6 Amazing Adventures Beyond Cape Town

Having spent a fantastic week with Mr CT , as I shall now call him, (our friend who lives locally) showing us the ropes, it was time to set out on our own. We hired a car and hit the road! Driving in SA is easy for us Brits, as it is on the left hand side! The roads are also incredible – in general – but we were well aware of some of the crime  issues that are car related.  We were cautious and sensible but that didn’t spoil the driving experience.

Our first stop was an overnight stay at the Aquila Private Game Reserve. Before undertaking a Safari in the Western Cape, it is important to understand that it won’t be like staying in one of the iconic South African Game Reserves e.g. the Kruger National Park. However, it will be malaria free. You will still have the opportunity to see the Big 5: Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard but you need to bear in mind that all five of these species were reintroduced to the Western Cape, having been driven to the brink of extinction. Aquila is also home to the Aquila Animal and Rescue Conservation Centre.

Our accommodation was in a ‘luxury cottage’. It had a patio, corner bath and outdoor rock shower, plus fan and feature “coal‟ stove. The latter wasn’t needed. I liked the elephant towel arrangement that welcomed us!

We went out on safari on the afternoon of our arrival and also at six the next morning. Our driver/ranger was brilliant and it was a fantastic experience.  These photos give you an idea of some of the animals we saw, although there were many more besides, including giraffes, hippos and buffalo. These pics were taken with my phone. The ones (still) on the camera are miles better but I’m too impatient to wait for them to be uploaded.

Following this we set off on our next adventure which was to explore the Garden Route. Our first stop was Mossel Bay and our last was Plettenberg Bay. The natural beauty of the Garden Route is outstanding and the coastline is dotted with fantastic beaches. Many of these beaches are excellent for surfing. We didn’t have our wetsuits – haha!

We spent two nights in a lodge overlooking the beautiful lagoon in Knysna.

One of the high spots (literally!) of our stay here was driving to the top of two sandstone cliffs known as the Heads. The views were amazing.

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Soon it was time to go inland and travel along Route 62. We were heading for Oudtshoorn which is also known as the ostrich capital of the world! We drove away from the ocean and beaches and through a very different type of landscape.

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Oudtshoorn is located in the Klein Karoo between the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains. It is an area of surprising contrasts and has its own natural beauty. As we were in the ostrich capital of the world, we had to visit an ostrich farm.

We went to Highgate Ostrich Farm. It started over a hundred years ago. The tour we went on was very informative and hands-on. We now know everything there is to know about ostriches, from their conception to their transformation into ostrich products. We were able to hand feed some of the ostriches and hold a baby ostrich. Ostrich riding does not take place at Highgate (I am pleased to say!) because of the potential injury to the bird. I was so immersed in the tour that I forgot to take photos!

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29km from Oudtshoorn, we visited the amazing Cango Caves. These caves are home to some of the biggest limestone stalagmites in the world. The system of tunnels and chambers run for over 4 km but only about a quarter is open to visitors.

We were taken on a tour of the caves by an informative and amusing guide who demonstrated the cave acoustics by singing! He did have a very beautiful voice.

However, the most surprising element of the whole visit was bumping into someone I had once worked with! I hadn’t seen her for years and I couldn’t help but wonder what are the odds of meeting someone you know, in a cave in South Africa.

A trip to the Western Cape wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the  Winelands. We opted to stay in Franschhoek  which is known as “A corner that is forever France”. This is because about 200 French Huguenots, escaping religious persecution in France between 1688 and 1700, were offered a passage to the Cape and granted land here.

Franschhoek has a wonderful setting, surrounded on three sides by mountains. It has a very laid back, charming atmosphere. It was the ideal place to relax and recuperate at the end of a busy but fantastic trip.

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We also enjoyed eating at two of the many excellent restaurants. After all, Franschhoek is known as the culinary capital of the Cape!

And the wine tasting? We opted for the Leopard’s Leap Estate where we sampled 5 of their delicious wines.

To complete our trip, we returned to Cape Town and enjoyed a final fabulous dinner with Mr CT.

What I’d love to know is if you have ever bumped into someone you know, in an unexpected place; maybe on holiday!

 

 

 

6 highlights from my trip to Cape Town

Cape Town exceeded my expectations in so many ways. Initially, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the city, its geography, geology and landscape. My eye was constantly drawn to Table Mountain and the ocean.

