Monday, 30 June 2014

South African Visa Requirements for Italy

Travelling overseas on a South African passport is sometimes a mission. You need visa's for most places and the Schengen Visa is one of the more tricky ones.

I applied for (and received) a business visa, you can see the list of things that I submitted below. I went through a company called Capago who gave me a list of documents I would need to submit. Once I had all my documents, I made an appointment at their Cape Town office. I chose the option that allowed me to get my passport photo taken in their Cape Town office, got the rest of my documents dropped off, had my fingerprints taken and then, about 2 weeks later, my visa was delivered to my place of work! (I chose the option for delivery).

So, if you're a South African travelling to Italy, here is the list of documents/information I submitted in order to get my business visa*:

  • Colour copy of my South African ID book.
  • 2 Colour Photographs - I used the option of getting my visa photograph taken at the Capago office. But you can also get these done at photo-stores or pharmacies, just tell them what visa you are applying for.
  • Colour copy of my South African passport. This needed to have at least 3 valid blank visa pages and be valid for at least 3 months after the date that I would return to South Africa.
  • Schengen Application Form, filled out.
  • Proof of Travel/Return - I used our flight bookings.
  • International Travel Insurance - after a bit of poking around, I was able to get an automated travel insurance sent to me, with all the correct information on it. It needed to cover a minimum of 30,000 Euro and the important thing that needed to be covered is repatriation, emergency in and out of hospital treatment, evacuation, medical transport.
  • Proof of Accommodation - they want proof for 100% of accommodation booked for the duration of your stay. Since I was sightseeing for 3 days after, I used the booking made at the hotel for the duration of the workshop as part of my proof. Then I made a booking on I just made sure that I made a booking that allowed me to cancel my booking with no cancellation fee (or no charge if I didn't show up).
  • Proof of Funds - I waited until I had been paid and then went to the bank to get my statements for the last 3 months. Apparently, you can't use statements older than 2 weeks in your application, so try to wait until the last minute before you get this. Another point is that you will need to have funds reflecting about R500-R1000 per day that you will be overseas for. 
  • Letter of Invitation from the Italian company we were being hosted by. This included:
    •  Details of the company I work for
    •  Details of the company hosting me
    •  The reason for my visit and dates of my visit
    •  My full name, passport number, South African ID Number
    •  My occupation, date of birth, home address
    •  My hosts full name, e-mail address, company name
    •  Hosts office telephone number, cell phone number
    •  Hosts office address and occupation.
  • Chamber of Commerce/Visura Camerale - this is the registration of your hosts company with the Italian Chamber of Commerce and needs to accompany all business visa applications.
  • Proof of Employment from my own company. This was a letter stating that I currently work for this company and that I will be returning to South Africa to resume my duties after the business trip. I included my ID and passport number. This letter needed to be signed by one of our directors.
  • Proof of Residence - I used a statement that gets posted to me every month from the agency that manages my flat in Benoni. I used the original copy (but made a copy of the original for my own personal records). Recent utility bill, bank statement or telephone account are the usual documents used as a proof of residence.
And there you have it - the list of documents* that allowed me to get my business visa. 

* This list worked for me. I would hope that it would work for you too. However, this is not an official list and I would strongly suggest talking to a visa-assist agency, travel agent or going to the relevant consulate web-site to get a comprehensive list of visa documents. 

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Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Oh, The People You'll Meet

I sat in the same row as another engineer on my flights between Joburg and Paris, on my way to and from Italy. And I was reminded that people will always surprise you.

On my way there, I had the most wonderful, interesting conversation with a guy from Zimbabwe, who had studied all over the world and now works in the USA, making aeroplane engines for the A380 aeroplanes (among others). It was wonderful talking to him and we chatted about engineering and the jobs we had been involved in. We chatted about family. We talked about travelling. We discussed Zim and how his views on Zim (as an expat Zimbo). We talked about South Africa. We talked about people, in overseas universities, studying "Africa", without knowing what it's like to actually live here. About our skills shortage in engineers. 

He spoke respectfully and thoughtfully, without giving me the impression that he was trying to be cool or gain one-upmanship. Even when he talked about something that you would perceive to be negative, he did it positively. He engaged both myself and the other guy in our row (who was off to Italy to do training for forklift driving), in conversation and was genuinely interested in what we both had to say. Lastly, he addressed our Air-France hosts and hostesses in their native language! All without show. I have to say, that barely knowing this guy, he has gained my utmost respect.

Sunrise at the airport
Sunrise at Charles de Gaulle Airport on the way to Italy
On my way back, another engineer sat in my row. After the normal, "Hey, howzit going...blah blah" some of the next words out of his mouth were, "Wow, I'm so excited to be going home. This place is filthy and gross. I couldn't speak the language, no one could understand me and I can't wait to get out of here."
Wow, strong sentiments to express to someone who you've only just met and a country that you haven't had time to explore. Although, to be fair, he had been staying in a red-light district and didn't get the note that in France, corporate engineers suit up to go to work and don't really do the whole jeans-and-collared-shirt thing. 

