Posts tagged Travel
South Africa is well known as home to many adrenaline pumping activities. From cage diving with Great White Sharks to bungee jumping and white water rafting, there are no shortage of activities to get the blood coursing through your veins. As Tourism Month draws to a close in South Africa, we zoom into the North West Province and showcase the best way to spend a Sho’t Left day.
1. Slip-sliding away
Zip-lining is an activity that will appeal to the whole family. Big on speed and big on adrenaline, Magaliesburg Canopy Tours allow visitors a unique way to explore the North West. Having zip-lined a number of times before, I can highly recommend it for a few hours of fun. Expect to be strapped into a not-so-flattering harness (jeans and trainers are the best clothes and shoes to wear) and strung up on a steel cable running from one side of the gorge to the next. For most, the adrenaline factor is moderate to low, but if you’re of the less-adventurous kind, you can be expected to let out a few screams. As you progress down the gully, the lines get faster and faster, but there’s no need to panic, the competent and trained staff will hit the brakes for you if necessary.
2. The fast & the furious
Ahhhh, quad-biking, one of my favourite activities. Few things get me as excited as quad-biking, so when I found out that we’d be quad-biking as part of the media tour for the launch of South African Tourism’s Sho’t Left campaign, I was almost beside myself. We enjoyed a lengthy ride on quad-bikes supplied by Soweto Outdoor Adventures, but there are a number of companies such as The African Chapter and Adventure Bookings that allow families to explore the North West Province in this unique manner. Closed shoes are definitely required and prepare for a dusty and dirty half-day adventure!
3. A view from the top
There can be fewer more incredible ways to see the Magalies River Valley and surrounding areas than from high up above, by enjoying one of Bill Harrop’s hot air balloon safaris. The first thing that strikes you is the size of the balloon, and the loud “whooshing” sound of the burners that inflated them. The balloon ascent is incredibly smooth and after a safety briefing you’ll be up…up…and away. The view is really breathtaking and, because the balloon drifts on the air currents, it really is peaceful up there. The silence is punctuated every now and then by the sound of the burner but don’t expect this to be a thrill-a-minute kind of experience – it’s more about the serenity and spectacular view. With pre-trip coffee and rusks and post-trip breakfast and champagne, this is one adventure you won’t go hungry on.
4. Feline footsteps
Several times during my visit to the Ukutula Lion Park and Lodge, I wished fervently that I had not worn white that day. The white lions that we were walking with had a penchant for white objects. Thankfully the guides made sure the lions had some padkos along the way so that we didn’t end up looking like a good meal option. Ukutula, just an hour from Johannesburg, allows you to see lions in their natural habitat and you have the opportunity to walk with some of these amazing animals, without being separated by a cage or fence. We were also fortunate enough to hold lion cubs of only a few weeks old, and to see other animals, including hyena and cheetahs. The park boasts several rare white lions, bred naturally at the lodge and they place a strong focus on environmental education and awareness.
5. Pack your trunk
The Elephant Sanctuary in Hartbeespoort provides visitors with a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s largest land mammal. Elephants are one of the “Big 5” and very little beats the thrill of seeing an elephant in the wild. At the Elephant Sanctuary however, you get to see a far more personal side to these giants. Predominantly serving as a rehabilitation centre, we experienced an opportunity to feed these remarkable creatures at the Sanctuary, but visitors to the Sanctuary can choose from intimate interactions such as an elephant walk, bare-back elephant riding and even spending the night in the Sanctuary, in a room right next to the elephant’s lodgings.
Have you done any of the activities above? What did you enjoy most?
The authors participated in the listed activities as guests of South African Tourism, as the Sho’t Left media campaign relaunched in South Africa. As always however, all opinions are our own. Parts 1, 2 & 5 by @clareappleyard; parts 3 & 4 by @metroally.
South Africa is our country, a country we love, a country that hosts upwards of 9 million visitors a year. What do the international visitors know that we don’t? Why are we so reluctant to get out and explore our own country?
