South Africa: The Kruger Area Edition.

With all of our things loaded in the back of Neil’s truck, we were off on a new adventure and our itinerary had begun.  (Neil & his father own and operate Jewel of Africa Safaris & I found them on Safari Bookings. I picked them because our trip was customizable, Neil was very prompt in responding to my all my emails, and the price was reasonable. Not to mention, they booked us at a sweet hotel just outside of Kruger National Park!) You can view our 5 day itinerary here (it will open in a separate tab): Kruger-itinerary.

africa-2016-058With the road trip underway, Neil started us out by sharing about the history of Johannesburg, Pretoria, and on towards Kruger. It was very informative, and I’m sure that Brad loved it far more than I did. The drive lasted close to five and half hours, but had some beautiful sights along the way. Halfway between Joburg and the Kruger area, we stopped at a rest stop that had a few different fast food restaurants, and a great view of a small man-made watering hole and a small gathering of animals which included rhinos.

africa-extras-100Eventually, our drive did continue, and we made our way to our hotel, Pezulu Treehouse Lodge. Sadly, we did find out that we would have to stay in 2 separate “rooms” while we were there due to a booking issue, but we didn’t care because we were stoked about the hotel in general! FACT: The Pezulu Treehouses were awesome. They were literally tree houses, off the ground with room for animals to walk underneath! …and the food…. the food was some of the best that I had on the entire trip.  Our first adventure was a bush walk around our hotel. It was so cool. We were able to get in close proximity to the giraffes, we saw ostrich, zebra, buffalo… ….and lions… Well, when I say that we saw lions… It was one of the local residents who offers walks africa-extras-062with his “pet” lion sisters… Funny enough, they caught glimpse of the giraffes, and due to their natural instincts took off on a chase after the long-legged & long-necked mammals.  Neil instructed us on what to do should we get charged by the lion (stick your arm out in front of you & wave your hand back and forth to disorient it), and we laughed because we weren’t sure how serious he could be. Once the lions were back on track and we round out our bush walk, we headed back to camp. We relaxed for a little bit, and then headed to the outdoor dining area, which was complete with a campfire surrounded by the amazing cuisine.

We were off to bed early, because we had to be up before the sun for our Kruger NP safari. We were picked up by the entrance of the hotel, and thankfully the staff had packed us a light breakfast. africa-extras-063It was a long & cold drive into the park, but we got to experience a beautiful sunrise, and even had the exciting experience of seeing a dead honey badger on the side of the road… When I say “exciting” I am being sarcastic… It was both sad & unfortunate… Once we were to the park gates we had to fill out an informational form for the park records, we were able to grab a quick snack and coffee, and then we were back in our safari vehicle for our big adventure. Right off the bat, we were seeing Impala, Kudu, zebra, giraffes…. A while later we saw many elephants, we saw a couple rhino… and from a far distance, we were able to see lions through binoculars. To be honest, our day in Kruger wasn’t what we hoped for. We did not see any lions on the move, we saw no cheetahs or leopards either… basically, no cats… but tons of everything else!  FACT: Animals live by their own rules and will do their own thing… There are no guarantees in nature. During the middle of the day, we stopped at the “food court” in the park for lunch. The options are all fairly basic. Several quick order and go places with decent food, but nothing to brag about. Either way, it was nice to be out of the car for a while! We chose  Debonairs Pizza, which was marginal to say the least.

By the end of the day we were ready to be done, the lack of exciting sites, and the chatty Canadians that we were sharing a vehicle with pushed us into the “ready to go back” mood. When we got back to the hotel, the staff had taken care of moving our bags to our next tree house, which was a little smaller than our original. (Because of the inconvenience, Neil had arranged a surprise for us early the next morning.)  Dinner was delicious once again, and the pleasantries exchanged with Neil over dinner were enjoyable. It was like having a friend at our table each night… In fact, he does remind me a lot of one of my better friends.

