackle the big school of Grade 1 next year.

Chantelle took a pretty big step this year as well, abandoning her full time position at the Gordon’s Beach Lodge guest house in order to launch her very own Helderberg Cake Company venture. Of course, the loss of a monthly paycheck was/is nerve-wracking, but the wins stemming from the renewed job satisfaction and being based at home with consequently more time with the girls definitely makes this move well worth the while!

As for me, despite starting the year with a whole lot of good intentions, 2017 was a whole lot more of very much the same same as always.

Given that I enjoy being in charge of myself and more importantly the entire software solution that Touchwork sells (not to mention the perk of being allowed to work from home), I spent the year continuing to add to and refine my Kinetica platform – which has now been in constant development for a eight years or so!

This year I also got well and truly stuck into mobile development, with the end result being the dynamic Kinetica TouchandTell app (built using Appcelerator Titanium) being deployed to both the Google Play and Apple App stores.

(On that note, Touchwork actually enjoyed another pretty successful year, pulling in a lot of new USA-based clients, partnering up with some local selling partners, and even grabbing a new contract or two on our own out here in South Africa.)

Next year should be pretty exciting too for me in terms of development – we’re jumping head first into IoT devices and the SigFox network!

It wasn’t all work this year of course – as I mentioned at the start of this post, the girls and I went out exploring a LOT. Literally each and every weekend of 2017 saw us jump in the car and drive out somewhere (naturally, as is usually the case for me, most of it unplanned and usually very much spur of the moment), with the big family holiday up to Addo and Port Elizabeth through Oudtshoorn taking center stage back in July.

Outside of our local travels, I did find myself playing an inordinate amount of video games in my spare time this year, with Paladins being by far the game that sucked me in the most – so much so that I now actually play competitive ranked matches online, much to Chantelle’s amusement as she listens to me gripe about someone not picking either a support or front line character for the umpteenth time! ;)

I write these hello goodbye posts on an annual basis, and the “what is in store for the new year” section is almost always pretty rubbish (or better put, almost always completely wrong), however, that said, I really, really do need to improve my indoor/outdoor life balance in 2018 – meaning I suppose a lot less game time, less time sitting in my chair behind the keyboard, more time in the sun, and definitely more time in the gym (or at least on a yoga mat).

Well, that’s the plan anyway.

(I’m off to an okay start I suppose – I am now the owner of a brand new shiny gym membership here at our local Bay Fitness gym. True, I haven’t used it yet, but it is at least all mine.)

So. All in all, 2017 was pretty good year for Gordon’s Bay Lotter clan, definitely no complaints or any major problem on any of life’s fronts. That said, here’s to wishing for an even better and more prosperous 2018 for us all – a Happy New Year indeed!

Stony Point Penguins in Betty’s Bay (2017-05-06) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 14 DEC 2017

There are only a few land-based African Penguin colonies in the world, with South Africa lucky enough to be home to two of these – the first being the famous (and tourist popular) Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, and the second, the slightly lesser known Stony Point Nature Reserve in Betty’s Bay.

I’m particularly fond of the much quieter but equally as good Stony Point penguin colony, with its beautiful raised boardwalk that snakes through the penguin’s homes and breeding ground.

The compact reserve is home to a colony of African Penguins (who by now are quite acclimatized to the humans peering down at them from above), three species of cormorant (the Crowned cormorant, the Cape cormorant, and the Bank cormorant) that breed on the outer rocks, Harlaub’s Gulls and Kelp Gulls that forage in the colony, as well as a big troop of Rock Hyrax or as we locals like to call them, dassies.

The boardwalk gives you an excellent vantage point from which to watch the penguins go about their daily lives, and come breeding season it is particularly cute to watch the furry youngsters try and strut their stuff!

The colony lies on the site of the old Waaygat Whaling Station which was used to harvest and process whale meat in the early to mid 1900s. Although nearly no remnant of this industry remains in sight, there are plenty of signage boards dotted around in order to give you an idea as to the scale of the whale trade that used to happen here.

Cape Nature manages the nature reserve and there is a lot of very interesting bits and pieces of penguin-related information posted everywhere, making a visit quite educational if you want it to be. (As a bonus, the entrance fee is relatively nominal – making it a much cheaper visit than say a trip through to the comparable Boulder’s Beach.)

