Grapes in Texas

In France, Greece, Chile, Argentina, Australia, California, Oregon, and South Africa we visited wineries, tasting rooms, and vineyards this year, so, when we saw that we were in Texas in time for the Grapevine Grapefest, we knew we could not miss it.  Boy is an expert on grapes, now, and the event promised a free kids activity area.


To avoid the 90+ F/ 35+ C temperature, we got there in the morning when the gates opened.  We enjoyed the festival music and food, playing some games of skill to win a few prizes before trying any wine.  The event featured areas spotlighting Oregon wines, Argentinian wines, and USA sparking wines from various regions.  The main area, however, was the Texas producers.  We wandered through the festival and sampled a variety of Texas wines.  Many were very sweet, as Texas wines traditionally have been, but some winemakers have been experimenting with Spanish varietals to make a dryer wine.  After our year of vineyard experiences, we decided Texas wines were not our favorite, but we still found a glass to enjoy with lunch.

Where Two Oceans Meet

Off the Cape of Good Hope the Indian and Atlantic oceans come together with crashing waves and fog. Braving the elements, like the Portugese explorers and navigators, we have been reading about, we parked the car at the Cape of Good Hope and hiked to the Cape Point Lighthouse, surprised on the way by an Ostrich at the beach.


Nearby, at Simon’s Town, we met the African Penguins at Boulders Beach and did some whale watching (though not whale spotting). While it is a bit cool for swimming, we have spent several days this week exploring the tidal pools and studying sea life. Boy, though reluctant, even managed to write a short report on penguins.



Our field guides for the tidal pools


A stop at the Scratch Patch was a winner as well. A walk through an old mine and beautiful rock shop was connected to an outdoor garden, filled with millions of small polished stones. For a few Rand, each child received a small plastic bag, and spent as much time as they liked choosing the best ones to collect and keep, as many as will fit into the bag. Of course, we got a copy of the identification guide, and identified the type and origin of each of our stones.




We have enjoyed our beach week in South Africa and the time to rest. Now, we are full into planning the upcoming legs of our travel and the next part of the adventure.

The tip of Africa

Late September and early October brought some lovely spring weather to Cape Town, South Africa. Since we began our travels, we had planned to make Cape Town our rest stop. After a summer of fast travel through Europe, visiting all the major sites, we were ready for a slower pace. We also needed some time to plan our next few stops, as we had not yet researched India and Asia. Nearly three weeks in South Africa would allow us to do that. In Cape Town, we planned our first week stay in a city apartment.

A friend of a friend set us up with a play date for our first day in the Cape. We met at a playground in the lovely Green Point area near the water and Boy loved the chance to run around with two other boys close in age.

Over the next few days, we took advantage of the weather to get outside and go to the top of Table Mountain, overlooking the city, the central Company Garden, and the Kirstenbosch botanic gardens. A stop at the Two Oceans Aquarium showed us the way the creatures from the warm Indian Ocean interact with the cold Atlantic Ocean right off the point of Africa. We learned about diamond mining at the Cape Town Diamond museum, and the history of the Dutch and English at the Castle of Good Hope Fort.

The more interesting lessons, and more challenging ones to teach, were slavery, apartheid, and economic inequality. We started with Nelson Mandela, a figure we were introduced to at the Nobel Peace Prize Museum in Oslo, back in June. A lovely picture book of his Long Walk to Freedom and the Nelson Mandela book from the Scholastic “Who Was …” series got us started for school work. Together as a family we watched the movie “Invictus,” about the South African Rugby team and the way sport helped bring the country together after the end of apartheid. We stopped to take in the Slavery Lodge Museum, which covered the history of African slavery. Though a bit touristy, we also decided to take a minibus tour of a township to show Boy the shanty towns on the outskirts of the city. While I cringed at the exploitative aspects of township tourism, I also wanted to be sure Boy didn’t miss how half the population lives here, and to start having these discussions before we reach India.

We had some good conversations this week, and I was glad to cover the material, but I am looking forward to moving on to next week’s studies of whales and penguins on the coast.

One of our school books:


Some of our tourist stops


Table Mountain


Victoria Falls

One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls is on the Zambezi River, which forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. These falls, the world’s largest, produce so much mist, that their name in the local language means “smoke that thunders.” We entered the National Park and took a walk through the rainforest along the bend in the river to see the falls and feel the mist coming off the spray.


To refresh, we headed to the Victoria Falls Hotel, an historic property, near the falls and the old railroad station. Done in a traditional English colonial style, the hotel porch overlooks a garden with a view of the 100 year old bridge across the river. Afternoon tea, with hot chocolate for Boy, and lots of cakes, gave us the energy to continue our explorations.