Africa 2016 153.JPGThe next morning we were up early, but thankfully after the sun. We met Neil down on the main patio for  breakfast that consisted of eggs, toast, fruit, and coffee/tea or juice. It was simple, but sufficient! The big surprise was that Neil had arranged for us to walk with the lions, the ones mentioned above. We were so excited! Being the animal lovers we are and because of the limited interaction that can typically be had between men and lions, this was a true thrill for us! We walked through the bush to West’s house ( They also own Lion Treetop Lodge) where he walked us through some information, we signed a waiver… and we headed out.  Africa 2016 167 2.jpgWest is armed with an automatic weapon on his back, in the event of another lion coming into attack, not because he fears his well-fed lions are a threat. FACT: These lions are not drugged. They are loved, well cared for, well fed, and definitely treated with the utmost respect. He also, has 2 game keepers with him to help keep tabs on the lions, and we were also accompanied by his dogs… A Golden, and a Jack Russell named Sam who was clearly the alpha over everyone (We heard a brief story about how he once grabbed onto one of the lions lips out of fury, and the Lion ended up just shaking back and forth in attempted to fling him off) . The walk seemed like it flew by. All I could do was admire the beauty and majesty of these beautiful adolescent white lions. They walked with such intent, and played with a inquisitive ferocity. They were stunning, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. We were encouraged to pet them, hold their tails, and walk beside them, but I would be lying to say that it wasn’t in the least bit a little intimidating, and I was definitely cautious about being overly handsy… After all, I want to keep my hands.. The walk was amazing, and Neil acted as our personal photographer, and held onto my Nikon the entire walk while snapping some amazing photos. After we walked them back to the house, we were able to enter their enclosure, and discuss the nature of the lions more, as well as grab some additional photos. You can view a series of our photos here:

After the lion walk, we all went back to get spruced up, and rest for a few minutes, before we headed on to visit Jessica the Hippo. Perhaps, you have heard of her??? She is famous…  There was even a short documentary made about her. Apparently, she has been on Friends, and she is one of the only hippos to constantly interact with people… so much so, that I even got to give her a kiss. Jessica’s owner told us the story, that after a massive storm, the baby hippo was found on the river bed near their home. They did what they had to, which was take her in as one of their own. Jessica & her new human parents fell in love with each other. Jessica was raised in the home, and has adjusted to her “human” life quite well. She allows her humans to swim with her in the river, and has no problem receiving their love. It’s 100% pure trust. FUN FACT: In Africa, Hippos kill more people than any other mammal… but not this tame lady!

Africa 2016 358.JPGAfter feeding and loving the big girl, it was on to the next… We were headed onto the next event… a boat ride on the Blyde River. However, when we got to the main gate, we found out that we had missed the boat. We continued on a little ways anyways just to check out the views… They were stunning… Once we had enough, we headed back to the hotel because Neil had rearranged our schedule, so that our Safari game drive was that night opposed to the following day… However, apparently our driver from that Reserve kind of, sort of forgot to pick us up. Realizing that they should have been their a while ago, Neil reacted. He called the company & pointed the mistake. Within minutes, we were in Neils truck, & we were flying down dirt roads with the intent to meet another driver who would then transport us to the Reserve. OH BOY! What a drive. I don’t know if you have ever ridden in an open safari vehicle flying down the pavement at God knows what speed, but it was the first time I was truly committed to wearing my seat belt. It was like a thrilling amusement park ride, but where you are actually thinking you could die if I Gazelle walks out in front of the car.

africa-2016-361-1When we reached the gates, we hopped out quickly, just to have to wait. We filled the necessary paperwork, and explored the grounds where we got to admire the cheetahs in their habitat on the grounds TIP: The next time you see a cheetah up close, look at its paws. They have paws like dogs, even though they are part of the cat family. Eventually, we were directed to the next safari vehicle which was already filled with a group that was probably waiting on us, the ones who got left behind. Finally, our evening game drive was happening. It was similar to Kruger… Lots of long, four-legged animals just chilling around the park. The skies had become cloudy, and the air had become chilly, but it was still exciting. All we wanted though, was a cat, and finally we got it! With direction, our driver found his way into a lion’s den… Thankfully, it was clear by their bulging bellies that they had recently feasted and had no interest in us. They just laid there, practically comatose and went about their day.

Finally, we backed out, which was an art form of its own. We drove around a while longer, and got to admire a beautiful African sunset over the treeline. It then became a night safari. But first, we stopped… We stopped off in a clearing for drinks and snacks for about 20 minutes. It was nice to stand for a while, but standing in a wildlife reserve in the dark, is a little creepy… I mean, who knows what might jump out from the bushes at you…  I made the mistake of drinking a beer which caused me to become a exhausted. The final leg of the drive (in the dark) is a blur… I just remember wanting to go to bed, and hardly being able to keep my eyes open. It was dinner time when we got back to the hotel. I was cold, exhausted, and very quiet… I ate my dinner, and then we headed back early for bed.

