Category Archives: My Life

USA 2019 – 16 National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington DC (2019-10-27) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 24 MAR 2021

There is such an incredible amount of things to see in Washington D.C. (even more so given my proclivity to all things historic, natural, and scientific) that it is near impossible to see everything unless you live there for at least a month. Thus, lists have to be made, and sights ordered in preference and importance, and this then is exactly what I had to sit down and do when first planning my three day stopover in the United States capital. As it stands, it is pretty easy to single out my biggest regret in terms of places NOT visited – the National Gallery of Art, one of the United States’ greatest art museums. That said, at least there is the small consolation prize of having walked through this institution’s playful Sculpture Garden – though I’m not sure if this makes me happy or just more sad at having missed out on visiting the real thing!

Sandwiched between the beautiful neoclassical West Building and the modern East Building of the National Gallery of Art complex, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden is the most recent addition to the art museum, having opened its gates to the public in May 1999. It acts as an outdoor setting for exhibiting several pieces from the museum’s contemporary sculpture collection, and is anchored by a large central fountain which from December through to March is converted to an ice-skating rink.

Housing classic contemporary works like Roy Lichtenstein’s House I, Robert Indiana’s AMOR, and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, the sculpture garden provides a small escape from the noise and the crowds plodding about the National Mall, where you can either amble through and discover work from names like Joan Miro, Tony Smith, Mark di Suvero, Barry Flanagan, and Roxy Paine (whose tall shiny Graft steals attention as you walk in), or simply sit down with a coffee and admire the view from a table at the artfully decorated outdoor Pavilion Cafe.

USA 2019 – 15 United States Botanic Garden in Washington DC (2019-10-27) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 23 MAR 2021

Situated on the grounds of the United States Capitol, near Garfield Circle, lies the oldest continually-operated botanic garden in the United States – the United States Botanic Garden. Established by the U.S. Congress in 1820, the botanic garden houses an incredible variety of both local and exotic plants, including specimens and seeds that can be dated back all the way to the South Seas exploration of the Wilkes Expedition.

The striking glass and aluminum curves of the gigantic Lord & Burnham greenhouse demands attention, and while you can enter the United States Botanic Garden through the imposing stone facade of the the main conservatory, a lot of people end up in the botanic garden by following the green (and associated tranquility) of the National Garden, which lies on the Botanic Garden’s west border. In addition to the odd sculpture or two that finds itself exhibited in this space, this outside garden includes a regional garden of plants native to the Atlantic Coastal Plain and Piedmont, a rose garden, a butterfly garden, and the First Ladies Water Garden, a water garden in memory of the First Ladies of the United States.

Then there is the Conservatory itself. Housed in the stunning, aforementioned greenhouse, the Conservatory is divided into separate rooms, each simulating a different habitat. Rooms included in this list are The Garden Court, Rare and Endangered Plants, Plant Exploration, Orchid House, Medicinal Plants, Desert, Hawaii, Garden Primeval, Plant Adaptation, Jungle (which is by far the largest room, featuring an elevated catwalk to walk above the jungle canopy), Children’s Garden, and Southern Exposure. The end result is a wide array of many small collections of interesting plants, and I have to be honest, I did break out in a broad smile when I stumbled across the small collection of our local fynbos on display.

The United States Botanic Garden is a wondrous space. Compact enough that it doesn’t take too long to wander through, but filled with so much colour and with such varied plant species (with the odd sculpture and mural thrown in) that you can’t but help meander through with a peaceful mind and even broader smile on your face. Easy to recommend if you are looking for a little break from exploring all that history that is housed along the National Mall!

Banana and Ice Cream at The Waffle Cafe in Gordon’s Bay (2021-03-09) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 22 MAR 2021

You could of course have waffles and ice cream as a dessert when eating out at Spur – but generally speaking, that is taking away from what the humble waffle truly could be. For the last couple of years now, the Belgian Waffle House in Strand has been delighting us with their light and fluffy Belgian waffle combinations, but pleasingly, Gordon’s Bay too now has its very own local purveyor of all things waffle – and it is situated right here on Beach Road!