As Tourism Month (September) kicks off in South Africa and South African Tourism relaunches it’s massively successful Sho’t Left campaign to boost local tourism, here are 6 reasons why you should book your next holiday within our borders…
1. Spectacular scenery and abundant wild life
There are many reasons why international visitors flock to South Africa each year, but top of many visitor’s lists is to experience a real “safari” and to take in the beauty of places like Cape Town, the Drakensberg and the Garden Route. Cape Town has just been voted the 4th best city in the world by Travel + Leisure’s in their annual “World’s Best Awards”, yet many South Africans have never visited the city. It’s also sad how many South Africans have never visited the Kruger Park or the Pilanesberg in an attempt to spot the “Big 5”. Very little beats the thrill of seeing a lion or an elephant out in the wild, so grab your binoculars and get out there!
2. Outstanding and unique cuisine (and wines!)
South Africa is a melting pot of cultures and thus, unsurprisingly, our cuisine is both varied and delicious. From traditional African fare such as “Smileys” (sheep’s head) and “Walkie Talkies” (chicken heads and feet) to world-famous curries (Durban is home to the world’s biggest Indian population outside of India) to top-rated restaurants such as The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français, Franschhoek, and The Test Kitchen in Cape Town, both of which rate in the Top 100 World’s Best Restaurant list for 2013. And, world-class cuisine deserves world-class wine, which South Africa has in barrel-loads.
3. It’s on your doorstep
Holidays don’t need to be a week or two weeks long. Weekend getaway breaks are perfect to get you out of the house and relaxing in a game reserve, guest house, hotel or B&B. Sadly, weekends as we know them are pretty short, so it makes sense to explore areas within 2 – 3 hours of your home. From Johannesburg, why not explore Magaliesburg and parts of the Northwest province or Limpopo? From Durban, there’s plenty to choose from in the Midlands, North Coast and South Coast. And, from Cape Town, Cape Agulhas and the Cedarberg are perfect escapes.
4. It’s not as expensive as you’d think
For some reason, many South Africans think that local travel is over-priced and unaffordable. It’s sometimes understandable when you consider the number cut-price trips to Thailand, Greece and other exotic destinations. At the launch of Tourism Month last week, the CEO of South African Tourism, Thulani Nzima, summarized this belief perfectly when he said, “It’s a perception of cost that’s not real. People buy the latest cellphones, designer jeans, new sunglasses. You can have a weekend in Durban for less than R2000.” The new Sho’t Left website went live last week with approximately 80 travel packages, to suit all travel tastes and budgets.
5. There’s something for everyone
From rugged mountains to pristine beaches; from rural hamlets to thriving cities; from the solitude of the African bush to the hustle and bustle of mega-sized shopping complexes, there’s a style of travel and holiday to suit everybody. Adventure activities abound with white-water rafting, bungee jumping, parasailing, shark-cage diving, sand-boarding, quad-biking, hot-air ballooning all available in many of our provinces. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach get-away or an adrenaline-filled adventure, South Africa has it all.
6. A world of history in one country
Over the years, South Africa has made history for reasons both good and bad. Our most famous and well-loved figure-head, Nelson Mandela made history by becoming the first African president in 1994. Prior to this though, South Africa has lived through some turbulent times. Robben Island in Cape Town, the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto all show-case our history in a world-class, interactive fashion. If you’re in Soweto, stop past Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world to have housed two Nobel Prize winners, a great claim-to-fame indeed.
Rest assured though, politics is not the only history we have to brag about. The biggest diamond ever found was mined at Cullinan diamond mine, 90 minutes from Johannesburg. There is a great diamond tour and diamond display on site at the (still-operating) mine and, if you really want to take a trip back in time, The Big Hole in Kimberley is a fantastic tribute to South Africa’s early diamond mining days.
Last but not least, the Cradle of Humankind is a World Heritage Site that has produced some of the oldest hominid fossils ever found. The Maropeng visitor’s centre opened in 2005 and gives visitors a fascinating trip back through millions of years to discover all we can about our early ancestors.
So, there you have it. 6 reasons to explore the wonderful and diverse country you live in. What’s your favourite local destination within South Africa?
My first trip to Paris was 5 years ago, back in 2008. We were on holiday in London for 2.5 weeks and with a cousin living in Paris and a brother who could organize free Eurostar tickets, we hopped over to Paris for the weekend. Literally.
In 3 short days we managed to pack in a world of sight-seeing…
The Louvre and the Mona Lisa? Check.
The Eiffel Tower? Check.
Basilica Sacré-Coeur? Check.
The Catacombs? Check.
Notre Dame? Check.