Africa 2016 412 1.jpgThe next morning, we got to sleep in just a little bit later, and enjoy a breakfast without feeling rushed. I was also able to get some  photos of the wildlife that enjoyed feeding on the hotel grounds. The nice thing was it was just going to be a mellow day, but sadly we were going to be in the car for a while. This was the day that we were truly going to get to experience the Blyde River
Canyon & God’s Window. It was a long drive up & along the mountains to visit God’s window, but it was worth it. It was also, quite cold… So armed, in Ugg boots (I brought other shoes too as back up) & a sweatshirt, we jumped out africa-extras-163of the car to admire the view. It was stunning! We were there for about 15 minutes, taking photos & following small short trails. It was like we were in another land… From the mountain top, you could see the vast valley & paper farms. It was foggy when we were there, but even then you could understand why it was called God’s Window. From there we headed back down to Lisbon Falls, the local waterfalls. We spent probably 30 minutes there, and Brad and I were able to climb down the mountain a bit to get some great photos, and realized it was time for some cooler footwear… It was difficult, but worth it. Then from there we headed to Three Rondavels View Point, which overlooks the Blyde River Canyon. The view was truly breathtaking.. Neil being the fabulous guide that he was, encouraged us to climb under the fence that was installed, and climb out onto the rock to get some great photos. Although we joked at the time, about how this is how Neil kills his clients… He was right! The photos were AMAZING, and worth the nerve racking thrill. It was just crucial to not look down.

Eventually, after a quick bathroom break, we made our way back to the small town of Graskop, which is mostly for tourists. The streets are lined with restaurants gift shops, but it was a great spot to stop, grab a bite to eat, and stretch our legs. We popped into the local chocolate shop to see if there were any goodies we needed, and then headed to Harrie’s Pancakes, where Neil had made a lunch reservation for Brad & I. Apparently, pancakes there very different than pancakes here. It is sort of like a crepe, but not… It actually kind of reminded me of a tamale (a Mexican dish), a little bit. It was different, and not my favorite. But it was a good experience!

africa-2016-512After a good meal, we were ready to begin our descent back down the mountain, and around to the other side for our boat ride. Neil winded around the rough South African roads, and got us to the boat dock. We all gathered to the front seats of the boat, and eventually our captain & crew were there to accompany us. The boat was filled with fuel, and we were off. We got to see the small little groups of monkeys play on the nearby rocks, and got to take in the breathtaking views of the canyon. The clouds had partially cleared, and the temperature had warmed up a bit. It was beautiful weather for a stunning environment. They took us to see skull rock, and then back around into the lake where we were able to spot, kudu, hippos, and a beautiful kingfisher. There after, the boat was turned around, and we were docked. Our fun was over, but it was a full day.

africa & extras 238.JPGWhen we got back to the hotel late that afternoon, we had to start getting our things together because we were leaving early the next morning. However, we mostly just laid around, I posted pics on instagram and perused social media, and Brad read CNBC… typical… Neil had made arrangements for us to go over to one of the other hotels for a little while for drinks and to meet his friends that owned the place. A charming German couple who made us feel right at home. We all sat around one of the “picnic” tables and chatted, as we watched the sun set over the horizon line. After spending an hour or so there we headed back to our hotel. Finally, it was time for our last supper & well, that food, that chef, that service, it would all be missed. I still miss it!  After dinner, it was time to get serious about packing. We packed all we could, and were off to bed for another 5 AM wake-up was ahead of us.

africa-2016-525-1With packing final, and groggy eyes, Neil picked us up at the bottom of the stairs below our tree house in the dark. We were off to one more game drive. Conveniently on this early morning, we ended up being the only ones in the car, and Neil came along with us. It was cold and cloudy, so it ended up being another very calm drive… TIP: Always bring a jacket, even in Africa it gets cold, thankfully safari companies do have blankets for the cold rides.  We didn’t get to see much more than we already had, with the exception of the stunning Guinea Fowl. I am sort of obsessed with the Guinea Fowl… You can see his picture above. We were able to get a few beautiful photos of warthogs, giraffes, and guinea fowl, but not much more. After a few hours our drive came to a close, and were back in Neil’s truck headed for Joburg so that we could catch our flight Capetown. It was a really fun final drive with Neil. He was definitely a great guide, that I would love to have him again should we go back… or even just grab drinks with if we are in the area. FACT: BOOKING WITH NEIL’S COMPANY IS A GOOD IDEA IF YOU WANT TO HAVE A FUN EXPERIENCE IN SOUTH AFRICA!