Sitting right on the beachfront, The Waffle Cafe has taken over Dock on the Bay’s spot in the Old Cape Mall, transforming the former pub into an explosion of geometric pastel colours and ice cream. Shaded outside tables, a spacious dining room, lounge area by the fireplace, and a quirky gift shop, The Waffle Cafe presents itself as a lighthearted family friendly sweet tooth stop, and pleasingly, that is precisely what it is.

With a menu that takes both waffle and pancake combinations across the spectrum from sweet to savoury, not to mention more conventional breakfast options for those dull people who can’t quite bring themselves to start the day off with waffles and pancakes, The Waffle Cafe understandably has quickly become quite the hit with all our local families with kids – my girls obviously included!

USA 2019 – 14 Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC (2019-10-27) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 21 MAR 2021

There’s nothing more disappointing than finding your most eagerly anticipated tourist sight or experience covered in scaffolding and men at work signs. This then is exactly what awaited me as I, who suffers from a life long love and admiration for all things aeronautical, shuffled across the National Mall to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, having just spent the last couple of hours wandering through the halls of the incredible National Museum of American History. Clearly then the grey skies, dripping trees, and puddles of fresh rain water on the concrete perfectly suited that very moment when I turned the corner and discovered my eagerly awaited unicorn under all the cranes, scaffolding, and hard hat signs.

Of course, just because massive swathes of its space is closed for renovation, it doesn’t mean that the museum has entirely shut up shop, and so I joined the throng of excited visitors, cleared through security, and stepped into the impressive Milestones of Flight entrance hall, decked out with an incredible array of historical aircraft, including gems like the Spirit of St Louis, the Bell X-1, SpaceShipOne, and even the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia!

From there I wandered through the interactive, kid-focused How Things Fly exhibit, followed by a jaw-dropping walk about the Space Race floor that is devoted to all things rockets, including the infamous German V-2 rocket. Next to that was a hall dedicated to exploring the universe, examining solar systems and the instruments that we have developed to better study it, and across the passage, the Moving Beyond Earth immersive exhibition that places you “in orbit” as part of the shuttle and space-station era – allowing you to explore recent human spaceflight and future possibilities.

At the time of my visit, the only halls open on the second floor included one looking at the origin of powered flight through the lens of the Wright Brothers and their 1903 Wright Flyer, and another that focuses on Time and Navigation, detailing how revolutions in timekeeping over the years have influenced how we find our way. Hello GPS!

And unfortunately that was that. With about half of its floor space lost to the ongoing renovations, and almost the entirety of its collection of planes now stored at the museum’s secondary Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in nearby Virginia, this particular museum experience, while as incredibly interesting and engaging as what it was, just didn’t have what I was really looking forward to seeing the most: airplanes! (Spoiler alert though – the very last thing that I did manage to do on this particular USA 2019 business trip as I waited for my plane to depart from Dulles International Airport, was catch a bus to a certain spot in Virginia…)

USA 2019 – 13 Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington DC (2019-10-27) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 20 MAR 2021

My third day in Washington D.C. started out with grey clouds and a sprinkling of rain. Early breakfast at the hotel done, and underground Metro successfully navigated, I walked across the National Mall and up the stairs to stand in front of the solemn stone monolithic building that houses the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. Of course it was at this point that the heavens truly opened and I stood in the rain, soaking up what felt to be just about every single raindrop that fell on that soggy morning. When the doors were finally flung open and we made it past security, there I was, a truly drowned rat that just so happened to have the most massive of silly grins on its face.

Originally opened in 1964 under the banner of Museum of History and Technology, the year 1980 saw the museum adopt its new moniker of National Museum of American History, a much stronger representation of its mission to collect, care for, study, and interpret objects that reflect the history and experience of the American people. Having undergone a couple of renovations since the early 2000’s, the National Museum of American History is a behemoth of a museum to visit. Spread over three exhibition floors, each with its own wings and lined with artifact walls, the museum is packed with a mesmerizing number and variety of displays, items of interest, and exhibitions, stretching wildly across the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific, and military history.

