Beijing “The Initiation” 

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Beijing “The Initiation” 

Well it’s finally here my 60th birthday trip (well birthday’s not until the 26th). Our first stop is in China and the fascinating city of Beijing.

After our ten hour flight and as we were making our final approach into Beijing airport I couldn’t help noticing how flat the area was around the city was. But more amazingly the amount of tall residential blocks you could see, literally thousands of them, mile after mile, all very gray and similar in design. It looked like a scene from a sci-fi film. It’s no wonder though as Beijing 23,000,000 inhabitants have got to live somewhere.

Our transit through immigration was a breeze and we were soon in our taxi on our way to our accommodation “Kelly’s Courtyard” a really lovely small hotel which I would recommend highly, in the heart of one of Beijings Hutong districts and very close to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. After checking in and. dropping our bags We decided to have a walk around the imidiate area to get our bearings also to refrain from taking a sleep owing to the jet lag. It was immediately noticeable that things were not going to be easy on this part of our trip. Firstly we were going to have no idea of the language or even trying to decipher it with the aid of the guide book, and what on earth were we going to do when it came to eating.We didn’t have a clue as to what was on the menus and from what we have read we really did need to know. (As they do eat a multitude of strange things the Chinese, some I’m sure wouldn’t be to appetising), in fact later on in our trip we saw a menu serving hedgehog and also donkey, Mmm lovely. One other big problem was the fact that unlike other countries that I have visited, very few people speak any English at all. It was even a struggle to find a place for a cup of coffee ( I know we are in China they drink tea, but I hate the stuff). Luckily we came across a really a nice place called “1901” a really old establishment steeped in history We settled down and was initially going to have a nice cup of coffee and a cake but after seeing the prices we decided on just coffee which was £4, and £4.75 for just a small piece of cake so we just had coffee. We were beginning to think at this stage perhaps we should have carried onto Kuala Lumper without stopping in Beijing. But we both agreed this was down to the fact that we had just had a long journey and we were extremely tired. John the owner of Kelly’s courtyard recommended us to a really nice restaurant nearby with a menu we could understand “we hadn’t just learnt Chinese it had pictures” although there were some strange looking offerings, there were also some familiar ones “things were looking up”. Our mood was changing. New day tomorrow.

South Africa Re-visited Pt 2. Zambia

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South Africa Re-visited Pt 2. Zambia

Up early today for our flight to Livingstone, Zambia, and the Victoria Falls. On arrival in the arrivals lounge we were confronted by a horrendous queue for entry visa’s. “We did some research some months prior to our visit, and it was possible to get your visa online, but this has now stopped”. When we got closer to the entry visa desks we could see what the hold up was. All of the four desks available were manned but they only had one card machine between them, and as so many people were paying by card the operators were passing the card reader to one another. On top of this when we got to the desk the operative’s phone rang, so he was busy having a conversation. “probably it was his mum asking him what he wanted for dinner”. So Top Tip Bring cash, dollars like the guide books suggest and like we did and maybe people will get processed faster, rant over.

Our accommodation during our stay was the excellent Green Tree Lodge. I cannot praise Green Tree Lodge highly enough. The proprietors Andrew & Victoria were really helpful and very welcoming. Also as it turned out, Andrew who was from England, used to work where I was currently working at the time (small world)

On our first day we were up bright and early to visit the Victoria Falls (Top Tip to avoid the tour groups arrive early) As we approached the falls we were both stunned into silence, they were truly amazing, we both felt quite emotional at the sight,more so for my partner, as it was her childhood dream to see the falls. We started off at the highest point of the falls as recommended by Andrew at Green Tree Lodge. Seeing the Zambezi plunge into the ravine below was just breathtaking. We worked our way down, and walked along the opposite edge of the falls. We were told by Andrew that its one of the few places on earth where rain goes up. Well its not rain but the massive spray from the Zambezi as it hits the ravine below. We stupidly hired some waterproof ponchos to keep us dry, but like I said the rain (spray) comes up, so we were absolutely soaked. What an experience.

The next day it was relaxing visiting the Royal Livingstone Hotel for a posh afternoon tea, and of course the obligatory bottle of wine watching the sun go down over the Zambezi and the falls.

Our last day we decided to take a trip in the air over the falls, mine was in a microlight and Jackie’s was in a helicopter. After our amazing experience we spent a couple of hours wandering around Livingstone and in the evening, finishing off the trip with a sunset cruise on the African Queen along the Zambezi river. A truly memorable end to a fantastic trip.

South Africa re-visited

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South Africa re-visited

 

Well it’s almost a year since we were in South Africa, so I am finally getting around to finishing my blog on our visit, before we head off on my 60th birthday trip. More on that later

After leaving Swellendam we headed for our next stop, Cape Town, with a stop on route in Stellenbosch. A very pretty town not only famous for its wine but also its Ostrich farms. After a stroll around the town and some lunch, it was time to move on to Cape Town.

