Monthly Archives: November 2011

Clase de Español – Sevilla, Spain

Author: Keegan and Steve

Hola ¿Qué tal?  That means, hi, how are you, in Spanish.  As all may know we are now officially in España (Spain in Spanish).  We took some Spanish classes and for me they were difficult.  But for my dad he already knows Spanish pretty well because his parents would speak to him in Spanish when he grew up. Kendal, she should know Spanish because she took Spanish for two years in 7th and 8th grade but . . . she didn’t talk it much in 7th and 8th grade so she learned that speaking it is even harder.  My mom she knows Spanish (she took lots of classes growing up) but she just doesn’t like to speak it.  Even though my dad knows Spanish pretty well he didn’t teach me Spanish as a kid, why he didn’t I DON’T KNOW!  I probably would have done a lot better in this class so I guess I will blame my bad performance on my dad . . . no offense.  I wanted to learn . . . más o menos (more or less) and my dad said I did learn but I don’t think I did.  My mom told me we are going to keep learning on our own and keep doing study sessions at Starbucks in the city center (after class we would go for a tapas lunch and then go to Starbucks to do our homework, it’s a really cool area).  My mom says that when I take Spanish class back home I should do well because of this class . . . we’ll see.  My Spanish teacher was pretty awesome his name was Juan Carlos and we played some Spanish games with him to help us learn Spanish. We also learned that he doesn’t live far from us in Triana. Thank you Juan Carlos!

Here we are with our teacher Juan Carlos

View from our Starbucks study-hall window - they play cool American Christmas music

We finished our week of initial Spanish classes and it went well.  Kendal and Keegan definitely learned a lot and for Amy, because she was in that class with the kids, it was a great refresher course for her.

I took one Spanish class in 8th grade and most the kids in the school I went to spoke Spanish so I don’t recall learning much grammatically . . . let’s just say there was a lot of scary distractions in that school.  What I remember the most is strategically figuring out ways to make it through that class, not to mention everyday, without getting my butt kicked.  Surprisingly, Spanish was not offered in my High School. When I went to college my mother strongly recommended I take a Spanish entrance test “NO SEAS TONTO, TAKE THE STUPID TEST!!” and somehow I tested out of a number of classes (great money savings).  I ended up in a conversational class with a buddy, it was a long Thursday night class, we laughed from beginning to end every Thursday before heading out for a night of college camaraderie (ahhh the good old days).  So, not much to show for my classroom Spanish education and grammatically . . . I’d say I stink.  Jumping in this class, which was in chapter 7, (some students are here for up to 10 weeks) I felt over my head. Four hours everyday was . . . suficiente para mi cabeza!  One of the main benefits of such a small class is that you are forced to learn, your involvement is not a choice.  The little I know I completely owe to my parents who spoke Spanish to me growing up, I am so grateful for that . . . and yes, I definitely wish I would have responded in Spanish.  I hope to have that same determination to speak to my own kids in Spanish which is easier said that done.  The class consisted of 6 other students with various backgrounds – all interesting stories.  We were all happy with our classes and for the next 5 weeks we will just keep trying to get better by getting out there and talking to people.

This is the inside of our school - it was a very Spanish building

Here is my class - it was a great diverse group that allowed for interesting dialogue with very different yet similar opinions of current world events. We had a student from Japan majoring in Spanish; a retired professional from Italy; a linguist from the UK that just returned from Afghanistan; a clinical psychologist from the US; a South Korean student spending a year in Spain to learn spanish, a retired French military helicopter pilot and me. I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to spent so much time with each of them that week.

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Posted by on November 30, 2011 in Spain


Happy Thanksgiving from Sevilla, Spain

Author: Amy

Gracias, Thank you, Danke, Dankie, Ef Charisto, Grazie, Hvala, Merci

To you who read and follow our blog; on this Thanksgiving Day, which we will spend in Sevilla, Spain, we feel so completely grateful for so many things.  Thanksgiving to me is like a cozy hug of a holiday spent with family staying warm and eating good food.

With a humble voice we are thankful for . . .

  • our health – our family – our freedom – our friends old and new – the wonders of nature – random kindness of strangers – google maps – great food – virtual school – the Kindle and for excellent readers – teachers – Amor – clean water – historians and those that chose to preserve history so we can learn – Democracy – all the heroes that had the strength and determination to change history for the better . . . our list is endless.

