20 December 2017

So Long, 2017: A Christmas Post

When you read this the husband and I will almost be on our way to Cape Town for our annual Christmas holiday with the family. In a change of events we are flying down to Cape Town instead of driving. Earlier this year Mango in collaboration with Sanlam had insane specials on airplane tickets, so we decided to book it there and then. I am very thankful now, as I wouldn't want to undertake the 13 hour car ride while six months pregnant! We will be staying in Cape Town for about eight days and we'll be back home before New Year's eve - this will be our first New Year's celebration in Pretoria. Pretoria becomes incredibly quiet during the festive season as everyone goes away on holiday so I'm looking forward to experiencing that for myself this year!

This has been a long but a very good year for me and for us as a (small) family. The highlights include:
  • Getting a beautiful, sweet, and smart puppy, Mia. She is such a joy and a blessing and I can't imagine my life without her!
  • I obtained my PhD in electronic engineering after years of blood, sweat, and tears.
  • We went on holiday in the Kruger National Park. It was amazing staying there for a week and getting to see beautiful scenery and animals every single day.
  • I fell pregnant in June and we are welcoming our baby girl at the end of March 2018.
  • We went on holiday in Italy for a week for our fifth wedding anniversary and baby moon at the start of November. It was an incredible trip and I'll always think back to it with fond memories.

I have been incredibly blessed this year. And not only as far as the things mentioned above goes: I have had incredible support both in my personal life and on social media. People have been incredibly kind and I appreciate all the love and support for my blog. All the blog post comments and the replies to my tweets regarding blog posts have not gone unnoticed. A big, fat, thank you!

If you're going away for the festive season, please be safe. And if you're staying home: enjoy the restful time! I hope to see you all here back in January, have a good one!

Until next time!


* Picture from Pixabay

18 December 2017

Travel Post: Italy - Day 8 (Rome)

Day 8 - Saturday

It was our last day in Rome but also our last day in Italy and I had mixed feelings. It had been an incredible week of exploring and sightseeing, but I was also tired and wanted to go home. Being five months pregnant was starting to take its toll although I held up really well during the trip.

I had pre-booked tickets to the Vatican City for our last day and we were excited to see what all the hype was about. It also happened that our guesthouse was super close to the Vatican, but what I hadn't taken into account was that the entrance to the Vatican was on the north, not the south where our guesthouse was. We had to walk halfway around the Vatican and most of it was uphill. I was huffing and puffing by the time we got to the entrance. The fact that we had pre-booked our visit helped and we didn't have to stand in line (luckily we were there quite early so there wasn't really a line to begin with, only if you were part of a tour group).

We did our security checks and then tried to figure out where to start and how to proceed. I took my boss's advice (he had been there a year ago) and immediately went to the Sistine Chapel - basically the reason I wanted to go to the Vatican. There were a lot of people who walked up the stairs to the Sistine Chapel and we weren't allowed to take photos nor speak in anything louder than a whisper. There were guards who would shout, "No pictures, please!" and "Silenzio!" every few minutes, which was quite annoying. I also don't understand why you couldn't take photos of the ceiling, I mean, it's not like you can get up close and personal to it. The famous ceiling, painted by Michelangelo as a young man, was truly spectacular, but the chapel (more like a large room) was quite average. The ceiling depicted different stories and scenarios, the most famous being The Creation of Adam (the one where Adam and God's outreached arms touch at the fingertips). It was smaller than I thought it was going to be, but it was very cool to see.

There are different museums and each hall showcases a different era or set of artworks. There is, for example, a Greek exhibition and an Egyptian exhibition. At first I thought all the Egyptian references was weird, until I realised how close Italy and Egypt actually are! They refer to Egypt as the "nearby East" which, to me, is hilarious. We saw some exquisite ceilings and some pretty statues and paintings, but to be honest, it didn't blow my socks off. I felt that we saw more amazing things in the Galleria Borghese and the Uffizi Gallery (you can read about them here and here), amongst others. It might be that we were just tired and "over it", or that we have been spoiled by so many amazing sights, I don't know.

We ended up not spending as much time in the Vatican as we planned, mainly because the map we got of the Vatican was extremely confusing (it actually didn't make any sense at all) and there were a lot of people and they were mostly very, very rude. We went to the automobile museum which houses all the previous Popes' carriages and, more recently, the Popes' fancy cars (what is nowadays referred to as the "Pope Mobile").