Boy has been collecting key chains from our travels and was keen to search for one from Zimbabwe. At the local craft market, he used all his bargaining skills to negotiate for one with a price to match his pocket money. This was no small task, as there were many craft vendors, and much activity. Zimbabwe has no local currency, but uses the South African Rand and American Dollar, instead. American Dollars are much preferred! And prices reflect this. Boy had to stand firm when challenged that as an American he must have American dollars to spend, which he did not, as we have been traveling for months. He found a lovely carving, and with the threat of walking away from a high price, was able to get it for what he was willing to spend. The vendor was most impressed at the speed he can now do the math for currency conversion.

We also had a chance to work on some music skills this week. Dinner and a show at a restaurant called, The Boma, Place for Eating, included an African dancing demonstration and a drum lesson. After the performers did a drumming show, they passed out drums to the audience and taught us a few basic rhythms. Changing the speed and order of these rhythms produced wonderful music. Boy thought this was the best part of the day.

We ended our stay with a cruise on the Zambezi River (far upstream from the falls), where we were able to see a family of hippos swimming in the river. Off to South Africa, tomorrow.



Schoolwork by the waterhole


Safari School

Leaving Europe, Boy was sure that we had seen, altogether too many, art museums. “I don’t want to see ANY MORE ART!” He complained.

Happily, our next destination included no art museums. We flew into Johannesburg where we were picked up by a driver who took us out to a camp in Kruger National Park, about 5 hours by road. Once there, we dropped bags at our hut, with a warning to shut the door firmly to keep out monkeys. Jumping into a Jeep, we headed off on a photo safari. Over the course of the next week, we explored animal tracks, identified animal droppings, and took many, many photos.

To find a safari camp that would take a child took a bit of work. Many places do not allow children under 12, or sometimes even 16, on safety concerns. If the child can’t follow directions when needed and sit quietly, they prevent others from observing the animals, and may put themselves at risk, by running or yelling at times it is unsafe to do so. We found King’s Camp through online research. It was a bit fancier than we were originally planning, but they accepted children over 6 years, 8 year olds could join the jeep rides, and the safari guides we had were terrific.

Boy was fully engaged the first two days. With his list of animals he wanted to photograph and his own digital camera he was focused on animal spotting and reasonably happy to sit quietly. By day 3, however, it was time to run off some energy. He had captured pictures of lions, elephants, and giraffes and no longer had any interest in sitting quietly in a Jeep. We skipped the next early morning game drive, had a sleep in, and ran laps around the camp.

No writing work for school this week, though the camp did provide Boy with a Junior Ranger guide and animal checklist. Here are our books:


Our animal photos




Language, or How to Say Hello

With so many stops on our European tour, we were asked how we get around in all the different languages.

I had many years of Spanish in high school and college and remember enough of it to call a taxi, order in a restaurant, or have a brief conversation about our travels. Just don’t ask me what I did last week, as I can’t recall how to conjugate the past tense of verbs. Boy has also had a very small amount of Spanish at school in his preschool and Kindergarten years.

Before we left on our trip, we hired a French tutor for a 12 week travelers French class for our family. So, we are all able to manage basic greetings, numbers, directions, restaurant, hotels, and train stations in French. Boy was pleased to be able to ask for chocolate in French. Our tutor told him that if he could ask politely, she would give him a piece of chocolate whenever he asked.

Beyond that, we have tried to learn a few words of the language in each country we have visited. While traveling, I like to be able to say hello, goodbye, please, thank you, and, the numbers one to three, child and toilet. Excuse me is also useful.

I find that if I can say “three, please,” for example, I can get a table in most restaurants. “Two and one child,” covers entry tickets for museums and attractions. “Toilet, please” is another most useful phrase.

This means we have had to learn those words so far in Italian, German, Greek, and Norwegian.

Interestingly, with all of our use of local buses and metros, we have also learned the word “next” and “arriving” in all those languages. The train and bus stations usually post “next train” or “train arriving” near the platform. This is usually accompanied by an announcement of “next train.” We are hearing and seeing the new words at the same time, and hearing and seeing them repeated multiple times a day. So now, “naeste” and “proximo” are no longer meaningless syllables.

I am looking forward to South Africa. While they speak English, and I do not worry about basic communication there, with so many official languages, I am sure we will pick up a few new words.

Of course, we have also found, that throughout Europe, shopkeepers, waiters, and even people on the street, will often respond to us in English, regardless of the language we begin speaking. I assume, that is because our accents still need a lot of work!