Pompeii, Wine Tasting, Vesuvius and Herculaneum

The main reason my sister and I chose to stay in Naples for our holiday this year was so we could visit Pompeii. We researched lots of different options and in the end decided on a full day tour which consisted of a guided tour of Pompeii in the morning, lunch and wine tasting at a vineyard on the slopes of Vesuvius and climbing to the top of the volcano in the afternoon. It was on the expensive side (around £256 for 2 people) but well worth it, and something I would thoroughly recommend if you have the time and budget.Once we’d made our way to the pick-up point by the train station, we had a short coach ride to Pompeii for a three-hour guided tour. Our guide was very knowledgeable and made sure that our group had time to look around for ourselves as well as showing and telling us about different areas. The main thing that struck me about Pompeii was the sheer size of the place. I knew it had been a town, but I hadn’t realised it had been a sizeable city of several thousand people before Vesuvius had decimated it in 79AD. Two thirds of it have been excavated, giving a huge area that can be explored. It’s absolutely amazing. If you haven’t been there, go!At the end of our guided tour of Pompeii we had a few minutes to buy a drink and souvenirs. My sister and I got matching bracelets made of Vesuvius rock and Murano glass beads, as well as a lemon granita as it was really hot. Our group headed back to the coach and then to the vineyard on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius where we would have our lunch.The vineyard was gorgeous. We were given a short tour which included an explanation of how they use roses at the end of each row of vines to check for diseases instead of using pesticides. Lunch was held in an open room which looked out towards Vesuvius’ peak.Along with lunch we got to try six different wines produced at the vineyard. It was a really great way to do wine tasting, as it really made a difference and gave you an idea of the kinds of dishes different wines would go with. We had a sparkling rosé, a still rosé, a white, two reds and a dessert wine, all of which were delicious and went perfectly with the simple yet scrumptious food. Of course, I preferred the reds, and if I hadn’t been about to go travelling for a few weeks I may have bought some to take back with me! My sister bought one of the rooster jugs as it was really cool – the water poured out of its beak!Instead of the usual post-lunch nap, our afternoon was going to be spent walking off lunch by going to the top of Mount Vesuvius. The hike up took about 45 minutes and was quite steep most of the way, but the views were absolutely worth it. We had enough time at the top to stop for a quick cold drink, get a good look into the crater and walk most of the way around the rim. There were also souvenirs in a small kiosk, which my sister took full advantage of!After we’d admired the view sufficiently, we made our way back down the volcano, found our coach and headed back to Naples for dinner and some chill out time before an early night. It was an exhausting but awesome day, and definitely one to tick off the bucket list.The next day we visited Herculaneum or Ercolano, as it is in Italian. This was another town which was devastated by the same eruption of Vesuvius as destroyed Pompeii; however, this one was covered with lava rather than ash. This meant that many more buildings were preserved in a much better condition than those in Pompeii.When we first entered the site we were a little underwhelmed by the size of it having just been to the city of Pompeii. Once we started looking around though, we discovered just how well-preserved it was. Many buildings still had roofs, mosaics on the floors and paint on the walls. It took us nearly three hours to look at the most significant buildings and it was fascinating to see the detail in the mosaics and wall decorations.If you visit Pompeii, ensure you make time for a visit to Herculaneum as well.As a side note, there are two train stations in Ercolano and the site of Herculaneum is about a fifteen minute walk from either one, pretty much in the middle of the town. Don’t let a taxi driver talk you into believing it’s 6km away and charging you €10 to take you there via a very scenic route as we did!

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No Shopping Challenge Week 8

Costa Rica!

Although I’ve relaxed my budget for food while I’m travelling, I’m still trying to stick to the ‘no buying stuff’ aspect of my challenge. So far the only things I’ve spent money on in Costa Rica have been food, accommodation and transport, and I’m going to try and keep it that way.

I’ve been here almost a week with my best friend from home, E, and it’s been fantastic. Although it’s less expensive than the US was, I’ve still spent a fair amount as we’ve been eating out for almost every meal and doing lots of fun stuff.

