Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Cape Town, South Africa

Craig Writes;
18/10/13 It was a long and uneventful flight but here we are in Cape Town in our 15th floor apartment complete with raging gale force winds and million dollar views. 

Aahh, nothing like the feel of the wind in ur hair, but not when ur just trying to shut the front door
Our stunning panoramic view

It was an eleven hour overnight flight which was time enough for four movies, two meals and not much sleep. Consequently, our first day was going to be very gentle. A partial unpack, buy some groceries and take a nap. 

19/10/13 It turns out the rental cars lighter jack is broken so it's not charging the GPS we had hired with the car. We have to go swap cars .While we're there changing the car over the nice young fella in charge at Thrifty gives us some tips on where to go, and, where not to go. The Stellenbosch wine region is picturesque and has some beautiful wineries and restaurants, a drive down to the Cape of Good Hope is definitely worth the effort, the N1 highway is very safe to drive both night and day, the N2 is good till you get past the airport then you may find that "they" may throw rocks at you or you may find burning tyres being rolled into the middle of the road. And that is during the day. He made a very clear point that you "NEVER, EVER go past the airport on N2 at night"
Point taken.

Our plans today were not going to take us far off the tourist routes. We headed into the Victoria and Albert waterfront area, affectionately known here as the V and A, for some lunch and a look around. Then it was a drive to Table Mountain where we took the cable car up to the top. WOW!!.

Those tiny little cabs hold up to sixty people

The views are spectacular from this massive rock, that at 260 million years old, is older than both the Andes and the Rocky Mountains. We were lucky that the famous Cape Doctor had blown away the fluffy white blanket of cloud that seems to perpetually cover the peak. It was late afternoon by the time we were at the top and having not dressed for it, the wind chill factor bit almost immediately. We took the standard tourist path and drank in the stunning panorama that a clear day at the top offers before making our way back to the shelter of the cable car. The ocean was a glistening Liberace cloak of daimantes and the stretch of barren mountain looked bleak and forbidding. As we headed back a massive billowing tide of slowly rolling grey clouds start to move in from the south devouring the view. A good time to start back.

Captivating views

The mist begins to roll in

That was it for today. By the time we finally rolled in the door of our apartment it was 7pm and time to sit, enjoy a glass of red, nibble on some tasty local goats cheese,  salted crackers and enjoy the setting sun.

Another stunning sunset

20/10/13 We took to the roads today for a drive out to the Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens. While not bowl ya over material they were interesting enough. Highlights were a real live Bird Bath, built in 1806 by Colonel Christopher Bird. I'm not making that up. In 1806 he built a bath, in the shape of a bird, to capture the free flowing spring water that cascaded down the mountain.

Colonel Birds bird shaped bird bath
The sculpture garden was, uumm, interesting?  

One of these is not a statue

The 240 million year old petrified tree stumps were amazing. It was like they'd gone passed stone and almost had a metallic feel to them.

Really really old wood

There was a prehistoric section with plants species that had been around since way before the prehistoric era and have survived to this day because they are too damn tough and prickly to eat. The Dell was our favourite. A beautiful canopy of trees formed a shaded and cool spot to sit and enjoy the surroundings and the fun wooden carvings.

It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time

We headed off down the eastern side of the Cape on our way to Cape Point and stopped into the Black Marlin for some lunch.  Winner!! A lovely seaside restaurant with sweeping views of the Indian Ocean.  We got three lobster bisques, four seafood mains, three glasses of excellent chardonnay, two coffees and a huge desert. Damage = $65.00. 

Where the hell was I going to fit this

Perth is such a rip off.

From here we battled more insane drivers on our way to Table Mountain National Park. It seems the driving #&ckwits here are in a definite demographic. Namely, Audi, BMW, and Porsche drivers, all with fast cars and slow wits. 
The roads to the Cape are festooned with baboon signs warning of their deviant behaviour. 

We can't say we weren't warned

The waiter at the Black Marlon warned us the clever little buggers were quick and given the chance they'll be inside your car going through your glove box before you can say, aaarrgghhh. All the way through the park and all the way up to the stunning views of the Cape Point lighthouse, we saw not one. We reluctantly took a photo of a bronze baboon and baby at the bottom of the funicular resigning ourselves to the fact that was as good as it was going to get. 

 A sign of things to come

Driving out of the car park we saw a small furry bundle on the side of the road throwing a plastic coke bottle around.  Aawww how cute. 

This little fella sucked us right in

We pulled over and half a dozen other cars behind followed suit. By the time Christina had gotten out of the car to capture a memorable "kodak moment" relatives of the little juggler had appeared from everywhere.

Talk about an ambush

Without any warning an army of hairy bare butt bandits came charging. They were all over the place, stopping traffic, bouncing on cars, and bashing on windscreens.  Christina had gotten out on her side to take a photo and didn't see this big male charging across the road towards her. I yelled and she just managed to get back in and close the door before he launched himself onto the bonnet and bashed the windscreen. 