Arc de Triomphe & the Champs Élysées? Check.
People watching at a pavement café? Check.
The problem was, I was miserable. Emotionally, I was going through a turbulent patch and as a result, I really, really did not enjoy Paris. The food didn’t appeal to me, the people were abrupt and rude and quite frankly, I could do with not ever having to visit Paris again. Rome, Budapest & London rated far more highly on my list of enjoyable European cities.
So, when my partner decided that this was the year to participate in the Paris Marathon and that we’d make a holiday of it, I was, understandably, a little anxious. Would it be any better this time around? Could Paris really be enjoyable? What if the trip brought back old memories and regressed me emotionally? 7 days in Paris…how would I cope?
Thankfully, second time around, Paris was a pure delight. Apparently your emotional state of mind has a lot to do with how you enjoy your travels (like, duh!).
We rented an apartment in Ivry-Sur-Seine and set about exploring parts of the city that we hadn’t seen first time round. We splurged on breakfast pastries from the local boulangerie; we bought salamis and cheeses and crispy French loaves.
On our first day we discovered La Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie. The Hall of the Guards dominates the Conciergerie, an imposing medieval room with striking pillars and arches. There are some quaint recreations of cells where prisoners had their hair shaved before their execution and Marie Antoinette’s private cell with her guards.
However, nothing can prepare you for the sheer beauty of La Sainte-Chapelle. Consisting of a lower chapel and an upper chapel, La Sainte-Chapelle has to be one of the most awe-inspiring buildings in the world. The lower chapel is dominated by Gothic arches with rich blue and gold colours, but it’s the upper chapel that takes your breath away. Fifteen massive stained glass windows, dating back to the 13th century, depict various scenes from the Bible and, religious or not, one cannot help but feel awed by the sheer size and beauty of the chapel.
We spent an afternoon strolling around the Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris’ largest cemetery and the final resting place of notable icons such as Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde. Having chosen not to buy a map (we have an iPod, an iPad, an iPhone and apps…why would we need a map?) and having declined an elderly gentleman’s offer to guide us around, we got horribly lost, but delighted in discovering family crypts, unique tombstones and amazing memorials. Finally, 2 hours later, we relented and bought a map, allowing us to find the graves of Edith Piaf and Oscar Wilde.
Marathon day allowed us to see new parts of the city and on our final night, I took a stroll through Le Quartier Latin, discovering cobbled walkways, cosy restaurants and an eclectic part of Paris that we never new existed.
Yes, this time round Paris was a pleasant surprise. It does appear to be the fantastic city that everybody thinks it is and for that, Paris, I must apologise. I judged you wrongly first time around. Rest assured, I will be back.
It’s the question that gets me every single time.
“Is it safe to visit South Africa?”
Inevitably, my blood starts to boil as I brace for the next hammer blow, “Because you know, from what I’ve heard it’s very dangerous and they’ve told me not to visit”.
Who are the ominipresent “they”?
Have they ever been to South Africa?
Have they ever travelled through the many parts of our countryside?
Have they taken the time to educate themselves on our nation, or are they just regurgitating snippets that they’ve heard on the news, found on the web or overheard from some disillusioned, white, ex-South African who emigrated because “the country is going to the dogs under that black government”?
[Please, excuse my frankness, but those are often the people trash-talking South Africa]
But, despite the resounding success that was the 2010 World Cup, despite 19 years of freedom for all, despite everything, people are still reticent to visit South Africa because they deem it too dangerous, too risky, too threatening.
In my work with American tour groups, I find that the travellers have inevitably been warned (by well-meaning relatives and neighbors), not to book that package tour to South Africa, yet the groups all thoroughly enjoy South Africa and would “highly recommend it”. In the advent of travel bloggers, more and more bloggers are visiting South Africa and I have yet to hear a bad word spoken against South Africa.
Disappointingly though, despite all the positive experiences we hear about, negative media about South Africa still abounds.
Enough! It’s our job as responsible South Africans to change that.
So, I polled a variety of travel bloggers who have visited South Africa for their Top 2 reasons on Why You Should Must Visit South Africa. There were some common themes that surfaced together with some touching, heart-felt responses. Let’s hear what some of our favourite bloggers had to say….