We began the week, having just arrived in Playa Chiquita near Puerto Viejo, Limón, heading to the nearest beach with the best reviews – Punta Uva. One of the staff at the lodge we were staying at persuaded one of his friends to drive us there when there were no taxis available. This turned out to be a fortunate turn of events for us as he was a font of information about Puerto Viejo. He recommended places with the best coffee, the best Asian food, the atm with the shortest queue and various other useful titbits. The journey from where we were staying to one of only three ATMs in Puerto Viejo, back past where we were staying to Punta Uva and Arrecife Beach (definitely the best beach in the area) cost 10,000 Colones or $17.50 between us. Not bad for a 30-odd minute journey with free advice.

We then spent some time at the most stunning beach with warm, clear water, which was just perfect.

***

Since I wrote the first part of this post I’ve been busy doing holiday stuff, so I’m going to summarise my spending for the rest of this week. Otherwise it’s going to take a long, long time and I’ll just end up repeating what I’m writing on my post about my travels. If you’d like to find out more about what I did in Costa Rica, please have a look at my other blog posts here and here!

To summarise, all my money this week was spent on: taxis and tuktuks to and from the beach, restaurants and various places we explored; food and drink; cocktails; entry to the Jaguar Rescue Centre; horse riding along the beach and through the jungle with Caribe Horse Riding Club; transport from one side of Costa Rica to the other and back to the airport; accommodation; and tattoos.

I managed to resist the urge to buy things by telling myself they were all things I didn’t actually need, which is true, so almost all my spending was on food or transport apart from my various holiday activities.

Saturday we had half a day in Miami. Since we’d met up, we’d been talking about getting tattoos together (E’s idea!): as a memento of our trip, our friendship and a significant birthday this year for both of us. It would be E’s first tattoo and my 12th. After trying – and failing – to find somewhere to get the tattoos in Puerto Viejo where we were staying, I looked into tattoo artists in Miami. I found an article about the top ten artists in Miami and emailed a couple of places on the list who weren’t too far out of our way, to find out whether they’d be able to do what we wanted in the time we had available. Only one place came through, and it just so happened to be Love Hate Tattoo, where Miami Ink was filmed a few years ago! This made the tattoos even more special and everything went according to plan (even if that meant getting very little sleep. Stupid flight times). This, of course, has added a significant amount to my spending this week ($262.50/£190), however, I’m much happier spending that money on a beautiful tattoo with a beautiful person than on more stuff that I don’t really need.

My last stop this week was Bolinas, California, a lovely little town where my aunt and uncle live. My uncle picked me up from the airport on Saturday evening then treated me to entry to see a reggae band at the local community centre and a glass (well, tin cup) of wine.

Sunday was very chilled out. After breakfast I took a stroll into town taking a few photos on the way. I had lunch ($37) at the Coast Cafe – the only restaurant in town – bumped into my aunt by the People’s Store, met up with my uncle, bought a few food items (my uncle paid) and went back to the house for the evening.

***

My total spending for the week was $579.62 (£415) plus $222 (£160 between us) on our accommodation for the week, plus the tattoos. Not too bad for a week full of fantastic food, awesome adventures and gorgeous scenery!

New Orleans

I’m in love!

I don’t know what else to say. New Orleans is my new favourite place in the States.

***

Although I wrote that after a few drinks and a busy day, it’s still true (apart from Bolinas of course, which will always hold a special place in my heart).

Waking up with a slight hangover after our first full day in New Orleans made me very grateful that breakfast was included at our hotel. I went down for breakfast as my best friend E was feeling more worse for wear than me, and brought her back a plate after I’d enjoyed my toasted bagel with cream cheese. Then it was back to bed for a little more recovering from the previous day’s escapades.

Every day so far has felt like a holiday. I know, I know, I am on holiday, but this place really puts you in the party spirit – whether that means fruity cocktails, delicious food, extravagant shopping, wandering the streets, meandering through various boutique stores, admiring the architecture, chilling out overlooking the river or a combination of everything. I swear I will have put on about 20kg by the time I get back to China!

What started out as a chill day on Monday ended up being just about as exciting as the first day (which I just realised I have yet to tell you about).

***

So to go back to the beginning!

After arriving late Saturday evening and eventually finding each other in the airport, our first full day in New Orleans was on Sunday. We had a pretty good breakfast of toasted bagels with cream cheese at The Whitney Hotel where we’re staying. It’s in a great location on the corner of Poydras and Camp streets, only a few minutes’ walk from Canal Street and the French Quarter and the next street over from St Charles Avenue, which is one of the main parade routes. If you’re coming here for Mardi Gras make sure you book as far in advance as possible. I booked several months ago, as soon as I knew my holiday dates but before I booked my flights, just to make sure I got a hotel in the best location for the most reasonable price.