One minute he's there

Next minute he's here, on out bonnet

He  left a small crack that would later creep halfway down the windscreen and cost us the price of a full replacement.  Suddenly the door handle starts to rattle and the door begins to open. Another of the clever little bastards had snuck around the back and was trying to open the door from the outside. We slammed the door shut, locked it and decided that maybe it might be time to get out of Dodge.

A beautiful Bengal
21/10/13 What a fabulous day today. We drove out to Paarl to visit The Drakenstein Lion and Chimp sanctuaries. The lion sanctuary is full to capacity with a number of lions on a waiting list. Apart from the "standard" lion there are also three very rare white lions and two Bengal Tigers. 

We seemed to have got their attention

Would that thin wire fence really stop them , geez you hope so

The lions have all been saved from circuses and private zoos where they have been unbelievably cruelly abused. Broken jaws, busted eyes etc etc . Some were also taken from the closure of the local Tygerberg Zoo and some from Canned Hunting facilities

Makes me proud to be a Leo

Canned Hunting is without doubt one of the most evil and cowardly acts a human could perpetuate on an animal. These regal and majestic creatures are either captured, stolen, poached or in most cases these days, purpose bred, to be put in a cage where wealthy people can come and shoot them from behind the safety of a set of steel bars.  The carcass' are then gutted and the skins stripped, prepped and packaged for the "mighty hunter" to take home as a trophy for their wall.
It is a gutless and despicable act. Unbelievably, it is so popular now in South Africa that there are specialised breeding programs in these hell holes to get lionesses pumping out as many cubs as they can. 
Shockingly, this is a perfectly legal practise.
The going rate is $20,000 for a "standard lion and up to $200,000 for a rare white lion. I'm sure it comes with a pre written script to describe the" heroic and dangerous adventure the "hunter" undertook, their life on the line as they fought an epic man vs beast battle. Arseholes!  I'll state here that I find trophy hunting involving the slaying of an animal by shooting in the wild from a nice safe distance to be just as  gutless and despicable. Hunting where the animal is killed for food or clothing is a different story. 
All trophy "hunters" are Arseholes. That's my final word on it.  

The Lion Sanctuary is a magnificent place for these creatures to live out their final days.  They are here till they die. They are fed and seen to if they are sick but outside of that there is no human contact. Their enclosures are big enough for them to go unseen if they choose. As the overwhelming majority, if not all, have been taken from captive environments and not the wild, their chances of survival in the wild would be greatly reduced if they were let loose.

There are only a half a dozen chimps at the chimp sanctuary. Two males sharing one area and a group of four sharing the other. They are very cheeky animals, and very clever. They have the reasoning and intelligence of a seven year old human child. And, interestingly, the keepers at both sanctuaries say they are extremely dangerous and that they would rather face a charging lion than a rampaging chimpanzee. 

I know he's supposed to be really clever but he was peeing in the drinking pond, go figure

This old girl had a blankie, so cute

The fact that they are tremendously strong, 3 to 4 times strong than an average adult male human and able to strategize makes them extremely unpredictable and capable.  They are also the only other living creature, besides humans, who kill for pleasure.
Might be time to watch Planet of the Apes again.

We had lunch just down the road at the Fairview Winery.  It was that good and that amazingly cheap that we started thinking about coming back to South Africa just to stay in the wine producing areas.  The area is very picturesque and the wines and the food were superb.
It was a brilliant day to be finished off with a glass of wine, a beautiful sunset and some home delivered pizza for dinner.

Words cannot describe..

22/10/13 The wind had subsided to a mere gale force this morning so I decided to go for a walk along the Cape beach before breakfast.

This was our local beach

It was an opportunity to reflect on our travels, collect some smooth black rocks I suspect are  just well washed lumps of coal and watch a seal body surf the dumpers right up to the shore line. It is our last day in Cape Town and although we had done everything we wanted to we couldn't just sit around admiring the view so off we headed to Stellenbosch, the wine region recommended by our helpful car hire captain. It's a charming little town but there really isn't a lot to do in the area.  An old general store called Oom Samie Se Winkel is a bit of an institution here and was by far the most interesting thing to do. It is a huge maze of a shop that has an eclectic range of stock, some of it looking like it dates all the way back to it's opening in 1904.

