Dubai, UAE, Dublin, Ireland

Dubai & Dublin Double Layover

If it wasn’t obvious, we didn’t want to leave Khoka Moya. At all. But we knew that our two day layover back to London meant we’d need to stick to our original travel plans.

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The Belgrace Hotel was a three hour drive from Manyeleti game reserve, conveniently located by a small airport that would get us to Jo’burg, first thing the next morning. Compared to our five days at Khoka Moya, we knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore.  The grounds were beautiful, but different in their manicured way.  The staff members were cordial rather than warm.  The rooms were decorated with old, stuffy looking portraits and the cabinets within smelled slightly of mothballs though they were sprinkled with rose petals when we arrived.  The hotel owner’s smile seemed pasted on at all points of the day making her sickeningly sweet in comparison to the help.  If you’ve seen the movie Get Out, we couldn’t stop joking that the she may have purposefully built her resort on these semi-isolated grounds to lure guests from the airport.  Over dinner, we assured one another that we’d have our phones charged at all times, and that we’d stick together to avoid the sunken place. We’re terrible, we know.


The next morning, the Belgrace Hotel drove us to the very small Nelspruit airport.  The terminal was tiny, and the airplane was…well you can see how large it was from Corey’s pic below.  It was a short flight to Jo’burg, and another three hours until our flight to Dubai. We spent the time getting rid of our rand in the shops around the airport, and recapping our favorite animal sightings from Manyeleti.

Fast forward and we’re boarding the largest aircraft I’ve ever seen.  You know it must have been memorable if I can remember the type of airplane we flew!  The Airbus 380 was luxurious even though we were the plebes on the lower level of the aircraft.  I thoroughly enjoyed the on-flight entertainment being organised by each Marvel comic series, and by Disney and Pixar rather than by the generic label: ‘Kid Movies’.  We arrived in Dubai close to midnight both well-rested and well-fed.

From our cab window, we gawked at the huge skyscrapers hugging the Sheikh Zayed highway.  I couldn’t wait to see the buildings in the daylight with our friends.  We had to force ourselves to go to bed as we couldn’t stop gushing about our travels to their old stomping grounds: South Africa. Fidel grew up in Durban, and they both went to high school in Cape Town.  We met Taya’s dad in Cape Town on our trip as well.

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Celebrating the 100th birthday of Sheik Zayed, the founder of the UAE.


I didn’t know much about Dubai prior to this layover.  I wasn’t interested in traveling to what I thought was an artificial oasis built in the middle of a desert.  After a mere fourteen hours, I’d say that I judged a book by its cover.  Tsk tsk.  I can assure you that visiting with local hosts is 100% incredible, and that a state that is only thirty years old is a sociological, and technological, wonder.

We rode Dubai’s ultra modern underground metro, complete with separate cars for women and men.  Taya explained how women in our car were likely traveling to service jobs in salons, hotels, and restaurants.  In just four stops on the metro, I was shocked to learn we were visiting some of the world’s superlatives in the first hour of our tour.  We attempted to stroll the world’s largest mall, but could only complete mere sections.  The fountains and waterfalls inside were unique, but the world’s fifth largest indoor aquarium was jaw-dropping.  It’s a massive tank in the middle of the mall!

Directly outside the mall is the promenade that leads to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.  I know I’m not supposed to say this aloud but this part of Dubai definitely felt like Vegas on steroids.

Taya and Fidel planned the morning perfectly.  Now that we’d seen the shiny and new, it was time to cab to an ‘older’ part of town to see what things used to look like about twenty-five years ago.

We ate breakfast at the Arabian Tea House Cafe, a magical setting with a warm breeze and gorgeous platters of food.  The pictures are worth a thousand flavours!

While I didn’t want to leave our cosy cafe, Taya and Fidel promised the old town, and the souk-like markets should be something to see before we needed to catch our next flight.  I had almost forgotten we were on our layover to get back to London!

In the old town, there is a museum where visitors can ask all of their questions that they might otherwise feel uncomfortable asking if they didn’t have local guides.  The old town included models of past living accommodations to illustrate previous life in the desert.  There were also cute boutiques and small cafes nestled in the side streets.

Before we caught the boat to the markets, Corey was caught up by a vendor in a more touristic part of town.  Taya helped him get a fair price, and then we were on our way to the gold and spice souks.

I enjoyed the street art following us back to their flat as it was a reminder of the old city, and its stark contrast with the new buildings erected along the main highway.  Fidel and I joked that building here must be an architect’s dream as there are no rules or restrictions other than one’s own imagination!

Throughout our visit, Taya and Fidel shared about many of Dubai’s strict rules, and it’s controversial policies.  Relative to the other states of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai is the younger, rowdier teenager of the family.  The rebel?  But no one is drunk in public. No one is aggressively rude or would curse aloud.  No one steals.  The threat of being kicked out, or having harm come to one’s physical person is real within the eyes of the law.  Only 10% of the population is Emirati and their wealth is the foundation of the state.  Everyone else is an immigrant, or ex-pat– terms that are based on one’s class upon arrival.  There is a definite challenge with the mass numbers of laborers in Dubai, who are allowed to stay on work visas, but who aren’t allowed to bring their families or their loved ones.  Laborers are living in crammed quarters, and paid incredibly low wages, with little access to civil rights.  Another debatable topic is the law linked with the aging population.  The rules state that you must leave if you are older than sixty-five years of age.  Anyone older than this who is seen in Dubai is most likely visiting a family member, or is a tourist.  Taya also described the Emirati lifestyle as one that is about spending money whether or not you have the disposable income.  The culture feels based on wearing luxury, and being seen, even if you don’t have a ton  of cash as an imported worker.  Fidel talked about some of his interactions being steeped in patriarchy.  Fidel has been asked if Taya has his permission to do things even though she is the reason they have a work visa in Dubai in the first place!  They’re constantly navigating the rules and regulations both spoken and unspoken, and learning a lot about how their relationship works within the Emirati expectations.

We vowed to return to spend more time with Taya and Fidel, and to learn more about the UAE.  Corey has the Grand Mosque and Abu Dhabi on his bucket list, and I’ve got a hankering to see the island developments that are set to be built in the desert behind their flat!  I appreciate that writing a post about a layover shouldn’t be too significant after our two weeks in South Africa, but Taya and Fidel gave an incredible tour in Dubai that made this leg of the journey seem like its own mini-vacation!

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Right!…there is still one more leg of this layover journey.  We had to leave Taya and Fidel’s hospitality to make our flight to freezing temperatures in Dublin.  We checked into the airport hotel, and the only consolation was Irish beer and American football. The weather and hotel decor definitely matched our melancholy mood, but in all honesty, the memories of this wonderful trip, including our layover, have kept us warm for weeks since.

 

 

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Manyeleti Game Reserve, South Africa

Our Honeyguide Khoka Moya Safari

I used to tease that within the first 10 minutes of meeting Corey, he’d find a way to share that he’s been on safari at Maasai Mara in Kenya.  Now, with my mere four days at Manyeleti game reserve, it’s safe to say that I understand his sentiments, and that I’ll most likely fall into the same habit since this was a trip I’ll never forget.

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Our glampsite: The tented accommodations were a close walk from the main lodge, yet you felt as though you were out in the open of the game reserve.  From our porch, we saw water buck, impala, and numerous birds.  On our third night, we heard a leopard calling at the side of our tent, and on the last afternoon, we saw an elephant walk through camp to drink at the lodge’s pond!

Our mealplan: In addition to the lodge’s close proximity to the animals, Khoka Moya’s camp food was a highlight: veggie lasagna, fish and chips, stewed springbok, roasted vegetables, and cheesecake.  I don’t know how they had such a fresh and varied menu but I was excited for family meal every day.