The French Quarter was our first port of call after breakfast where we had a good wander around looking at the stunning architecture and boutique shops. Lunch was at Bubba Gump Shrimp, accompanied by a Georgia peach iced tea cocktail each to celebrate the start of our holiday.

We then went to meet J, a friend of mine who I’d met last time I was in the States 4 years ago. She’s actually a good friend of my Aunt C who lives in California and I’ll be visiting in the third week of this holiday. The wonders of Facebook have meant that we’ve stayed (vaguely) in touch, so I sent her a message to ask about meeting up a couple of days before we arrived. I’m so glad I did! It made such a difference being shown around New Orleans by someone who lived here for 17 years (she doesn’t live here anymore but was back visiting for Mardi Gras). One gay bit of travel advice: always get a local to show you around if you can. It can make it break a trip and gives you a completely different view of the place from that of a tourist.

J showed us around various places and introduced us to various people in the French Quarter and Bywater, including a nice little bar with an art gallery attached to it, a street artist who wrote me a poem on the spot, and her hosts in NOLA, Z and C.

We spent a while with J, Z and C at their huge house, drinking wine, eating goat’s cheese and crackers and chatting about all kinds of things. They are really lovely people, and apart from welcoming us into their home, feeding us and giving us alcohol, they also furnished us with costumes to wear in one of the Mardi Gras parades and invited us to join them! Of course we said yes. It’s one thing to watch parades, it’s quite another to be in one! Needless to say we were both quite excited.

Around 8pm ish C gave us a lift to Frenchmen Street on the edge of the French Quarter so we could walk back to our hotel easily from there. This meant walking back along either Bourbon Street or Royal where – of course – we passed several bars and decided to pop into one for a couple of drinks and a bit of a dance, which was great fun and a perfect end to our first day in New Orleans.

***

As I was saying earlier in this post, what started out as a chill day on Monday ended up being just about as exciting as the first day. I ended up going for breakfast by myself as E was still sleeping, which was fine as I read my book (Carol by …, in case you’re wondering), and I brought up a few breakfast bits for E when I was done. After going back to bed for a bit (We were both tired after the long day the day before, plus all the travelling to get to NOLA), we took a walk down to the Mississippi River. On the way we popped into an art gallery with some gorgeous photos and other random pieces of art, then had lunch (tater tot poutine for me) at a World of Beer, just because it was on the way and had veggie options.

When we got to the Riverwalk Outlet Mall there was a small stage set up with a band playing for Lundi Gras (which I didn’t even know was a thing until I got here). After a quick stop in the mall we then headed back to the French Quarter along the river, and on the way found the Coyote Ugly Saloon bar. Of course, we had to stop in for a drink, and somehow I ended up doing a catwalk through the bar with Harlequinn’s cape on, along with a few other customers with various fancy dress items! Brilliant, and I definitely recommend a visit if you’re in the area.

We spent the rest of the day looking around the French Market (where they were starting to pack up so we couldn’t have the crepes we wanted but had sangria instead), going for dinner at Pere Antoine, then walking back to Canal Street where we found the Krewe of Orpheus parade happening. We hadn’t realised how long the parades go on for and thought we’d missed them all for the day, so it was a nice surprise to come across this one. The floats were amazing! So much detail had gone into the decoration and costumes of people riding on them. And this is where we collected our first beads! Every float had people throwing beads, balls and various Mardi Gras-themed items into the crowd watching the procession. We ended up with loads of beads of all different colours and sizes. Even though everyone around us also had lots, there was a huge amount of beads (and rubbish) left on the ground once the parade finished. The parade was fantastic to watch; I’m so glad we saw it and it was a great end to the day.

***

Tuesday was Mardi Gras! It was such a fantastic day. The whole city basically had a party! Everyone dressed up and some of the costumes were amazing; so much time and effort had obviously gone into them.

Unfortunately we missed meeting up with J in the morning because of traffic, but luckily Z spotted us a little later and then we found their house again where we said hi to C and tried King Cake for the first time (delicious). Our first drinks were bought for us by a lovely lady i was chatting to at the bar, as it was our first Mardi Gras – so kind!

