Tanzania: The Ngorongoro Crater Edition.

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Despite the extensive driving, once again, we made good time. We stopped for cash near the turn off for Gibb’s Farm, and then proceeded to the long dirt drive. We followed the signs and were pleasantly surprised by the tailored gardens of the hotel entry when we pulled up. We were greeted with cool towels and iced beverages, and our bags were carried off to our gorgeous suite by the staff.

We were in disbelief over our suite. It was complete with a private garden view, a sitting room, and a fire place in our bedroom that connected to the shower. Yes, the shower had a fireplace. It was extraordinary, and it was our for less than 24 hours.

We were desperate to get out to the hotel terrace that overlooked the plantation and the valley below. We sat in large comfy chairs while we were brought refreshments and snacks: nuts, olives, and popcorn. It was the first time we felt we could really relax, and it didn’t hurt that we were being waited on hand and foot. The temperature dropped with the sun, and while I could have fallen asleep there, I, also, was eager to get to dinner.

We ended up on a private patio for our meal, something Brad had arrange while we briefly separated earlier. We enjoyed an incredible 5 star meal next to a fire on a cool night in Tanzania. …and to top it off, I was serenaded with a birthday song and dessert. We still had a few nights to go, but this was so special.

DSC_0676.jpgAfter an amazing night’s sleep in a chilly room, thanks to the air conditioning, we learned that we could check out late. We spent the morning grazing on the breakfast buffet, and after packing we wandered the grounds. We walked through rows of coffee bushes and found a small but tall cactus garden. Everything seemed just as it should.

Relaxed, we decided not to head into Ngorongoro. It would cost us over $350 USD per day to visit the park, and we didn’t want to keep blowing through money. Instead, we decided to just take our time and continue enjoying our day. However, it ended up being a short lived joy.

We had a hard time finding our next hotel. According to the maps that I had seen and the descriptions I had read, I was under the impression that our next hotel was within the confines of Ngorongoro National Park. However, the people at the gate, had no idea what hotel we were talking about. Everyone was confused, and Brad & I were back to being frustrated. When we figured out where we were going, we got back in the car, and headed a different direction. It took nearly 15 minutes to get to the turn off point toward our hotel, and from there it was probably another 20+ minutes on a rough and narrow dirt road up the mountainside. When we got there I was livid while feeling completely deceived. We found out that we were the only guests staying there, and no other guests had been there in 10 days, which meant that internet was not available. If we wanted internet we had to drive back down to town.

I was floored and ready to have a meltdown. I could not believe that we had hit another speed bump in what had already been a turbulent and trying vacation. It was hot, there was absolutely nothing for us to do at our hotel, and we were literally in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere near where I had planned on us being. So, we drove 30ish minutes back into town to find a place that had internet. We stopped at a small coffee shop run by a very nice man who served us coffee and sprite (the sprite was for me). Once he got the internet working for us, we started looking for hotel options, justifying the change and additional hotel cost with what we had planned on spending on Ngorongoro for two days anyways. We were incredibly limited, but I worked fervently to rework our itinerary. We decided to only stay at our current hotel one night. We decided that tomorrow we would do Ngorongoro for a half day, then drive immediately to the Serengeti and spend the night there.  We knew it would take a lot of hustle, but we knew it would be better than staying where we were at.

With a plan in motion, and absolutely nothing left for us to do that day, we headed back to our lodge, and just tried to kill time with conversation and antics. The only saving grace that this lodge had was its dinner. It was absolutely delicious, but it wasn’t enough to change our minds. We headed back to our room, packed everything back up, and made sure our hotel knew that we would be leaving before the sun was even up. We were eager to get into Ngorongoro, and wanted to be in by sunrise.

DSC_0722Checked out after breakfast at an unGodly hour, we headed down the bumpy dirt road in the dark, and headed for the park. It took us a while to get the park permit because of all the other tour groups, but thankfully we were able to pay the hefty fees of over $350 with our card. NOTE: Ngorongoro NP claims you can only enter with a guide. We found this rule to be very lenient. Not only did we get in on our own, but we weren’t even questions until we reached the second gate at the edge of the crater.

We drove up the climbing mountain side into the fog over rough red roads lined with lush jungle trees. I was in heaven. We reached a look out point that gave a glimpse into our future. A green gleaming paradise, and I couldn’t wait any longer. We ran back to the car, and cruised. We reached the second gate at the edge of the crater. Brad jumped out to use the restroom, and I dealt with the guard, whose only question for me was if we had been there before or not, after showing our permits.

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Once we had the all clear, we began our descent. The sun was up at this point, but fresh morning light was warm. We escaped the tree line, and were greeted with almost immediate sights of buffalo and zebra. Our eagerness grew as we continued down the road.

DSC_0684It wasn’t long before we were in the flatlands. We had a full 360 view of the massive crater. Animals, appearing as small dots, were everywhere. It was a half day of bliss. We had great sightings as we drove almost the entire span of the crater in many different directions. We saw, hyenas chewing on bones and resting. Jackals. Gazelle. Cranes. Wildebeest. Zebra. Baby animals. Monkeys. Elephants. Lions. Lots of lions. I could not believe how many lion sightings we had We were ecstatic. We had close ups of lions. Lions nuzzling. Lions walking. Lions napping. It was fantastic.

We felt that we had covered the grounds well, and figured we should start our drive, so we found the road that led us out, and we left with slightly heavy hearts. We couldn’t believe how amazing the crater was, but with such unbelievable success here we were curious how the Serengeti would be.

The drive between Ngorongoro & Serengeti, was truly spectacular. The land was littered with migrating Zebra & Wildebeest, and the hills along the outer edge of the crater were visited by loitering Giraffes, and we even a camel sighting.

It took nearly two hours to reach the Serengeti National Park gates, and we were so excited to get to the other side.

…to be continued

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A Tanzanian Road Trip: The Kilimanjaro Region Edition. (Day 1-3)

DSC_0489 copyAfter our grueling journey from Cairo to Kilimanjaro International Airport, which include nearly 4 hours of layover time in the Nairobi Airport, just enough time for a nap and meal, we were in Tanzania, outside of Arusha. We hit the ATM at the airport to get all the cash we could, because despite setting money aside for the car from day 1, we had to pay $250 USD cash to Tanzania’s immigration department for our Visas. NOTE: when we visited Zanzibar in 2016, we were able to pay with card, but since then their payment terms have changed.  With this unexpected issue, we had to visit the airport ATM to get more cash, however it was still not enough for our rental car. When we met up with our car provider, for our rented 4×4 Land Cruiser for this leg of the adventure, we had to strike a deal with him to pay with credit card when we returned the car because even with the ATM withdrawl we did not have enough cash for him and what lie ahead. Thankfully, he was flexible on this issue.