We found our favorite tapa restaurant last night and it's only a block away. Taberna Paco España! The food is awesome and the service is even better. The owner ran after us as we were leaving to give the kids candy for the walk home. To live for a while in Sevilla walking everywhere within clean, beautiful cobblestone streets is truly something we are thankful for.


Posted by on November 24, 2011 in Spain


Has Anyone Seen Our Luggage?? – Sevilla, Spain

Author: Steve

We left our apartment in Cape Town at 6:30am on a Monday and got to our new apartment in Sevilla on Tuesday at 5:30pm.  That was a long 2 days of travel . . . which we are kind of getting used to (not that we like it all the time but; it is what it is).  The very frustrating thing was that for some reason our luggage never made it to Sevilla.  We called and called and sent email after email trying to track it down. We didn’t seem to be getting much response other than, “we don’t know where they are, but we’re trying to track them”.   Luckily we always take all important documents and electronic gear with us as carry-on so we were not as frazzled as we might have been since all we needed to replace was the backpacks and clothes that aren’t that expensive to begin with.  Thursday we were off to start the process of slowly buying new clothes.  Before we headed out we called one more time to check and they said they found them (not sure when they were going to call us) and that we could pick them up that evening when they arrived.  We let them know that we were told that our luggage would be delivered to our apartment; however, they said that because they came from outside the EU they would have to go through customs and a bomb detector and we would need to be present for that process.  A small annoyance that we were happy to accept as long as we got our backpacks back . . . and we did.

Now to some fun stuff . . . José Manuel, the apartment owner, met us at our apartment, he has spent some years in the US as an Educational Ambassador for Spain so his English is excellent.  He is a great guy that was gracious enough to take us out for dinner (great tapas) on our first night in Triana (the neighborhood we are actually residing while in Sevilla – I’ll get to our location in another blog).  José Manuel explained some of the many nuances of the area and if that wasn’t a nice enough introduction he also introduced us to Alex, a young teacher from the US that is here teaching English to Middle School level kids.  José Manuel and Alex (the only teacher at this school that teaches English as a specialty) have invited Kendal and Keegan to go and spend time with their students to help teach and also learn some Spanish.  Kendal and Keegan were quite happy with their invitation and are very excited to see another school setting.

Other than a bumpy first part of the week, uncertain whether we would ever see our luggage again . . . we couldn’t have asked for a better way to start off this leg of our adventure.

We are definitely in a traditional neighborhood and not a tourist area (which is exactly what we were looking for) but we now know that this really puts more responsibility on us to reach out and get involved.  We’ve learned that we need to take a day to get situated after long travel but as soon as possible get schedules worked out.  The issue that obviously makes things more difficult is the language barrier.  English in this area is not as prevalent as we have experienced in other European areas.  So, we are all signed up for Spanish classes this week.  Amy and the kids are doing a private lesson for 2 hours each day and I’m in a group of 7 students for 4 hours each day.  After the first week we will decide if we want to stick with this school or move on to another one for more variety or just try to wing it.  TIme will tell.

It’s been raining the last few days so it’s been hard to get the camera out and take some pictures but this week should be better . . . it really is a beautiful neighborhood with incredible history.  Our apartment is on a pedestrian only street, which was a nice surprise.  I was a little concerned with the location at first because as you may know they stay out until 3, 4 or 5 am here having fun (we’ve come home at 10:30 and 11:00 some nights and it seemed like things were just getting going – which wouldn’t surprise me if this was a vacation spot or if it was a holiday but it’s just regular week days).  However, as we walk into our courtyard and up to our apartment we hear absolutely nothing from the street, its amazing. So we get the great, constant action of Calle San Jacinto and the quietness of our apartment.

Thanks Amy for getting us in another great location!

Here is our street, Calle San Jacinto, we are half way down on the right side.