We had a few more drinks (red wine and frangelico) with Z and C and their friends, and hung out with them for a bit meeting other people and watching the rest of the St Ann’s parade go by. Z and C invited us to walk with them as part of the parade to the French Quarter, which was so much fun. When we got there, there was a huge street party unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. And there was none of the aggression or violence you might get in other places at such an event. Everyone was so friendly and chilled out.

Around 3pm we decided it would be a good idea to go for lunch, so we said our goodbyes to Z and C and headed off to find the crepes in the French Market, which were very tasty. After a bit more exploring of the city we headed back to the hotel for a short rest and a change of clothes before heading out again about 6.30pm for dinner, drinks and a dance. We tried a few places for food but all of them either had too long a wait or very little in the way of veggie options, so we went back to the French quarter once more where we spotted the Hard Rock Cafe and decided this would be the best option as everywhere was so busy. They at least had veggie burgers! I have to say, I was quite disappointed with the lack of vegetarian options in the restaurants here, unless they were specifically veggie or vegan places.

After dinner we walked through the French quarter along Bourbon Street which was so busy! It reminded me of Lan Kwai Fong (the main area that people go out to bars and clubs in Hong Kong), only worse! After escaping to a slightly quieter street we found a club to have a dance for a while before calling it a night and walking back to our hotel.

***

Wednesday was our last full day in New Orleans, and the city was much quieter. We began the day with a lie in as neither of us wanted breakfast then walked to Seed vegan restaurant for lunch, where I had an eggplant poboy (nice filling but the bread was stale) and E had a tofu poboy (which she loved). Lafayette Cemetery wasn’t far from the restaurant, so we went and looked round for a while. It’s interesting because everyone there is buried above ground due to the high water level, so there’s no regular graves just tombs. After a brief stop for coffee/frozen lemonade we got the street car along St Charles Avenue back to the French Quarter. We wandered round lots of shops along Bourbon Street in the French Quarter and E bought a few bits; while she was in one shop I was given giant beads for taking a photo of a horse and carriage. Random! I then sat in the Market Cafe and had a glass of wine while E went on a hunt for t-shirts and gifts for her family as I’m doing my ‘No Shopping Challenge’.

A short walk brought us to Carmo for dinner – a restaurant that specialised in vegetarian and vegan dishes as well as having a few for the meat-eaters. The service was really bad and our main meals took an hour but when I spoke to the manager he gave us the whole meal for free, plus desserts! A pretty good ending to another great day in New Orleans.

***

Today is Thursday, and we left NOLA on a 10am flight. So now it’s goodbye New Orleans, hello Miami (for a day)!

Exciting News!

I’d like to start with a non-apology! I haven’t posted anything on here for a while, and there’s a good reason for that…

I’ve been contracted as a writer!

So exciting!

My new website has just gone live: http://www.BASEDtravelershenzhen.com

I’m working for a company called BASEDtraveler which has expat-local writers in different locations around the world (at the moment England, Germany, South Korea and now China). We don’t just write about life as an expat, but also offer advice, ideas for excursions, useful information, hints and tips, how-to guides and more.

Please check it out and spread the word!

Also if you have any ideas or suggestions about what else you’d like to see on the site, please send me a message.

I will still be writing about my own travels on here as well (I still need to finish my Summer Adventure series) but it will be less often now. However, I’ll be publishing something every Sunday on my new website.

You can also find me and BASEDtraveler on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

B.emusing A.dventure S.ought E.very D.ay

Summer Adventure part 2: Mongolia

Mongolia was surprising, a mix of big city and vast plains, hard living and great vegetarian restaurants. The people are friendly and generous, happy to welcome you into their homes and to share their food, despite the language barrier.

The only city in Mongolia, Ulaan-Baatar has around half of the country’s three million-strong population in its grasp. The city is busy, with numerous cars and trucks adding to the dusty roads. Many people move here from the countryside, hoping to earn more money, hoping to develop a different lifestyle. Less and less young adults are willing to take over their family’s nomadic traditions and livelihood. Perhaps one day the only place you will see a ger (the traditional circular fabric and wood tents that Mongolian nomadic families live in; often known by their Russian name ‘yurt’) is in a museum. In the city, strange letters decorated shop signs interspersed with occasional English words: Edinburgh Scottish Pub; Sod Classic Shop; Singer on a huge mural of a sewing machine. After less than a day, myself and the two friends I was travelling with (Emily and Louise) set off to experience life in a ger for ourselves.