Also, there is now a small restaurant built alongside the parking area, useful if you have complaining kids which aren’t all that enamored with the super cute seabird action along with you. Pleasingly, this isn’t us.

We tend to visit this penguin colony at least once a year (more or less), and this year was no different, with Jessica and Emily joining me for a visit to the penguins back in May (all part of our larger day out and about in Rooi Els, Kleinmond and Betty’s Bay).

Pleasingly, for a change the wind stayed away, leaving only perfect weather for us to have to contend with…

The surrounding landscape is quite pretty and there are plenty of opportunities for some great photos to be taken, making a visit to this well managed and relatively quiet nature reserve definitely worth the while!

Related Link: Stony Point Nature Reserve

Fishing for Lunch at Eikendal in Stellenbosch (2017-08-06) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 11 DEC 2017

You could of course travel to Eikendal in Raithby, lying along the R44 snug between Somerset West and Stellenbosch, in order to taste and buy their award winning wines. You could even be heading out that way to stay in one of the private terraced rooms of the Eikendal Lodge, or perhaps to try your hand at fly fishing in their trout stocked dams.

Most likely though, you are probably heading towards their distinctively styled entrance to grab a seat (either inside or out) at Cucina di Giovanni, more commonly referred to as Giovanni’s among the locals.

We didn’t actually know this, but it turns out that this restaurant is rather on the popular side, and even more pleasingly, produces some particularly delicious pizza – as we find out for ourselves with an impromptu visit there one Sunday afternoon back in August this year.

(Turns out, the place we were actually on our way out to, the nearby Vredenhof, is closed on Sundays).

Eikendal itself is really worth a visit though.

Obviously there is the traditional wine tasting and food pairing that happens at the Eikendal Tasting Centre, but then there are also tours of their distinctive barrel vaulted cellar, fishing with the onsite Winelands Fly Fishing outfit, upmarket food from Giovanni’s, mapped out vineyards walks, lush green lawns, and finally a small kids play area, to enjoy.

Also, the abundant views of the vineyards and mountains isn’t too shabby either.

Chantelle, the kids and I rather enjoyed this impromptu visit, and given the fact that Eikendal lists Kiddies Tastings and Tractor Rides on their website, there is a more than reasonable chance of us returning for a more full experience sooner than later!

Related Link: Eikendal Wine Estate | Cucina di Giovanni | Giovanni’s Eikendal

Farmers Market at True Grit Bike Park in Sir Lowry’s Pass Village (2017-07-22) Markets | Photo Gallery 09 DEC 2017

If you are into mountain biking, trail running or hiking, then the True Grit Bike Park, tucked away at foot of the mountain alongside the Knorhoek Estate in Sir Lowry’s Pass Village, is most certainly somewhat of a hidden gem.

Having bounced back after the terrible loss incurred through the devastating fires that tore through the Knorhoek area a year or two ago, the True Grit Bike Park is a popular bike riding venue for both young and old, hosts numerous birthday parties and corporate events, and is now even home to its very own farmers market – aptly named the True Grit Farmers Market of course!

Chantelle and I had the opportunity to visit the True Grit Farmers Market back in July this year, taking advantage of a childless Saturday morning (the girls were sleeping over at one of the grandparents’ houses) to check out the new market for ourselves.

(In hindsight though, given how popular the children’s bike track looked, we should probably have dragged them along with us!)

At this stage the market was still pretty small, but given that this then means that it isn’t completely packed full of people as say Root 44 or the Oranjezicht City Farm Market get, neither Chantelle nor I was really complaining.

There was after all, some good food to choose from (Chantelle is in love with the veggie burger that she always picks up whenever, and wherever, she tracks down the stall), live music to enjoy, an audible buzz from a happy crowd, and of course some magnificent views to take in from what is a stunningly beautiful environment.

Bike trails, pony rides, a Zorb orb guy, and wide open spaces also then mean that the kids should be more than okay in terms of keeping themselves busy, so although a bit off the beaten track, perhaps not a bad place to check out if you are looking for a friendly, out in nature, farmer’s market option then.

I guess a re-visit with the kids is still very much in order then.

Related Link: True Grit Farmers Market | True Grit Bike Park | Facebook