Finally, we were dropped off at the Johannesburg airport, and it was time to move on… Capetown was calling our name, along with all the wonderful adventures that would follow!

africa-2016-526-2LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) pancakes here aren’t the same as pancakes everywhere

2) Big cats are hard to find

3) A full cat is a lazy cat

4) Treehouses make the best hotel rooms hands down… even if the shower situation sucks!

5) I want to move to the Kruger area… I’m in love with it!

 

South Africa: The Johannesburg Edition.

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yes, that is an ostrich….

After a flight to Atlanta and then a grueling 15 hour flight to Johannesburg, I was there, and I knew that Brad was waiting on the other side of Passport Control. I couldn’t wait.

 

We found our hotel driver, which I had booked ahead of time because I wasn’t sure how safe it would be getting from the train station to our hotel (as we figured out later, it would’ve been fine). We were booked at The Capital Empire in Sandton.  We confirmed with our driver that we were safe to wander at night, so once we were settled into our room we headed back down stairs to go try to find dinner, and get some exercise. After a brutal total of flight times, my appetite was minimal, but I knew if we didn’t get something that I would be up at 4 AM feeling starved.

We headed out the door of the hotel and through the security gate, down and around the corner toward Sandton City, the mall. We wanted to find Mandela Square. Brad had been there once before, but couldn’t remember how to get there. We wandered down various streets all around the mall trying to figure out how to access it. The struggle was real. It felt like we would never get there. Finally, we found the back way in. What we later realized is that it would have been just as easy to get there had we entered the mall first.  Once we were through looking at the gigantic recreation of Nelson Mandela we began looking for a restaurant where we could get something fairly simple and easy. We settled on a Tasha’s Cafe inside where I got a grilled cheese, and Brad got a salad… The grilled cheese was good, but America’s are better & I make the best..  Either way, with full bellies, and absolute exhaustion, we headed back to the hotel to sleep. Thanks to Brad’s job, he didn’t have to adjust to a different time zone. I was the only one that would suffer!

africa-extras-008The next morning we were preparing for what we thought would be a full day. When I woke up (before Brad) I didn’t feel like laying there until he woke up, so I went to work out for about and hour. When I returned, he was still in bed so it gave me sometime to get showered and start getting ready with the hopes that we would be out the door at the same time. The first thing on the agenda was breakfast. It was not included in our hotel, so we had to find something. When we reached the end of the sidewalk outside the hotel, we went right. We wandered a little ways down the road, and found a very enchanting cafe that I believe was called the Tea Garden. They had indoor and outdoor seating. Naturally, we wanted to enjoy the beautiful outdoor weather and the environment. It reminded me a little bit of Alice and Wonderland or Disneyland. It was whimsical and we thoroughly enjoyed it.We proceeded to have some delicious omelettes and toast before we wandered the grounds a little bit.

A little bit after we continued up the road a bit to see what else was there. We found a couple other small cafes as possibilities for the next morning, but we realized that it would be a good idea to head back in order to get on with the next activity. We gathered our essential belongings and headed back toward the mall to the Thrifty car rental. Getting a car took an extensive amount of time, as it seems is the norm. FACT: Car rental companies and patience are two things that don’t go hand-in-hand.  

With both of us in the car – opposites sides of the car this time, and driving down what felt like the wrong side of the road… We were ready to take on British-influenced streets of South Africa in an attempt to get to the Cradle of Humankind. FACT: It is ranked as one of the best things to do just outside of Johannesburg, and I would say that it was definitely an interesting exhibit. It is great for the science-loving, fact hunting, museum enthusiast. For me however, I got a little bored by the end. There are only so many little information tags under each exhibit that I can read before it all turns into mumbo-jumbo about the same thing. I did enjoy the boat ride,  though… Yes, a boat ride… A boat ride exhibit of how the earth has changed over the millions of years. …and there was a spinning starry tunnel which was kind of trippy. TIP: I will say that I would recommend this to anyone who has a free 4-6 hours, and doesn’t mind driving on the opposite side of the road, unless you are used to Her Majesty’s way. It truly was an interesting experience that  would be fun for kids and adults…. If anything, you get some incredible views of the South African valleys when you are done. But as a whole, it was way more & better than I expected.

We had a fairly long drive back into town, and thankfully, it was easier getting back into the city than leaving it. We returned to the hotel to drop off our car (we needed it the next day), and went to find ourselves a tasty meal. We headed back in the direction of the mall, as that is where the action was. We had a late lunch at Wangthai where we both indulged in a some delicious Thai noodle dishes. We sat on the patio as well which sits on the second floor overlooking the square. It was nice to just be able to sit and relax for a little bit with out any further plans hanging over head for the day. But eventually the check came, and an obligation to move on.