As we approached Cape Town things got busier as you would expect, the wide open spaces that we were used to in the east became less and less also things got somewhat bizarre. You see some friends of ours who have been to South Africa a few times told us a story about when they stopped at some traffic lights, they saw a woman in the middle of the road trying to sell a wardrobe of all things. Just the sort of thing that you need whilst out for a quite drive. Well it appears that the entrepreneurship of the South Africans doesn’t just stop at furniture. We stopped at some traffic lights (probably the same ones) and saw a guy waving the biggest fish you can imagine, around trying to sell it to passing motorists. Quite how many days he had been waving around in the South African sunshine I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess. Before we checked into our guest house, we decided to stop off and have a look around the V&A waterfront area of Cape Town. The V&A consists of many chain type restaurants and high end shops, all very nice but a bit too commercial and polished for my liking, but worth a visit all the same.

On our first full day in Cape Town we visited Table Mountain. We had pre booked our tickets back in the UK having read about the vast numbers of people visiting, as you can imagine, as Table Mountain along with Robben Island are Cape Town’s biggest tourist draws. On reflection we needn’t have bothered as the queue for the cable cars for people with pre booked tickets was just as long as the queue for people without, Oh well we tried. Our next stop and in my opinion a must see is the District 6 museum. District 6 was an area of Cape Town which was a thriving township community, consisting of blacks, coloureds, “South African’s term for mixed race” and Malay people. The district was demolished because the white South Africans decided they wanted the area for themselves to build nice big fancy buildings and high end houses. The entrance to the museum (which incidentally is housed in an old church, the only building left standing from the district) is free to enter, but once inside I would wholeheartedly recommend taking a tour with one of the guides. The guides are all former residents of District 6. Our guide Ruth who was brought up in the district was so informative, and her story was so moving, she was in tears telling us, even though she must have told it a thousand times, very moving indeed. I cannot get my head around how one person can treat another so badly just because of the colour of their skin. We ended our day with a good few cold beers in a bar/restaurant called “Bombay Bicycle Club”.

Our next day in Cape Town was a visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for the best part of his 30 year sentence. Robben Island is definitely one I would recommend booking in advance. If you are staying in Cape Town for a few days I would recommend making your booking to the island early on during your stay, because if the ferries to island are cancelled due to bad weather you can use your pre-booked ticket for another day.

A must visit if you are in Cape Town for a few days is Boulder Beach, which if famous for its population of penguins, it was just amazing to see them in there natural habitat. Could have watched them for hours going about their daily business.

Now the 26th of March is my birthday, so we asked the owner of the accommodation that we were staying at Acorn House which incidentally I would thoroughly recommend. If she could recommend a nice restaurant for the occasion. She told us about a high end restaurant called La Mouette, at Sea point which a short drive from Cape Town. She said she would try to book a table, but could not promise as it gets booked well in advance, but luckily for us we managed get a table. We decided to go for the six course taster menu, which also comes with a glass a wine with each course. The food and the wine was amazing. If this restaurant was in London the cost of the meal would be astronomical, I’m sure well out of our price range, but the meal was just £60 for the both of us

Island of Paros

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Island of Paros

After a short ferry journey from Naxos (45mins) we arrived at the much smaller island of Paros. On arrival it was noticeable that the strong winds that we had in Naxos had dropped, and it seemed much hotter,”although it was not at all cold on the other islands, just windy” After picking up our car we headed for our apartment for the next five days “or so we thought, more later”. On arrival at the Archipelago Studios, which are perched high on a hillside about 3km from Parika we were amazed at the stunning views over the bay. Our next four days on the island were just spent relaxing and exploring. Must visits are the villages of Naoussa, Lefkes, Aliki and Piso Livada which are all typical Greek villages, with there myriad of small cobbled streets, and there immaculately painted houses, to driving down the coast road taking in the views of the Aegean. There is not much in the way of sights on the island, its was just a nice place to chill after our busy times in Athens, Santorini and Naxos.

Our original intention was to stay on Paros for five nights, but it was cut short due to a strike by local air traffic controllers so our flight from Paros to Athens on our last day was cancelled at short notice. We didn’t  get notification until after the first Blue Star ferry of the day had already left, but luckily for us there was another at 19:15 arriving in Athens at 23:30 saving the day. So we had to book an impromptu night in Athens to enable us to get our connecting flight back to the UK.

Top Tip always be mindful when making travel plans and traveling with two different airlines on the same day, of cancellations, strikes and delays, etc, as it can catch you out, luckily we got away with it.

Notable Restaurant The Balcony in Aliki is a good fish restaurant and was recommended by the owner of Archipelago Apartments, and is in a nice setting overlooking the waterfront.