Our daily itinerary:

  • 5:00am: The receptionist told us that a drum would sound as the camp wake-up call but we doubled down with our alarms so as not to miss the pre-dawn game drives.  All guests would lumber to the main lodge for some variety of a homemade granola bar, and a coffee if needed.
  • 5:25am: Let the wild rumpus begin!  The morning game drives started right as you left the tent grounds since impala and waterbuck herds would be grazing along the road.  Our  tracker, Johannes-Godfrey sat out front on the jeep’s hood in the equivalent of a lifeguard chair.  Lyton, our guide, explained the wildlife along the way, and shared facts about the flora on the side of the road.  He’d pull over to show us branches that doubled as fly swatters, and leaves that doubled as toilet paper.  At times, he would toy with us, too.  He’d point to an area in the distance to see if we could spot the animal he’d already noted.  We’d peel our eyes, but usually couldn’t see anything due to the animal’s natural camouflage.  We felt proud on day three when we realized our eyes had adjusted.  We hollered that we saw three giraffes down the road.  Lyton congratulated us, and then with a smile, corrected us that there were actually seven giraffes in the area.  I’ve included a picture below to see if you can spot the animal in the vast game reserve (center, bottom row).
  • 7:30-8:00am:  We’d stop, stretch our legs outside of the jeep, and have a snack in the bush.  A thermos of tea or coffee, and more homemade biscuits.  If the sun hadn’t warmed the reserve yet, the jeep was well-equipped with flannel-lined water proof ponchos that I took full advantage of.
  • 9:00am: Time to return to the lodge for breakfast.  Though you’ve done nothing but sit in a jeep, and snap pictures, you are very hungry.  All guests would linger near the tables, eager to hear the drum signaling chow time.  We’d also spend some of this time waving off the pesky monkeys who were closing in, keen for a taste of eggs and ham.
  • 10:30am-14:00pm: After guests finished breakfast, folks would meander back to their tents, stay at the lodge to hoard wifi, or head to the pool.  We never made it past tent time.  Like the animals, we’d spend much of the day in and out of naps.  Twice, I attempted to be productive by deleting pictures from our camera to make room for the upcoming drives, but that didn’t last long.
  • 14:00-16:00pm: Lunch buffet!  Again, you’ve done a lot of laying around, but I couldn’t pile my plate high enough for this meal.  With a daily salad bar supplied with pickled beets, olives, and homemade pesto dressing, I was happy no matter what came along for the rest of the meal.  After lunch, we’d prep for the afternoon game drive by applying sunscreen, and ensuring our camera batteries were charged.
  • 16:00pm: Game drive #2!  The afternoon drives usually had more animal action since the trackers and guides had since radioed one another to share locations of wildlife sightings.

  • 18:45pm: My favorite part of the day- sunset! I could have chased light all day and been a happy camper, as my dad would say.  Around this time, Corey would repeatedly prompt me for the camera since I’d be taking pictures of the clouds, and he be shaking his head, realizing I’d missed opportunities of rhinos or hyenas or something.

  • 19:30-20:00pm: Time for happy hour in the bush.  We’d get out of the jeep to stretch our legs, and Lyton and Johannes-Godfrey would set out a serious mini-bar for everyone.

  • 21:00-22:00pm: As guests waited for the dinner drums, we’d share pictures of the day, and stories of the drives.  The chef would announce the evening meal, and Corey and I would opt for a 10 pound bottle of wine (the brand generically titled ‘Unbelievably Dry White or Red’).

  • 22:30pm: By this time, everyone retired to their tent. We’d be wiped out from such an early start to the day.  The local guides and trackers used torches (aka flashlights) to walk guests back along the lodge roads as we weren’t allowed to go on our own past sundown.  Even though each day followed the same agenda, we were never bored…how could you be with so many incredible things to see each day?!


Drive 1- A Strong Start (31Dec2017)

We met our first round of safari comrades: a French family from Lyon- mom, dad, older brother (20years) and twin sisters (18years), and a Dutch couple traveling throughout southern Africa on various safari trips in Botswana and Kruger park before relocating to Curacao.  Everyone got along well, and we shared laughs and stories throughout our first lunch together. We were excited when we found out that our group would be the same for our first game drive as Honeyguide purposefully organizes the seating arrangements in this way.

Game Drive #1 was epic, as Jamie Lynn would say.  Upon reflection, I think it was the most action packed day of them all.  We couldn’t believe how close we could get to the animals!  We were excited to see impala, gnus (wildebeests), and zebra at first but when we saw leopards mating and lions eating a baby zebra, we were through the roof!  During our evening happy hour, I asked Lyton where this day ranked in terms of animal sightings, and he said it was way above average. Apparently, guests have stayed for three to four months in an attempt to see leopards mating, and never catch a glimpse!  We saw them in the first hour of the drive!!??!

(See captions for further information – mainly animal names, and quick anecdcotes)

That afternoon, we also saw our first elephant.  I cried! I know….something about seeing my favorite animal in the wild brought back memories of my 3rd grade elephant report which my dad helped me create in Hypercard Stack.  Next, we had a speedy drive into Kruger to find rhinos at dusk, and finally hyenas in their den at sunset.   Lyton explained that they hyena den was actually an abandoned, repurposed termite mound.

On this ride, we’d been outdriving a storm that finally caught up with us.  The sky was unlike anything I’d ever seen. A rainbow seen from one side of the jeep, a sun setting on the other, and lightening flashing across the horizon like New Year’s Eve fireworks.  There were so many elements in the sky at once!

While Lyton and Johannes-Godfrey handed out the warm, waterproof ponchos, we wondered if we’d call it a night and head back to the lodge because of the weather.  But we ventured on, and I wasn’t mad at all!  The rainy gusts heightened the sense of adventure as we continued on our safari drive.  Johannes-Godfrey scanned the road with a large spotlight to catch animals that had come out in the cool, wet evening.  Though it was impossible to take pictures at this time, we saw two white-tailed mongooses and a venomous ‘boomslang’ (snake) curled up in a tree branch. Did I mention this was all in the dark?!  How Lyton saw these smaller critters, I have no clue, but it wasn’t a fluke. He impressed us time and time again with his keen eyesight.


Drive 2- The Lions’ Share Part 1 (morning 01Jan2018)

Today was full of lion sightings! Lions eating, sleeping, pacing and trekking.  We visited a pride in both the morning and the afternoon.  It’s hard to overstate the magnificence of the ‘kings (and queens) of the jungle’ in the wild, and our resident Leo, Corey, was giddy as we tracked ‘his kind’.

Though the day was lion themed, this hippo skull was the first thing we saw in the morning.  I thought it was pretty spectacular.

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I know I said you’d see lions at this point, but before we get to the mighty, let’s check out one of the small wonders on the game reserve: the dung beetle.  The male beetle rolls his prize to his den.  If there is a female he is courting, she hitches a ride as well, but only the male beetle will roll the dung ball.

Now… to the mighty lion!  We learned quickly that scavenger sightings meant you’d soon find predators and prey in the area.  This morning, the vultures and the hyenas were out in full force.  With mouths watering, they looked on while a pride of lions feasted on a water buffalo.  The scavengers wouldn’t dare enter lion territory, especially as the pride was eating, but their presence was not a secret as they surrounded the morning kill.

After leaving the pride, we drove to a local watering hole for our morning stretch and snack break.  A hippo was playing hide and seek with us!


Day 2-The Lions’ Share Part 2 (afternoon 01Jan2018)

To start the afternoon, Lyton asked if we’d mind returning to see the lions again?  Do people feel like this would be redundant?  I assured him that each drive would be unique even if we were retracing our steps, and that we trusted his expertise on this journey.  The lions were basically delirious after eating all day– it seemed like a marathon Thanksgiving dinner.  And the scavengers’ patience was just as impressive seven hours later!

Lyton noted that some of the pride was missing, so we set off to track them with a helpful hint from another guide in the vicinity.  We drove to an open field and spotted the group stalking towards our jeep. We switched off the engine, and waited.  You wouldn’t believe it when they came by the jeep, two of the lions took a break and lay down in the shade of the car!

Rhinos leave a tell tale sign for trackers. They create toilets in their territory, which means they go to the bathroom in the same place each time, and the kick up dust to bury their business.   We caught a shy rhino on her own today.

Around this time of day, I was “away with the fairies” as they say in the UK….meaning I was daydreaming alongside this day moon.  I just couldn’t get enough pictures to do it justice.  I did snap out of my moon-trance long enough to catch these beauties before sundowners. Tonight, Lyton also spotted a mini-night owl up in a tree, and a water buck that was resting near the side of the road.