Oom Samies's was a total blast from the past

You can buy anything here from a pair of pre war nylons to a brace of dried fish to a 1936 Portuguese Tokay. It was a remarkable stroll back through the last century.  Our original thoughts were to find another winery and duplicate the dining experience of yesterday but we had all had a late breakfast followed by coffee and cake in one of the little cafes so lunch was looking a long way off. As tempting as it was to wander the streets for a few hours waiting for our appetites to return we decided to bank the memory of our outstanding lunch experience yesterday and go find a McDonalds to do a bit of internet surfing. Then it was back to the apartment and a total pack as the alarm was going off at 5am the next morning.
Safari here we come.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

London Calling, a Magical Feast of History and Culture

Craig Writes;
12/10/13 Christina says London is her favorite big city and, sigh, I think I may have to agree with her. 
Admittedly, we had a great view to start with.

It has it all, the history, the culture, the food, the beer, the diversity and dare I say, at least for us mono linguistic cretins, no language barriers. Our apartment is ideally located in the swanky and idealistic area of Notting Hill. Kudos to Christina yet again.  We have only been here a few hours but already had a walk around the neighbourhood and been pleasantly surprised. Dinner tonight was in one of Jamie Olivers new ventures. This one was called Recipease.

Hurry up and click so I can eat this damn thing

Amazing concept with two levels of cooking schools, each surrounded by patrons eating, drinking and spending money on his many and varied tasty products, pre prepared meals, books etc etc. You can sit and enjoy a three hour slow baked pork sandwich, complete with crackling, and watch a class of students in the middle of the restaurant leaning how to make same said sandwich. Brilliant.

13/10/13. Well about time we had an accurate weather report. It said a 90 percent chance of rain and it was spot on. Fortunately we still had a couple of our Tanzanian umbrellas from Rome that had by some miracle not imploded so off we headed. Getting around in London is oh so easy. The trains and buses are dead on time and if you miss one the next one's just around the corner. We had to choose an indoor activity today that wasn't a museum, gallery, church, cathedral or fabric shop so off we toddled to the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood. It's an enormous place, first opened in 1872 and has a vast exhibition of toys, games, dress up gear, puppets, a sand pit, a giant Robbie the Robot and heaps more. 

The Victoria and Albert Toy Museum, a good stop for the kiddies

There was even a section of all the hand made toys kids used to make themselves out of pegs, egg cartons, used stamps and old bits of cloth and sticks. It was interesting to see how things have changed even just since my time in the sand pit.

One of the things we were looking forward to in London was a good old curry fix. Brick Lane is in Bethnal Green in East London and had been recommended as the place to go. A street of market stalls, restaurants and bustling activity. We wound our way down trying not to be tempted by the delicious smells wafting off the outdoor grills and bbq's. We'd been on our feet all morning but were determined to wait until we came across a half decent looking restaurant. We found a beauty. City Spice. We got the last table for four and settled down for a spread of Kormas, Butter Chicken, Naans, amazing chutneys and sauces and crispy fragile papadams. Very nice.

Then it was time to head back home for a bit of R and R. First time on a double decker for the boys and we got to sit up the top and right at the front. Great views.
Gotta love a double decker

Tonight I took myself off to the Coronet cinemas, literally right over the road from our Notting Hill apartment. It's a gorgeous old cinema that started it's life as a live theatre venue back in 1898 and became a full time cinema in 1923. I watched the latest Woody Allen effort, Blue Jasmine with Cate Blanchett. It's a dark broody piece, witty but with fewer lighter moments than one would expect from Allen. Blanchett is superb as a wealthy socialite who has lost it all and slowly slides into a world of delusion and mental decay. There you go, that's my first and only movie review.

14/10/13 Everyones very excited today. We're off to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour for the Making of Harry Potter. The experience starts before you even get there when the fully decorated double decker Warner Brothers Harry Potter bus comes to pick you up.

"I'm so excited", he says in a nerdy high pitch squeaky voice.

It's so very well organised once you arrive. You join the long queue and are then let through in batches of 118 every ten minutes to avoid over crowding and to ensure that your first experience when you make your entrance into the magical world of the making of HP is not lost in the crowd. Those whjo have beeen will know what I mean.
Just a note, all the props, sets, costumes and wigs are all 100% genuine. If you see it here then you've seen it in the movie.

Harrys room under the stairs

The doors to The Great Hall

The Great Hall, minus magical ceiling of course

Snapes wig from H.P and The Half Baked Mince

The entire casts original wands, although they have now been turned off.

"THE" Triwizard Cup

Charlie gets his hand on The Philosophers Stone, almost.

The Great Hall, Diagon Alley, The Gryffindor Common Room, Snapes Potions classroom, Dumbledores Office etc etc ,are all original sets. 

A muggle invasion of Diagon Alley

He says if I get him a wand he'll create world peace, after the endless chocolate fountain

Remember the flying Anglia from The Chamber of Secrets.  THIS IS IT.

The animatronics section was simply stunning.  I had no idea that in certain parts of the films Hagrids head is an animatronic head. And the Hippogriff, OMG, you would swear they are all real. The CGI section where they show how a game of Quidditch was filmed is remarkable. 

How they made the brooms fly, fascinating

Recognise any of these faces?