We also wanted to go to St. Peter's Basilica but decided to skip that in favour of going to Sephora. I initially wanted to go the previous day but we ran out of time with first the water taxi strike and then the long bus routes to our guesthouse. This had almost disastrous consequences as the large Sephora that I wanted to go to was quite a distance from the Vatican so we had to take two different busses to get there. 

I had about 45 minutes to do my shopping (I think I might have missed an entire floor in my hurry, but oh well) and then we had to catch busses back to our guesthouse to collect our bags. We waited and waited and waited for the first bus and when it didn't arrive we started walking to another stop to find another bus. Everything seemed to be running late and by that time I wanted to pull my hair out of my head from frustration. Eventually we made it to the guesthouse and then had to walk to the nearby train station. I thought that we could take a train from that train station and get to the airport in half an hour (like we did when we initially went to Rome from the airport). But the San Pietro train station does not offer express shuttles plus we had to change trains halfway. By now my anxiety levels were flaring up. We had trouble figuring out where to board the train and then we received conflicting advice regarding which train to actually board: the lady at the ticket office said we should board the train on platform 2 but the internet as well as three very kind gentlemen on the platforms told us no, we should take the train on platform 3. With mere hours to spare before our flight home we were desperately hoping we had the right answer. We decided to go with platform 3 and thankfully that turned out to be the correct train. By then I was extremely close to crying as we were supposed to be checking in already and here we were still sitting on a train. We had to get off at Trastevere and take another train, but luckily this time we immediately knew which one to take. Our flight's check in closed at 18:10 and we got there at 17:50, I was nearly in tears as I didn't know how the heck we made it. I was sure that we would miss our flight (because of my Sephora shopping and busses that weren't on schedule) and how was I going to afford another plane ticket?! I was so so so relieved!

We flew the two hours from Rome to Frankfurt and I made a bee-line for the duty-free shop so that I could purchase my Urban Decay Naked Heat palette (you can read about it here). We then flew overnight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg, and I must say, it was incredibly uncomfortable. We booked seats on the middle section (four seats next to each other with an isle on each side), but there were no seats in front of us and I actually think the leg room was less than usual. The tray tables were also small and uncomfortable due to the fact that they fold up into your armrest, so yes, not doing that again. All in all I was very happy to be back on familiar ground and I looked forward to going home and kissing my dog.

That was it for my Italian travel series! I hoped that you enjoyed it, please let me know if you have any questions or comments. I could do another post with "tips and tricks" for going to Italy, or, just planning a European holiday. Let me know!

Until next time!


15 December 2017

Travel Post: Italy - Day 7 (Venice, Rome)

Day 7 - Friday

Our last day in Venice started out cloudy but the clouds soon started clearing and it starting getting warmer and warmer. We could also see that there were more tourists than the previous two days - a sign that we should get out. Venice is really small and I can't imagine what it looks like with a big influx of tourists! We had to catch a train back to Rome at lunch time so we didn't have much time to walk around.

After having breakfast at the hotel and checking out (but leaving our bags there) we set out for a final wander around Venice. We went to a Kiehl's shop and I enjoyed looking at all the holiday-themed packaging, so beautiful! I ended up not buying anything, as we could get pretty much everything in SA as well (except they have different sizes of the same product which we don't get here).

We wanted to take a water taxi to a nearby church but there was a problem: the water taxi drivers were striking. A strike in Italy, however, does not mean the same as in SA: in Italy they will strike, but only on some routes, and only until 17:00. This meant that we couldn't take a water taxi from the stop closest to our hotel, we had to walk halfway around the island. This meant that our time to wander around was now also cut short. We thus went back to the hotel, got our bags, and set off on the walk around the island to the other water taxi stop. Luckily they weren't striking and we got to the train station in good time.

We ate very overpriced McDonald's meals and hopped on the train. We got to ride Premium class as the limited number of "low cost" tickets was the same price as the normal second class tickets... It took about four hours to get to Rome but the train trip went by quite quickly.

When we got to Rome it was a traffic nightmare: it was Friday afternoon in a big city and everyone was trying to recover from the bus driver strike that day. Apparently they only strike until 17:00, but after that everything is late. Also, everyone seem to flock to Rome over weekends so that also contributed to the hustle and bustle. It took us hours to take the right busses to get to our guesthouse which was 200m south of the Vatican. From our last bus stop to the guesthouse was quite a walk and we weren't sure if we were going in the right direction. We approached a tall unassuming building and a friendly man walked towards us, introducing himself as the guesthouse owner. I was so relieved I wanted to hug him! He took our suitcases and showed us inside. He was so sweet and friendly and he immediately made us feel at home.