Day 3- Take a Hike! (morning 02Jan2018)

Today was a grey morning.  This time we caught up with some lions eating a zebra. I guess I missed a photo of the actual zebra because I was distracted by the tenacious hyenas.  They were still hanging around for spare parts, but tough luck since a zebra is a much smaller meal for this pride. Check out the captions below for our four-legged, non-predator friends.

Check out Corey’s photoshoot of this young, male leopard!

A pattern I noted when we came upon various hyena dens was that there was always some form of babysitting in the works.  This was a tired mum watching a pair of third-graders. I don’t actually know how old they were, but they weren’t old enough to watch themselves while the other parental units were out scavenging.  Lyton surmised the others were probably still waiting for that zebra we saw back with the lions.

We also continued to see solo male elephants each day.  We caught the first one stalking tree leaves, and carrying his own burden.  Lyton said that Americans always brag, but in Africa, ‘We don’t brag, we drag.’ Corey couldn’t hold himself together.

Today’s highlight was taking a walk during our morning adventure!!! Until this point, all of the guides were very clear that guests should never get out of the jeep, unless it was for the fifteen minutes of the guided stretch or happy hour.  Today, Lyton randomly pulled over on the side of the road, and said ‘Get out everyone. We’re taking a walk back to camp’.  Jaws dropped, and we all looked nervously at one another.  He had to repeat the instructions because none of us had budged from the car.  We thought he must be joking.  Only when he pulled out a rifle, and then told us the rules of the walk, did we began to slowly gather our things.

  • Rule one: Walk in a straight line and stay close together. Lyton would lead and Johannes-Godfrey would bring up the rear. We noted J-G was unarmed.
  • Rule two: When Lyton is pointing something out along the path, gather in a close circle.
  • Rule three: If you see something, say something.  Don’t run.  It wasn’t clear exactly what he wanted us to signal, but I wasn’t worried about being speechless if we came upon an animal.

Once I got over the initial shock, I was in heaven.  A wildlife walk to learn about tracks and scat and trees and life underfoot! Yes, please!  Corey was very nervous for both of us, which I get, because we were completely exposed as a group.  No jeep to drive us to safety, and definitely no physical protection to stand up to even the meekest impala.

I loved the additional facts we learned from Lyton today (see captions above if you haven’t already).  There is one more to share though I don’t have any pictures of this one: a baboon spider. We saw the homes of these spiders in the ground along our trail.  They looked like the size of a small snake hole, but covered with spider webs.  The baboon spider lives in these holes, and it’s enemy is the spider wasp which flies into these holes to stun the spiders.  The wasp then carries the stunned spider out of its home to where the spider wasp wants to lay her eggs.  She lays her eggs on the stunned spider, and then leaves.  When the baboon spider awakens from its stunned state, it carries on about its business in this new territory.  That is, until the wasp’s eggs start to hatch and feed on the spider! Gruesome!


Day 3- The Elusive Water Buffalo (afternoon 02Jan2018)

Seeing the Big Five is like a rite of passage on these safari trips.  Most people are satisfied with their vacation only if and when they can cross these five off their list: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and water buffalo.  I hadn’t realized that part of Lyton and Johannes-Godfrey’s tracking was to ensure that guests saw these five at some point on their trip.  They noted that they’d failed to make this happen for our first comrades since they left after lunch without seeing the elusive water buffalo.  Perhaps with the rainy weather this afternoon, the water buffalo would feel more in their element?

We didn’t linger long at the leopard kill that Corey spotted because the radio mentioned a herd of water buffalo was near a main road.  We picked up the pace to catch them before they crossed the road.  Lyton knew that it’d be difficult to track them across the denser bush areas of the park.  The reason the buffalo are part of the big five is because they don’t stunt charge. If they’re going to charge, they do it first chance they get, making them very dangerous for herbivores.

A giraffe running always looks like it’s happening in slow motion!

We found another large herd of impala, and this group had set up an obstacle course for their young.  It’s an afternoon exercise session. The adults mark the trail, and then the young ones run and buck around the course. Their hind legs were so springy! I hope you can catch what I mean in the video below.

More hyena babysitting at this den.  This time a teenager watching over some younglings.  It’s the first time I thought a hyena was cute.  I finally asked if hyenas were more closely related to cats or dogs.  The answer is that they are in the cat family, and yet they take on more dog like traits compared to other big felines.  They are curious and playful like puppies, and Lyton said that they are very accepting of outsiders rather than being territorial like lions, or solitary like leopards.


Day 4-  Scents of a Slow Morning (morning 03Jan2018)

Our last full day started off with fewer animal sightings than usual.  We saw a family of giraffes, a water buffalo herd, a solo water buck, and the chameleon from the previous night.  I titled this section ‘Scents of a Slow Morning’ because you can always smell the water buffalo before you can see them.  A waterbuck also has very oily hairs so water can glide off of their backs, but this oil also gives off a strong odor.  Finally, as we were driving alongside a family of seven giraffes, spread out across a large grassland, we learned about signals that trees send to one another!  I’m not sure this counts as a scent, but I wanted to share.  As giraffes start nibbling on tree branches and leaves, the trees release tannins into the air that signal to trees down wind that predators are in the area.  The tannins make the leaves taste increasingly bitter to the giraffes to stop them from eating all of the leaves off of a single tree.  Since other trees in the area have received the warning signals, giraffes have to cross large swaths of land to find sweet leaves that have yet to be alerted by their companions.  Adaptations are awesome.  I think our chameleon friend would agree.


Day 4- An Elephant Never Forgets (afternoon 03Jan2018)

After the first French family, and Dutch couple, we rode with another French family, and then finally a Dutch family.  But on this drive, we noted that all of our safari comrades had checked out after lunch. Who would we ride with this afternoon? Lyton said that there weren’t any additional families joining, so we’d have a ride all to ourselves!?!? Would we care to visit the south side of the park since we hadn’t driven that far out yet with the other families? A resounding yes from the Spells-Forrest camp!

The afternoon sun was mild, and the road was definitely less travelled.  We started with a lone male elephant on the side of the road, followed by some smaller sightings of a monkey, and a stork.  The south side of the park was much greener with short trees and high shrubs, a very different setting to the open flatlands.  When I noted that many of the trees were knocked over, Lyton said that elephants in the area can fell trees as they aren’t paying attention to what they bump into when feeding.  He continued that elephants love these grounds because they are dense enough to keep predators out, and because they provide a lot of food for baby elephants.  It was at this point Corey and I realised Lyton had brought us to this section of the park to find an elephant family.  I’m still giddy remembering this moment.

Though we spent most of the afternoon without any elephant sightings, it was clear we were driving with a purpose.  It’s unsurprising that the thing you want to see is the one that is most difficult to spot, a lesson learned from the water buffalo.  You don’t go out telling your guide what you want to see, you let the animals come to you.  Even knowing this, I still couldn’t stop hoping for elephants.

Without any elephants after an hour, we settled on a hyena den that was full of cousins and siblings all hanging out, curious about this new arrival– ‘an animal with an engine’.  The hyena babies were emboldened by their numbers, I’d say, and we were the closer to this pack than we’d ever been before (see Corey’s video below).

Lyton heard the calls of the adult females coming home, and the youngsters left the side of our jeep immediately.  We saw the hyena youngsters run up to smell her genitalia.  Female hyenas have a small version of a penis which we didn’t believe until we saw them live.  Lyton shared that this greeting is how the babies can learn the scents and smells of where the adults have travelled.

The shrill trumpet of an elephant broke our gaze with the hyenas.  The four of us turned wildly to look at one another, and we all pointed in the same direction of where we heard the cry!  From here, it was a high speed chase! Lyton reversed quickly from the hyena den,  and we took off in a blur down the dirt road.  When the road split, we idled the car to see if we could hear the elephants again and get a better sense of their location.  We were met with silence.  Lyton directed Johannes-Godfrey to get down from his tracking chair, and to wait on the side of the road to listen for them while we continued on!?!  I was in shock that we’d leave him in the bush without any weapon or tools for protection! I was still caught up on the rule ‘never get out of the jeep’.