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Only an hour or so after leaving the city, the landscape was dramatically different. Vast swathes of myriad hues of green covered the land; plains of grasses mingled with flocks of trees; occasional cows or villages added other shades of colour. Mountains emerged from the ground, adding their magnificence to the natural splendour surrounding us.

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The nomadic family we stayed with consisted of an older married couple, a young woman who was a cousin of some sort, a young boy about three years old and a pet sheep. We were told that the couple’s children were grown up and married and lived in the city. The small boy was their grandson who had come to stay with them for the summer; the dozen or so other children who we saw around and playing had also been sent to the encampment to stay with nomadic family members for the summer. This gave both the parents and children a bit of a holiday whilst the grandparents could spend precious time with them and teach them some traditional processes.

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One of these was milking the cows, which we all had a go at! This was done morning and evening every day, regardless of the weather (it rained the evening we were there so they milked the cows a little later than usual, once the rain stopped). I think I did an okay job of milking, although it wasn’t easy and I only did it for a few minutes. By this point it was quite chilly outside with a bitterly cold wind; I was very glad I’d bought a fleece in Ulaan-Baatar the day before as I’d forgotten to bring any kind of jacket or jumper on my travels!

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The family’s primary income was from dairy farming and produce, so we also got to see (and taste) a couple of other products: sour curd which is dried in the sun on the roof of their outdoor seating shelter next to a dead bird so that the live ones wouldn’t eat it, and a butter-type spread. To us it was very strange because almost everything tasted or smelled a little like sour milk, and some things (like the tea) were much more salty than we were expecting. In Mongolia it is traditional to add salt to tea and milk; our guide and translator told us that she preferred tea that way as that’s what she’s used to. I personally didn’t really like it, but that’s not to say I couldn’t become accustomed to it if I had to. (Although I hope I never have to! I’m very typical English when it comes to tea drinking.)

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Facilities were very basic. They had some electricity from solar panels on the roof, enough to power lights in the evening and a tiny television and satellite dish. The toilet was the other side of the cow field and was a shed with a long-drop. People washed themselves and their clothes at the nearby river. This was their summer location. In the autumn they would pack everything up and take themselves, their belongings, their gers and their cows to their winter location a few kilometres away. I have so much respect for these people; they have such hard lives and we just had a tiny taster of it.

Back in Ulaan-Baatar the next day we went on a city tour of the key historic and important areas, including the National Museum. One of the most impressive was a huge monument to Chinggis Khan (or as we know him, Gengis Khan) overlooking the central square. Bordering on another side was the National Theatre where we saw a traditional show including an orchestra made up of all traditional Mongolian instruments, a contortionist, dancers, fantastic costumes and – the best part – Mongolian throat singers. It was amazing! I would definitely recommend seeing it if you ever go there.

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Mongolia was a really interesting contrast to Beijing. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and I found out lots of fascinating things about Mongolia, its history and its people. Four days was at the same time too long and too short – too long for staying in the city, too short for exploring the stunning National Parks and meeting the people who live in them. My recommendation would be spend one day in the city and much longer (if you have time) exploring, although make sure you check that the standards of where you’re staying match your preference, as they can range from the very basic (which we had) to complete luxury (along the lines of ‘glamping’).

Our next train took us about 38 hours to reach our destination, and as it was very similar to the first one I’m not going to write a separate blog post about it! You can read about it here if you’d like to.

Next stop: Irkutsk, Russia.

Africa Adventure: Johannesburg and Sun City

Johannesburg doesn’t have as much of a presence as Cape Town, but then this part of the trip was more about the people – namely my friends A and L who were getting married.

We stayed in a lovely place called Villa Simmone. It’s a huge house that has been converted into separate apartments and rooms, each one modelled and named after a different city around the world. Myself and the three friends I shared with stayed in Mykonos, one of the Greek islands. It was a very interesting apartment – two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and separate toilet and bathroom, and about a million light switches! Some of the light switches in the living room controlled lights in the main bedroom and vice versa, which caused much confusion!

The first couple of days were spent catching up with friends old and new and meeting A’s family who live in Jo’burg. The second day we were there everyone that was there for the wedding went to a braai at A’s family home. It was fantastic! So much delicious food, great people, music and drinks. It was a wonderful evening.