It wasn’t long before Brad was behind the wheel on the opposite side of the car & the opposite side of the road, cruising. We were warned by the owner of our vehicle to not exceed the speed limit because of photo radar (aka a man hiding in the bushes of Tanzania with a radar gun). Well, somehow, despite not speeding, we were pulled over on the side of the road by a Tanzanian officer dressed in all white. He claimed that they had a picture of Brad (it was on the officers cell phone) & that he was exceeding the speed limit. Brad had a choice.. fight it and possibly be taken in and have to fight it in court, or be quiet, pissed, and pay up $15 USD. Well, Brad paid the man… and got his very first speeding ticket… haha. (don’t worry I have a copy)

Anyways, we continued on to Moshi. We stopped in the small town in hope of picking up some snacks, and we did find a small convenience store but the options were very limited, but we were able to get a large pack of water and KitKats.  From there, we continued onto our hotel at Lake Chala. On our way down the incredibly rough dirt road, we had to stop at the Wildlife Management Area office to register. Not just register, but pay a fee. My weaselly and stingy husband (who works in the Congo, mind you), who knew about this ahead of time because of my research, was trying to get out of it. He tried every way he could claiming that hotel covered it, the hotel said it was covered, blah blah blah. Meanwhile, I was just sitting there so aggravated and slightly taken aback at how far Brad was willing to go to try and get out of giving the Tanzanian government any of our Tanzanian shillings …which they didn’t even want. (They wanted US Dollars.) NOTE: Do I blame Brad for wanting to get out of it, absolutely not. African governments can be astoundingly shifty. …but I was exhausted, sweaty, and just wanted to rest. I WANTED TO GO. Finally, Brad had no choice but to surrender more of his hard earned shillings to the man.

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DSC_0372With Brad feeling even more irritated and ready to lose it, we got our paperwork, continued on our way & finally arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon. We were the only guests staying there (now I know why). The place was very clean, and the view over Lake Chala was stunning, but this was easily one of the most poorly run hotels we have ever stayed at (we’ll get more into that later). Before showers & dinner, we decided to take the hike down to the lake since we were already covered in travel grime. It was a bit slippery from the recent rain, but it was a beautiful short jungle trek with gorgeous views over the turquoise water below. We spent a short while on the dock overlooking the deep jewel toned waters & watching the locals a little ways down the water’s edge making a fire.

We headed back to our tent which had a deck that overlooked the lush plains below. We stood there for a little while hoping to spot some wildlife, but there was little to see.

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After washing hours of travel grime off of ourselves and changing into clean clothes, we headed over to the “lounge” for dinner. It was basic, not just basic, but dry… It was not the first meal I was hoping for in Tanzania which was a bummer since food in Africa is typically always mind blowingly delicious, and something I always miss. Not only was IMG_1741our meal not great, but the staff was telling us how horrible their boss was which made our meal a little uncomfortable. We were the only ones there for dinner and it began to rain as we ate. We made a game of counting the geckos that had joined us. Itwas their turn to feast.  They shut the area down early, before the daylight was even 100% gone because we were the only guests and the rain. We headed back for a quiet nights sleep. It seemed there was no big game in the area, and not even the baboons kept us up.

The next morning we had our bags packed early, and grabbed our breakfast. Then we headed to the main house to pay for our stay. Well, what we found out when we got there was shocking. They didn’t accept credit cards, only accepted cash. We were trying to find ways around this but there was nothing to be done. They had no way to process a credit card, The internet didn’t even work,  so wiring funds at that moment proved impossible. We weren’t willing to hand over cash because it was going to take up the vast majority of it, and holding onto cash in this country was already proving to be more challenging than anticipated. So, after probably an hour of dealing with their mess which included bad communication from the time of booking, and Brad trying to help get their internet up and running,  we left with an agreement to wire money when we returned to the states.

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Once we were back in the car, we headed back through the Wildlife Management gate, and went on towards our next adventure. We stopped back in Moshi for lunch and cash, and were going out of our way to avoid the police. We found the bank, but getting money there was a hassle. Our car had to be inspected, we had to park a certain way, and getting cash naturally was a challenge.

Needing a break, we stopped at the Coffee Union Cafe for lunch to hold us over until we got to our next hotel. The food was decent, and it was nice to have a quick meal that met our expectations, as well as a break from the Tanzanian roads where it felt like anything goes in terms of being pulled over. NOTE: …I got pulled over while driving so that the could inspect the vehicle, and verify our credentials… crazy

We had to face the roads again at some point, and once we were far from the city and reached our off road point we finally felt like we could breathe again. We were in Maasai territory, and I was in heaven. We were headed to the Maasai Lodge, a 5 star heaven in the middle of nowhere. I have nothing but praise for this hotel. For starters, the drive in was a blast! There was so much to take in… Villagers, rock scapes, livestock… I was in my African heaven. When we got there, we were greeted wit dance and song which was enchanting. They got our bags to our room for us, gave us a run down of the place and showed us to our incredible mud hut.

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It wasn’t long before we were back outside with a couple of other women who were recovering from climbing Kilimanjaro. They were a riot, and in Maasai costume, and we had a great time talking to them while we all learned about Maasai culture and got to learn spear throwing and experience the Maasai dance and song for hunting (it gives me butterflies). We were all like a bunch of little kids with huge smiles on our face as we raced the rains to the main house. We had to outrun the downpour. It was so fun. A little while later was dinner. ..and it was exceptional. We were fed a wonderful 3 course meal of soup, meat and veggies, and dessert. The perfect African meal and completely worthy of the 5 stars the hotel bares.

IMG_8176We were so lucky because the next day they let us check out at 3PM because they didn’t have anyone coming in after us. We made the most of it. We had breakfast, did a walk through the plains with Jeremiah, our Maasai guide, took in the views and rested. Then after lunch we decided to get out of their hair, but I was definitely sad to go. We were suppose to visit Arusha National Park that day, but because of the number of days we had coming up in National Parks, we opted to take it easy. NOTE: A big part of this decision was also the cost. The planned cost between park fees & conservation area fees was in the thousands, and we thought it would be wise to reduce this a bit, since we just wanted to relax anyways. Our drive back was just as exciting, we had to cross the shallow ponds created by the rains, and wait for herds of cattle to move. We met some of the local kids, and chased by others. We watched a storm move through, and embraced it.

IMG_1851When we got back to Arusha, we went straight to our hotel, Mount Meru Game Lodge. So while the rooms and bathrooms were just alright, the location was AMAZING! The outside was like a giant garden. With towering trees that monkeys going from end of the property to the other in a flash, towering cactus, and water buffalo. Yes, buffalo…. They were on the other side of a low wall, but you could get within feet of these giant beauties. There were also several species of birds. It was awesome! This hotel was far more exciting that I anticipated when booking. Despite the constant light rain & the mob of mosquitos, I couldn’t not keep myself inside. I wanted to be with the animals. Naturally, I was speaking to them constantly.

Eventually, though, I had to give into the idea of dinner, so I ordered a nice piece of Chicken Schnitzel with chips (French fries) which was a funny change of African eating. With bellies full, after the long, but restful day, we decided to retire to our room to prepare for day 4.

After a decent night’s sleep at the game lodge in Arusha we packed up our bags, again, and grabbed breakfast. We hung out a little bit longer so that I could get some additional pictures of the resident animals & then we checked out to head to our next stop…. We stopped and loaded up on snacks and water again for our next drive. It was about 3 hours to the Tarangire area, but we were ready. We are road trip champions after all.

…to be continued.

Egypt: The Luxor Edition.

 

So now that we were free of the boat, permanently back on solid ground in Luxor, and loaded up into our driver’s car, we were off to Karnak Temple, one of the largest temples in Egypt left to visit. While we drove through the city, I notice how thick the air had become with smoke, from all of the burning in the fields (you can see this more in the photos from our hot air balloon ride the day before). Not only was the air heavy, but it smelled of burnt debris.

We stopped along the way so Amir could show us part of the excavation of the avenue of SphinxFACT: The avenue of Sphinx is, at least, a  mile and half long road (roughly 3 km) lined with over 1300 human headed sphinx that connected Luxor and the Karnak Temple.  