Diverse & Spectacular Scenery
Not surprisingly, this rated highly on many blogger’s lists. Keith Jenkins of Velvet Escape highlights the “jagged snow-capped peaks of the Drakensberg to expansive savannah and rugged coastlines” as an example of the natural beauty that South Africa has to offer. Africa lover Sandy Salle (Hills of Africa) echoes this sentiment as she celebrates South Africa “for its spectacular wine lands, unspoiled beaches, as well as Cape Town, which compares to a mini San Francisco!”.
Perhaps one of the most enthusiastic votes for this category came from Wandering Earl who notes “From large, vibrant cities to beautiful coastal communities, from mesmerizing wine regions to tiny towns in the middle of nowhere, and everything in between, every region of South Africa feels as if it is an entirely different country in itself.”. Nothing quite beats an African sunset either for amazing colours against wide open skies. Check out Craig Zabranksy’s amazing gallery of South African sunsets, and see for yourself.
The “Big 5” Safari Experience
Many visitors to South Africa come solely for the purpose of visiting the Kruger Park to spot wild animals in their natural habitat. “Seeing all these amazing animals in their natural environment while enjoying the beautiful landscape” was a personal highlight for Earth Xplorer J.D. Andrews and “viewing the “Big 5” (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant & rhino) in person was a remarkable experience” for Landloper Matt Long. Jen Pollack Bianco and Cailin O’Neil both share this common sentiment, after their visits to South Africa included a safari expedition.
Sandy Salle highly recommends visiting some of our many monkey and elephant sanctuaries, all of which offer guided sightseeing tours, allowing you to get within meters of the animals. Don’t discount our offshore wildlife either, home to whales, dolphins and Great White Sharks, all off which can be spotted along many parts of our coastline.
Delicious Food and Drink
There was no shortage of enthusiastic comments regarding the variety of top class South African cuisine. Some bloggers, like The Travel Tart, raved about particular South African dishes, quipping “There’s nothing like stuffing your face with a half-loaf of bread packed with tasty curry” (known as a Bunny Chow). Cailin O’Neil was particularly smitten with our local game meats, particular “springbok and kudu” and shares our fondness for a “braai” – the Afrikaans word for a barbeque. Cape Town in particular offers a huge diversity in cuisines and, if Indian food is your flavour, head to Durban where you’ll find some of the best curries outside of the subcontinent.
South Africa is well known for its world-class wines, something that Keith Jenkins is particularly passionate about. The Stellenbosch & Franschoek regions in the Western Cape are home to many award-winning wine-farms, so be sure to add this destination to your itinerary. And, if you prefer your tipple a little sweeter, be sure to sample Amarula, a cream-liqueur made from the fruit of the Marula tree. It’s exceptionally delicious, very South African and very, very addictive as Craig Zabransky discovered when he attended the World Cup in South Africa in 2010!
“It will change your life”
At a first glance, I thought The Explorateur’s comment about a visit to South Africa being a life-changing experience was a little bit of a cliché. But, as I received more and more responses along similar lines, I began to realize that she had a point. The Explorateur is well known in South Africa, and she found the “real” South Africa when she chose to break out of the “safety” of her hotel and took a tour through Soweto, a local African township. From meeting a tour guide who was imprisoned during the Apartheid era, to being musically serenaded by school children in tattered clothing, The Explorateur discovered that when you look beyond the surface of South Africa, “you’ll gain a whole new perspective on yourself and what’s important”.
Kirsten Alana recalls shared a similar experience, “I remember standing on Vilakazi Street in Soweto and thinking that if two Nobel Peace Prize winners could come from one such humble street, surely nothing was stopping me from changing the world.”
South Africans have long been recognized as some of the most hospitable people in the world, a fact graciously acknowledged by both Keith and J.D. If volunteering is close to your heart, you’d do well to pay attention to Sandy who notes, ”South Africa’s volunteer opportunities are some of the most humbling and rewarding experiences to be had and allow families, individuals, groups and couples to immerse themselves in the local culture, whilst providing locals with the gift of upliftment”.