The guesthouse itself was beautifully decorated and we had an entire suite to ourselves: a lovely bedroom, a bathroom with a toilet, teeny tiny bath with a shower head, and a washbasin, and another bathroom with a large jacuzzi bath.

After checking in we asked our host if there are any nice places to go to dinner. It was our fifth wedding anniversary, after all! Our host told us to go to Giggetto as it served proper Roman cuisine, not Italian cuisine. We weren't sure what the difference was, but we were up for something different!

I read online that grilled artichoke is a Roman speciality so I knew to look out for that on the menu. We ordered grilled artichokes and baby marrow flower stuffed with cheese as a starter. For mains the husband ordered carbonara which looked incredible and I ordered saltimbocca, which I also read was a speciality. It's supposed to be veal wrapped or lined with prosciutto and sage that is marinated in either wine or saltwater (depending on the region). My veal didn't have prosciutto but it was floating in a bath of saltwater. It wasn't a very nice meal (I didn't even feel like photographing it) and I had a bit of order envy about my husband's plate of food.

For dessert the husband had tiramisu and I had a cheesecake type thing: a yoghurt and berry torte. It was delicious and all but made up for the disappointing main course.

After dinner we went back to the guesthouse and made use of the jacuzzi bath. I wouldn't mind having one at home!

This was the end of day seven in Italy. There is one more post left in this travel series, please check back in soon to read it.

Until next time!


13 December 2017

Pregnancy Update: Weeks 17-24

As I'm typing this I am currently six months pregnant. Six months! I feel like time is moving slowly and incredibly quickly all at the same time. It feels like a lifetime ago that I found out I was pregnant, but the past couple of months have also flown past. Obviously I'm excited to meet our baby, but I feel like I want to be pregnant for a bit longer still, just so I can finish all the tasks and project that I'm busy with (or haven't started with!) and fully get to grips with that lies ahead (are you ever prepared?).

As you would have seen in the blog posts from the past couple of weeks, we went to Italy for our fifth wedding anniversary/baby moon. It was an incredible experience and I felt great for most of the trip. All the walking (and the fast walking, might I add) made me tire quickly, but the husband was very supportive and constantly asked me if I was ok and stopped so that I could catch my breath. The airplane trips also went fine: I had compression socks that I had to wear on all the airplane trips as well as the long train rides. I also had to get anti-clotting injections before each major flight (and 24 hours afterwards) administered by the husband.

In Venice we decided to open our note from the doctor (she insisted on writing the baby's gender on a piece of paper) and was elated to find out that we are expecting a baby girl. We had already started on the nursery and painted the walls two-tone: white on the top two thirds and dark grey on the bottom third. Now that we know it's a girl we can put pink accent pieces in the room to balance out all the white and grey. We also decided to replace the carpet with laminate flooring, but that's something for the new year (and the new year's budget!). I don't want to be cleaning carpets with a baby, and tiles are also very hard and cold, thus laminate flooring sounded like the better option.

We've also started buying a few things for Olive (that's what we've been calling "him/her" for the past few months - Olive could be Oliver or Olivia, see?). Apart from the cot that we bought in October already we bought a cute dress, a winter onesie, a bath tub, burp cloths (thanks, Granny!), a sheep teddy, a mosquito net for the cot, and the most beautiful woven laundry basket. My friend gave us the most beautiful white crochet blanket that she asked her grandmother to make, so special!

We also went to the Baby Expo early in December, and boy, was it an expensive and overwhelming day! I asked one of my friends who already has two small children for tips and she sent me a list of must-have items that are very well-priced at the Baby Expo. With this list on hand I made a spreadsheet of everything that we need as well as the corresponding prices at different stores. That way I could compare these prices to the Baby Expo prices to see if it was really a good deal (it mostly was) and then I could refine my shopping list. Nerdy, right? I live for stuff like this! On the day of the Expo we went in armed with our shopping list. About seven hours later we left there with a car full of stuff, empty wallets, and sore feet. We now have enough diapers and wipes to last us a good six months. We also bought a baby carrier, a baby wrap, a microwave steriliser, a nappy bin, nappy bin refill cassettes, a breast pump (so expensive, but such a good deal), Sudo creme, Bio-Oil, and a travel system. The travel system we settled on was a Maxi-Cosi carseat in a Double Trouble stroller frame plus a carry cot which will double up as Olive's bassinet in our room for the first few weeks/months. The travel system was delivered to my work a week later, for which I was very thankful, as it would not have fitted into our car on the day of the Expo!