Hagrids brothers head

This thing was moving, it looked like it would just stand up and fly away

And off course there was Butter Beer.  

By gum this was very tasty stuff

There are only two places in the world where you can get it and we've been lucky enough to try it at both. Here and Orlando, Florida.
I would not call myself a Potterphile by any stretch although I've read most of the books and seen all the films, but I still found it totally exhilarating and so much fun. Callum I think got the most out of it closely followed by Charlie. If ever you're in London, even if your not a big fan you simply must do this.
We finished off with dinner in Jamie Olivers Recipease. A great day.

15/10/13 We hired a car today to drive down to Stonehenge and then out to visit Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. WOW, to both of them.  Christina and I have been to Stonehenge before about 15 years ago but it is still just as impressive the second time around. A mystical mound of earth supporting enormous blocks of Blue Stone hauled from hundreds of kilometres away, most weighing around five tonne but some up to 40 tonne. 

Stonehenge, an oldie but a goodie

It is an enigma

There have been three incarnations of Stonehenge, the one standing today is the latest and thought to be around 3500 years old.
There are any number of theories behind it's origins and the reasons for it's construction. The aliens built it, the Druids used it as a place for worship and sacrifice, it was used to observe the stars, to keep track of the seasons. One legend says that Merlin used magic to transported it here from Ireland under the orders of Uther Pendragon, King Arthurs father while another conspiracy theory says it is roped off because the original Stonehenge was stolen and the one there today is fibreglass.  And so it goes on. The only ones who truly know why are long gone and buried.

From Stonehenge we took a drive over to Blenheim Palace, a magnificent building in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. The land and title were given to John Churchill for winning a strategic and important battle in Bavaria know as the battle of Blenheim. The victory kept the French out of Vienna and made Queen Anne very happy.  She gave him lands, the title of the 1st Duke of Marlborough, and a government grant of 240,00 pounds which he used in 1705 to start build this amazing place.  It was finished in 1722.

Not to shabby at all

You can just imagine little Winston dribbling a ball around the cobblestones

These days it is best known as the ancestral home and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. There is plenty more intrigue surrounding the building of the Palace and the subsequent Dukes who lived here. Intrigue and skulduggery involving political assassinations, an angry Queen, exiled Dukes, fortunes squandered and arranged marriages, but too much to go into here.
All said and done though, it's a startling example of how the other half live.

Winston first showed the world his little bald head on this very bed

The  Long Library. I'm guessing this was not bought from IKEA, 

Today, while the current 11th Duke and Duchess still reside in the palace, a large section is now available for the curious public. There is a miniature railway that takes you on a short ride to The Pleasure Park. A lovely landscaped area with the second largest hedged maze in the world, adventure playgrounds for the kids and a cafe.

This was the prettiest maze we'd ever got lost in

This turned into a marathon game of checkers. Fantastic fun
What lurks within..

We would have liked to have explored a bit more but we got there a little late and things were now starting to close down, so it was a casual walk back through the park, the dying rays of the sun lighting up the tops of the surrounding trees and the chill of the early evening starting to close in.
It was a 90 minute drive back to London so we opted for an early dinner in Woodstock at the Woodstock Arms and then a casual drive back to town.

Not the Woodstock Arms, I know, but the prettiest pub we'd ever seen

16/10/13 We took in a West End theatre production today. Very high end it was. Horrible Histories, the stage show. With all of us, particularly the boys in the family, being fans of the tv show we were expecting big things. It was....ok. It was a bravo performance by the the two actors, a guy and a girl who played a range of different characters by employing some amazingly quick costume changes.
From there we took a short walk to ChinaTown looking for The Crispy Duck restaurant that  we all went to when we were last in London. We couldn't find it so we found another restaurant that sold Crispy Duck.  Same thing really.

A cold and grizzly day in Chinatown

That night Christina and I went back to the West End to catch a peek at The LadyKillers.  A great little comedy that was a successful film with Peter Sellers and Alex Guinness.  It was a lot of fun.

17/10/13 Our last day in London today. We left our bags with the Concierge and head out for a look at the famous Rooftop Gardens. An amazing array of different styles of gardens on the sixth floor of 99 Kensington High street.  They've been there since 1938 and are complete with ponds, flamingos and ducks.

I was expecting  a paddle pool with some pot plants

Not duck ponds with flamingos

or bridges and elegant spacious gardens

What's a visit to Knightsbridge without going to Harrods. What an amazing place. They recently spent 20 million pounds on a central escalator with an Egyptian theme.
You can have as much fun here watching the eclectic mix of "richees" wandering around and flashing their Platinum credit cards. But don't go near the food hall when you're hungry. I have to go to the fridge now just thinking about it.
At 3.30pm it was back to collect our bags and head to Heathrow for an 11 hour flight to CapeTown.