Perhaps the last word in this section should go to Matt Long, who, like many bloggers, discovered that South Africa really does get under your skin. He says, “Before I first visited South Africa I was warned that the ‘bug’ would grab hold and not let go. Everyone tells me that I’ll love every location I visit, so I didn’t think a lot about it. This time was different though and by the end of my adventures in South Africa, I had indeed caught that mysterious bug. South Africa enjoys a unique mix of qualities including staggering beauty, a rich culture and people so kind your teeth hurt. These and many more factors coalesce and truly do become more than the sum of their parts. A special magic is created that doesn’t just ensure a great trip, but changes at a molecular level turn any trip into a personally transformational experience. Before you accuse me of extreme bouts of hyperbolic imagery, just wait. Visit South Africa for yourself and then, and only then, can you tell me that I’m wrong.”
Are you ready to book your trip to South Africa now?
Sincere thanks must go to all the travel bloggers who shared their heartfelt thoughts on South Africa. Please, keep spreading the positive news on our amazing country.
Tucked away in a corner of the old Eastern Transvaal is the hamlet of Kaapsche Hoop. Comprising little more than a sandy, rutted main road, lined with period houses and quaint shops, the town has become well known for the large number of wild horses that roam freely in the area.
We knew very little of the town prior to my partner entering the 2012 Kaapsche Hoop marathon. Advertising for the marathon announced the opportunity to “run with the wild horses”, but we had very little knowledge of the area, let alone the famous wild horses.
The day of the marathon dawned cold and misty and as we walked the “high street” towards the dreaded race porta-potties, a group of horses emerged from the mist and drifted towards us. Seemingly tame, a few approached me, sniffed my hands cautiously and allowed me to pat them. For the non-runners (like myself), this was really our only interaction with the horses, but for the runners, a forest detour on the race route was an opportunity to watch in awe as the wild horses galloped alongside them, a “magical experience”, as Davina reports.
The day after the race, we headed back to Kaapsche Hoop to get closer to these wild horses. Theories as to how the horses originate abound. Some suggest that when the area’s gold rush petered out, prospectors simply left their horses behind and moved on. Other theories range from horses left behind after the South African War (or the Boer War to us locals) in the early 1900’s to horses abandoned after the local police station shut down. Whichever story is true, these wild horses are the only herd in South Africa and are fiercely protected by the locals.
The current herd is estimated to number up to 200 horses and have full run of the town. We discovered a table of hungry visitors at a local pancake restaurant having to guard their breakfast from the foraging equines. You normally might lose your meal to a bird, a dog or even a monkey in Africa, but a horse? That’s a different story altogether!
We took a stroll through some of the open fields behind the local houses and discovered a group of about 8 horses, grazing contentedly. Some of them came up to us, clearly looking for some easy treats, so Davina headed off to the car to pick up a bag of apples.
Apparently they’re wild horses for a reason. No sooner had one horse sampled an apple, they were all clamouring around us to get a bite. Suddenly, they were showing signs of aggression, attacking each other to get to the bag and nipping at us (I have a rather nasty blue bruise on my arm from an impatient horse). We narrowly avoided getting kicked as one horse suddenly turned heel on us, so, tossing the last two apples into the field, we dashed back to the car as fast as we could, thankful that no hooves connected with our jaws!
It was only as we popped into a local store to fortify ourselves with a drink that we saw a “Don’t feed the horses” sign *sigh* …we should have known better. Next time you’re on your way to the Kruger Park or Mpumulanga, stop off at Kaapsche Hoop and meet the wild horses, but leave the apples and sugar lumps at home!
London is one of those cities I always love to visit. If there is an opportunity to stop off for even a few hours in transit or for a single night, I’ll absolutely do it. “If you are tired of London, you are tired of life”, quotes Samuel Johnson and it’s a quote that many travellers will agree with.
Finding suitable accommodation in London can be a daunting task. It can also be a relatively expensive exercise if you look only at hotel options. Consider the possibility of self catering apartments in London or a bed & breakfast option if your budget is limited.
With London being such a thriving, diverse and huge city, it’s almost impossible to know what to do or where to start on your first visit, or when you have a limited amount of time. Here are some of my favourite London stops (in no particular order):
Lillywhites Sports Store
You have yet to convince me that there is a better sports store anywhere in the world. Lillywhites provides sports lovers like myself with 5 floors of pure, unadulterated sport porn. There’s a football floor housing every replica footy shirt you can imagine, an outdoor sportswear floor and, best of all a sale floor. Yep, the best thing about Lillywhites is the ongoing sale. It doesn’t seem to matter what day of the year you visit, there is always a sale on and the knock-down prices will leave your jaw gaping – even if you do have a horrible exchange rate conversion. Find them at Picadilly Circus, easily accessible on the Picadilly or Bakerloo tube lines.