When we got to Karnak Temple, we did the usual, waited for Amir to purchase our tickets & then headed in. Amir gave us the rundown of the place, but I was too in awe of the size & beauty of the place to really listen… Again, here we were standing in one of the most beautiful temples I have ever seen (which has been partially restored) amongst the massive pillars that felt a bit like a maze. I wanted so badly, for all the other people to disappear, to be there alone with just my love. No tourist, no locals to haggle us… just for us to exist in this magical spot all on our own. The temple grounds are huge. I mean, acres and acres of grounds to explore… or should I say hectares??

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DSC_0624 (2).jpgFACT: One of the cool things about Karnak, is that it is one of only two temple in Egypt that still have Obelisks standing in their original positions. One of which was recently re-erected. Others had been damaged in natural disasters, others had been removed and taken elsewhere. There are 21 total still in existence, 17 of which are outside of Egypt. Rome has 13 all taken during the Roman period (it’s amazing that they never destroyed them), one in Paris, one in New York, one in London, and one Istanbul. The other two are located in the Heliopolis of Cairo, and one still stands at Luxor Temple.  

We spent a good amount of time at Karnak, at least two hours. I loved being able to just observe, take video and photos. ….but eventually it was time to move on to Luxor Temple.

We made our way back into town, familiar territory from the day before. Our driver dropped us off at at the foot of the Mosque that was built on top of a church that was built on top of part of the temple, and I was excited to visit. haha. When we entered the grounds we were greeted by towering statues just outside the gateway of the temple. It was something. One of the statues was covered, concealing the workers who were reassembling a once crumbled statue.

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DSC_0656 (2)We spent near an hour here at Luxor temple, taking in the splendor, in awe and shock of the frescos that Roman Christians painted over the Egytians’ decorated walls… laughing how Alexander the Great redirected himself into the stories carved on the walls of the Barque Shrine. It was one of the most fascinating temples for these reasons alone. It was hard to imagine, again, how a group of people could come into this place and desecrate its original beauty with their own views. …but that it is the world we live in, and without those historical acts, the temple of Luxor may not be the intriguing place that it has become. As we left, I stopped to photograph what was the start/end of the avenue of Sphinx, leading right up to the grandeur of the temple gates.

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From Luxor temple, our driver and Amir brought us to our hotel, Pavillon Winter Luxor.  We said our final goodbyes and tipped the men who had been our escorts. Upon arrival, we went through security, and proceeded to the front desk, then were directed to our room. We waited for our bags to arrive, and rested for a bit. We needed our body temperatures to cool down. It was quite warm in Luxor, especially for someone in jeans.IMG_1514  Our hunger began to take control. We wanted a break from the city, and decided to take a stroll through the gardens to grab lunch by the pool. It was fantastic. I got a pizza, which by Westerner standards would be deemed fair to good, but I didn’t care… at that point time… it was a GREAT pizza. I enjoyed watching the people come and go from the water. The late afternoon sun lit things in the most glorious way. Looking back it feels like it was just a dream. I enjoyed this little hotel who neighbored it’s bigger historical sister, Winter Palace Luxor.

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DSC_0741 (2).jpgEventually, after enough down time, Brad & I headed back out, but through the Winter Palace Hotel. The man wanted to find some Shisha to smoke & I wanted a treasure to take home. On our way through we were approached by a family of cats… A momma & her shy babies. It was nice to interact with some sweet critters, as I usually am missing mine by the end of day one. We couldnt stay long though since technically Brad & I are both allergic to kitties. So, we hit the streets. We first stopped at a small cafe and sat on the street corner while Brad ordered the pipe. It wasn’t flavored, just plain tobacco, and so he wasn’t enjoying it as much as he hoped. So, we moved on. We found ourselves strolling through the central souk where the vendors tried to coax us into their tiny shops full of miscellaneous finds.

I’m not the type of girl to go in every shop. If I know what I am looking for, I glance in and out of every shop for what I am looking for, and on occasion, I get lucky. This night, I was once again looking for a bluish-green Canopic Jars (I mentioned them in the last post), but it had to have right head. We went into one shop filled with the jars, but there were no bluish green ones. The shop owner ended up running up and down the street looking in the other shops for one for me, but it was the wrong color. While the shop owner was out, Brad did find a tiny perfume jar that was in the color I wanted. It was a beautiful shade of teal, engraved with hieroglyphics, and had a beautiful wooden dropper stick with a beetle carved on the top. Brad didn’t even ask me if I wanted it, he just negotiated for it. For $3 Brad got me a sweet gift that now sits on my bedside table. (…and yes, Brad getting me a gift is a big deal… even if it was only $3. I always buy my own gifts…)

IMG_1558Out of luck, we decided to grab dinner and a proper Shisha. We settle on Chez Omar’s. it was a wonderfully decorated large patio where they played great music, and we were able to sit in peace and enjoy each other. We had a great time making videos of us smoking the fruit flavored tobacco, and we really enjoyed the food too. There was just one problem. Chez Omar… at least, I assume he was Chez Omar. Chez kind of took advantage of us with the bill. Chez kept bringing me fresh fruit juices “on the house”, but they were all on the bill. There were a couple other issues with it too… but at this point, we were so over the nonsense, that we just paid it and left.. We figure that in the grand scheme of things, it was only a few dollars.  …normally, we wouldn’t let this happen because it isn’t good for anyone, but we were fried. Egypt really had worn us down.

After dinner, we were beat.. our lungs were exhausted from all the smoke, but we had so much fun. We decided to call it a night and walked back to our hotel.

The next morning we headed down to enjoy breakfast. The Pavillion Winter hotel had a great breakfast, not the best we had, but far better than what was on our river cruise. Once again, I found myself loading up my plate with pomegranate seeds, and cheeses. I was happy.

IMG_2469-2We headed back to our room & got packed up. This was our last day and Luxor, and I can’t say that I was entirely disappointed. I was ready to escape Egypt, with less than 48 hours to go. …but despite having our bags packed, we still had time to kill. So we did what we always do. We just walked. We wandered the hotel gardens, the hotel, and wandered around Luxor… We felt like we were leaving satisfied.

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IMG_1593 2We spent lunch at a cafe just across from Luxor Temple. We went up to the covered roof top, and ordered some lunch to share. Chicken & Rice, a tahini dip and flat bread. It was, as usual, really good. We spent over an hour just relaxing in the heat. Admiring the view of the Valley of the Kings in the far distance, and watching the locals down below interact. One man was giving horseback rides in the square.

We headed back to the hotel where we wandered into one of the souvenir shops, again. They had Canopic jars – not exactly like what I wanted… but close. Brad did some tough negotiating to get the man’s price down, and finally I had my treasure. I could leave Egypt a happy woman.  ..but we still had a bit.

We wandered even more. We went into an antique store with some truly gorgeous pieces with breathtaking and heart stopping price tags. Then, we found our way into the old bookstore. The oldest bookstore in all of Egypt, I believe. My favorite part of this, was being able to see all the old black and white photographic prints that had been taken by the bookstore’s founder. They were beautiful. There is something about black & white photographs of Egypt that just feel so right. sooooo right. I didn’t buy any, even though I wanted to. I left the shop, as I had found it.

Brad & I headed back to the hotel lobby to collect our bags, and headed out to the main street to grab a cab.. We had to walk a little ways again as a negotiating tactic, but it didn’t seem to be working, so we just took the best deal we could get and headed to the airport.

…to be continued…

A Week Down South. 

