Thursday, April 25, 2013

Self-catering [1]

Some of the most pleasurable mapping moments happen on research trips. Mrs Kaartman and I were surprised and delighted recently when we totted up all the places we have stayed at, and found that it was nearly eighty. Self-catering joints, that is, not the less frequent family-or-friends and the very infrequent hotels. Perhaps, we thought, it’s time to share some of our accumulated knowledge of self-catering, both the rough and the smooth. Not all our stays were recent, so the occasional horrors described here might, for all we know, have cleaned up their acts in the meantime. And their kitchen shelves. Windows. Under the beds. Musty wardrobes.
Not that long ago self-catering “chalets” [who concocted that awful name?] were very much a hit-or-miss affair. Some were wonderful, others were extremely basic, hardly more than mountain huts. Time was when you always had to supply your own bedding, and you collected the cutlery in a wooden tray from the farmhouse back door. Before you were allowed to leave, every last teaspoon was counted, every cracked glass charged for. Most places have improved a great deal, but there are a few things to watch out for.
Mrs K, for example, always checks whether there is a top-sheet under the duvets. If there is, a fleeting look of distrust attends her careful inspection of the duvets themselves. 
“If there is a sheet,” she wisely avers, “they might wash just the sheet after each guest, and not the duvet covers.”
We always take our own duvets on our trips, just in case.
Four of our favourites [see URL's below]:
clockwise from top left:
Baviaanskloof : Key by Katrien; Cederberg: Jamaka
Kogelberg: Oudebos; De Vlugt: Gykonna

In many quarters it is still probable that you will encounter single-ply toilet paper. Even the larniest-of-larnie ten-star resorts in the Cederberg puts single-ply into their loos, can you believe. This false economy [because your paying guests will simply use twice as much] is sometimes taken to extremes, with improbable brand-names like “Golden Ring” and “Butt-Soft” [I kid you not]. The latter two are made of a grey kind of blotting paper that instantly disintegrates at a touch, let alone a wipe. Once again, it’s a serious false economy, because you have to destroy at least the first third of the roll while trying to break through the glue-spot that prevents it from unwinding.

We always take a few rolls of decent double-ply on a trip, and so should you.
Another old favourite is to equip the kitchens with a pallid, yellowish liquid that is supposed to be used for washing up. You will use most of the bottle to create a single foamy bubble, let alone help you scrub fried egg off the non-non-stick frying pan with last year’s brillo-pad. The civilized places provide good old healthy-looking green washing-up liquid with a recognizable brand name; you should take your own, just in case. We always do.
A noticeable feature of almost every SC [as the trade know them] is the fridge. Very noticeable, in fact. So far, out of nearly 80 places we’ve stayed in, the only one we’ve not had to turn off at night is the one at Daisy Cottage, Traveller’s Rest. A night free of gurgles, grunts, belches and sudden impromptu high-pitched humming is what one prefers out in the gorgeous silence of the countryside, we feel.
Mind you, Daisy shares a different endearing feature with others we have known. It has a longspan metal roof; in those Agter-Pakhuis temperature ranges from 0° to 40°+ the roof spends all day and much of the night expanding and contracting with pops, groans and squeaks that remind one of the Titanic’s awful death-throes minutes before she plunged into oblivion. We love it. Daisy talks to us, reminding us of happy times.
Another feature of SC fridges is that they are usually set much too high. Open the door and turn the little dial down to 3 or 4 if you prefer your milk unfrozen in the morning. A very undesirable consequence of a deep-freezing fridge, as Mr Kaartman discovered when preparing his evening Scotch on the rocks, is that the ice-cubes anneal themselves most painfully to the fingers and have to be removed with hot water.
Thinking about it, it ought to be the law that anyone wanting to open a self-catering cottage should have to pack their weekend clothes and all the food they need into the car. They must then drive around the block or local equivalent, back to their own self-catering housey, which they may then not leave, except for a swim in the dam or a walk up the koppie, until the Sunday afternoon. That way they’re almost certain to make sure that everything in the house works [even the toaster], and that it really is a “fully-equipped cottage”.
  Maybe they will also discover that there is no such thing as an SC that actually leaves cupboard space for your food, so you spend your entire holiday with everything in bags or on the counter. 
  What’s wrong with these guys?
We always take our own can-opener, sharp knife and pair of scissors on our trips. A long lead and a couple of multi-plugs are a good idea, too. Take your own bath towels even if they have towels. Check on the price of their wood if you want that cosy, fireside feel in winter – there are, I fear, a couple of joints deep in the country where there is no wood to be self-collected, and the price of the bagged-up green blue-gum sold at the office is, well, exploitative.
Four more favourites: clockwise from top left:
Agter-Pakhuis: Traveller’s Rest; Cederberg: Mount Ceder
Stanford: Waterfalls; Klein-Karoo: Red Stone Hills
We’ve had some damn fine cottages over the years. Red Stone Hill’s “Ostrich Palace” near Oudtshoorn – it’s an old cottage, not a real ‘paleis’ – was one of the best. Gykonna near De Vlugt was brilliant. Jamaka, Mount Ceder, Traveller’s Rest, Oudebosch [Kogelberg], Waterfalls, Baviaanskloof’s ‘Key by Katrien’ were amongst the best. Highlands near George was probably the worst, one of those cold places in an alien pine forest, a wooden hut with a stove and rusty chimney full of holes so you dared not make a fire, languid, uncaring service at the desk and – worst of all – just two of everything for the two of you: two teaspoons, two plates, two forks, two knives etc etc etc – as though any kitchen never needs more cutlery than the exact number of people it is serving. Unfriendly, awful, a waste of money.
Take the bad, the ugly and the very, very good, and I would say that if you spend more than R250–R300 pppn on a self-catering cottage, you are being ripped off, and I’m dying for someone to prove me wrong. Most of the very, very best come in at less than R250 ... 
That says a lot, hey.
Next time we’ll regale you with a some of the adventures the Kaartmans have enjoyed in some of them eighty little houseys. Oops, don’t read that wrong ... I mean adventures with wildlife, with floods, with funny cooking, with smoke and fire, with strange loos ... all the stuff that makes travelling such a peculiarly lekker thing ...

Kaartman, April 2013