We spent quite a while cruising through the mall, and checking out some of the shops. The mall felt like a giant maze filled with all the usual things, but some unique brands. A few hours later, we found ourselves hungry once again for an evening meal. We wandered all over and eventually discovered what I call “the best Indian food (aka Chicken Korma) I’ve ever had” (granted, I’ve never been to India) at a lovely restaurant called The Royal India.

Once again, un-adjusted from the jet lag, we headed back to the hotel for an early bed time. The next day was a big deal, and we were extremely excited about it!

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S.A. McDonalds deliver your food on a scooter… and American ones have two drive-thru lanes… lol

 

We were up and at’em. We were in the car for our 2 hour drive, but still needed food. Being the bold adventurers that we are, we stopped at a McDonalds along the way for a very quick and efficient breakfast composed of egg biscuit sandwiches. They were delicious as usual, and definitely cheap.. We were back in the car, quick as a flash, and were headed to Bela-Bela in the Limpopo province. What awaited us was way more than we we bargained for. We were headed to Bambelela to interact with Vervet monkeys, and learn about them and the organization that operates as a Vervet Monkey & Wildlife Sanctuary for the young and injured. FACT: I had a really hard time staying in contact with them when trying to schedule, for some reason they were not receiving my originals, so I ended up having to contact them from another email address.

 

Getting there, the dirt road was incredibly rough. I didn’t expect a dirt road, and neither did our compact vehicle. We made the best of it; well, Brad made the best of it. Eventually we reached the gate, where we gave our name and were let through. We followed the signs pointing us in the direction of the sanctuary, and it was quite an intriguing drive. There were several large private homes along the way that seemed like a dream to be in.  Eventually, at the end of the road we

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a young Baboon

found Bambelela, a big giveaway was the large amount of monkeys running all over the grounds. Not just Vervets, but also Baboons.  We were pleasantly surprised to see that we were the only guests there (…and it stayed that way). Once we were out of the car we were greeted by Sue. She was great to “work” with. She was very pleasant and informative. You could tell that she was truly passionate about her work, as well as the animals. After our informational tour, it was time. Time to get in the cage with the “cheeky, naughty” (as Sue calls them) youngsters. What a thrill. We removed anything loose or valuable and handed them over for the 15 minutes that we were in the cage. The little guys lived up to their reputation. africa-extras-041The amount of spunk that was jumping around was sensational. It was really something to have these tiny primates jumping all over from person to person. From 5 feet away you suddenly feel a gently thud on your body… At one point one crazy Vervet crawled up inside my shirt. and out the top. They were biting my wedding ring, and occasionally my fingers (all in good, somewhat gentle fun). They were completely fascinating by my bun of hair, and also felt the need to open my mouth, inspect the inside, and check my eyes for any issues… One little monster even stole my hair clip, which I had forgotten was there. The volunteer that was in the cage with us (also, our designated photographer), went to get it back by grabbing the monkey by the tail and offering it a disciplinary action (as would be done by an adult Vervet). As they instruct, you never take from a monkey, unless they know you are in charge, or else you’ll be engaging in a battle with an irrational creature.

Eventually, our play time came to a close, the bill had been paid & we were back in the car. Thankfully, I had packed hand wipes… We were filthy, and we even had bits of monkey poo on our clothing which we were desperately trying to remove with a pack of Wet-Ones. It was no-matter.. We had another wildlife encounter ahead, and as we found out it was also, a bit messy. TIP: Always pack hand wipes, they are a game change for the overly adventurous traveler.

From Bambelela we made our way back down the extremely bumpy dirt road to Adventure with Elephants. I had arranged an elephant encounter, where we could learn and of course interact with African elephants (yes, they are definitely different from Asian elephants & I will post more about that later on). When we arrived, we got checked in and had to wait for them to bring the elephants around, which seemed like the perfect time to take advantage of the bathrooms to try and remove the monkey-poo. Once I removed all that I could, we headed back to the patio where we were able to observe some natural wildlife on the grounds below.