Oxford Street is a perfect one-stop shopping street. Littered with sports stores galore (yes, I’m obsessed. So what?), electronics stores, souvenir stores and retail and fashion giants such as H&M, Next, Selfridges and Gap, this is the only shopping street you’ll ever need in London. Put on your walking shoes prepare to shop ‘till you drop
Harrod’s Food Hall
Harrod’s, perhaps the most famous department store in London, houses one of the most enticing collections of food ever. I find it difficult to stay away from their extravagant food emporium. Divided into multiple sections over an entire floor, each section is dedicated to a particular foodstuff. Whether you are looking for seafood, charcuterie meats, chocolates or cheeses, the selections and displays will leave your mouth watering. Each section has a dedicated food bar where you can order lunch and watch the shoppers go by.
One of the things I love about London are the lovely parks. Whilst the streets can be cold, grey and concrete, you don’t have to walk far to find a patch of green. In summer you will find any available patch of grass strewn with locals who are soaking up the sun, eating lunch, reading a book or just watching the world go by. Hyde Park is one of the bigger and more popular parks in London and is home to recent memorials honouring Diana, Princess of Wales and the victims of the 7th July 2005 London Bomb blasts. It’s a great place to wander and soak up the natural environment.
City Lights at Night
Night-time can transform a city. The veil of darkness can hide a city’s least attractive attributes and a string of lights can make it the most enticing place on earth. Not that London is the least bit unattractive, but Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge all shimmer and shine at night. The London Eye makes for fantastic photographic opportunities, both from within the capsules and as a star photographic attraction itself. Take your tripod and hit the streets after dusk to see London come alive.
No visit to Rome is complete without a trip to the Vatican City. With all there is to see and do in St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, you’d do well to allocate an entire day to your visit. You’ll want to spend at least 4 nights in Rome and there is no shortage of accommodation options, from 5* hotels for the luxury traveller, or Rome holiday apartments for budget-conscious traveller. We were fortunate enough to stay in the Visconti Palace hotel, courtesy of our travel club and found it to be a great, central base.
Taking an organized tour of the Vatican is undoubtedly the best way to see this historical and religious landmark. You’ll get to bypass the inordinately (even in winter) long queues and a professional tour guide will give you far more insight and knowledge than you could possibly gain on your own or through an audio tour.
Our tour started in the Vatican Museums, staring at the most impressive collection of marble statues and busts. It is estimated that there are so many treasures in the Vatican, that if you spent just 60 seconds looking at each one, it would take you 12 years to view each piece.
The statue of Laocoön and His Sons was particularly fascinating. Estimated to date back to 25BC, the statue was unearthed in 1506, with Laocoön’s right arm missing. Michelangelo (yes, he of the Sistine Chapel) proposed that the missing right arm was bent behind his head. Raphael (yes, the Renaissance painter) adjudged that the right arm was extended upwards and a replacement, extended arm was attached to the statue.
In 1906, an archaeologist discovered a bent marble arm in a Roman building yard and, believing it to be Laocoön’s arm, he donated it to the Vatican Museums. It lay in the museum storerooms for 50 years until the Vatican decided that perhaps, after all, Michelangelo had been right and affixed the bent arm to the statue.
Many of the museum rooms are dedicated to particular items, for example the Map Room, where the map of Venice is exactly correct, even though it was first drawn hundreds of years ago. Interestingly, each map was drawn with the assumption that Italy was the centre of the universe so many maps are “upside down” relative to what they should be.
A great addition to our tour was the chance to enter the “Vatacombs”, the underground part of the Vatican where the tombs of former Popes are located. Unsurprisingly, no photographs were allowed in this area and for many people this is perhaps the most religious part of the tour. Yes, even I kneeled at the tomb of Pope John Paul II and crossed myself!
Both the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica are highlights of the Vatican City. The size of St Peter’s is awe-inspiring and the focal points are both the central dome and the massive baldacchino, designed by Bernini. An optional extra to most tours is to take the lift and then climb the steps to the roof of St Peters. Affording 360° views of Rome, most impressive are the statues of Christ, 11 of the Apostles and John the Baptist. The sheer size of these statues makes you realize how small and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things.