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It is actually difficult  to select my highlights when there were so many! Therefore, in no particular order:

Watching the sunset over Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain. Incredible! I’m not great with heights, so I was little apprehensive about the cable car trip but it was absolutely fine and I’m so glad I did it. We were very fortunate in having a very good friend, and local resident, to accompany and advise us! His wealth of knowledge meant that we avoided all the long queues to go up the mountain.

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A free Historic City Walking Tour which our friend also organised for us. It was brilliant in terms of understanding what has made Cape Town the city it is. Our guide, who was absolutely wonderful , was one of several who are not paid and only work for tips. He clearly loved Cape Town and did not flinch when talking about slavery, apartheid and the effects of colonialism. Here are some of the photos I took during the walking tour:

If you click on each photo, the caption should appear!

In a similar vein, our visit to Robben Island was outstanding. I think it is an essential destination if you want to learn about and understand some of South Africa’s complex history. It is the symbol of ‘the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, suffering and injustice’.

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Robben Island has housed a leper colony, been a military base, a whaling station and a prison which held convicts and political prisoners. Of course, it is most famous for having Nelson Mandela as a prisoner for eighteen years.

To get there, you catch a ferry from the V&A Waterfront. We booked out tickets on line which meant we avoided all the long queues. The weather was very favourable when we went and the sea calm, so we got there in about thirty minutes. When you arrive on the island, you are transported by buses to visit the main sites. One of the stops was at the limestone quarry where Mandela and fellow prisoners had to carry out hard labour. Each bus has a guide and our one was very entertaining and informative.

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The tour ended with a visit to the maximum security prison and was led by a former political prisoner. Their personal experience is very moving and impactful. As was the visit to Mandela’s cell which remains as it was when he was imprisoned there.

 Bo-Kaap is known for its bright, colourful houses and is the cultural home of Cape Town’s Muslim community. We decided to do another Free Walking Tour as we had enjoyed the first one so much. This enabled us to learn about the history, culture, architecture, traditions, religion and economics of the area. Here are a selection of the photos I took of some of the very distinctive houses.

The last highlight was a drive from Cape Town to Cape Point returning via Boulders Beach and Simon’s Town. Our friend drove us along the Atlantic Seaboard from Sea Point, through Camps Bay and Hout Bay. These were just some of the scenic places we passed through, there were many more besides. As we were passengers, we were able to truly appreciate the breath-taking views.

We stopped several times, en route, to take in the stunning scenery and, in this case, to take a look at the Shark Spotter. What a job! If he spots sharks, the call goes out and a warning given to people on the beach.

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Cape Point is where the most powerful lighthouse, on the South African coast, can be seen. The sea is  very dangerous here and there are 26 recorded shipwrecks in the area.  We all walked up to see the lighthouse and to enjoy the amazing, panoramic views. Unfortunately, I was so taken with views that I didn’t take any photos! However, Mr FF did record the views but hasn’t downloaded his photos yet. Eventually, I made the descent alone, as our friend and Mr FF took the Flying Dutchman funicular to save their knees!! Just to confuse you, the lighthouse below is not the one I just described but another one we saw en route!

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Trivia: Contrary to popular belief, Cape Point is not the place where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, although the warm and cold currents mix slightly in the nearby False Bay…The actual point is at Cape Agulhas.

Whenever we were driving, I was amused by the signs warning of Baboons and tortoises on the road. Possibly, because we had a pet tortoise when I was a child. The most baboons we saw were when we stopped for refreshments at Cape Point.

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Finally, I need to talk to you about penguins! In particular, the colony which lives at Boulder’s Beach, between Cape Town and Cape Point. This is one of the few sites where African penguins can be observed at close range, as they wander freely in a protected natural environment.

This has turned out to be quite a lengthy post but it was extremely difficult to select just a few highlights when there were so many.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and I would love to know if you have ever been to Cape Town or South Africa or where your dream destination might be.

Coming up … my highlights outside of Cape Town, including a safari, the Garden Route, Route 62 and the Winelands.

5 recommended places to eat in Brighton

We have just returned from a five day house and dog sit in central Brighton.

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The owners of the lovely little Lurcher, pictured above, had left us with plenty of recommendations for places where we could eat, so we decided it would be rude not to try at least some of them!.

One of the reasons we like Brighton and Hove is because there is such a diverse range of restaurants and cafés. I love that it is so easy to find excellent vegetarian and vegan food and that all the places we visited were within walking distance of the house.