I decided to not buy anything clothing-wise unless it is an absolutely super cute onesie as I want to give family and friends the opportunity to also spoil Olive (as I know they will!). I did, however, see an adorable onesie on the Woolworths website that says "The snuggle is real". I have to get that!

As far as symptoms go I am still extremely lucky in that I don't feel sick at all. I'm "supposed" to get backaches now as well, but I've maybe had two days with backaches and that's all. I am, however, struggling with heartburn that is sometimes so bad that I fear I'm going to throw up. I keep a bottle of Gaviscon chew tablets in my handbag and I found that chewing one immediately relieves my heartburn. When we got back from Italy both my feet swelled up even though I wore my compression socks. My left ankle continued to stay swollen for a few days after that, but I had hurt my foot in Italy so I assume the swelling was due to that. Luckily it went away after about four days. Now when I feel that my feet are feeling "heavy" or that my legs hurt (I can't stand for too long at a time) I sit on the couch with my feet up, which really helps. Bending down (and getting up again) has also become more difficult, especially when I'm already tired. Some days are much better than others and I try to get my housework done on the good days!

My appetite has also increased and I'm enjoying eating even more than usual! I try to eat healthily but since I'm not picking up a lot of weight I often pig out and eat whatever the heck I want. My bump has also expanded a lot since Italy and I am now very clearly pregnant. Those colleagues at work who I didn't tell personally are also figuring out my secret one after the other.

Very little of my pre-pregnancy clothes seem to fit me anymore, it's only the maxi dresses that still fit. Two weeks ago I wore a pair of work pants and decided that that was the last time I would wear them before the birth. I have to button my pants below my belly and now they either start wiggling their way down, or they pinch my belly, which is very uncomfortable. I can still wear my one pair of boyfriend jeans and apart from that I'm living in leggings (black ones from H&M and Woolies) and black flower-printed pants from H&M's maternity range. Another big problem (pun intended) now is tops: all my pre-pregnancy tops are sitting very...taut on top of my belly and it's making me feel self-conscious. I've since been shopping, but it's difficult because I know it's only for a little and I don't want to do a wardrobe overhaul for only a few months. I did pick up a few dresses (two dresses from Mr Price and a dress from Due South of all places, as well as a maternity top from H&M). As for underwear I had to buy two maternity bras, so sexy (not)! The Carriwell one I got at the Baby Expo and is a drop-cup breastfeeding bra. It's very comfortable to wear but it's a gigantic piece of material... The other bra is also from Carriwell but is a lace breastfeeding bra: you pull it on over your head like a crop top; it doesn't have clasps or anything. It's very comfortable and I've even slept in it.

I've also almost used up an entire large bottle of Bio-Oil, definitely a first for me! The more my skin is stretching to accommodate the growing baby, the more it itches. Applying lotion helps, but only somewhat. Another life saver is, sorry for the TMI, panty liners. I've been needing them much more frequently lately and I'm investing in big boxes - I'm buying them in bulk now...

I've also started feeling Olive kick these past two weeks or so and it's really an amazing feeling. The husband has also felt her kick and it's so great to be able to share this with him. He gets so excited when he feels the gentle kicks!

That's all I can think of in terms of updates, please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Until next time!


11 December 2017

Travel Post: Italy - Day 6 (Venice)

Day 6 - Thursday

Our first morning in Venice didn't start off too well: the room was incredibly warm but the geyser didn't produce any hot water, the water was lukewarm at best. The room already cost a lot (and it was the cheapest I could find that looked decent online) and our breakfast was a further 7 euros extra per person. Granted, we didn't have to eat there, but we figured that we wouldn't be able to eat a hotel-style breakfast AND have coffee someplace else for that price. So all in all we weren't vey happy campers at that stage.

The breakfast itself was nice. Not the best we've had by then, but not bad. There was a selection of cold meats and a strong white cheese (those with the holes in it) that I don't really like. They also had yogurt, breakfast cereal (nope), small stale buns, hot breakfast options, juice, and a variety of croissants. Their coffee option was from a Douw Egberts machine which didn't exactly blow my socks off.

After breakfast I complained about the lack of hot water in the room and within 10 minutes the handyman was there to fix it. He fiddled with the shower taps and tried to talk to me, but with him only speaking Italian and me only speaking English, it didn't go so well. The husband asked him to do something about the central heating (the lady at reception said they couldn't do anything about the heat) but the handyman said he'd switch off ours. 