Brad was coming home for a couple weeks and we figured it would be a good idea to spend part of that time with our siblings. Because of this, we started our week in Atlanta. I arrived first, and decided that I would head to the car rental facility to try and get the ball rolling. Well as it turns out, it took almost 3 hours to get our rental car. Every company was out of cars, and Thrifty was extremely backed up. It was a very frustrating start to our journey.

Once we had our vehicle, we made our moves. We headed to our hotel, Hyatt Regency Suites, so that we could drop off our baggage & refresh… Brad took a quick shower to rinse off the international grime, and then we headed over to his brother’s house. We had dinner with him & his wife while watched our nephew run around all crazy and beg for attention. Dinner was delivered from Williamson Bros., and it was pretty good. The ribs were my favorite! The meat just melted off the bones & had an incredible smoked flavor!

We didn’t stay too late because we were both exhausted from long travel days. So, when we were ready we headed back to the hotel for some R&R.

The next morning we ended up sleeping in a bit, but not too late because we had to check out. With our bags packed and loaded up in the car, we headed to breakfast at J Christopher’s. Although I don’t remember the exact details of what we ordered, I remember that it was good, I remember that I thought that I would go back gladly if need be in the future.

iphone 177After breakfast, we explored the suburb of Marietta by car. We drove through the neighborhoods picking our perfect houses, which of course, all seemed to be in the millions.  We finally got a hold of his brother, and found out that our sister-in-law and nephew were at a birthday party, so, with the house mostly empty, we decided to stop at Starbucks to kill a little time. It was inevitable though, we finally just headed to his brother’s house with the intent to chill. Upon arrival, Brad’s brother was working so we decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood. It was one way to warm up in the cool spring air, and get in a little movement. (I’m one of those people that needs to move around quite a bit during the day, or I start getting moody and fidgety.)

We were excited that our sister-in-law & nephew were home when we got back to the house. We all ended up spending the bulk of the afternoon on their back porch while our nephew ran around like crazy and dressed up in costumes while pretending to attack his Uncle Brad. It was a lot of fun & good bonding time considering we don’t get to spend much time with them.

As the temperature dropped & the day began coming to a close we headed out to dinner at Camps Kitchen & Bar. It’s one of those restaurants that has a smaller menu, but a little bit of something for everyone. Our nephew was insistent on sitting between Brad & I, but eventually his wild nature got the better of him, and he had to move over to the other side with his parents. While we were there, I ordered a salad, and I wasn’t overly impressed. I think we mostly went here for convenience, but next time, I would want something a little bit better next time. Something that tickles the taste buds for sure.

iphone 184After paying the bill, and saying our long goodbyes, Brad & I climbed into our rented compact car & began our drive to Charleston. Technically, I was driving because of Brad’s jet-lag.  It was a long drive, at right around 5 hours. …and we had a few run ins with toll booths, which we were not prepared for. We were planning on getting in right around 12:30 AM. …and it was right around then that we were checking into The Dewberry in Charleston.  The cost was high, but it was so worth it. Everything about this hotel was stunning. The bed was comfortable, the room was clean, and the service was impeccable. Shortly after being escorted to our room, we were fast asleep.

2.jpgThe next morning was inevitable. We overslept. We were so tired from the last couple of day that sleeping in couldn’t be prevented. We did our best to get ready quickly so that we could make our way towards Boone Hall Plantation. However, we needed lunch first and decided to stop at Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ. I went with my usual pulled pork sandwich which to me tasted a bit gamey and dry. The mac n’cheese was nothing special, the noodles seemed a little overcooked… However, the hush puppies get two thumbs up, and the baked beans were some of the best I have ever had. I drum my meat up to a thing of chance. This place has almost a 5 star rating… You don’t get that by serving up older meat.

new 512After filling up on BBQ for the second time, we headed to the plantation. The cost of entry was $48 USD for both of us. We decided not to tour the house, but just to wander the stunning grounds. We enjoyed watching the wildlife wander around, strutting through the gardens, and we took the time to explore the old slave brick homes. In addition, I spent some time leaning up against the fence while watching the horses eat the grass. Towards the end, we decided to walk into the small butterfly pavilion, but there weren’t many butterflies inside. There were some very brightly colored lizards enjoying the small meals that resided within the cage.  From there, we checked out the small cafe/gift shop, but decided to move on.

We headed back to the car and took the long way out of the plantation down back roads that led us to the small farmer’s market. Then we decided to head to the Boone Hill Plantation market which was like a small boutique grocery store that had some yummy options from all over South Carolina, as well as main stream products.

We headed back across the bridge to our hotel,  dropped off our car at the hotel valet, and then we headed back out on foot in search of Thai food. We stopped at Tasty Thai & Sushi for Pad Thai & sushi, which proved to be worthwhile. As we cruised the main road, we stopped in at a small chocolate shop for some treats, and then proceeded on our way. We decided to head toward the coast, where we took in some lovely views of Fort Sumter,  and watch the ferries pass back and forth.

latest iphone 002In the spirit of relaxation, we headed back inland and made a stop in a souvenir/home good shop called Indigo. They had everything from cook books to baseball caps. It was a fun place to stop in for some small goodies. We kept moving and stumbled upon Carmella’s dessert bar where we proceeded to have the most moist, delectable, addicting, and delighting mini chocolate fudge cake. …and it was pretty to look at, too!  In pure satisfaction, we pressed on again. We found our way into a small park that was home to a statue of George Washington. We sat their for a little while, just enjoying each others company before we headed back to the hotel. It was a relaxing night together, that ended in a deep nights sleep.

iphone 181The next morning we did our best to be up by 9 AM. We got our bags packed up, and left them at the front desk while we headed out in search of breakfast. I wanted a juice bar, which felt like a wild goose chase. As we walked around that morning, the air was warm and the sun was bright, which made us somewhat uncomfortable. I was feeling moody, as I couldn’t get what I really wanted. Our only option was to just try to find a place to grab a quick brunch. We ended up at Caviar & Bananas, a multi-station grab and go type of place.  I got a breakfast sandwich & Brad got a french dip. We were both satisfied with our options, but I still wanted juice & Brad wanted coffee. As we made our way back toward the main road, we stopped in at Tricera Coffee so that Brad could get a quick cold brew, and then along the way I found Beech, which served up pre-bottled pressed juices ready to go. It was refreshing, and exactly what my body had been craving!

We decided it would be a good idea to head toward the Charleston City Market.  We took our sweet time wandering through, looking at everything from cooking supplies to Christmas ornaments. The only thing we left with was a sweet and delicious cup of freshly squeezed lemonade that knocked my socks off…

As the day continued on, we found ourselves wandering back down the main shopping road (Kings Street) as we passed by Savannah Bee Company. The shop looked incredibly enticing, as the bottles glowed from inside, and a tasting station lured us in. Little did we know that we would be tasting all sorts of different honeys… Who knew there could be so many types, with so many subtleties! We had a great time sampling all the products, and wandering through the shop.

As we made our way back toward our part of town we began craving lunch. Brad had a call to take around 1 PM, so we made it goal to be back to the hotel about 20 til so that he could prepare. On our way there, I picked up my two-tone South Carolina baseball cap, and we stopped for lunch at Moe’s Southwest Grill. We  decided to split some nachos which were no more than marginal. Please keep in mind that when I say this… I say this as an Arizonan who grew up on Mexican food, so I am a bit biased.

While Brad made his call, I decided to just wander and shop. I basically killed my time in Madewell, before heading back to meet Brad. At this point, we grabbed our bags from the front desk, put them in the car, and began our two hour drive to Charlotte to visit my sister.