We are also a half a block away from El Mercado de Triana - it's very big and full of incredible produce and shops

Here we are with our new friend Alex and behind us is the Metropol Parasol. An incredible structure that was just recently completed. We plan to go back and not only learn more about this structure but walk on the top


Posted by on November 23, 2011 in Spain


Good Bye Cape Town

Author: Amy, Kendal, Keegan and Steve

Amy –  Coming to the end of our stay in South Africa.  Wow!  Have we learned a lot!  For one the kids started Virtual School here – and yes, they are learning.  Our naïve perception of Africa as a whole and the many countries here, including South Africa has completely changed.  I’m so happy to have had this experience for myself but I am doubly excited that my kids, at their young age, have had the same experience.  My perception of Africa will forever be changed and theirs will be molded on first hand experience that has been so beautiful and positive it’s just very exciting.  If anyone is contemplating a trip to Africa I say – go for it!  You will NEVER regret it and it’s better than anyone can tell you.  That’s not to say that every corner is safe and wonderful, unfortunately with bad people and bad leaders – which are in every country, there are bad pockets.  Our opinion has been formed over the 90 plus days we have been here.  I know I was very cautious at first and waited for the negative to overtake but that didn’t happen.  We found the goodness in so many people.  Our apartment has a wonderful staff – they are short term rentals and we became one of the longer stays for them and we all got know each other.  They said that we are now a part of their family which is one of the biggest compliments we could have received.  Their priority was to make sure we were happy and had everything we needed – they spoiled us . . . thank you Lawhill Apartments.  Steve took a chance with his cooking class and met some great people.  The kids and I met incredibly nice families while swimming with the swim team. We have learned so much from them and are so sad to leave them.  I believe we will see them again either in the United States or back here in Cape Town (yes, they said we could come back!).  Their Swim Coach, Csanad treated them like one of the squad.  Also, we were able to see a school in action while the kids took Hip Hop dance class.  All the kids wear uniforms here – not just a polo and shorts to the knee.  Real Harry Potter type with high socks, blazers and vests even ties for the older boys.  Kendal can’t pick a favorite she loves one uniform more than the next.  They would leave Hip Hop and say – the kids are soooo nice to me and to each other.  They adore their cool teacher Mandy – the epitome of Hip Hop.  We feel so blessed to have had this experience and to take all the love and goodness with us on the rest of our journey.

Kendal –  My thoughts on Africa before we got here was, oh geeze this will be an…interesting…adventure, why would my parents bring me to Africa??? Back home you hear of all the scary stuff that happens here. But the thing is, what we thought was wrong.  We have met so many kind people here, and we have been to so many nice places. I have come to think of Cape Town, South Africa as my second home. I’m so lucky to have so many second homes, Germany, Greece, Croatia now South Africa.  Thank you to all the people who have made this visit extremely better than I thought it could ever be.  I hope that all the new friends that we made will come visit us in America someday, because they are always welcome!

Keegan – Before I got here I couldn’t wait to go home – I thought I was missing out on starting school with my friends.  Now that I’ve been here I can’t wait to come back.  Africa is wonderful and not scary like you might think it would be.  The safari was awesome, Victoria Falls was amazing and Cape Town is a spectacular place.  I love being outside and Africa has so much to do and see.  Thanks to all the nice people that made my visit better than expected.  Come see me in America!

Steve – I feel blessed for the great friends we have met in Cape Town and that they are now a part of our lives . . . thank God for Africa!!

The kids with Coach Csanad

Out at dinner one night with good friends; Skyela, Brandon and Amicah

Dinner with friends - Nicci is hiding

The kids were lucky enough to get a picture with Australian Cricket player, Mitchell Johnson; one of the top cricket bowlers in the world and a really nice guy.

Here I am with my dazzling friend Nicci - she's the one hiding behind me in the dinner picture

The kids with Hip-Hop and choreography superstar Mandy!

Here with my good friend Christine with traditional face paintings at Moyo Restaurant

I had to throw this picture in - on our way to swim we stalked Steve on one of his long runs on Beach Road and Kendal took this picture from the car. Steve loved that run.


Posted by on November 12, 2011 in South Africa


Friends in Cape Town

Authors: Keegan and Kendal

My sister and I had a request to write about our awesome swim buddies and Hip Hop friends, we were going to anyway, how couldn’t we they were so great!  We have made some awesome friends along our journey and we would like to say a special thanks to our new friends in Cape Town.  We probably would have begged and begged to go home by now but we honestly want to stay here forever. Our swim coach was Hungarian and spoke very good English, but with a strong accent.  We loved his voice and his comments always made us laugh!  I would tell you some but this is a family blog hahaha!  The kids on the squad practice a ridiculous amount of hours a week – all because of Coach Csanad.  They are good – we’ll be looking for some of them at the next Olympics representing South Africa – you know who you are!  Our skills improved while being here, Coach Csanad told us and the team when we left (it’s fun if you say it in a strong Hungarian accent) “at first these kids here were drowning and could barely swim but now look at them!”   Okay, a little dramatic but we have definitely improved a lot. Thank you Csanad and Mandy!!