We drove about five more minutes down the road without any sightings so we retraced our steps.  When we returned to Johannes-Godfrey, he said he’d heard something down another road.  Within less than two minutes, we were driving alongside an entire parade of elephants!  They were on my side of the jeep, and I just couldn’t contain myself.  Corey was urgently requesting that I change camera lenses from a telephoto to a normal view, but I was in awe and didn’t want to look away for a second.  I was the moment.

The elephants crossed in front of our jeep.  The video shows one of them waving her trunk so closely to Johannes-Godfrey, probably a signal to give them some space.  We saw the baby elephants exploring the water collected on the side of the road, while the mothers and aunties plodded ahead.  Le sigh.  I still can’t believe it.  (The sidenote is that this was the worst round of pictures I took on the entire trip, and Corey is still shaking his head at me).

The day’s work was a success.  The south side of the park was perfect, and I repeatedly thanked Lyton for being so thoughtful.  He mentioned that he overheard Corey making fun of me getting teary-eyed at my first elephant sighting so he knew he’d try to get me close to some elephants from that point on.  I still can’t believe how lucky we were, and you can guess what I talked about all through dinner that night.


Day 5- The Final Countdown (morning 04Jan2018)

We joked that because I’d seen elephants, we should try to set our sights on finding Corey’s favorite animal for the final ride: el leon.  As there were no new guests arriving early enough for the 5:30am morning drive, we had another private tour!  Our quartet could spend as much or as little time driving whatever roads we wanted. Lyton coyly radioed about any lion sightings and our first visit was to see two male lions!  Lyton predicted these two were old enough to be out on their own to build their own pride, but also could have been kicked out as a perceived threat to the alpha male in their former family.  Either way, they were graceful in this moment though they looked a bit hungry as well.

To continue our ‘private tour’, we went down to the watering hole to see if our hippo had any new friends, but alas, he wasn’t home.  We did pick up the tracks of two white rhinos, and another male leopard!  Corey also caught the brief glimpse of a jackal carrying a slain rabbit.

 

We came upon four lion cubs, who may have been closer to middle school aged kids, lazing about, waiting for their moms to return with food.  Lyton informed us that while they were very vulnerable out here on their own, other predators wouldn’t try anything.  Knowing that lions are so territorial, it would be a great risk to try to approach the cubs since it’s impossible to predict how near or far the adults would be to their young.

We were sad to say goodbye during our last lunch, but there was one more surprise! I looked up from the salad overflowing on my plate, and saw an elephant meandering in to drink from the lodge’s pond! All of the guests rose hastily from their seats to grab pictures, while our guides reminded us to keep our voices low amidst the excitement.  We learned that the owner himself arrived that day, and he was the only one allowed to step off the porch to get a closer picture (see video below of the Khoka Moya owner).


With Gratitude

The Honeyguide Khoka Moya lodge staff made this trip incredibly special.  Massive shoutouts to Lyton and Johannes-Godfrey for their knowledge and their thoughtful nature around game drives.  I’d suggest to everyone to take in a lot more than just the big five, and if you visit this team, you’ll get the experience of a lifetime on the Manyeleti game reserve.

 

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Cape Town, South Africa

A Lekker Time in Cape Town

(*Lekker is an Afrikaans word that was used to 1) describe food as tasty or nice.  Now it’s been adapted as slang in other ways: 2) to comment about a woman who is fit/hot and 3) to express one’s feeling that something /someone is cool, sweet, dope; a basic word to express approval…summing up exactly how we felt about Cape Town)

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Arriving in Cape Town on Christmas day felt like magic.  Chilly, dark London transformed into sunny, breezy Cape Town on our spontaneous trip to South Africa (we booked our flights just four days prior to arrival).  But even if you planned a trip to South Africa a year in advance, I think you’d still feel CPT’s sense of wonder.  Table Mountain looks after you no matter where you are in the city, the emerald green waters of two oceans lure you to the coastline, and the gap between gritty streets and impeccable vacation homes is something to reckon with.  We were able to steal away to the vineyards, get lost in historical landmarks, and feel like time was on our side the entire time.  We’re huge fans, Capetown!

Right away, we noted the public service announcements of the severe drought plaguing the city.  It’s worsened since our trip in December, and our thoughts are with Cape Town residents.


Understandably, much of the city was shut down for the Christmas holiday.  In the central business district (CBD), we found a local hostel for a beer and toasted to that first feeling of vacation settling in.  The Village local buffet across the street really lived up to its name as we were the only tourists amongst the cousins running around, the aunties shelling shrimp and the dads directing their kids to pick up an extra ice cream cup on the way back from the buffet.  I wouldn’t put it on the ‘must eat’ list at all, but it was a fun experience being amongst the crowded tables and crowded plates.

Our sunny Christmas day was perfect for a walk after the buffet lunch.  We walked through Green Market Square where a small number of booths were selling bead work, wood work, fabric work, metal work– all boasting pan-African curios.  A few shops on Long street also housed similar crafts.  There were sharks, giraffes, and fauna of all types made out of aluminum cans, beaded roosters and slender wooden carvings, bright fabrics, and lots of wired and roped jewelry.  It felt too early to buy something but hindsight is 20/20. This would have been the perfect time to pick up handiwork and souvenirs as there weren’t crowds of people, and the prices were better than more formal stores in the malls and at the airport.

The Company’s Garden has a long, beautiful promenade with a fish pond, and a rose garden.  The garden is right alongside Parliament but we didn’t realize this until we left the park to find our way to District Six.

District Six is a must-see historic neighborhood.  In 1966, local government declared this multi-ethnic neighborhood a white-only residential area.  The city began demolishing block after block of homes and storefronts, displacing residents, and forcing them to leave with little more than what they could carry.  I read Noor’s Story, a book that Mrs. Spells gave to me upon return from her CPT trip, which tells of Noor’s memoirs as a young boy in District Six, and what he remembers of being uprooted.  I’ll write more on the museum later, but for now you should know that walking through District Six feels like a gentrified, design neighborhood with bakeries, cafes and barber shops… a place where a tourist might unfortunately miss this history.

We tried for a drink at gin bar back in the central business district, but it was closed for the entire week of holiday.  Not to worry if this happens to you.  Just a few blocks beyond this bar is Bo-Kaap.  Bo-Kaap is a Malay South African neighborhood that is another must-see!  We were immediately lured by the brightly colored homes with the Lion’s Head mountain as the backdrop.

Later this evening, we caught the Westin hotel shuttle to the V&A Waterfront.  It’s a behemoth mall on the waterfront with throngs of tourists dining at the restaurants that hug the pier.  Also, does every tourist destination need a ferris wheel now?  Oi.

We had a recommendation for Sevruga, and we think it was because of the sheer size of the sushi rolls.  Corey’s sushi plate was one to ogle, though all of the pieces were smothered in some concoction of mayonnaise.  Best point of the experience was the Spier white wine from Stellenbosch. It was our first, but not our last 😉


26December2017: The Cape of Good Hope

We planned today’s itinerary around picking up our rental car.  The Cape of Good Hope seemed a great choice for our first official drive in South Africa.  The Cape of Good Hope is the most southwesterly point on the Cape Peninsula, though still in Table Mountain National Park.  The drive south takes you past various coastal towns like Camps Bay, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, and Simons Town.  I loved driving along the winding coast line, looking over at the brown seaweeds that glittered in the sunlight.  The roadside is dotted with lookouts and vacation homes built into the lower parts of the cliffs.  Even waiting in the hour of traffic to get into the national park didn’t get us down. We happily took in the natural beauty and the sunshine, plus I was feeling pretty accomplished as an American driver handling a stick shift in the opposite side of the car, and on the opposite side of the road.

We split a baguette sandwich before taking off down the breezy boardwalk to the Cape.  The lookouts over the waves and sandy beaches were gorgeous, and though the parking lots were crowded, the ninety minute hike to the Good Hope point seemed less travelled than the funicular route up to the lighthouse.  I was happy to have my sweatshirt while climbing over the large boulders as the wind was something serious.  When we finally crested the small hill, we looked down and noted that there was another car park below!  This meant most people skipped the hike completely and were driving directly to the Cape of Good Hope sign!