Eventually, 4 large beautiful African Elephants & 1 baby made their way to their covered stand. They were put in their places, and we started from the right and began working our way left. With the first elephant, we got to see how intelligent the elephant was. First they introduced us by name. (I don’t remember her name). Then we each gave her a shoe. As she was instructed, and according to her smell, she was able to return each shoe to the correct individual. Next we got to meet the baby… one big baby. It was beautiful, but didn’t have much of an interest in hanging out with us. It wanted to hang out with mom. We got in a couple pets, and then decided to let it do it’s own thing, with mom. The next elephant we gave treats to, and got to learn a little bit of the basic elephant anatomy. We got to inspect it’s tail, touch the pads of its feet, and examine it’s eyes. Such big beautiful eyes.  Finally, we moved down to our last elephant. A very handsome fellow, who I believe was in charge of tricks. He offered us kisses from his trunk, sprayed us with water, and even kicked a ball back and forth. He was wonderful!

Here is my little Elephant Gallery, please enjoy, and disregard my monkey hair…:

africa-extras-053From their our tour came to a close… We watched the elephants wander back off to their side of the land, and within a minute or two we found Trouble, the adopted Meerkat who was taken in by the founders. He was much too busy hunting for bugs to want anything to do with us… It was unfortunate because apparently he is quite the socialite with guests… TIP: If you have the opportunity to interact with African elephants, I would highly recommend it. It is incredibly life changing to be able to see the grandeur, intelligence, and beauty of such a majestic animal.

africa-2016-053-2We stayed on the property for a while because we were waiting for our USB drive of photos that they took for us. While we waited, we were able to get washed up again, and just relax. While we waited we had the delightful experience of seeing a couple giraffes come up near the complex. We just watched them for a while, until we felt it was time to get back.

We hadn’t had a proper lunch, just snacks that I packed for the drive, and we were both feeling starved. When we got back into town, we decided to get cleaned up before we dropped the car off, that way once we were clean & changed out of our filthy clothes, we were able to head back over to the square from Thrifty. We went hunting for dinner, not literally, but couldn’t commit so we ended up back at Tasha’s for an easy meal before we just cruised the mall again. Eventually, we headed back to the hotel because we had to get packed. We were being picked up the next day by our guide for Krueger National Park, and he was going to be there relatively early.

The next morning proved to be a bumpy one. During getting ready, I had a little bit of an accident. My bottle of foundation (aka makeup) got knocked to the floor and smashed. Their was liquid and glass all over the hotel room floor, and thankfully there was no carpet (although, then it wouldn’t have broke). Anywho, I began to panic at the thought of going the next 2 weeks without it because I was not blessed with perfect skin… My survival instincts began to set in, and I quickly messaged Neil (our guide), and asked if we could delay our pick up time by 1/2 an hour. Once again, we headed back to the mall… but not just for makeup, for breakfast too. We found a really yummy cafe, Doppio Zero, near one of the entrances. The breakfast was really exquisite. TIP: Breakfast in Johannesburg is top notch. They know what they are doing. I knew we were on a mission, so as soon as the shops opened, and we were done with our food, we headed toward one of the “department stores” to quickly grab what I needed, and then get back to the hotel.

To our surprise, it actually worked out perfect because we ended up having to wait a little longer for Neil, than we all anticipated.

africa-2016-054-1LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) Sometimes even maps can’t help you find your way.

2) Dirt roads and compact cars don’t go together.

3) Monkeys shouldn’t be pets — much too frisky.

4) Makeup just shouldn’t come in glass bottles

5) I’m way too accident prone, to own small, frequently-used items made of glass.

A European Roadtrip: The Munich End Edition.

We got back to Munich early that afternoon after almost a 2 hour drive. We stopped at the Hotel first, & checked in. We were staying at the Le Meridian, which was directly across the street from the ALoft that we stayed at when we first arrived. (As a Christmas present, my mom has booked this one with her Starwood account points. She got us a beautiful suite, that really was too big, but was truly relaxing for our final night.) We were there early so we left  our bags at the front desk, and headed to Budget to drop off the car which was quick, and easy, much more so than picking it up. …I have no idea, at what point we went back to get settled into our room… Sometime between check in and dinner. haha.

We wanted to grab some food for the time being. We planned on using the rest of our Euro coins, and hopped over the sandwich shop in the train station. We couldn’t afford much with our coins, so we opted for a sandwich and a pastry. Enough to hold us over until an early dinner.

iphone latest 434.JPGWe spent the rest of the afternoon just hanging out around town. There wasn’t much to do because the majority of stores are closed on Sundays. The hot spot that day was the Christmas Market. There were so many people there that it was almost too difficult too maneuver down the aisles of vendors. In light of this all the global events that have been occurring with ISIS, it was making me quite nervous. I tried my best to remind myself that to continually think of them possibly attacking is allowing them to win. FACT: “To live in fear is to deprive ourselves of the opportunity of adventure.”-Natalie Rathman. I settled my nerves with a delicious Nutella crepe. Of all the crepes I had on this trip, and I had way too many, the Munich crepes were still the best!