For those interested in conquest and power, the third floor focuses on the military history of the United States, as well as the American Presidency, and even an exhibition regarding the First Ladies of America (I can’t really explain that last one). On the other side of the hall, sport, music and culture gets a nod, and for my particular visit there even stood a temporary exhibit of classic American quilts. The second floor is pinned by the original Star Spangled Banner Flag, and features rotating exhibits that consider American ideals, such as who people are who make up the United States of America, how did they live, where did they come from, and what it took to ensure voting rights for all.

The first floor is focused on exhibits revolving around transportation and technology, detailing America’s modes of transportation over the years, inventors and inventions, science in terms of robots and America’s future, and even a recreation of Julia Child’s famous kitchen whilst looking at the impact of Food Technology as a whole. The final lower level of the museum features a number of smaller exhibits including one showing the impact of American commerce on the world stage, and believe it or not, a Gallery of Numismatics, i.e. the study or collection of currency.

As you may then guess, it takes literal hours to walk through this fascinating museum and its ode to all things American, and thus the chance of absorbing every little detail is virtually zero. That said, as you may be able to tell just from the size of the photo gallery featured down below, this little nugget of information was surely nowhere near good enough to stop me from trying my best to do so!

Besides, who can say no to any museum that counts and so confidently displays a blindingly neon lit Batman Forever Batmobile so prominently as part of its collection!?

USA 2019 – 12 Wiseguy Pizza in Chinatown, Washington DC (2019-10-26) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 19 MAR 2021

After a very long day out on my feet, having walked through and taken in the Smithsonian National Zoo, the Union Station, the United States Capitol, and the beautiful Library of Congress, it was time to head back to the Hampton Inn on the edge of Chinatown and rustle up some supper before sitting down and resting my feet for the next day’s just as epic sightseeing adventures.

Similar to the previous evening where I had tucked into the simple but delicious oven fired fare of Fuel Pizza and Wings over at the Capitol One Arena area, I once again had am insatiable hankering for American style pizza. Unlike my experience of Japanese cities at night, I honestly didn’t feel particularly comfortable or safe walking around Washington D.C. by myself in the evenings, but having located Wiseguy Pizza just down the road from the hotel via Google Maps, I pushed aside these misgivings and ventured out on a dusky mission to get some grub into my stomach.

And just as well that I did. Old world, authentic New York style pizza fired in old school deck ovens at 287°C, featuring and incredibly varied array of toppings and of course that delightfully stringy cheese that the Americans use on their pies. Pizza and cheesecake aside, the little eatery has classic music accompanying the relatively vintage feeling decor, with everything working together to craft a very cozy and warm spot to visit.

USA 2019 – 11 Browsing in the Library of Congress in Washington DC (2019-10-26) Historic Attractions | Photo Gallery 18 MAR 2021

Standing as the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States, and billed as one of the largest libraries in the world, the Library of Congress, with its collection of millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps, and manuscripts, is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. In addition to that, thanks to the incredible history, architecture and art held within, the Library of Congress also just so happens to make for an incredible visitor and tourist experience!

Originally housed within the U.S. Capitol building itself, the ever expanding need for space for both the Capitol functions and that of the library itself, means that the Library of Congress needed to move and itself expand quite often, leading to the current state of affairs that has the de facto national library of the United States stretched across three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. as well as a conservation center in Culpeper, Virginia. The Library states that its collection is universal, and as such is not limited by subject, format, or national boundary, meaning that it includes research materials from across the world, covering more than 450 languages!