Corey and I posed for pictures at the sign, and resolved that we preferred our hike even our new knowledge of the drive-in option.  On our drive back to CPT, we stopped at Seaforth Beach to catch the goings-on of the sun-kissed locals and of the nesting penguins!  Simons Town and its main street were closed at this point so we continued back to the M3 highway to plot dinner on Bree Street.  By the way, the M3 part of the highway was my favorite since its tree-lined and shady like a botanical garden.

Bree Street seemed a trendy street for restaurants and cafes, but La Parada’s kitchen was closed when we arrived.  The walk to Villa 47 is an easy one from Bree Street, and probably where we should have stopped when we passed it the first time since it looked so cosy!  Our server, Sarah (yes, first name basis), had the best recommendations which we’ll share: lamb tortellini, and the line fish of the day.  We don’t usually go for a tiramisu but she insisted, and we rolled out happily.  She also helped us add another great bottle to our list: Jordan Wines (also in Stellenbosch).

Though I’ve yet to visit New Orleans, The Village Idiot bar around the corner seemed like it could be set in NOLA with its second floor open-air balcony stretching around the length of the bar.  The warm breeze went well with our after-dinner drinks, and we philosophized about how the DJ could improve his set.


27December2017: Table Mountain

We woke up later than expected but still figured we could make it out to the car before the parking meters started.  But once outside, neither of us could find a meter or a place to pay for parking.  We asked two workers at the office building near our car.  They informed us we needed to find a man in a bright orange vest to pay for parking, but that he hadn’t been around this morning.

“Sometimes he comes, and other times he won’t show up”, one of the men shrugged.

“If he comes, and you’re not here, we’ll tell him to wait for you,” the other piped. Ke Dezemba Boss?!? (This saying means ‘no worries, man’…and this phrase can be applied to the entire month of December! Some even take liberties to extend this slogan to late November and early January).  The office workers seemed genuinely sure the meter man would wait for us if we weren’t at our car when he arrived.  We were baffled.  We ran back upstairs to shower, and get on our way to Table Mountain.  No rush was needed, though, because the parking meter man never showed!

The plan was to visit Table Mountain in the morning, and then drive to the wine farms for lunch and for an afternoon tasting.  Traveler’s Tip: During tourist season, plan on spending the bulk of the day at Table Mountain.  It’s crowded, and the lines are long to get up and down in the cable car.  But the views are unparalleled.

We shuttled up the mountain, chatted for an hour with the couple in front of us in line, and loved the rotating floor in the cable car.  The views are breathtaking, and we were surprised at how the surrounding boulders and rocks mask how high up you are when you reach the top.

There are three loop paths that map a 15, 30, and 45 minute walk.  Everyone is trying to snap their best pictures and selfies on the various pathways, and so we joined the fun as well!

Then there are the ‘getting down’ options. The most popular is to take the cable car back down, hence the line you see below.  However, you can also choose to belay climb down the face of the mountain! I was able to catch a glimpse of a woman’s orange helmet as she went over the edge (pic 1 below).  You can also opt to hike down the back of the mountain but if you do this, you most likely hiked up the summit in hiking gear.

From the base, the line snaked around at the shuttle stop, so we walked back to the car park.  We knew we’d miss the lunch and wine tasting this afternoon so we opted for a drive to Kalk Bay instead.

If you go to Kalk Bay, eat at Olympia Bakery and their small restaurant. Don’t eat at Harbor House, though you might be tempted because the view is gorgeous.  Take our advice as we learned from experience: “If you don’t love yourself, then don’t go to Olympia Bakery” (a quote from my friend Taya).  The local families at Kalk Bay in faded bathing suits and pilled towels contrast to the tourists sipping wine in floppy designer hats on the main strip.  The galleries on main street are filled with home decor and upscale handmade items.  You’ll find your fill of ice cream shops, and book stores, and the clothing stores are what one might call boho.  We spent less than an hour strolling here since my Harbor House lunch was not making friends with my tummy.

This evening was pretty pathetic as I got food poisoning.  Corey wasn’t able to meet up with Loyiso since he was trying to feed me dry toast and ginger ale between my trips to the bathroom.


28December2017: Robben Island

Unfortunately, Montezuma’s Revenge hit Corey this morning and we were down for the count with stomach issues for a majority of the day.  Though we didn’t leave our hotel room, we cheered each other on to get better as we knew we had to be well enough to make our 4:30pm boat trip to Robben Island!  We had our first experience with Lucozade, a Gatorade equivalent in the UK, but Gatorade is far superior.  After more dry toast, we finally gained the strength to leave for the island.

((Before catching the shuttle to the V&A Waterfront, we checked to see if the meter man had come to work today. A small receipt on the window let us know we’d been ticketed.  As we tried to decipher the costs, the notorious man in the orange vest literally came out of nowhere and prompted us with a card machine.  We owed 6 pounds for parking all day on the street.  Sweet.  We could live with that….especially knowing that neither of us could have made it down earlier in the morning to move the car.))

Robben Island has been on my bucket list forever, and I was very excited to get on with the tour.  But first, another traveler’s tip:  Erase the images of you having a solitary moment at Mandela’s cell.  There is no time or real space for one’s deep reflection on this tour.  There are about five buses of tourists that visit the museum at ticketed times between 9am-5pm.  That being said, it’s an experience that truly can’t be missed (even if you’re now a bit skittish on boats like me).  After shuffling off the boat, you board a bus with a quick-witted tour guide who is fluent in saying hello and in telling at least one joke in over twelve languages.

Your tour takes you to the recreational facilities, to the separate blocks for criminal prisoners, and to the limestone quarry where political activists would talk shop during their endless hours of hard labor.  The kinder guards would warn the activists when it was safe to make their plans.  Mandela returned to the island when it was opened as a museum, and stacked the rocks in the center of the quarry (seen below) to commemorate his fellow activists.  The rocks haven’t been moved since.

Before the last stop at the political prisoner block, we stretched our legs at this Table Mountain lookout, complete with the cloud cover ‘table cloth’ in the distance.

The main area of the maximum security prison housed political prisoners, surrounded by concrete walls and barbed wire.  The sense of bleakness is a bit hard to visualize when you’re cattled through each area, but if you stay a bit behind the group, you can experience the silence of the space for a brief moment.  We learned that recreational hour was not just to pass the time.  While prisoners would play tennis, they would cut open the tennis balls to pass notes of news off the island.  Mandela would tend to his garden (see below), and hide his manuscript of A Long Walk to Freedom, which was found and destroyed numerous times.

The cells are no bigger than a closet with one mat and a washbin.  Depending on the side of the corridor, you may have a small or smaller window.  Mandela’s cell was the fourth on the right side down this long corridor.  Though I was surrounded by tourists and cameras, I found that touching the bars, and closing my eyes, filled me with the weight of this place.  There is a gravity that you can’t ignore.

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It’s powerful to walk from the maximum security prison back to the boat rather than being bussed, at sundowners no less.  Corey remarked that these are the same steps Mandela must have taken in his long walk to freedom.

The V&A Waterfront lights beckon you to dinner but we opted for a shuttle to our hotel and a stroll to Long Street for some Ethiopian food.  The mushrooms on deck were our least favorite, but it was a good to have injera for our first full meal after our food poisoning bout.


29December2017: Wine Farms in Franschhoek

We’d had many wine farm suggestions, all of which I’m sure are lovey, but I’m going to spend this section gushing about Boschendal.  It’s a brand of wine sold at the Tesco Metro downstairs from our flat, so I told Corey that if it was an underwhelming wine farm, at least we’d have a story to tell when we drink it back in London.  It was anything but, and I’ll say I have a newfound respect for Tesco’s wine selection.

Before we get to Boschendal, first, the drive to Franschhoek was stunning. It’s greener than Napa and Sonoma, and the valley of vines is surrounded by rocky hills jutting into the blue sky.  I couldn’t stop exclaiming how gorgeous it all was, and pulled over numerous times to order Corey to snap a photo.  However, you also will note the stark contrast between the rich estates and the shantytowns that have cropped up between them.  Some of the locals walk the medians on the road, selling boxes of fruit for tourists who want to enjoy their wine with fresh produce.