1-2When we got into the city we headed directly into downtown to our hotel, the Hyatt House.  We had some time to spare before we headed over to my sister’s apartment. She wanted to take us around to a couple of bars and then to dinner.  Once we had all convened for the evening, we walked over to Legion Brewing to grab a couple of beers for Erica & Brad, and for myself, a cup of water from the tap in the wall… Yes, they have water on tap! We hung out for a little while before heading over to Peculiar Rabbit, where we sat on the rooftop where we could watch the sun set over the Charlotte skyline. We got some incredible appetizers here to accompany our beverages. We were having a lot of fun here, and I would have been down to order more food, but my sister was insistent on taking Brad to Soul Gastro Lounge, just down the street, for a variety of scrumptious tapas. Here, the conversation got a bit heated as politics came into debate. We had a great time, and there were many laughs. I enjoyed watching my two favorite people link arms and stroll down the street ahead of me, as we headed back to my sister’s apartment to say our goodbyes until the following morning.

iphone 185When we got up the next morning, we had slept in just a little later than anticipated, but it wasn’t a big deal. We were planning on meeting my sister for breakfast, but she decided to opt out since I wanted to take Brad to Amelie’s. Naturally, when we arrived, my sister called to let us know she was on her way. She got the fear… the fear of missing out! After a couple of delicious breakfast sandwiches  & chocolate croissants, we began plotting our day. We had been planning on visiting the U.S. National Whitewater Center that afternoon, but we weren’t 100% sure on what to do first. My sister decided that she wanted to show us around on foot, so we took a long walk through her neighborhood, which took a stop at Target for bottles of water and sunblock. From there, we turned back to my sister’s apartment so that we could just chill for a little bit before heading to the Whitewater Center.

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When we got there, this includes my sister’s friend Kara, we all decided to take to the paddle board. We paid our fee, signed our waivers, got our life vests & headed down the river. This was my first time, and I was both surprised by the level of ease and difficulty. I was so worried about falling into the river if I lost my balance, and I didn’t! …but I was also surprised by how much of workout it really is. At several times, my muscles were burning, and I would do what I could to sit on the board without falling in during the process. We headed down the river and then turned back around after wandering down one of the side streams. It was such a serene day for the outing. I wish I could have brought my camera, but I was too nervous about falling in with it. You can check out some of the river photos here.

2-2Afterwards, we all went our separate ways to clean up for dinner before heading back out. We met at my sister’s apartment & made our way to Midwood Smokehouse, my favorite place to go for BBQ in Charlotte. It never disappoints. I ordered my usual, a pulled pork sandwich with a side of mac n’ cheese. We also, brought in a side of fries and baked beans, which are the bomb! This is my place to carbo-load… Just kidding… That’s all I do when I eat in Charlotte because everything is so good.

We were so exhausted that day, that we called it a night after dinner. We just wanted to head back, especially me since I wasn’t feeling well.

3The next morning, we all did our own thing for breakfast, which meant Brad & I were hitting up out complimentary hotel breakfast which turned out to be one of the grossest hotel breakfasts that I’ve ever head… The eggs didn’t taste like they were freshly scrambled.. They seemed like they may have come from powdered eggs… and well, just know that the complimentary breakfast here sucks big time.  After a quick bite to eat, we waited on the street corner for my sister & her roommate, Lauren, to pick us up. We were going to Carowinds for the day! FUN FACT: Carowinds is the theme park that sits on the NC & SC border & has some badass roller coasters.

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When we paid our admission & entered the park we grabbed some quick drinks from Starbucks & made our bathroom runs. We were all in to hit up one of the most intense rides first… Nighthawk..  As soon as you are buckled in, and just before take off, this ride turns you on your back, so in other words, you get flipped all over.  When we came back in from the wild ride, I didn’t know which way was up. I was so disoriented, and Brad & I both ended up with an intense dose of motion sickness (we normally don’t have issues), that basically ruined us for the rest of the day.. There were rides that Brad opted out of, but most of them, I muscled through.  For lunch, we stopped in to one of the dining halls & proceeded to have some nasty pizza. Honestly, we were hoping it would just help settle our stomachs, but it did no such thing. We were incredibly disappointed later on when we saw the Chik-fil-A and realized that we could have had a significantly better quality meal just a little ways away. Too late now! TIP If you are a coaster enthusiast… be sure to ride FURY. (FACT: this is one of the tallest and fastest coasters in the world.) Despite my motion sickness, I rode this one three times because it was so fun!!! You can’t help but laugh and scream!  Carowinds is a great place to spend a day or an afternoon. Depending on the time of year, you may have light crowds, in which case take advantage of the short lines, and embrace your inner kid… but save Nighthawk for last. 

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Erica & Lauren dropped us off at the hotel, so that we could break before we met back up for dinner. Brad & I were wrecked.  We both took quick showers & ended up taking an hour nap which helped to reset our bodies! We were officially behind schedule, but we didn’t worry about it. We called Erica, and let her know that we would just meet them at Tupelo Honey (if you have read my previous Charlotte post, you know how much I love Tupelo). When we got there, iphone 194we were able to get a table on the patio, so we could enjoy the pleasant weather. Much was ordered… We started with a couple plates of the fried green tomatoes and the fried okra (must-haves there). I die every time I eat those… Those two items are actually the only reasons I go  to Tupelo. Brad & I were wise & opted to split the fried chicken which is also divine. Our taste buds were in true nirvana, especially after all the god-awful garbage we had eaten earlier that day. A yummy meal was definitely welcome.

4We wrapped up dinner, and decided to head to a local brewery for trivia night. We all sipped on our drinks, and did our best to answer all the questions in all nine rounds perfectly, but despite our best efforts we ended up in 4th place, not too bad considering we are convinced team number one cheated.

It was a really fun way to wrap up our evening and our trip. We ended up bringing the girls back to their apartment building, and offered up our long goodbyes. The next morning we were headed back home to Phoenix!

 

Spain: The Córdoba Edition.

Day 23 continued:

ipad update 2798We continued our road trip from Ronda to Córdoba. It was another 2 hours and 15 minutes into the city, and finally we made our way in before the sun had set. We were trying to find our way through the small city side streets in an attempt to drop our bags off at the hostel, Hospederia Luis de Góngora, and hopefully find street side parking. As we tried to navigate the tedious and maze-like one way streets we kept ending up going in circles around the same few couple of square kilometers.

At this point the sun was nearly down and we were beginning lose our nerve, when out of the corner of my eye, another car came grinding up on our rented Alfa Romeo.  We were caught off guard & completely unsure of what to do… I did the only thing that I know to do, as an American citizen… I put on my flashing hazard lights, and pulled over into the far the left lane & came to a halt. Within a couple of seconds a dark and curly haired woman, maybe in her fifties, pulled over in front of me, got out of her car, & began yelling at me in Spanish. I obviously did not understand what she was saying. We examined each others cars, but she kept yelling as I told her “no comprendo” & “no hablo español”. Next thing I knew, she was climbing back into her car & driving off. Erica & I were at a total loss. We were “lost” in a foreign city, just experienced a hit & run, and had no clue what else could possibly go wrong on this trip. We did the best thing we could think to do: headed to the underground parking closest to our hotel, and just walk because that is pretty hard to screw up. Finally, our car was parked safely in an underground garage. We surveyed the car damage created by the crazed local, and my sister came up with the idea that maybe a magic eraser would work…

We saved this task for another day, our first order of business was checking in to our hostel. Erica navigated our way, with bags in tow,  to the hostel. As we walked,  we realized there was no way in hell we would have made it there easily in the car let alone been able to park… There was no room! Thank God, for easy underground parking; if only we would have just parked in the first place!