I got to visit the unmissable Library of Congress’ main Thomas Jefferson Building, the oldest of the three Capitol Hill buildings, having been opened to the public (following eleven years of construction) in 1897. Recognized almost immediately on opening as a National Monument, the Jefferson Building contains some of the richest public interiors in the United States, and is a compendium of the work of classically trained American sculptors and painters of the “American Renaissance” period. Mind you, the incredibly majestic, Italian Renaissance styled exterior is just as eye catching, especially given the wonderfully detailed The Court of Neptune Fountain bronze sculpture collection that fronts the building.

I walked to the Library of Congress via the underground tunnel that connects the US Capitol to the library, and on arrival in the building I was treated to the most incredible visual experience. Classic colour, patterns, art, and design wherever you look, from the patterned marble floors right up to the vaulted ceilings. The historic art murals are incredible to look at and move between, with so much to spot around you that you literally don’t know where to even begin looking!

The alcoves of the main hall of the library are packed with incredibly interesting displays and exhibitions of various parts of American literary history, and down the quieter halls you will find even more displays, like the one on comic book art that I stumbled upon at the end of my wanderings. Looking down on the incredible main reading room is an absolute visual treat, and it is no wonder then that there are probably more tourists taking pictures than scholars carrying out research!

Soft Serve Ice Cream at Sunset Harbour Cafe in Kleinmond (2021-01-09) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 17 MAR 2021

The Harbour Road waterfront development in Kleinmond is really a nice little lifestyle and food tourist hub for this small coastal Overstrand town. A couple of nice restaurants, a couple of interesting shops, pretty to look at architecture, and all of it overlooking Kleinmond’s tiny harbour and the big blue sea – it really is a nice spot that almost always has quite a good vibe thanks to the evergreen number of people popping in for a kuier.

Underneath all of that bustle, literally, you need to walk down below the parking towards the harbour to find it, is a little, lot less sophisticated, cafe that also just so happens to double as the local ice cream parlour. In addition to all the other cooldrink, sweets and chocolates, chips, gifts, and toys of questionable quality, Sunset Harbour Cafe and its soft serve machines also happily pumps out ice cream after ice cream to the seemingly never ending stream of people eager to cool off on a hot day.

Given that we had just spend the whole day traipsing about Hermanus, followed by a round of putt putt at Benguela Cove, the girls and I too joined the soft serve seeking throng, the last little treat before finally tackling that incredibly scenic Clarence Drive road back home.

Lemon Meringue at Die Kloof Padstal in Montagu (2020-10-26) Farm Stalls | Photo Gallery 16 MAR 2021

Also known as Route 62 Restaurant and Farm Stall, Die Kloof Padstal is probably one of the more famous farm stall stops in the Langeberg area. Literally the first building that you encounter on the left as you enter Montagu via the Cogmanskloof tunnel side, this is a proper never-say-die institution, having survived countless floods, veld fires, the seemingly never-ending roadworks that have defined the area for so many years now, and now of course the recent decimation of the tourist industry that Covid-19 and all its accompanying lockdowns have wrought.

Die Kloof Padstal is situated on the banks of the Keisie River, and its large, tree shaded outdoor area features picturesque views of Bloupunt and the Langeberg mountains. This spacious garden area is filled with stuff for the kids to play on, making it a very family friendly space, and if the weather is say not so great on the day of your visit, they also have a very comfortable, cozy interior section under their quaint thatched roof. Free wi-fi happily keeps you connected while you wait on your food and drinks to arrive, and given their rather extensive menu, you are pretty much guaranteed to find something to your liking.

The farm stall itself is packed with all manner gifts, crafts, handbags, hats, and books to browse through, as well as a plethora of locally produced dried fruit, nuts, jams, biltong and preserves to indulge in. We tend to try and pay at least one visit to Die Kloof Padstal whenever we find ourselves staying in the Montagu area, and last year’s lovely little between lockdowns stay at Badensfontein was certainly no exception.

The kids stretched their legs, we ate our lemon meringue and they their waffles and ice cream, and then we all went down the road to spend some time watching the mass of sacred ibis birds that roost at the Leidam, Montagu’s old leiwater dam. Tranquil.