We turned off the road to a tree lined entrance to the Boschendal farm, and I knew immediately this is where we’d spend a majority of our day.  There were shaded lawns to sip wine on hammocks and bean bags.  Visitors buy picnic baskets from the cafe to have alongside your recently purchased bottles.  If you like, you can start with breakfast at the restaurant on one side of the estate, and then make your way through the gardens to the tasting area.  There is a kids camp, there are tours of the cellars and of the olive press facility.  You can even ride horses through the acres of vineyards and backroads of the farm.

The tasting room staff were upbeat in their poetic descriptions of each glass.  We weren’t interested in Chardonnay at all, but with a wink, our server brought us a taste that changed my feelings about Chardonnay! We bought a bottle and carried it back to the UK!  After a day of the stomach bug, it was relaxing to sit back and feel the warm breeze beneath the trees with a small set of wines to sip.

With incredibly short notice, Corey lined up a lunch at Grande Provence, another wine farm with a top executive chef.  The chef happens to be related to Corey’s colleague so we knew we’d be in for a treat.  The Grande Provence was only twenty minutes down the road, and we were welcomed into the likes of an open air museum.  The gallery pieces dot the grounds as you taste wine in the garden, or dine in the restaurant.

We were treated to additional starters and desserts, and you can see why the restaurant has won numerous awards!  Though we didn’t make it to Stellenbosch, we’d give Franschhoek a top recommendation.

This evening, our plans took us to the Grand West Arena.  Corey had been following his friend who was going to DJ at Afropunk, as well as some of the artists performing in Johannesburg on NYE.  He was ecstatic when he learned that Anderson Paak and the Free Nationals were going to stop in CPT for a one night performance!!!  Neither of us had seen him live, and what a treat to see him so spontaneously.  He’s not just an incredible musician but also a talented performer!  Every part of the stage he touched, came alive.  My favorite was watching him play the drums during the song Room in Here.  His opener, YoungstaCPT, helped bring energy to the stage as well.  He’s a rapper from Cape Town who we dubbed as our new favorite artist.  After this night, we heard his songs on the radio and at the bar the following night, thereby solidifying his title.

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30December2017: Townships and the Lot

Today felt like the pace of a usual day of travel for us: visiting places that our friends have suggested while also mapping out where to eat based on each landmark.

We started with a tour of the District 6 Museum, which I’d highly suggest.  The stories and images that the previous residents have collected are beautifully curated.  It’s clear that they’ve established their narrative in the city’s history of apartheid.  The quote in the suitcase below was uncanny in its parallel to my family’s own history, and the the forced evacuation of 120,000 Japanese American citizens from the West Coast during WWII.

We visited Langa Township, the oldest established township in Cape Town.  We learned that Langa is a black township, segregated from the coloured township across the road.  There are concrete dormitory style accommodations that house up to nine families at once in 3 single bedrooms.  The residents play 20 rand per month, about 1.60 dollars.  There are also single unit homes with a sitting room, kitchen, and one bedroom, yet these are coveted because they provide more privacy than the dormitory buildings.

Once you pass the concrete apartment buildings, you come upon the non-permanent houses built from corrugated sheet metal.  There are businesses in old shipping crates and make-do shacks.  Here is where children ran alongside us to grab our hands for coins, and where we saw some of the residents calling out to our guide. Even though we couldn’t understand what they were saying, you could pick up that some were friendly neighbors with our guide, and others were upset that he was touring us down their block.

We ducked into a shebeen, or local pub, to sample their fermented cornmeal beer.  It’s said to have medicinal qualities such as healing a boy who has been recently circumcised!?  We also visited a local healer with the raspiest voice I’ve ever heard.  He spoke of how people today visit less for medicinal cures but more for protective recipes from ex-lovers, old bosses, new wives and other family members.  He had vials filled with bright orange oily liquids and dusty yellow powders but the space was so dark, we knew taking a picture would be fruitless.

Our guide, Sia, lives in Langa and is using this job to earn money to pay for his degree in tourism.  He’s not interested in living away from his family but knows that being in the tourism industry could take him to another city very soon.  As we drove from Langa to our next stop, he shared that the coloured settlement across the street from Langa is one we wouldn’t visit due to the gangster culture amongst the men.  I wondered how the coloured township would describe themselves? Sia also shared that ‘coloured’ is a word that meant mixed-race, and that it isn’t a slur as it is in America.

We learned that Khayelitsha is the second largest township in the country (Soweto is the first). There were many more temporary homes, which he explained was due to a high influx of people moving in, mainly from Zimbabwe.  The sprawling township has about 900,000 residents though it is difficult to keep accurate census data due to the ever-changing population.  We could see how prone this township would be to a fire as there were rigged wires all over the place from roof to roof and window to window.

Corey and I drove ourselves to The Old Biscuit Mill, a super hip market filled with tourists and locals alike. If you’re able to get to the Woodstock neighborhood on a Saturday, you’ll shop stalls pushing olive oil, perfumes, leather bags, hand sewn frocks, and silver jewelry shaped in the silhouette of Table Mountain.  We randomly opted for dumplings which would be a quick bite before roaming the stalls. It was a hot day and Corey realised quickly that I’d struggle to make any decisions in the marketplace so he opted for leaning against a pole under an awning while I ruminated over whether or not to make any purchases.  I left with two prints of a cartoon elephant and lion that felt symbolically connected to our upcoming safari.  These are our favorite animals and it would be nice to have them with us as we ventured out onto the game reserve.

Since we still had day-light, we drove to Hout Bay to see the potential seals, and to stroll Mariner’s Wharf.  No seals, but creative sand sculptures (see below!)  If you’re there, apparently the thing for lunch is fish and chips, but we just enjoyed the beachy vibe away from the city, and found the Pearl Factory with some lovely pieces.

With one hour left until closing, we made our way to Kirstenbosch Gardens as we’d seen the ‘Boomslang’ Walkway advertised throughout the city.  The park was full of families having a day out, as well as some workers setting up a large stage for their New Year’s Eve festival.  It’s a majestic garden, and we were happy to visit even for a short time.  The ‘Boomslang’ (meaning snake) is similar to Highline Park in that it’s elevated, but instead of buildings and a city scape below, you’re above the trees and looking out at a picturesque mountain scene.

We landed at House of H for dinner and it was our favorite restaurant of the entire trip!  We highly suggest you have a meal here, even though, as the hyper-food critic in our partnership, I was initially skeptical.  First, it looks like a dimly lit, pretty empty bar from its entrance on Loop street.  I wouldn’t have considered it for a meal at all but we went upon recommendation from our server friend at Villa 47.  Second, there is a fly net on the counter by the grill covering the meat cuts-of-the-day.  Third,  there were more staff than customers around 8pm on a Saturday.  But we stayed the course, and wow, was it a great meal for our last night.

I loved my spider steak with veggies, and Corey selected ribs and a local beer.  The bartender wanted us to take their house infused gin, even offering a tasting, but when I said I’d prefer a red, he picked a great Syrah.  I’m painting the scene with these little details because in the next part of the evening, I have very few words.  The rooftop looking out at Lion’s Head mountain at sundowners (synonym for sunset).  The collection of stools and pallets setting the laidback vibe.  The cool black and white checkered floor and the DJ playing YoungstaCPT (Go Bos!!).  A real lekker goodbye to our chapter in Cape Town.


Quick Shot:

  • We’d eat at House of H more than once if we could.
  • Book tickets to Robben Island ahead of time. This was the only thing we booked ahead of time aside from our flights.
  • Rent a car to drive to Camps Bay, Hout Bay, Simons Town, and specifically Kalk Bay if you’re looking for beach day options.  We didn’t make it to any private beaches, but hear these are also beautiful though more exclusive.  On the Kalk Bay Main Street, eat at Olympia Bakery.
  • Shop and eat at Old Biscuit Market (Saturdays only until 3:00pm)
  • Fall in love with Bo Kaap’s brightly colored houses, and maybe hit up the chocolate and gin shop down the road ( Honest Chocolate and The Gin Bar)
  • Boschendal Wine Farm! I’m pretty sure you’ll be tempted to spend the day here so you might need to slate two days for your wine farm trips if you want to make it to Stellenbosch, too.
  • Make a day trip to Table Mountain but you’ve got to watch the weather and alerts on the website to tell you when the cable car is open.
  • Curio shops on Long Street for beaded souvenirs and all things African print.  Long Street is also a centre for nightlife after the sun sets.
  • Kirstenbosch Gardens was a treat, as well as the drive to the Cape of Good Hope.