When we got to the front desk, we got our room assigned, and inquired with the gentleman there about what he thought we should do about our car… Basically, after his uncertain advice, we decided we would call Mom. haha…. (Mom’s just always have sound wisdom in tough situations.)

As we bundled up to head out, we called our mom… who’s advice was “call your credit card company and see what they say in regards to the insurance”… (Seriously…. always great advice from Mom.) She always agreed that we should try the magic eraser, and see what happens… We were hungry, and just needed a mental break so we headed to dinner. We headed back through the one way roads, across the main road, and made our way inside Mercado Victoria… a gastro market. FUN FACT: It was the first in Andalusia.

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LOL. Mozzarella sticks…. they don’t belong here!

We made our way around, checking out all of the different stalls serving all sorts of cuisine from around the world. I settled on Mexican, as I needed a taste of home. Erica, on the other hand went a little further south, with Argentinian empanadas.  We divided to order and then met back up on the over-sized and enclosed outdoor patio. Thankfully, it wasn’t too chilly, and it didn’t have the over-amplified noise that was inside. I feasted on a plate of simple nachos, that I think I only enjoyed because of the jalapeños. Meanwhile my sister worked on finishing off her massive and delicious empanadas. Clearly, her eyes were bigger than her stomach. We sat, relaxed, and discussed, but were both exhausted from our trying day… This trip had been more of a challenge than we anticipated, but it was definitely worth it. We made our way back to the hostel, with the intent to climb right into bed.

Day 24:

We woke eager. We were so excited for what the city of Córdoba might have in store for us. We were still on the hunt for street art, and wanted to see some of the fabulous iconic sights the city had in store for us.

iphone update 1693.jpgOnce we were ready, we headed out in search of breakfast. We found our way down the small narrow cobblestone roads, and ended up in a touristy section with shops filled with souvenirs to remind visitors of Flamenco, toros, and the beautiful city. We ended up inside Gourmet Iberico Patio Romano, a fun cafe with an indoor patio! We ordered what I call an English Breakfast: eggs, toast, beans, and bacon, and finished it off with a couple pain au chocolat that were quite delicious. We paid our tab, and headed back on the street toward the Mosque–Cathedral. The exterior of the structure was almost as exquisite as the inside. We found our way into the beautiful courtyard, and wandered to the ticket counter and made our purchase. From there, we looped around over the entry, where they tore our tickets and let us pass.

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iphone update 1695I knew what to expect, but I also didn’t… I didn’t realize it was going to be such a beautiful blend of a Cathedral & a Mosque, nor did I expect the number of columns! It was incredible. The dimly lit archways were truly something to be rivaled. This place had mystique. I was captivated by the beauty and the things that had happened here. It was unique & beautiful. How does a mosque become a cathedral so gracefully?

We spent over an hour wandering through, trying to get great photos without tourists, which was a bigger challenge than anticipated. The details were so incredibly beautiful. TIP: I would definitely recommend the visit if you are in Córdoba as it is now one of my favorite churches to see! 

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Once we headed out, we wanted to head toward the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. Our direction was first toward the bridge in order to get our bearings, but we were immediately sidetracked by an artist. He sat there painting away, as has wife attempted to communicate with us as we expressed interest in his work. The pricing was very good. I think they sold his work for fun, not necessarily for a living. My sister, made her purchase, but I wanted to think on it. She told us that they would be there until about 1:30 PM.

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With timing in mind, we pressed on fervently in search of the Alcazar. It wasn’t even a full kilometer & took less than 10 minutes to walk to. The outside was fabulous. Tall tan brick gave it a bit of simple & rustic feel, which translated to the interior perfectly. The structure itself was fairly small. We explored the interior for nearly  20 to 30 minutes, and the most challenging part was navigating the stairs as other tourists were coming back and forth. We were able to take in some great city views from the top, and noticed the stunning gardens below. We quickly realized that the reason to go to the Alcazar in Cordoba is the gardens. They are incredibly lush, full of vivid flowers and fragrant orange trees. FUN FACT: The Valencia oranges which can be found through out Andalusia are inedible (Erica can verify), they are far to sour for eating. Their only purpose for planting is the scent they give off. Erica & I enjoyed wandering the gardens, and we had a great time goofing off. We came up with a great book idea called Where’s Natalie?… A “find me” game that I wanted to gift to my husband, but we never really followed through. But we were cracking up as I ducked behind shrubberies, and peered out shyly only exposing my forehead and eyes.

We were watching the clock, as we realized that I was running out of time to get back to the artist by the bridge. When we arrived, the original painting I liked was gone, which I took as a sign that it wasn’t the one. Instead, I left with three others. Two for me, and one for our mom. They were such beautiful pieces of work, that I couldn’t resist.

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ipad update 2904Once the deal was made, and everything was wrapped up, we headed across the Roman bridge.  It was a perfect day to be strolling the city, cool and cloudy but not cold. The walk was refreshing, and I enjoyed walking among my fellow visitors to the other side to take in the old city view.

As we began crossing back over, we both realized that we could use a bench… Our backs were sore from all the exploration. We took a seat for a little while, and then decided that it might be a good idea to actually rest at a cafe. So we headed inward a little bit, and stumbled on an outdoor cafe where we were able to order a few drinks to caffeinate and relax, and we were also able to get some more pain au chocolate because you can never have too many in a day, right?

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A beautiful building along the way!

After maybe an hour, we headed back toward the hostel to drop off our artwork, and plan our next move. We were still in need of magic erasers, so we decided to head toward a market. Somehow we ended up at a grocery store several blocks away, where we proceeded to buy a 6-pack of two liter water bottles, and a pack of off-brand magic erasers. The walk back was longer because we somehow ended up taking a different route. We switched off carrying the large case of water since it was heavy, and finally found ourselves in the parking garage, next to our sweet Alfa Romeo. We dropped off the majority of the water in the back seat, and unpacked a couple of magic erasers & soaked it with some of our water. Erica did most of the work as we attempted to scrub off the paint from the other car… We made quite a bit of progress, but we also had an issue with some denting. We decided that it was a good start, and to revisit it later. We just wanted to eat. We dropped off our remaining water bottles, and headed to grab any essentials we might want for dinner, which were far and few between.

We promptly headed back out in search of a restaurant. We ended up at a great small restaurant, El Choto,  where we ordered a fantastic dish of vegetable Paella on the quaint & dimly lit patio. It was so good that we practically finished off the pan. We were happy little clams, enjoying a warm meal on a cool evening outside.

With full bellies, we wandered aimlessly for a little while before deciding to head back to our room. FACT: Wandering in a dark strange city isn’t always wise… Stay vigilant. When we got there, we did our best to get things in order for the next morning. We were going to be departing, and wanted to get a jump start on the day.

Our heads hit the pillow at a reasonable hour, and we were soon asleep.

Day 25:

We were up bright and early, and ready for the next jourey ahead. We took our showers, and finished packing before we headed to checkout. We carried our luggage back down the spiral staircase, and quickly were at the door and headed to the car. We lugged our luggage the quick distance back to the parking garage, and did our best to load up the car and get it organized quickly.

We wanted to grab breakfast on our way out of town, as it was an hour and a half drive to Sevilla, and we were hungry (we are always hungry).  We decided to stop at a McDonald’s for convenience. We ate our meal somewhat rapidly, and refreshed our directions with the complimentary wifi (Thanks McD!). In a jiff we were back on the road!