After breakfast we set off for St Mark's square. And by "set off" I mean, basically walk 80 m, because that's how close the hotel is to St Mark's square. The options were: walk around on St Mark's square (it's just a square with shops and restaurants around the edges), go to St Mark's Basilica, or go to St Mark's Campanile (clock tower). By then we were a bit tired and wanted to take things slow. We decided to go to St Mark's Basilica, but we had to wait around as it only opened at 9:30. We went inside but weren't allowed to take photos. It is really beautiful inside and all the artwork on the walls,  the ceilings, and the floors, were made from teeny tiny mosaic tiles. Every single artwork! It's incredible to see. We could also go up to the almost-top of the basilica (next to the four horse statues) which had a stunning view over St Mark's square and, in the distance, the ocean.

After this we thought about going up the clock tower, but we decided against it. We ended up drinking coffee with a view of the ocean and the "harbour" and deciding what to do next. We decided to take things slow and to walk around instead of chasing monuments. Venice is a very expensive city and we decided against going to Doge's Palace (photo fourth from the bottom), for instance, as it was a whopping 20 euros per person to go in. 

We settled on taking a water taxi and going "overseas" to a small island called San Giorgio Maggiore. Saint George's Major is both the name of the island and the church built on the island. We initially missed our stop and got off on the adjacent island (the two islands are about 50 m from each other but there is no bridge) and had to wait for the taxi to come back on its route so that we could take it to where we were supposed to go.

The church itself is beautiful and the ticket gives you access to the clock tower from which you can see the entire Venice in all its glory. The sun also decided to make an appearance and the blue skies offset the beautiful old buildings beautifully. It was also at the top of this clock tower that we finally opened the note from my doctor telling us that we are expecting a baby girl.

After this we still had some time left over on our water taxi pass, so we took a water taxi basically right around Venice. We saw lots of cool buildings and I also saw the famous hands "holding up" on eof the buildings on the edge of the canal, so cool!

By coincidence we got off at the stop closest to the Rialto Bridge and it was at sunset, so we got the chance to photograph it. Venice sunsets really make for gorgeous photos and I'm contemplating printing and enlarging at least one of the photos I took to hang in our house.

 Oddly enough we also met a couple from Cape Town on the bridge which was very cool! They were also there taking photos of the sunset and heard us speaking Afrikaans. After walking around some more we went to a restaurant for dinner. I can't remember the price, but I know it was quite a good price for a four-course meal and they served Venetian specialities, so that was another plus point.

We started off with a Venetian speciality: Sarde in saor (sweet and sour sardines). Now this might sound a bit weird, but they basically pickle sardines in a sweet and sour brine. This particular dish was served with pickled onions (I think they pickle the sardines with the onions) and grilled polenta. I would have liked a bit more sardines and a little less onion, but it was still very, very tasty.

For our second course we had the most delicious seafood pasta. I've found that usually if your order any seafood-related dish in a restaurant (I'm talking about SA specifically), they skimp on the seafood. You'll get one or two mussels and a few crab sticks. But not here: the portion was big and the seafood plenty. I could have happily stopped here and just had my dessert, but there was a third course on the way...

For the third course we had another Venetian speciality: Nero di seppia (loosely translated to squid ink). It was as disgusting as it sounds and looks. I just tried to Google the correct name (still not sure this is it) and I saw someone comparing it to wet tar. That is pretty accurate. And imagine further that it tastes like Bovril. Now look, I'm a big fan of Bovril but I would prefer to not eat a big, warm, chunky plate of it. Normally the Italians use the squid ink to colour the spaghetti, but sometimes you get a pile of squid pieces with the ink. I ate about a quarter of it and then sent it back saying that I was too full. I was full, but it was also disgusting.

Our fourth and last course was dessert: tiramisu. You can't go wrong with a bowl (or in this case, a plate) of creamy tiramisu!

When we got the bill it was, of course, much higher than just what we ate: the restaurant was kind enough to add a "tourist charge" to our bill. How lovely! This is something that really annoys me of a lot of restaurants in Italy. If you're going to charge me extra, at least tell me so from the beginning.

Anyway, we set off for the hotel for our last night in Venice. The room wasn't as hot as when we left and although not steaming hot, the geyser water was at least warm enough to wash and rinse my hair with.

And that was our sixth day in Italy! There are two more posts coming your way, please check in soon so you won't miss anything.

Until next time!