Things We Will Do When We Go Back:

  • Visit Stellenbosch’s wine region and more of Franschhoek. Taya and Fidel suggested these favorite estates: Solms-Delta (they also have great live music sometimes!), The Franschoek CellarLa MotteBabylonstorenHaut EspoirMôresonRupert & Rothschild
  • Eat at Pesce Azzurro – Taya and Fidel’s favourite seafood restaurant in Woodstock
  • Hike Lion’s Head: it’s only supposed to be about 90 minutes and if you can catch it for sundowners and get down the mountain before it’s dark then you’re in for a treat of a 360 view of Table Mountain and the city below (we heard it’s seedy after sundown)
  • Visit Boulder’s beach and swim with penguins.  We heard it’s worth the experience even with the small entrance fee for the conservation area.

 

 

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Geneva, Switzerland

Sweetzerland!

I can’t claim credit for the title of this post. Sweetzerland is the name of a chocolate shop that you’ll want to visit when you arrive in Geneva.  The author of the NY Times article ’36 Hours in Geneva’ boasts that this is the shop ‘where Russian tourists come to buy chocolate by the kilo’ since all of the sweets are made with pure, organic cocoa butter.  We savored our small bag of chocolate covered almonds for three days 🙂

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View from St. Pierre Cathedral

Travel tip: Geneva offers a warm welcome to visitors: free transport from the airport if you ride the bus within the first 80 minutes upon arrival. So civilized!  The #5 bus became our close acquaintance as it took us from the terminal to our airbnb accommodations in the La Florence neighborhood.  It’s not surprising that our first stop was Parfums de Beyrouth, our airbnb host’s suggestion for lunch.  Families, uni students, couples and a variety of people of colour were eating chawarma wraps and mixed lunch plates.  We were so hungry that we forgot to snap pictures of our mixed plate of chicken and lamb.  If you feel the need for a sweet afterwards, don’t hesitate to pick up an almond, honey, or pistachio pastry by the cash register.

The #18 tram is walkable from Parfums de Beyrouth, and drops you directly at the iconic dome of CERN, Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or the European Council for Nuclear Research.  Their exhibits were fantastic for layman who needed very simple and straightforward descriptions of the physics projects.  Both the featured and the permanent exhibitions were interactive and incorporated sample demos for visitors.  The real test will be if I can summarize my take-aways here!

The spherical building (below) that welcomes guests to the campus is only one small part of the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC.  There is an underground circular highway below the buildings on campus that accelerates atomic particles at 1/3 of the speed of light.  As the atomic particles are released into this underground circular highway they spin insanely fast and crash into one another.  Physicists from around the world study the various collisions to learn more about particle characteristics and interactions, and ultimately the matter of our planet!

After leaving CERN’s Universe of Particles, we rode the #18 tram to the opposite end of the line into the Carouge neighborhood.  This neighborhood is well-known since it was designed by Italian architects, and thus has a different feel than the other parts of Geneva we’d passed on the tram.  Many of the streets were lined with shorter shops, galleries, and patisseries rather than with larger, immaculate buildings with identical windows in the other parts of Geneva.  I vowed that I’d return to Rue de Saint Joseph as it looked like a prime spot for holiday shopping (update during post: this never happened).  Not much was open after 5pm, but we did find Wolfisberg Patisserie for a warm drink and the first of Corey’s many pan de chocolate/pain au chocolat.

Against my better judgement, we passed all of these cosy looking, candle-lit bistros to find a sushi restaurant for dinner.  There’s nothing to report on our meal at Sake, but I would suggest Chat Noir for a fun night out after a meal. With two floors, you can find something if you wanted a low key night with friends and drinks upstairs, or a more active night with pub-quiz and dancing downstairs.  We unofficially played the ‘name that tune’ portion of the pub quiz over a vin rouge before heading home on the #21 bus.


We usually try to get out of the main city centre for at least one leg of a trip, and on this day we set out for Montreux and Lausanne.

Travel tip: Buy a joint ticket at the Geneva train station that includes your round trip to Montreux, you bus round trip to Chillon Castle, and the entry ticket for Chillon Castle. The overcast weather matched my coming down with a cold, but even in the mist, Le Lac (the lake) was beautiful from the train car.  You walk down a two levels of stairs to see the main street in Montreux which also hosts a wonderful view of the lake from their riverwalk-type pathway.   On Sunday, it’s very sleepy, but it’s easy to imagine the crowds of folks visiting for a ski weekend or for the summer jazz festival.

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I loved that Pret has full on veggie and fruit boxes below their prepared goods. It’s like a full on supermarket in this train station!

Our Italian lunch at La Rouvenaz was just ok, but we reflected that everyone had wine which we skipped, and many ordered shellfish which we also skipped.  We walked off lunch by following along the bus line until we were ready to board the #201 to Chillon Castle.  We found the Zurcher Chocolatier which should not be missed if you are in need of a decadent pastry.

The #201 drops you right at Chillon Castle’s gate, and guests can explore the stony and sparse rooms with the brochure’s suggested itinerary.  The castle is built on a small island that was strategic in coordinating movements between the north and south of Europe.  It’s survived French, English, and German occupation, the earliest being from 1150.  My favourite part of the visit was climbing the stairs to the top of the Tower for a bird’s eye view of the lake and neighboring towns.  On the way up the stairs, I took pictures at each level convinced that the current level I’d reached was the most beautiful view….and then I’d get to the next landing and be just as stunned.

We didn’t walk the castle’s surrounding walking trails but we wanted to make sure we had enough time to check out Lausanne before heading back to Geneva.  We missed the mark and it was dark by the time we reached Lausanne.  I should probably note here that we didn’t know what we’d find at Lausanne, but that I was keen to visit as I’d decided this town was the namesake of the school where Kwaku currently teaches in Memphis.

The attendant at the information booth right outside the train station shared that at 17:30pm on a Sunday, we’d probably find little to do. She highlighted that the main loop for a tourist trek would be about an hour.  We’d see St-Francois Church (built in 1270), a gothic cathedral (built in 1150) overlooking the city, and the Flon district which is now known for it’s modern architecture and design shops.  The goal was to reach the cathedral by 18:00pm if we wanted to see the interior.  Everything else would be closed.

She failed to mention the start of the walk to get to St-Francois church was completely uphill!  The winding streets along the way were clearly the commercial shopping district.  I joked that you’d either need to be very clear about shopping for only one item, or you’d need to be very dedicated to moving slowly from one store to the next to forget that you were shopping at a constant 45 degree angle!  Just to note, we did the loop with success and saw the cathedral with five minutes to spare!

We followed the signs noting ‘de-escalation’ from the cathedral to find the #2 metro to take us to Ouchy (the name of the Lausanne port).  Tourists flock to this area since it’s the home of the Olympic museum.  The restaurants were actually open in this part of town as well.  We were attracted to a sign that read ‘Food non-stop 24/7’.  Clearly.

I loved the ambiance at Le Vieil Ouchy!  The tall candles were lit on every table, and my wine glass seemed to remain full of vin rouge the entire meal.  Corey ordered a serious cordon bleu!  Based on every other orders we saw, we’d also suggest fondue if you’re not a member of the lactose intolerant club.


Today was memorable.  Not only did I enjoy everything we saw and ate, but it was also a major turning point in Corey’s career; he accepted a severance package from his company right before our walk through the old town. Read on…

From our neighborhood, the dependable #5 bus dropped us of directly in front of MontBlanc.  What’s important about this location aren’t the steeply priced ball point pens, but that we stumbled upon Sweetzerland at this very moment (just across the street from the luxury writing utensils)!  Please ask for a taste of the chocolate covered almonds even if you don’t purchase anything!  Maybe bring one back for us?