Here are the 5 recommendations, ordered only by when we visited them:

  • Billie’s Café 

This is a very homely café which is well known for its all-day breakfasts and massive hash browns. All the hashes are made to order with various toppings. There are plenty of vegetarian options, too. Having seen the size of the hashes, I wimped out and went for the Welsh Rarebit which came with a generous and delicious side salad. This was more Hare-sized, than rabbit, but I somehow managed to eat it all. Will definitely go back and next time have a hash … garlic mushroom and avocado is calling to me! Below is my husband’s hash. I tried a piece and it was yummy.

  •  Flour Pot Kitchen

This is the Brighton Beach branch which is situated in the Kings Road Arches. It was the perfect place for us to stop after a long walk along the beach with the dog! It’s a dog friendly café and has a very welcoming atmosphere. The only problem is what to eat, as there are so many delicious choices. I had a lentil and mushroom roll, the veggie equivalent of a sausage roll! This was followed by a slice of flourless chocolate cake. Mr FF had a pie which did have meat and, instead of having a cake, decided to try the mushroom and lentil roll.

Here is Edie, in the café, hoping for a doggy treat!

  • Bincho Yakitori

Bincho Yakitori was very different to anywhere I have eaten before and is probably best described as Japanese tapas! There are a variety of small sharing dishes on the menu with the addition of daily specials. Everything is cooked to order. Our choices included the Tempura Sea Bream, Pork Belly and mushroom rice. We had some others as well which I can’t remember but I do know that everything we had was delicious!

  • Bankers Fish and Chips

You can’t possibly stay in Brighton and Hove without having fish and chips! This particular venue was recommended by our hosts and was very local. We opted to eat in, rather than take away, on this occasion. I’m not a fan of greasy food, particularly when it comes to the batter on my fish! I’m happy to report that everything was fresh and beautifully cooked. We had mushy peas and Mr FF also had bread so that he could make a chip butty. You can’t take him anywhere! This was all washed down with a very tasty bottle of white wine.

  • Foodilic

Last but not least was the Western Road branch of Foodilic. We actually lunched here twice! The emphasis is on healthy eating and there is something for everyone; vegetarians, vegans and carnivores but I would say the emphasis is on the former. The buffet (eat as much as you like) is incredible value at £7.50 and everything I chose was delicious. I had vegetarian moussaka accompanied with some excellent salads including roasted vegetables, lentils and spinach. I felt spoilt for choice! Mr FF even managed a raw cake for dessert. He chose pistachio and mint, pictured below.

Although we were very unlucky with the weather, we still had a fantastic stay and walked miles and miles every day which is the great advantage of having a dog. In light of everything we ate, this was probably just as well and we thoroughly enjoyed trying out all these new food venues!

 

 

Encore…Barcelona

Our trip to Barcelona was relatively short; five days, four nights. Could we have stayed longer? Definitely. Would we go back? Of course!

We researched quite carefully in which area of the city we wanted to stay. We booked last minute so our choices were limited. Initially, we had wanted to stay in an AirBnB but, as it turned out, we ended up in a hotel. The location was important to us and so we decided to choose Gracia.

Until the 1800s Gracia was actually a separate town until it was subsumed by Barcelona and it definitely has the atmosphere of a village. There are plenty of local people, of all types and ages, and we loved wandering through the narrow streets and leafy squares.

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Vila de Gràcia

It feels safe and there are a wide range of cafés and restaurants to try. There are lots of interesting, individual shops and I would be more than happy to stay there again.

As well as Gaudí, another famous son of Barcelona is the artist Joan Miró. We decided to visit his foundation which is located in Montjuïc Park. We took the funicular which is the fast way up! What struck me most, as we wandered around the exhibits, was the variety. There were paintings, collages, tapestries, ceramics and more. I was so intrigued by Joan Miró’s work, I didn’t take any photos.

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Exterior of the Foundation


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On the roof terrace


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With stunning views across to Barcelona

We very briefly visited the beach when we hopped off the sightseeing bus but it was mainly so get a snack! We only managed to catch a glimpse of Port Vell  and the yachts that were moored there. It looked as if it would be worth further investigation when we return to Barcelona.

The one thing I haven’t mentioned is food and drink in Barcelona. We did have tapas, of course, and my particular favourites: patas bravas, tortilla, bombas.

Pan con tomate is a ‘must-have’, Catalan speciality, el pa amb tomàquet!” (bread rubbed with tomato). It is exactly what it says; toasted bread rubbed with garlic, tomato and a drizzle of oil. Tasty!