The following day, which was also the day before the wedding, a big group of us went to Ukutula Lion Park just outside Jo’burg. We originally thought it would be about a half hour drive; whoever told us that was wrong! Two hours later we finally arrived. The price also ended up being a lot more than we expected, however by the end of the day we all agreed it had definitely been worth it.

We started out with a guided tour around the park where we saw white lions, a full grown male lion with his pride of three females, many young ‘teenage’ lions whose paws we could stroke through the fence, two tigers with a tiny three week old cub, two caracals and two cheetahs. Refreshments were then served (fruit juice and scones) before we went to see much younger lion cubs only a few months old. And by see, I mean we went in the enclosure with them and could stroke them and sit with them; amazing! One of the cubs kept nipping the shirt I had on, so I now have permanent lion teeth marks there.

I thought it couldn’t get any better but then we got to hold and play with baby lion cubs that were only two or three weeks old! They were so cute and fluffy, and just adorable. I didn’t want to leave them. So much so that I even asked if I could stay with them instead of doing the next activity; I was told I could but as I would have been the only one staying and I didn’t want to miss out, I decided to go with the others. I almost wish I’d stayed!

The final activity of the day was going on a walk through the grounds of the park with the older male lions. It was quite exciting having four rather large, nearly full grown male lions running around you. Our guides were great and obviously had built up a firm relationship with the lions. We were also told very clearly though that they are still wild animals and they must be treated with respect.

We ended the trip with a drink at the bar before heading back to the villa for dinner, welcoming another friend who had just arrived and a few drinks before bed.

The wedding day, and the reason the whole Africa Adventure happened, finally arrived. It was a perfect day in all regards. A looked stunning, L was very handsome, the ceremony was lovely, the food was delicious, the speeches were both funny and emotional and almost everybody cried (in a good way of course). Perfect.

This wasn’t the end of our adventure, however. The father of the bride had organised a trip to Sun City, a huge resort outside of Jo’burg, beginning the day after the wedding. Which meant getting up at 6.15am as the bus taking all of us was departing at 7am. Of course everyone with a hangover groaned at the time, but again, it was definitely worth it in the end.

Our first port of call was a visit to an elephant sanctuary where we had a guided tour of the sanctuary, including a walk through the monkey enclosure, we met, touched and had an elephant kiss from one elephant then got to walk hand-in-trunk with a different elephant. It was a pretty good start to the day!

We finally arrived at Sun City just after 1pm and had the rest of the day to hang out with people, catch up, chill out, eat yummy food, drink delicious cocktails by the pool and read. Just what we all needed!

Pilanesberg National Park was our destination the following day for a fantastic early morning safari. Even though the safaris we did in Botswana were amazing, we still saw animals we hadn’t seen before – primarily white rhinos, as in Botswana they are under protection and can only be seen in certain areas with a permit. We also saw baboons, giraffes, jackals, lions, wildebeest, zebra, impala, eland, tsessebe, marabou storks, sacred ibis, hippos, elephants, vervet monkeys and a corey bustard. It was a wonderful morning, and we got back just in time for breakfast!

The rest of the day was spent chilling out on the (manmade) beach in the Valley of the Waves, having a bit of a swim, a few cocktails, reading, a foot massage and a wander round the shops before changing for dinner with everyone. We ate at a great African restaurant in Sun City called Shebeen – absolutely delicious food. I had lamb potjie (which is a kind of stew) with koeksisters for dessert (kind of fried doughnut twists in syrup). A few of us decided to try out the casino after dinner and have a few drinks at the bar there (no, I didn’t gamble!). There was a guy playing guitar and singing who was really good, and we met three Afrikaans guys who were contractors renovating some of the rooms at the resort.

At first I thought they were all really friendly, until one of them told me that he hated the English. I told him that I’m English and he didn’t believe me! We almost ended up in an argument until I told him I wasn’t going to talk to him anymore and walked away. I don’t think I’d ever met someone that blatantly racist before in my life. Telling me to my face that he hates the English and they’re all bastards, then not believing that I’m English because we were having a decent conversation up until that point. It really pissed me off, so I left shortly after and went to bed.

Our final full day at Sun City began with something that completely blew the spider webs, hangover and annoyance out of my head – zip lining. We were driven to the top of a mountain then had to climb the last part up some quite steep steps to the platform at the top. An amazing view, but boy was it scary looking down! The zip line was 2 kilometres long and we were told you could reach 120-160kph in the 45 seconds it took to get to the ground. Myself and my friend J went together. We were both terrified at first, especially when they picked our legs up so we were laying face first in the harness, looking down the length of the zip line (of which we couldn’t see the end). After the initial shock of dropping over the edge, it was fantastic! We both laughed all the way down. I would definitely do it again and I’d recommend it to anyone who goes there too. Don’t think about how high it is, do it!