…to be continued…

South Africa: The Cape Town Edition.

We had a long wish list for Cape Town & the only thing we didn’t do was shark diving. The reason: It was cold, rainy, and foggy… Just didn’t seem that appealing, ya know? However, we did everything else, and here is the breakdown!

After a terribly uncomfortable flight on Mango Airlines, we arrived that night in Cape Town. We headed over to Thrifty to pick up our rental car. We loaded our belongings into the tiny compact car, that seemed like it might fall apart if we hit the slightest bump. …but eventually we arrived at our hotel, The Portswood V&A Waterfront. We didn’t get to our hotel until around 10 PM, so once we were in our room, we got settled & wound down for bed.

africa & extras 242.JPGThe next morning we woke to a very foggy view of the V&A Waterfront, but we were stoked to be there. We wandered downstairs to enjoy a complimentary breakfast buffet. Its the usual things, and similar to those in Europe. lt worked. We ran upstairs to grab our belongings, and then headed out on a grand adventure. First, we wandered down to the waterfront, where we found a fun variety of restaurants and shops. I think one of our favorites was the V&A Food Market. It seemed like it was an old warehouse filled with2 tiny mom & pop shops selling fresh juice, candy, ethnic foods, and gifts. It was really fun, and they had some tasty things.. (I’m sure I will be having a meal or two there  on this next trip.) There was a  stand-alone multi-level gift shop, African Trading Port, that sold all the usual tourist crap, and then carried several types of interesting African antiques… and let’s not forget the animal skins and heads… It was a great experience (no sarcasm here), just outside there was a large life-size chess set for everyone to play with. Brad loved it 1because he is a lover of all things “smart people” and that includes chess.  From there we continued on our journey across the swing bridge to the tiny building, Clock Tower Retail Center, of art and gift shops. There was nothing there for us, so we headed back past the couple restaurants towards the main area. As we headed back we stopped in front of the Victoria and Albert Hotel, where a live band was playing some truly festive music (one of my favorite memories). We decided to have lunch there at Cafe Alfredo, the food wasn’t amazing, but the atmosphere was phenomenal! We ended up buying the CD from the singer of the band because their energy was infectious!

After a magical lunch period, we continued our journey. We ended up discovering The Watershed, another large warehouse style building that has turned into shops on the bottom floor, and a collaborative work space on the top floor, that also had a coffee shop. We hung out here for a while admiring the countless treasures awaiting new homes. Then we went on to find the attraction booths and office for things like boat rides & wildlife 3tours. We found the Victoria and Albert Mall which had plenty of shopping, and great food options. …and a couple fun looking bars, but eventually we lost interest, and headed to the nearby aquarium, Two Oceans Aquarium. It was “seniors day”. The place was plagued with senior citizens enjoying all of the aquatic life in their glass cages. It was so funny to watch the elderly individual behave like little kids with their curious minds, and playing with their friends… Brad and I made our way through fairly quickly because of all of the crowds, but it was still a good use of an hour or two, and the aquarium was really fun, and well laid out.

5We decided to try a different route. We decided to go the opposite direction from our hotel, it took us past the stadium, and lead us to a street of restaurants… We continued further. Eventually, we found our way into a park. We hung out for a while, walked along the wall that lined the Atlantic. There were tide pools below, but they were inaccessible, and I think that is for the best, but you could see starfish glued to the rocks submerged in the clear water. As we walked along, we got to watch some paragliders come down from the mountain behind us, they sailed over head with what had to be amazing views, looped out over the ocean, and eventually landed on the park grass. We started to head back, but decided to sit on a bench for a while. As we sat we watched a kayaker disappear into the distance (I’m still hoping he made it back alive). After this, we did decide to head back! We followed the way a long the ocean, until we reached the gas station, which caused us to reroute back to the way we came.

As dinner time approached we weren’t sure what we wanted, we headed back to the waterfront. Our first instinct was to check the V&A Food Market. However, sadly it was not open during the evenings… Then we continued on checking The Watershed, they were closed. Sadly, I don’t remember where we had dinner, but that’s okay… because I remember all the other places we ate!  We weren’t out too late, and eventually got burnt out on the scene and just headed to bed.

africa-extras-259The next morning after breakfast, we retrieved our car & began our drive to Boulders Beach which was about an hour  and fifteen minutes away. We were going to see the penguins, and I was soooo excited! We popped in our African CD that we bought the day before (which didn’t sound as good as the liver performance) and enjoyed our scenic journey. The drive there was pretty easy. It was fun driving through the small seaside Simon’s Town. Once we arrived at Boulder’s Beach we found a parking spot, and began the decent down. We had to pay a park entry as it is considered a National Park, a very small one.

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There were penguins all over the place along the walk down. They laid in their little dug out nests, and would just ignore you as you walked by. Clearly, people mean nothing to them now. Eventually, we reached the end of the walk where you could oversee the penguins playing in the surf and looking for fish. They would waddle in, duck in and out, and waddle back up.  There were plenty of penguin chicks as well who were clearly in transition to adulthood as they shed their baby feathers. I hung out there for quite a while and snapped a ton of action photos, while Brad wandered off for a little while. I eventually had to go meet up with him. I knew he wasn’t enjoying it as much as I was, and it was time to move on.

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When we got back in our rental, we decided that we wanted to see a little bit more of the peninsula, so we continued heading toward Cape Hope. We realized at one point that we would have to turn around because the Cape was also a National Park that required a fee to drive through, and we just didn’t feel that it was worth it.  As we continued our journey back we pulled over near one of the cliffs to snap some pictures of the beautiful turquoise frothy waters below, and the cape beyond in the distance. At that point, we did have to be aware of cheeky baboons in the area. We had heard stories of them breaking into cars to find food, and steal human things, and there were signs near us that warned against such things… Thankfully, we were in the clear & saw none at that point, but we did see others while we were driving. FACT: Poor local dogs probably get so tired of them.

We stopped back in Simon’s Town to find a place at lunch and check out some of the local shops. With nothing to show.. I started getting pretty crabby. We eventually settled on the restaurant in one of the small local Inns. The food was fair to say the least, but it was food, and I was slightly revived. We decided to head back to Cape Town, but the drive was almost unbearable. We got stuck in an incredibly large amount of traffic on the way back so it took us close to double the time it should have.

6With nothing more to do, we just hung out in the Waterfront area, eventually settling on dinner at Mitchell’s Ale House. Apparently it is recommended by tripadvisor, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The food was fair; not the good kind of fair. Flat out disappointing.

The next morning we had big plans again. We were heading to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. It was well worth it. It wasn’t overly pricey, and there was plenty of ground to cover. You could easily spend a whole day there exploring, reading, etc. They have a couple restaurants and a cafe. Thankfully, they will let you exit and re-enter.. which worked because I needed something to eat and the cafe was the only thing open and it sits outside the park gate. Aside from that, here is a series of our photos from the Garden (click to make them bigger):

7From here we decided to head toward Bo Kaap, from my understanding it was going to be a great trendy part of town with great opportunities for food and shops…. WRONG… It was basically a few colorful street stuck in a rather run-down part of town, that seemed like it had a heavy middle-eastern influence. No fun shops, no restaurants… Just a couple colorful streets with random tourist trying to get a fun picture. TIP: If you don’t have a lot of time in Cape Town… Skip Bo Kaap, it’s not worth it. There are better places to visit, and better things to do.