Be prepared to be amazed by all the Vatican has to offer and set aside at least an entire day to explore all the treasures – you’ll be glad you did!
Paris. The name conjures up visions of love….and food. Well, it does in my mind at least. So when the opportunity arose to take the Eurostar from London, to spend a weekend in Paris, we leaped at the opportunity. Long summer nights, wandering down the Champs-Élysées and munching on croissants, what could be better?
With only 48 hours to make the most of one of the world’s most visited cities, we had to hit the ground running. Luckily a cousin of ours, who has lived in Paris for many years, was on hand to show us the sights and sounds. Thanks to our family connection, we didn’t have to look far for a place to stay, but if you’re short of Parisian friends, there is no shortage of hotels or Paris apartments to rent for the weekend.
Hungry and thirsty after an early morning Eurostar trip, we headed to the local supermarket to pick up a feast of food. Colourful fruits, crusty breads, delicious patés and more cold meat and cheese than we’d ever seen before greeted us. In South Africa, we’d have to have visited a specialty store to sample such delicacies.
In truth, you need way more than 48 hours to make the most of Paris, but we did what we could. Many guidebooks made mention of a visit to Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, in Montmarte. Situated on the highest point in the city, it serves both as a Roman Catholic Church and a political and cultural monument. A good pair of walking shoes comes highly recommend, you’ll be walking up some steep cobbled streets and a significant number of stairs to reach the summit! We were there in the height of summer, so the steps of the Basilica were crowded with tourists and locals alike, unwinding on a Friday afternoon and enjoying the slowly setting sun.
The Notre Dame Cathedral is every bit as impressive as it is made out to be. The detail in the architecture is nothing short of amazing and the gargoyles keep a watchful eye around each wall and parapet. After a quick, brief glance inside the cathedral, we briefly toyed with the idea of climbing up to the top of the towers for a sweeping view of Paris. However, mention of climbing 387 steps (there is no lift like there is in the Vatican!) in the muggy heat, combined with the queue that snaked around the cathedral and down the road soon put paid to that idea.
No trip to Paris would be complete without two things – a viewing of the Mona Lisa and a trip up the Eiffel Tower. In truth, we could happily have skipped a trip to the Louvre, but a sudden attack of culture from our teenage son had us joining the crowds, staring at the postage stamp size picture that is the Mona Lisa. We didn’t get what the fuss was about – she’s small, non-descript and not particularly attractive either. And what’s with that smile? But, it was something else ticked off the list and at nightfall we set off up the Eiffel Tower.
Personally, I think that most cities look best at night. The dark skies eliminate the smog, dirt and dull grey buildings and a scattering of lights makes every city look like a fairy tale. Paris is no different and the 360° view afforded by the top viewing platform of the Eiffel Tower is breathtaking. We could have spent hours staring into the sparkling lights that truly did make Paris feel like the City of Love. Alas, our trip had to come to an end far too soon, but I’m sure we’ll find another reason soon to visit Paris again.
Let me set the record straight before we start. I’m not a spontaneous kind of person – I like a good plan. The better and more comprehensive the plan is, the more comfortable I am with it.
So, when one evening my partner comes across an advertisement for an 80’s music concert in Durban (and we live in Johannesburg), I’d be the last person you’d expect to suggest travelling 600km’s for one night. But I did. You see, in my mind, 80’s music rocks. Having grown up listening to Wham, Duran Duran, Yazoo and much more, a significant portion of my music collection is dedicated to this unforgettable era. Unfortunately, some of the fashions were far more forgettable.
Thus, it was a Saturday a few weeks back where Davina and I piled into my car mid-Saturday morning (she had run a half-marathon at 6am that morning) and bombed it down to Durban’s King’s Park Stadium for the biggest 80’s reunion concert you can imagine. With a line-up including Nik Kershaw, Howard Jones, Go West, The Village People, Marc Almond and Rick Astley, we knew we were going to have our fluorescent socks blown off.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the seats I’d carefully selected were the nose-bleed seats. Worse still, the acoustics were awful. We had no idea what the artists were saying, and we could just about hear the words to sing along to Nik Kershaw’s (one of my 80’s favourites) “Wouldn’t It Be Good”. By the time the third artist took to the stage, management had realized that the poor souls in the stands couldn’t hear a thing and they let us down on to the field. With great joy we found ourselves right next to the VIP zone and just 20m from the stage.