After that we had plenty of chill out time before going for a farewell dinner with everyone at the Crystal Courtyard restaurant in the Lost Palace Hotel. The whole thing was lovely; camembert in filo pastry with caramelised onions and figs to start, followed by butternut squash and parmesan ravioli and finished with three different desserts that I shared with A and L.

That was more or less the end of the Africa Adventure, other than doing a bit of shopping, saying goodbye to everyone and spending a day chilling out in a hotel near the airport with C, who I travelled with for the whole trip.

It’s right up there on my best holidays ever list, and I would thoroughly recommend everywhere I went in South Africa and Botswana.

Next trip: Trans-Siberian Express train from Beijing all the way to London, June, July and August 2015.

Note: I’ll add photos later as I don’t have them with me in the little café in Beijing that I’m sitting in now.

Africa Adventure: Botswana

Botswana is amazing. Stunning landscapes, beautiful animals, welcoming and friendly people.

After lots of back and forth to the travel agent in Cape Town that we (myself and my three friends) booked our safari through, we finally had everything sorted. We had already booked flights back to Johannesburg, so we had one evening chilling out in an airport hotel before the second part of our epic Africa Adventure began.

Upon arrival at Maun Airport, Botswana, we were met by a representative of the lodge we were going to be staying at. Unfortunately the pilot was late, which meant quite a while sitting around in a tiny waiting room with a few fans but no air conditioning in temperatures that were approaching 40°C. Eventually the pilot arrived and introduced himself, and we (our group plus another couple) were driven across the tarmac to our plane – a tiny 8 seater aircraft (for anyone who’s interested, it was a Gippsland GA8 Airvan). We then had a half hour (very bumpy) flight to our first lodge; on the way I spotted my first elephants and giraffes from the plane – it was so exciting!

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We were greeted by our guide for our stay, Ness, who drove us to Khwai River Lodge, our first port of call in Botswana. Having never stayed in an all inclusive resort (which was necessary as we were in the middle of the Okavango Delta with nothing else even remotely close to us) of any type before, let alone a five star one, I found the whole place stunning, as did my friends. It hugely exceeded our expectations. We were met with a drink and a cold towel by a few of the senior staff members, given a brief orientation then shown to our rooms (also stunning!) to sort ourselves out for a bit before high tea was served at 4pm.

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At 4.30pm we went on our first game drive. It was amazing!

Over the course of less than 3 hours, we saw: elephants, giraffes, warthogs, a dozing pack of wild dogs, hippos, more elephants, baboons, red lechwe, impala, open-billed storks, little egrets, red puks, long-tailed starlings, cape turtle doves, lilac-breasted rollers, blacksmith plovers, red-eyed doves and a tree squirrel!

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We then drove to a wide open space and enjoyed a glass of wine and some vegetable spring rolls on the Okavango Delta as the sun set, surrounded by impala and baboons with the sound of hippos laughing in the near distance. Once the sun had set we headed back to the lodge, just in time for a delicious three course dinner.P1150666 comp

The next three and a half days followed roughly the same schedule:

5.30am Wake up call with fresh tea, coffee and biscuits

6am Breakfast

6.30am Morning game drive

11.30am ish Return from game drive

12pm ish Lunch

1.30-3.30pm Siesta/chill out time

3.30pm High tea

4pm Afternoon/evening game drive

7pm ish Sundowner drinks

8pm ish Return from game drive

8.30pm Dinner

10pm Bed

A long day, but also amazing. The staff at the lodge were really helpful and friendly, making an effort to learn all our names and be at our beck and call for anything, as well as sorting out various dietary requirements and going above and beyond on that and every front. Our guide, Ness, also went above and beyond to find the animals we wanted to see. One of the many highlights was seeing a mother leopard with two cubs – they were up a tree, finishing off their meal of fresh impala and were just stunning to see.P1160068 comp

We also saw two male lions up close, as well as many, many other species of bird and animal. I cannot express in words just what a fantastic experience it was.

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If you get the chance – go there!

Next stop: Johannesburg, South Africa.