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For the last three nights we've been staying at Long Hope Villa, a private home in the Nyathi portion of Addo Elephant Park in South Africa's Eastern Cape.  

This was our first (and possibly last) safari and so we went for the fences and splurged.  The villa is a converted 19th century three-bedroom farmhouse that comes with a private chef, butler, and game driver.  The chef, Sam, has been there for 16 years.  I only got a smidgen of what he was capable of -- we didn't really let on that we were food lovers as he was cooking for both us and the boys and we were there for the animals and not the dining*.  That said, the meals were terrific if a bit too big -- for dinner, beef tenderloin and fish one night, pork the other, and an awesome venison pie for our last night.  We were asked for our preferences ahead of time and told them we wanted vegetables.  They sent out multiple roasted vegetable dishes each night, which the kids devoured.  Breakfast spreads were "continental plus," with excellent cheeses, fresh bread, fruits, and eggs made to order.  On our last morning we had springbok carpaccio, which needed just a few flakes of Maldon sea salt to wake it up.  Lunches were light roasted meat with salad -- perfect!

The highlight however were the game drive snacks.  This sounds weird, but for each drive (early AM and 4 PM) Chef Sam prepared four sets of canapés, which we ate in the middle of the park surrounded by nature, towards the end of our drives.  These included cheese and chutney sandwiches, beef tips, meatballs, amazing pumpkin fritters, and fresh fruits.  We were truly spoiled.

Long Hope is not cheap, and this entry should really go under hotels but whatever.  That said:  we saw elephants, buffaloes, kudus, three of the five lions, a hyena, rhinos (from a distance), zebras, ostriches, warthogs, etc... and we ate like champs.  What an experience.  As we drove out of the park, our five-year old started to cry (true story), saying "I want to stay here forever." 😢Broke my heart.

*Why go to a place with a private chef and not take full advantage of it?  Because peace at the dinner table is so nice after a few weeks of stressful kid management at restaurants.  Maybe we'll do something equally insane when the boys are older...

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Last full day in South Africa -- 4.5 hour drive from Oudsthoorn to Stellenbosch.  Two very pleasant dining experiences, each different, to write about.

If you're looking for a fun alternative way to access the Garden Route, the Western Cape's Route 62 does not disappoint.  We did it backwards -- westwards, headed back to the Cape Town area.  The kids napped just long enough for us to reach The Barn on 62 in beautiful Montagu right around 1 pm.  This spot is recommended by Lonely Planet and was fantastic.  They've opened a new shop selling various products from around, so we started with a small, fresh baked loaf of rosemary bread and some charcuterie, which the boys ate intermittently between playing on the garden's jungle gym (which we were seated right beside.)  This was the single best 66 cent loaf of bread I have ever eaten outside of France -- so good that we bought another loaf for car snacks for the remaining two hours to Stellenbosch.  The boys had toasted sandwiches for lunch -- egg and bacon, cheese and ham, and just cheese, in descending order of age.  Marisa had the terrific 62 Burger, smothered in mature cheddar, while I had the chicken tikka masala bagel, served with what tasted to me like a variation on the classic Balkan shopska salad, the remix being adding basil leaves.  Fast service, a beautiful garden setting, and a great lunch for five for a bit under $40 (including various beverages).  This is a great lunch stop.

Dinner was something else entirely -- at Mont Marie, another kid-friendly fine dining restaurant in the Winelands.  Not as refined, definitely more casual than Werf, but with a beautiful lakeside location and (theme alert) another playground, this one almost all beautiful wood and clearly designed to not disrupt the surroundings.  We were seated right around 6:30 PM and opted for the three course option, with a bottle of unoaked chardonnay.  The kids had chicken fingers *2 and one small fish and chips -- a bit disappointing range of selection I think, but it worked.  

The adult meal was just great.  I had the pickled fish appetizer and the fish of the day, which was kob (I later learned this fish is threatened, and I regret not asking if it was farmed or caught.)  The Cape Malay pickled fish was not at all what I was expecting -- it was firm cubes of fish in a light and sweet curry sauce, rather than the more oily pickled fish I've had in Portugal and elsewhere.  Not at all a knock, as I can still pleasantly remember the taste about four hours after having first tasted it.  The kob was restrained, letting the fish lead the way.  Very little salt or butter, and some great herbs and mixed saute of tomatoes, celery, onion, and various other vegetables.  Marisa didn't speak while having her watermelon soup (a positive sign) and loved the ostrich steak as well, though we both agreed the corn cake it was served on was far too sweet.

We all had desserts --vanilla for the boys, pot de creme for Marisa, and a cheese plate for me.  Can't say I am a cheese expert, but I thought the bleu and chevre were both fantastic.  The creme in Marisa's dessert was barely sweetened chocolate, which she enjoyed thoroughly.

Total bill, with kids meals and kids desserts, and wine, $100.

We leave South Africa fatter, happier, and thoroughly relaxed, with a few thousand photos to sort through.  These entries are the result of the kids' early bedtimes and my desire to write more and read fewer websites about topics political. I hope you've enjoyed traveling with us. 


PS:  If any of you need tips on loooooong trips with young kids in tow, please feel free to ask.

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