Without a doubt, one of the best parts of the concert was seeing the great outfits that people dressed up in. There was big hair, leg-warmers, fluorescent lycra, Village People characters, a Star Trooper and even Cyndi Lauper and Tina Turner made an appearance.
Each artist took to the stage for approximately 30 minutes, although old favourites like Midge Ure (the lead singer of Ultravox) got a bit of extra air-time – he treated us to classics like “Vienna”, “Dancing with tears in my eyes” and even sang Visage’s “Fade to grey”, a track that he originally penned for them. Most artists sang original 80’s songs, but a few recent covers were thrown in when Go West pelted out Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire” and Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley treated the crowd to his rendition of The Killer’s “Somebody told me”.
Marc Almond was suitably flamboyant with his pink pashmina, and when the opening strains of “Tainted Love” filled the stadium, the crowd went wild. The Village People delighted with their popular track “YMCA” (what else?!) but it was Rick Astley, the last act of the night, who surprisingly showed the most character.
“Who bought my first album?” yelled Rick to the crowd. “Thank you very much! You’ve put my daughter through school, bought me a lovely house in London and bought my mum a house too”. Swearing at regular intervals and stopping the music to have beer brought on to stage for the entire band, he had the crowd enthralled. When he left the stage without singing “Never Gonna Give You Up”, you just knew there had to be an encore. Not disappointing, Rick came back onto stage, having swopped his striped shirt and jacket (not a tie in sight) for a Sharks rugby jersey, he pelted out his classic 1987 hit.
Happy and exhausted, we left the stadium at 10:30pm for a solid night’s sleep before the long drive back to Johannesburg the next day. Was it worth a 10 hour, 1200km round trip? Absolutely – long live 80’s music!
P.S. If you’re in the UK and love 80′s music, check out the 80′s Rewind Festivals happening later this year in Scotland (July) and England (August).
The town of Outshoorn, in South Africa’s Klein (Little) Karoo, is famed for two things – the Cango Caves and ostrich farming. Why farm ostriches you may ask?
Ostrich meat is popular game meat in South Africa, available in most major supermarkets. It’s lean, high in protein and quite tasty and tender. Ostrich leather is great for shoes, handbags and belts and those huge feathers make fabulous feather dusters.
But apart from the practical uses to ostrich, there’s some fun to be had in Outshoorn learning to ride an ostrich. Ostrich races are fairly common on ostrich farms in the Outshoorn area, but be warned, it’s not as easy as the professionals make it look!
On a trip to the Cango Ostrich farm, we decided to try our hand at riding an ostrich, and realized that we were going to need a bit more help than we originally thought. Jacobus, our tour guide, had given us a demonstration before hand on how to “drive” an ostrich. How did he demonstrate the turns and stops? By using an ostrich feather duster of course.
The basic principle is that the neck of your ostrich is your control level – to turn left, push it to the left; to turn right, push it to the right. And to slow down? Why, you have only pull back on the neck as if it’s a brake lever.
After this basic driving lesson, we were guided out to the racing coop where our ostrich awaited us. The riding ostriches wore a basic cloth covering on their backs, hardly enough to cushion either the ostrich or the rider. Before mounting the ostrich, it was led into a pen, with a hood over it’s head, sadly making it look like it was being led to an execution.
Once safely in the pen, I mounted the ostrich as if it were a horse, but instead of having stirrups to put our feet in, I had to cross our legs at the front of the bird, holding on as tightly as possible. Each of the giant wings served as a rein, one left, one right and, we were assured that leaning back in the non-existent saddle would keep you stable and upright. Suddenly, with a quick flick of Jacobus’ hand, the executioner’s hood was removed and I was off.
It turns out that an ostrich can run pretty fast. Being carried along at such speed was quite exhilarating, and I was beginning to feel pretty proud of myself for staying on for so long. The sense of achievement wore off however when I realized that on either side of the ostrich there was a handler making sure that I didn’t take a tumble.
Although the ride was short and sweet, it was great fun and will definitely serve as a quick, and inexpensive (R69 for the entire ostrich tour) adrenalin shot. If you find yourself in the Outshoorn area whilst travelling South Africa, be sure to stop off at a local ostrich farm to see for yourself.