When we were momentarily burnt out the market we head back to The Hofbrauhaus for our very early dinner. The place was packed and so noisy. We were lucky that we even got a table. We ordered different things than last time, but didn’t enjoy it much. (I think we were just getting burnt out on the cultural food.) We ate as much as we could, which included a German pretzel (of course), and finally got the check. It was time to move on again, like it always is for us. (I think we have short attention spans.)

insta-9We wandered all over the city. We weaved in an out of all the Christmas markets and down small quiet streets. Eventually, we did end up back at the big market in Marienplatz. I still hadn’t found my perfect German souvenir… I had loved the concept of the German smokers, but was hesitant because I  was afraid they would be too German in style. I also debated between some of the more crafty holiday items, or even a nutcracker…  I wanted something that suited our home and/or suited us. Finally, after hours and days of searching I found it. There, at one of the large booths, was it. My German  smoker. A plump German man in a sitting position smoking his pipe with a dog on his lap, a rifle over his shoulder, and a fox on his back. He was perfect. He had a feather in his hat, and big bushy mustache. We were short on cash, so thankfully, the man there was willing to bargain with us and Brad saved us close to 20 Euros which was awesome!

Eventually, we decided we should eat once more before we headed to bed. We had early flights the next morning, but still had lots to do to prepare. After dropping off anything that wasn’t mandatory to carry, we headed back out for Indian food. We scouted a few options. One option was underground, and kind of sketched us out, so we moved on to the next option. It was quaint, but looked welcoming, so we headed in for this trip’s second round of Chicken Korma. It was delicious, and we were satisfied. With sad hearts, and full stomachs we headed back to the hotel.

Within a couple hours, I had everything packed up. I’m a slow, but very strategic packer. We had to be up early, as we both had morning flights, but we also wanted to try to find a market to try to get Pecans for Brad’s colleagues because they wanted the chef at their “camp” to make a Pecan pie. Early the next morning, we did just that. With tea & coffee in hand, we scouted the closest grocery store, and searched high and low for pecans. 4 small bags, and about $20 Euro later, we had the “contraband”, and Brad’s work-friends eventually had their delicious, homemade-in-the-Congo Pecan Pie.

Before, there was another Goodbye in the Munich airport… I cried as usual even though I didn’t want to. However, I knew that within a matter of weeks, Brad would be home, and we would be off on our next mini adventure!

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LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) I now appreciate that US stores are open on Sundays

2) It never hurts to ask… You won’t know until you do!

 

A European Roadtrip: The Nuremberg Edition.

nikon-2-013-1After a grueling three and half hour drive, and a rest stop at McD’s to use the bathroom, we arrived within the small walled city in the late afternoon. We stayed at the Holiday Inn where parking and checking in was a breeze. We had a nice view of the street below where we were able to watch antics take place.

As soon as we were settled in we decided to head to the Museum of Germanic Art & Culture. We knew they closed soon, and didn’t want to miss it. We did have a difficult time finding the main entrance. It felt like we were wandering all over the place aimlessly. Once we did find it, and we did… find it. We walked to the counter where we were pleasantly surprised to find out that they do not charge for tickets within the last two hours of business. It was perfect! We love seeing antiquities, but I don’t love spending hours reading and what not because realistically it goes in one way and out the other.

iphone-latest-243In hopes of finding our way, we headed toward our hotel initially to ensure we had everything we needed for the chilly night. As we left again we decided to go right. That was a mistake. We were going to walk along the wall, but that also meant, and we were completely unaware of this, that we were walking through the red-light district… As a very conservative and private person, this was a little awkward for me, but thankfully it didn’t last too long. We followed the dark road around for a  little ways, but eventually decided to cut back in towards the center of the city. We found the main shopping area that was just south of the river. We wandered through & explored a bit, and had the pleasure of finding an almost fully living Nativity, meaning the animals were alive the people were mannequins. The double humped camel, named Ivan, clearly found Brad to be interesting as he came right up to him almost smacking their heads together. It was fun to see!  As we strolled through the city we came to the river. It was truly beautiful. It was a great place to stop for photos, and there were many different vantage points to choose from.