We talked a bit more and I found out he's working for a company that builds trains and he did his thesis in microprocessors and sensors for microprocessing. Interesting job and thesis topic, but after one or two more questions from my side, I gave up making conversation. This guy seemed to be only interested in blowing his own horn or complaining about things. And, to be frank, he was annoying me and all I wanted to do was read my book and then try to get some sleep.  

So, two different flights. Two different chats with fellow engineers who were like chalk and cheese. So much for those boxes and labels that we all automatically put people into when we first meet them (and don't lie to yourself, even if you have an open mind, you make a judgement on people before you even talk to them). 

And I was reminded that people will always surprise you.

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Thursday, 19 June 2014

Italy - Work Highlights

I've been incredibly privileged to have been in Italy this week for work as part of one of the projects I've been working on. I'm here for a few more days, but I thought that I would share some of the highlights that I've experienced so far.

Savona Italy Harbour at night time
View from the Bridge a 5 minute walk from our hotel

  • Coffee in the French airport and talking philosophy with my colleagues (thus experiencing France without having to leave the airport).
  • A great walk along the Savona beachfront with my two colleagues.
  • Getting to meet, in person, all of the people that I have been talking to over the last two months or so for work.
  • Getting educated by Italians on coffee and the many intricacies that go along with it (it's taboo to have cappuccino after about 10am in Italy, as our UK team member found out!).
  • The sun staying up until well past 9pm - such a treat coming from the South African winter.
  • Mealtimes with Italians are times for eating vast amounts of food (think 6 courses!) and drinking lovely wine.
  • Laughing about the stereotypes of the different cultures and sharing a bit of the South African culture with my team members.
  • Convincing everyone to come and visit South Africa at some stage.
Our workshop is now finished and I have 2 and a bit days to see a bit more of Italy, so watch this space for some more updates!

Castle archway
Part of the Castle a 5 minute walk from our hotel

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Monday, 9 June 2014

Orange Kloof Tented Camps

On Saturday I was invited to spend the night away with some friends in the Orange Kloof Tented Camps. This place is a little gem that hardly anyone knows about, but is definitely worth the visit! It's run by SanParks and is part of the 5 day Hoeriekwaggo trail. I found it appealing because it's a 20 minute drive from home and it feels like you are in the middle of nowhere. 

One member of our group brought a hula-hoop with LEDs inside it, here are some of the results of some night time pics (which was a great way to try something different with my camera), as well as some pics of the venue.

Afternoon in the mountains

Lights and windows
Peeking through the kitchen windows, you can see some
rather interesting looking light shades!

Nothing better than a crisp winter evening (with no wind or rain),
red wine and a braai on the go!

LED Hula Hoop at night
Fun with an LED Hula-Hoop

LED Hula Hoop Night Pictures
Long exposures (ie a shutter speed between 2 - 10 seconds) allowed me to take these pics

LED Hula Hoop Night Swirls

LED Hula Hoop Night Messy Squiggles

LED Hula Hoop Movement

LED Hula Hoop Wiggles

LED Hula Hoop Night Mushroom Shape
This was my second favourite image - I love the suggestion of a
silhouette and the energy of the flowing lines. 

LED Hula Hoop Negative Person
And THIS was definitely my favourite from the time I spent playing around with my camera
How To Get There:

Drive from Rondebosch towards Hout Bay. At the Constantia Nek circle, carry on towards Hout Bay and once you've gone about 1km, start looking for a dodgy looking road labelled "Orange Kloof" on your right. Once you get through the gate, keep right until you reach the accomodation.

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Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Rhino Horn Hike

A few weeks ago I flew back to KZN with Frosty for the long weekend so that we could join in on another lovely berg weekend hosted by our friend Annie, and her folks.

We were able to spend the night before we left to the berg, and the night that we came back from the berg, with my folks, which was a lovely bonus to the trip!

Our biggest achievement was a hike up Rhino Horn; the guys were all keen to make it to the top from the start. The girls weren't so sure BUT as we got closer (and closer, and closer) to the top, our mindsets changed and we decided that we couldn't let the guys summit alone.

Some advice:
It took us about 11 hours and we entered through the Drak Gardens entrance.
We took lots of snack-type foods to keep us going throughout the hike. 

Here are some pics of our hike
At the beginning of the hike

The sun just peeking over the mountain tops

Rocky mountains in the morning
We had the most beautiful views for our entire hike

KZN green mountains and shadows
Most of this hike is in the shade, with pockets of sun every now and then

Frosty and I

Se and Annie

Tienie and Frosty managed to find some water for us at the last watering hole before the top
It was so chilly that a lot of the ice along the rocks hadn't yet melted!
There's a remarkable flat portion along the top of the mountain, before you get to the actual "horn"
Tired legs and hungy tummies, but we made it to the top!
Our group at the top of Rhino Horn

And all the way at the bottom again - tired but content

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Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Would You Tip Me? How I Was Expected To Serve

Dear Service Industry Workers,

I worked in the Service Industry and learnt so much while I was working there that I've carried it through as a general life skill. And whenever people comment on my work, it's often comments related to service, even though my other fields of work had nothing to do with the service industry.