The last practice we had a “Fun Friday” and did swim relays – Keegan and I were captains and picked teams (I hate that part, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings).  Each team had a t-shirt that the swimmer had to wear and when the next swimmer was up they had to put the wet t-shirt on.  Talk about drag!  My team pushed me in the water when I had the shirt only half way on – amazingly it went on better once in the water.  We all had such a good time; it was a blast!  It was hard to leave them; we will miss them all very much and never forget them.  As Keegan also told you we even took a hip-hop class. Keegan took his class with kids his age and I took a class with the college kids (high school kids in SA terms).  I learned a lot of moves so I guess you could say, “I’ve got the moves like Jaggar” 🙂 (lol).  Mandy our teacher was great and wow could she hip-hop!   She even made a surprise good-bye party for both Keegan and me. The kids in our classes were all very nice and warm and welcoming.  All of the friends that we made on this stop of the trip were amazing.  Thank you friends for making our stay in Cape Town incredible!

Here we are with some of our good friends from the swim squad.

One of our final days at swim with great new friends.

Here I am with one of my college friends, Brandon, breaking it down, that's Keegan in back.

Here's our final Hip Hop class with a good-bye party after - we all had a great time!


Posted by on November 12, 2011 in South Africa


Castle of Good Hope – Cape Town

Author: Steve

For anyone coming to Cape Town I would recommend a visit to the Castle of Good Hope on the front end of your holiday.  We ended up doing it on the back-end but I think it would have been even more impactful if we had done it on the front end.  It’s a very informative tour that explains the powerful history of Cape Town.

The Dutch East India Company originally built the castle as a replenishment station for the long treacherous sea trips from Europe to the East.  (If you remember from my last blog, wine was served…this replenishment or supply station is now modern-day Cape Town today.)  It was built between 1666 and 1679 and during that process they made the decision to build a more fortified fortress foreseeing a possible conflict between them (Dutch settlers or Boers) and the British.  It is the oldest existing colonial building in South Africa.  Surprisingly it never needed to be defended as no conflicts ever took place there.  I could have stayed there for hours checking out the exhibits and reading all the historical data.  Quite interesting was the data regarding the Second Anglo Boer War that took place between 1899 and 1902.  Only 87,000 Boers, all unpaid volunteers, took on 450,000 trained British soldiers.  At that time the British were a colonizing country that looked to conquer other, mostly third world, nations to help manage their natural resources.  The British adopted a “scorched earth” policy and destroyed over 30,000 Boer farmhouses, several towns and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of livestock.  Of the casualties over 26,000 Boer women and children died in concentration camps.  Over 75,000 lives were lost before the British finally won the war.

It was about a 45-minute guided tour and then you are allowed to walk around freely to check out the Castle Military museum and the Iziko Museum.  If you plan it right you can see the military ceremony performed by a traditional Cape Regiment at noon and watch them fire off a small but very powerful cannon.

At the entrance of the Castle of Good Hope

The ammunition room leaked so they incorporated a hole to drain the unwelcome water. However they were so close to the sea that water came up from the hole.

This is an entrance to one of the prison cells that held up to 20 inmates at a time, very tight quarters. We also stood in the gruesome torture chamber and got an education on how that all went could almost hear the walls screaming.

Solitary confinement cell - I couldn't see them when I took this picture, it was pitch dark the flash lightened the room. As you can see Amy was not very comfortable.

Traditional Cape Regiment Ceremony - check out the family watching on the bench

The kids are resting behind a XHOSA WARRIOR

These are 2 great pictures outlying some Cape Town history

We are on top of one of the 5 bastions overlooking the city - the clouds are always awesome to look at as they blanket the mountains

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Posted by on November 12, 2011 in South Africa


The Beautiful Vineyards – Cape Town

Author: Steve

As you heard from Kendal and Keegan we have been on a number of farm and vineyard tours.  There is definitely much to be learned from the science and art of wine making but we have also learned a great deal about the local and global business of vineyards.  I hope that whatever Kendal and Keegan are taking in from these tours that they are also absorbing some of the larger picture aspects of business.  I’ll try and touch on a little of what we tried to take in on our visits.