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Dinner time was approaching, and I could feel myself starting to lose my cool. I wanted pizza. Pizza Hut, which we had seen earlier that afternoon, sounded fine to me because I just needed my fix, but Brad insisted that we push onward in search of something better. I was starting to get irritated, but thankfully as my mood began to worsen about Brad’s persistence the Heavens smiled down upon him. He found for us Provenza near the Hauptmarkt which is where the Christmas Market was set up, and it was hopping! . The food was exquisite… But then again, all I got was a cheese pizza… (Yes, I am a child… I also like my cheese burgers with ketchup only… Haters gonna hate.)

With full bellies we were able to enjoy the Christmas Market that was right outside the restaurant. We got to admire the beautiful glass ornaments, smell the hot beverages, and take in all the merriment.  Our night was not over, and we were getting a little burnt out on the Christmas Markets..( I also knew that when we got to Rothenburg we would be going to Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas shop…. I was holding out!)

iphone-latest-252From there the adventure continued North, and uphill, toward the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg. With curious spirits we pressed on. We made our way through the winding cobblestone streets, and made the climb to the top. The view was rewarding. We enjoyed staring out over the skyline, and seeing how far we had come.  Our journey continued as we wandered throughout the open Castle passage ways… We ended up finding a small staircase that was not blocked off that allowed us to head down into what I imagine was once a mote. It was huge, and a little bit creepy, but so worth the exploration. I believe the area now is considered part of the gardens.  It was fun to see how deep the mote once was, and how small you feel standing next to it, and pretending to try to climb out of it.  We eventually found our way out, as the road below eventually led us to a street corner. We followed the road for a ways on the outside of the city wall, but once again eventually cut back in as it was more familiar to us at that point, as well as more visually pleasing.  When we reached the river, we took a city on a bench to rest our feet. It was peaceful, and it was beautiful, even in the dark the glow of city lights in the winter air seem to be so relaxing. With Brad as exhausted as he was, eventually we decided to remove ourselves. We took the familiar path, eager for sleep, and exhilarated to the see this beautiful Germanic city in the day light.

The next morning we awoke fairly early. We dressed & repacked our bags, and headed out in search of breakfast. It was cold and raining, so we went with something familiar, Starbucks. We didn’t feel like aggressively hunting, and not many places had opened yet.

iphone-latest-276-1A tea, a coffee, and a couple pastries, and we were set. We took our time, as Brad perused CNBC, and I worked on trying to get my Christmas music uploaded onto my phone.  As we sat there, we waited for the rain to clear a bit. Finally, it began to clear. So a little bit warmer, and a little bit drier we ventured back out. It was great to see the city with less people and in the daylight. It was beautiful. We took a left near the front of St. Lorenz Church, and it led us right back to the river, where I was able to grab some beautiful and idyllic photos. From there we pressed on, crossing the old wooden bridge and winding our way through cobblestone streets lined with colorful homes and buildings. It was one of those moments where you think, “I’d live here”, and then you remember the brisk cold that you feel you are barely surviving, and there isn’t even snow!!

We were satisfied with Nuremberg even though we had been in the city for less than 24 hours, we found it to be amazing, but once again it was time to move forward with the itinerary. We quickly scampered back to the hotel collected our things & in a flash were in the car headed to the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, which is now a museum documenting the Hitler & Nazi Regime and their crimes committed.

iphone-latest-311-1Originally, This tour wasn’t at the top of my list. I’m not a big history buff, but I knew Brad would enjoy it, and I knew there were things that I would find interesting. However, now that I have gone, TIP: EVERYONE SHOULD GO DO THIS. This was a truly emotional and moving experience. It held my attention pretty much all the way through. There were a few parts where I kind of skipped ahead, or just didn’t listen to the audio guide, but it is truly well-down and worth the affordable ticket price. The nice thing is that it was quiet, and easy to move through. But seriously, if you are in Nuremberg, this is truly an incredible experience.

After a few hours of gaining insight & wanting to cry at the sight of food-deprived bodies in a ditch, I needed food to renew my spirit & stop my stomach from grumbling. Nothing seemed that great at the cafe in the Museum, so we settled on McD’s. FACT:You’ll find out that we spend a lot of time in McDonalds when we travel, it’s kind of pathetic, and we know it. Also, if you are like me, and you like chicken nuggets with honey… You have to bring your own honey, they don’t have it there. One quick meal later, we were back in the car headed to Rothenburg. I couldn’t wait!

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LESSONS LEARNED: 

1) Red Light Districts are now in Germany… Apparently it helps cut down the sex trade issues there…

2) Last minute museum entry can pay off

3)  Nuremberg is a fantastic place to spend at least one full day… 2 would be ideal.