Maybe my expectations of you are too high. This is why:

So, what would you tip me?
  • I was not allowed to be seen with my cell phone in my hands, even if the shop was empty. 
  • I greeted people with a smile. Always. No exceptions.
  • When 5 people were all calling reception at the same time, my goal was to answer the phone within 30 seconds, even if it meant putting people on hold and getting numbers to call other people back.
  • I had to deal with a woman asking me over and over for body wash/ something to clean her body with/something to make her body clean/something to wash her body with. After telling her for the 10th time (in a different way to the 9 previous times that she asked) that we didn't have what she was looking for, she spotted some shampoo and said that that's what she'd been explaining all the time. Something to make her HAIR clean! And you know what, I kept smiling the whole way through, asked if she would also like some conditioner to go with that shampoo and gift-wrapped her entire purchase for her.
  • I was expected to know the area and be able to recommend restaurants, fun activities and directions from the highway, even though I was a foreigner, didn't drive and all the activities were WAY out my price range.
  • I was expected to be able to recommend treatments offered, even though I had never had any myself.
  • I was expected to acknowledge all guests/customers by name if at all possible.
  • Managers NEVER told the clients they were wrong and if the client felt wronged in any way, they would go out of their way to make amends. Bad service? I'm terribly sorry, we're had a huge group booking that required all staff to be available at the last minute. Please, have a drink on us while you wait for your reserved table to vacate.
Some of my co-workers and I from the Spa
I will always be thankful for the training I got when I worked in the service industry. Does it make me judge your service? Of course! But I feel your pain when you've got 20 people in line, waiting to be served, the phones are ringing off the hook and you're trying to acknowledge all the people who walk in, answer the telephones, get people into their appointments and still smile. 

If you can do that and still smile at me, the last person in your line, I will commiserate with you. I'll say, "Don't worry. I know what it's like to be in your shoes, you did a great job dealing with that big rush."
Maybe I'll even tip you. If it's appropriate ;)

Click here, here and here for the other posts in this series.

Also, what do you think of Practical Cookie's new look and mascot?

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Sunday, 1 June 2014

A New Look!

Everyone, I'm sure by now you've realised that Practical Cookie has had a bit of a makeover. Welcome to the new look Practical Cookie. I now even have my own mascot!

For a while now, I've been mulling over how I can make Practical Cookie better and today I had an epiphany while trying to come up with logo designs - here's my initial sketch that I did of Practical Cookie (she's a Gingerbread girl) holding a paintbrush and hammer.

Practical Cookie Gingerbread Girl
Creative AND hands-on

 And just in case you've missed it, here's the final Practical Cookie mascot!
I first took a picture of her, using my phone. Then I used GIMP (a free image editing platform) to edit and tweak her a bit, until my final product came to fruition below.

Practical Cookie Gingerbread Girl Logo

I'm really excited about my new look blog. What do you think?

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Can We Afford to Not Design For People?

At the beginning of this year, Frosty and I were approached by one of our friends, asking if we would be interested in getting involved in starting up a Western Cape Chapter of Engineers Without Borders South Africa (EWB-SA). This is something that I'm so SO excited about and I will definitely keep you informed on how things go with getting things off the ground.

As one of our first major team-buildings we are going through a 7 (ish) week course that is all about Human Centred Design (HCD). This is a free course that is offered by +Acumen, which is a branch of a non-profit organisation who aim to tackle the issues of poverty in a way that is most beneficial to the people who are being helped.

The first session got off to a great start. It definitely opened up our eyes to how difficult it can sometimes be to obtain a solution to a seemingly simple problem that will be used by the people you're designing the solution for. I think one of the biggest thoughts that it triggered in me is:

In our communities, businesses and own lives, how can we
ensure that our objective "people oriented" design?

It's a question aimed to spark discussion and thinking. I don't know the answer. What do you think?

I've only had a chance to breeze through the rest of this course, but let me tell you, I think it's going to be amazing! Looking at design from a more "human" perspective is something that has always fascinated me.

As engineers* we are so often told that we were taught to think. But thinking only gets you so far. Often, designs are brilliant, but don't get adopted by the people they were meant for because of some small factors that have a huge impact. I'm really hoping that this course will help me both personally and professionally. By the end of it, I hope my design thinking has been broadened and I will be able to come up with designs that make people happy.

*We have two guys with non-engineering BSc degrees as part of our team and interestingly, they ARE taught to design things with people in mind a lot more than engineers are. I find it incredible that this is the first time we've had these types of discussions with them, seeing that I've know these guys since 2nd year! I can't wait to see what else we'll be learning with this!

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