The majority of the vineyards we toured were all in Western Cape in the major wine-land regions of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl.  The intriguing history of wine in this area dates back to 1659 when the founder of Cape Town, Jan van Riedbeeck (a Dutch surgeon), produced the first wine.  The Dutch East India Company established a “supply station” for their long travels east, today this “supply station” is known as Cape Town.  The Dutch surgeon planted vineyards to produce wines believing the vitamins contained in wine were a remedy that would ward off scurvy the sailors were getting during their travels through the Spice Route.  In 1685 the Governor, Simon vander Stel established the Constantia Estate and was at that time considered one of the best wines in the world. The decades that followed were full of, you guessed it, more incredible history.  I’ll fast-forward a little…in 1859, after the area fell under British rule, over 1 million gallons of South African wine had been exported to Great Britain successfully.  However, an unfortunate combination of a free trade treaty in 1860 between Great Britain and France (the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty) and a phylloxera epidemic in 1865 (an aphid is a plant lice that attacks the plant vines and injects a deadly venom and corrodes the root structure) diminished South African wine exports. This disastrous combination would take more than 20 years for the vineyards to recover from.  Even after they got back on track with great wine they really weren’t noticed much globally during the 20th century, most of that vain came because of the boycotts instilled due to Apartheid.

I have been reading a lot in the newspaper over the last few weeks on the vineyards here and the unfortunate financial difficulties many have found themselves in, specifically the “primary wine producers”.  There are a number of reasons why over 100 vineyards are for sale and a surprisingly huge percentage are under the brink of bankruptcy and I’m sure some of these same issues affect many vineyards in other countries. They are all interesting reasons in their own right and each one could be discussed at length (but I promised this would be a short blog).  South African wine exports have decreased by 25% in the last year. Their fuel, electricity and labor costs have all increased by almost 50% since 2004.  It doesn’t help their valid paranoia that if US Walmart Corporation buys Massmart (South Africa’s largest chain retailer), Walmart could very well bring cheap wine to South Africa in large quantities and further hurt local sales.  One of the more fascinating areas is the prohibited use of enzymes in the wine manufacturing process in South Africa. The longer the grape is in the ground the more sugar is created which increases the alcohol content. If a vintner is unable to get the grapes picked soon enough (getting labor out on a Saturday or Sunday for example, can sometimes be impossible) your alcohol level is higher and that increased alcohol content increases the vintners’ taxes and tariffs. Other countries are allowed to use enzymes which puts South Africa at a huge global disadvantage because you can’t really level out your alcohol, not to mention the increased aroma and taste enzymes could give your wine.  Another way to reduce that alcohol level is to water down the wine (they call this process “Jesus Units”, which comes from the bible story of the Miracle at the Marriage at Cana when they added water to wine).  However, this practice in some crowds is considered “wine fraud”. Other countries are allowed to use a limited amount of water to “make sure the grapes don’t dehydrate” or “make sure the grapes flow smoothly through the machines”;  the question then is how much water is really used during that process.  When you buy a bottle of wine you may have noticed the alcohol percentages have increased over the years.  That increased alcohol content, in my opinion does have an effect on the aroma and the palate.  Interesting tidbit; lets say a bottle has an alcohol content at 14%, that’s an estimate, bottlers are allowed 1.5% leeway either way for that bottle so it could be 12.5% or 15.5%…at this point I would say it’s more on the high end.

There are so many fascinating aspects of this business and I’m sure if I had the exposure to Napa or Sonoma Valley I would surely have taken this all in back home.  As I mentioned many of these same issues affect similar wine markets throughout the world.  We head to Spain in next week (we try not to talk about it much because we are all getting very sad that we will be leaving Cape Town) and I look forward to learning a little more about the EU wine process. Let me close my rambling by saying that the vineyards and the wines in the Western Cape area are beautiful and incredible. The people are extremely friendly and inviting to all and we always felt very welcome at each visit.

The beautiful landscape at Groot Constantia, the oldest vineyard in South Africa - established in the year 1685

The Groot Constantia Manor House - you can really see the Cape Dutch architecture

Having some fun after lunch at Groot Constantia

We had our first Braai at the very inviting Middelvlei Vineyard

The kids had a great time roaming around freely to feed the animals

Kendal loves the animals

Keegan checking out the Braai Masters in action

Here we are with the owner of Middelvlei, Ben was kind to everyone

The "Cathedral Cellar" at the KWV Winery - notice the cool barrel vaulted roof

KWV Winery is world renown for having the 5 largest barrels in use under one roof - this is one of them

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Posted by on November 10, 2011 in South Africa