After feeling completely let down by Bo Kaap we decided to head on to Camps Bay. Camps Bay is more of a resort, beach town, with mansion built into the hills and mounts that line the ocean. It was truly beautiful, at one point as we were wandering through the hilly roads, we almost hit a little pack of guinea fowl that were crossing the street. It was a funny moment because the birds seemed so out of place to me after just seeing them on safari in the Kruger area. We found our way down, and parked on a random street, where a gentleman assured us that he would be keeping an eye on our car. (I guess break-ins africa-extras-331-copyhappen there??) We quickly found our away across the street by the beach. We wandered off the break wall where we walked out to the surf along the wall, and then slowly made our way back. I looked for fun shells in the man-made “tide pool”, and then we headed back toward the sidewalk. We walked down the sidewalk following the beach, and thought about walking out onto the sand… The issues was that neither of wanted sand in our shoes, so we stepped as lightly as possible toward the water, We walked a little ways on the water-logged harden sand watching the locals and tourists on the beach. But hunger was starting to set in. We head back, and started looking for places to eat. We unanimously decided to eat at Col’Cacchio Pizzeria. It was so delicious! Great pizza, great bread. Not to mention, the restaurant offered us incredible ocean views, and we also looked out over a grass field where we could watch some local young student goof off. TIP: I would recommend it, this to anyone in the area… Camps Bay seemed like it had an amazing restaurant selection.  After indulging in tasty pizza, we headed back, but didn’t want to leave just yet. We wandered into a couple of small gift shops that had some beautiful merchandise, but bought nothing. We settled on gelato… A Bradalie travel fave. We picked Gelato Mania. It was satisfying as we ate it on a bench overlooking the ocean. We full bellies, we decided we should head back to Cape Town… So we found our car and sputtered off along the coast. TIP: If you want a more relaxed seen with great beaches and great food.. Camps Bay would be a great option.

We were left with the usual options… We hung out at the Waterfront, and ended up back at Cafe Alfredo for dinner. We had wine and feasted on so much pasta that we couldn’t finish it. It was far better than the tomato soup we had for lunch the first day. We did our best to walk off the carbs before bed.

It was day four, and we were headed off to Stellenbosch to find wine and adventure. We found our way to Slaley Winery… Where each sampled 6 wines. FACT: I’m not a huge wine fan, so anything I didn’t want Brad ended up drinking in addition to his. Our “wine guide” was great, very knowledgeable and friendly. He made it fun, opposed to stuffy. Once we had our wine… It was shotgun time. Nothing like shooting an old school 12 guage shotgun

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The Farmer’s Kitchen

after buzzing on wine.  It was so fun, (sadly no pictures, I blame the buzz) I hit 1 of 5 targets & Brad hit all 5 which brought us to the usual quoted average of 3 which I thought was rather funny.

We left the winery in search of another that was recommended, but came up short. At this point I was having fairly intense menstrual cramps, and was just suffering… It was the wine, and Aleve wasn’t doing me any good. I was hoping that food would help. We found a really cool restaurant called The Farmer’s Kitchen. They had a pretty good array of food, but at this point I felt so sick, I could hardly think of food, but I knew i needed to eat so I ordered a hot sandwich with fries. It tasted good, but I was to the point of wanting to pass out on the bench.

africa-extras-334-copyWe were back on the road, and I was committed to helping Brad find more wine to sample, but eventually the inevitable happened. I passed out. My body was so exhausted that I just couldn’t go any longer. I ended up sleeping the entire way back into Cape Town. I felt terrible, but there was nothing to be done about it, and I knew I wouldn’t be drinking any more after that. I was slow moving that evening, and once we got back to the hotel, I laid down for a little while longer. Finally, Brad was encouraging me to get up so we could get dinner. I agreed.

africa-extras-343-copyBack on the roads of Cape Town (by foot), we found a really cool beach side restaurant called The Grand Cafe & Beach. It looked interesting, but we weren’t ready to commit. We continued along the boardwalk that was surrounded by these beautiful hot pink flowers, but found nothing but a beautiful sunset over the ocean. We watched for a little bit, and then decided it was time. We walked back to the restaurant, but after looking at the menu, decided to go a different direction. It ended up being Indian food. Surprised???  We headed back to a place we had seen on day one during our explorations, The Jewel of India. The food was tasty, and the service was good. We were so satisfied! Like that, we were good to go. We did our usual evening wandering to take in the night air.

Our last full day ended up being tricky. I had really wanted to go shark diving, but the weather had been so gloomy & unpredictable the last several days we had been there, that we decided we were better off skipping. Instead, we decided to head up to Table Mountain, despite all the clouds. It paid off. We took the packed cable car up to the top, where I was able to fill one of my lifelong dreams of standing on a Plateau. It wasn’t just any plateau, it was the world’s largest. SCORE! We easily spent a couple hours on top exploring, climbing all over, and taking in the breath taking views below. Check these out:

Around lunch time, we headed back down, dropped off the car at the hotel, and headed for Indian food for a real lunch… (Yes, we had Indian food twice in less than 24 hours.) From there we headed back to our ocean side walk. As we walked along the main roads, we watched the local kids mess around after they left school. Some of them were making me nervous as they played along the street, but we continued on our way. We just walked and walked and walked. FACT: We really love walking, well, I do. Brad has weaker feet than I do. It’s relaxing.  Eventually, we started to head back, but we took a different route. We wandered along the coast as long as we could which was pretty awesome! We got to witness some pretty intense waves crash along the wall and come splashing down on the ground around us, but not on us, thank God. We watched the locals let their dogs run in a grassy fields, we saw a fun ocean-side miniature golf course, and few other neat attractions. We walked back to the Waterfront in search of snacks because we were hungry, and decided to head back to the V&A food market for some snacks. I got a crepe (not that great, cultural ingredients are different),  and Brad got sushi upstairs. We were both happy… but we needed more. After more aimless wandering through African Trading Port, we got to watch a beautiful sunset behind table mountain.

When it came time to eat dinner, we wanted something with little effort, so we ended up getting Asian food from the mall food court, and it wasn’t half bad. Then we finished it off with Cinnabon; no regrets!  We ate our tasty meal outside, and watched the funny 80’s music videos that played in the small amphitheater… RIP George Michael. With uncertainty flooding us in regards to what was next…. It was time… time to do something that was totally low priority. We rode The Cape Wheel. It was a pretty decent length of time that we spent going in circles, but it was fun to see the Waterfront from the sky. TIP: I would recommend it for something different and low key! That was it for us. Like that our low-key day had come and gone.

africa-extras-444It was our final day in Cape Town. We had an evening flight that night, so we had the day to kill. We ended up driving out of the city to a massive mall/theme park, Canal Walk Shopping Center. FACT: The name is misleading. The shops are all in a big mall-like building, not along the canal… We tried to walk along the canal, but it kind of sucked. The theme park wasn’t open, but the mall was. We just did laps, for, literally, something to do. It was so boring. We thought about seeing a movie, but there were no options that interested us, so we decided to head back into the city center, and we ended up finding BEERHOUSE, a local brewery serving up tasty food and brews. We were there for quite a while, or until we were tired of all the smoke blowing our direction from the table next to us. We wandered through a couple gift shops, that had nothing noteworthy, just the usual “crafts”. We were over it. We got back in the car and just decided to call it quits. We had killed enough time, and we were ready for the next chapter. Zanzibar!

 

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LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) Having a car in a South Africa, and in a city like Cape Town gives you so much freedom.

2) With the exchange rate what it is South Africa is incredibly affordable.

3) There’s no such thing as too much Indian food.