The promenade along Lake Geneva to Bains de Paquis was dreamy. We were walking around 10:30am when the sun was bright and the weather crisp.  When you arrive at the bathhouse, it draws you in even though it’s no frills. The cafeteria style tables had light streaming across them, and a wood burning stove was warming the indoor seating area.  The teal painted sea creatures detailing the walls, and the walk-up window for ‘grub’ made us feel as though we’d found a hidden gem.

Within fifteen minutes, we were surrounded by senior citizens, uni students, and the few locals who weren’t working 9am-5pm jobs on a Monday.  It’s incredibly cheap for such yummy food!  Most ordered the Plat du Jour which comes in a standard meat or meat-free option.  The plates are hearty!  Some also shared the fondue pots, and we opted happily for the soup and bread.  It’s a must that everyone drinks ginger tea, too!  To my surprise, some folks were lying on the wooden slats to soak up the sunny day though it was the end of November.

We felt warm and content as we walked to an art installation called ‘Stop Telling Women to Smile‘.  I knew that Tatyana Fazlalizadeh had her art showcased in Paris, and in Brooklyn, but I hadn’t been able to catch her yet.  Her art focuses on the gender based harassment that women face while simply walking down the street.  She covers large mural spaces with faces and voices of women responding to this harassment in their daily environments.

On our way to see her traveling series, Corey got a call from HR and we stopped outside of a cafe for the next forty minutes so Corey could take notes on his next steps!

As you can imagine, the rest of our walking tour through St Pierre Cathedral and Old Town was focused on his career more than taking in the specifics of these sights.  I enjoyed walking through the tiny red door to walk up the steps to the cathedral’s look out, and the Old Town has lovely shops and most likely lovely places for lunch (which we didn’t try because we were too busy talking).

We stopped on the edge of Old Town to take in the view of the city.  I guess it felt symbolic to be looking out over the city, and recognizing how small we are in all of this, but also how much promise you can feel as you look out across a beautiful city-scape.

After a final pan de chocolate, we continued our talks of Corey’s decision on the bus, at the airport, and all the way home.  In a short three-day weekend, we enjoyed the bread, butter, and the French influence on the pastries.  We found it was easy to walk around the neighborhoods to see the facades of the buildings which were designed with simple yet elegant eaves.  We wished we were able to talk to more people as there are a number of non-Swiss people who’ve made Geneva their home.  It’s also got wonderful potential for someone who likes to combine city and nature on their vacation.  Finally, Geneva will also forever be the city where Corey closed his chapter at BBG.  And it’s not a bad location to start reflecting on the next steps of one’s career…

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Quickshot:

Day 1: 

Day 2: Day Trip

  • Take a day trip to Montreux, Lausanne, or one of the various mountainous towns outside of Geneva
  • ((One blog even suggested renting a car and driving across the border to France for a market day!))

Day 3: 

  • I’m pretty sure if I’d been to Bains de Paquis earlier in the trip, I’d have gone at least twice for lunch or… even for the bath experience. Make sure it’s on your list for a hearty, healthy and amazing lunch!!!
  • No judgement if you choose to stay at Bains and bathe, read, or philosophize for the larger part of the day
  • Walk to Old Town to see St Pierre’s Cathedral and then meander as long as you like
  • Make sure to eat bread and chocolate. Oh, and butter on the bread. Yes!
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Colchester, England

A Cold Day Trip to Colchester

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Elephants have been my favourite animal since I was about eight years old so I was taken with Colchester’s love for the keystone species as well!  We arrived knowing that Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town, but didn’t know that when the Roman Emperor Claudius invaded the settlement in 43AD that he brought elephants along to intimidate the locals.  Today you can see small elephants decorating the street signs & placards near the town centre, and the local zoo is said to have some friendly ambassadors as well.

When you take the train from Liverpool Street Station you can alight at Colchester or Colchester Town.  We arrived at Colchester, but then took an Anglia train to Colchester Town since this stop was closer to some of the sights we wanted to see before lunch.

St. Botolph’s Priory is directly behind Colchester Town station.  It was founded in 1100 and was the first Augustinian priory in England.  I had to look up priory (a small nunnery or monastery) and Augustinian (relating to a religious order observing a rule derived from St Augustine’s writings…I admittedly didn’t go deeper than this so I’m still not quite sure of the importance in a specific religion).  The walls that remain are from the 12th century which is just a tad bit older than our country 😉 I thought the arches were stunning.

Most people seemed to be using the priory grounds as a shortcut to get to the train station.  We walked against the grain of pedestrians about five minutes up Queen street to Castle Park.   It’s the equivalent of the central park of the area, and many families were visiting this Saturday. I do think there were more children around the back of the castle at the tiny Christmas fair than enjoying the historical site itself.  We weren’t much better than the seven-year olds as we dropped coins into the entrance’s well , but didn’t pay the fee to go beyond the foyer.

The lady at the castle till offered up a few lunch spots, including Tymperleys on Trinity Street.  It’s a beautiful Tudor building with a pretty garden outside.  We were hungry enough for a full lunch, but they also offer afternoon tea as well.  Their mulled wine was the first I had of the holiday season but it won’t be the last!

After seeing the historical sights, and having a cosy lunch, we spent the rest of the chilly afternoon strolling past the Trinity Street shops.  There were many commercial stores like Primark and H&M, but we noted that barber shops and tattoo parlors also made a strong showing.  These brought up the stereotypical images of Essex men from the TV show ‘The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE)’ — similar to our reality series ‘The Jersey Shore’.

Around 3:30pm, the sun started to fade so we turned up our collars and walked for twenty minutes from Trinity Street to Colchester station.  It’s easy to see why commuters do this route during the week– getting back into Liverpool Street station takes about a hour so it’s an direct and easy day trip to and from London!

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London, England

Autumn Art Show of 2017

Sometimes the events in your city or town make you feel like you’ve been on an adventure even if you’ve barely left your postcode.  My autumn was full of art from around the world and I wanted to share.

There are telltale signs that Autumn is rounding the corner in London.  The sun sleeps in until 7:35am, and the trees do lose their leaves but not in the same fiery reds and oranges as in New York.  “Remember, remember the 5th of November” is a line from an English poem, but you might be familiar with it because of V for Vendetta, a movie hinting at the historical plot to blow up Parliament.  Guy Fawkes night on Nov 5th is celebrated with numerous firework displays all around the city…think 4th of July.

Potentially less familiar to an American audience is that October is Black History Month in the UK.  You’ll see that many of the art exhibitions below reflect the incredible talent showcased in London.

A side note before moving on to the art: Many of the classrooms I’ve visited have bulletin boards with Beyonce, Obama, Mandela, MLK, Jr and Malcolm X (I even saw one with Cardi B this year?!).  All are honoring key figures in …well, not UK history.  I’ve asked a few teachers about the historical figures in the UK whom pupils should celebrate, and I’ve been told that the figures posted are reasonable since they relate to the fact that kids in London study the US Civil Rights movement, and that the figures don’t need to be limited to UK history.  On the contrary, however, I’ve also finished reading ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ this fall, and the author, Reni Eddo-Lodge, interviewed Linda Bellows whose leadership founded Black History Month in 1987.  Bellows specifically states ‘I thought Black History Month was a great idea.  What I wasn’t going to do was make it like the American one, because we have a different history….” She stated that the current-day UK Black History Month seemed more about culture, fashion and hair, but she wished it would actually ‘celebrate the contribution that black people had made in the United Kingdom.’  It seems that message is still a work in progress in many of the schools I’ve worked with, and I look forward to passing this sentiment on.

But I digress…Let’s celebrate the art that London offered this fall! Organized by category for your reading pleasure, or the time limit that you have for tea-break reading!

Film

Chasing Trane is a documentary about the talented life of John Coltrane.  It was a bonus that the Doc & Roll Film Festival was screening this piece at the Royal Opera House!  Neither Corey and I had been to the Royal Opera House but we’re now determined to go back to see live music at this royal rotunda.  See Chasing Trane if it comes to your neighborhood.

I took myself out for an agile-working afternoon.  I enjoyed a working lunch at Machi-ya where I’d suggest the appetizers more than the noodle plate lunch.  I will go back to try more of the menu when I have more email admin to complete.  Since I worked through lunch, I took some time back to see Loving Vincent (review below). I finished my email admin and participant calls over a Negroni at the top of the National Portrait Gallery.  This life!