I can also recommend white sangria! This was another new experience for me and I found it delicious. There are many variations and ‘recipes’ that can be found on the internet. I had intended to take a photo of our jug of white sangria but I was so busy enjoying the flavour that I got distracted!

One final and very random thought after my visit; how people love their dogs in Barcelona! The two most popular breeds appeared to be greyhounds and golden retrievers. But the greatest surprise was the lack of dog poop on the streets. In fact, I didn’t see any. A vast difference to France.

After my first post on Barcelona, many readers commented on their own visits to this exciting city. Others have Barcelona on their bucket list. Either way, I’d love to read your thoughts!

Red squirrels and Hoopoes

There are many things I love about our garden in France. I like the informality, the trees, the light, the birds and the wildlife.

I particularly love the red squirrels. I still get overly excited every time I see one. I have seen red squirrels before, both in France and on Brownsea Island, in the UK. However, this just doesn’t compare with having them in your own garden. They are delightful. It’s  so entertaining watching them chase each either round the tree trunks or stood stock still holding a nut in their paws.

My attempts at capturing them in a photo have failed, so far. This one is from pixabay.com

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In the UK we have many grey squirrels, or ‘tree rats’ as one friend likes to call them. She is not a fan! They seem like giants compared to the ones I see here in France which are so much more delicate. Luckily, the red squirrel is protected in France, although there is a fear that the greys may head this way, via Switzerland. They were brought to Italy  in the sixties from the States, as a novelty. Let’s hope they don’t!

We are in Aude but in nearby Hérault, two squirrel bridges have been constructed from rope. These are known as ‘ecuroducs’ and enable red squirrels to cross two major roads in safety.

As a child, I can remember reading ‘Squirrel Nutkin’ by Beatrix Potter. Later I read it to my siblings and later still to my sons. I wonder if that has anything to do with my affection for red squirrels…

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I am equally thrilled when I see a Hoopoe bird (huppe in French). The hoopoe is a very striking bird to look at.  It has a beautiful and unusual crest on its head. It makes me think of it as the punk of the bird world! It is about the size of a Thrush, with a long, pointed bill.

Again, I have attempted several photos but none of them do justice to this gorgeous bird . Here is another one via pixabay.com:

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Previously, I have seen hoopoes in other parts of France and also in Gran Canaria. However, nothing compares with seeing them foraging around our garden. One extremely stormy day, we even had a thoroughly soaked Hoopoe chick sheltering on our kitchen window sill. We were delighted when its parent continued to feed it until the storm had abated and the chick had dried out and was able to fly away.

In the UK, I get a thrill from other wildlife and birds that appear in our garden; woodpeckers, a buzzard, bats and goldfinches, for example. Wherever you live, what do enjoy seeing most in your garden?

 

 

Gendarmes in our garden!

             Why you might be wondering? What had happened? An accident? A robbery?

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Actually, none of these! I have recently discovered an unfamiliar creature in our garden in S.W. France. From a distance, I thought these little bugs were a type of ladybird – must have been the colours! After much research (wasting time reading all sorts of ‘stuff’ on the internet!) I discovered that these striking looking insects are often called ‘les gendarmes’ by the locals.

Apparently, (more research!) this is because red and black were the colours of the original gendarme uniforms when they were soldiers and part of the army. Are you following?!

However, for English speakers, these fascinating insects are known as ‘firebugs’. I must admit I had never seen nor heard of them before coming out here.

I have usually seem them in large groups and they appear to love the sun. They eat the seeds of lime trees and mallow but are generally not viewed as pests.

This is a close up of a firebug on the outside wall of our house. They move surprisingly quickly!

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And another one on a garden chair!

Here are some random facts about firebugs: they hibernate, their diet includes dead insects  and they have been accused of cannibalism…

Have any of my lovely readers seen firebugs? Can you add any facts to my somewhat limited knowledge?

I am linking this post with the very brilliant: #AnimalTales

I need to talk about…dog poo

 

 

Or poop, as our friends across the pond might say.

I apologise for raising this unsavoury topic but it has been on my mind for some time.

Here in France, I am very impressed by the amount of free doggie poo bags that are available to dog walkers.

In the UK, we have to provide our own. As a conscientious dog walker, I don’t mind that at all and have always cleared up after my dogs.

So why, in France, don’t people USE them? I don’t get it. I have spared you from any photos of the copious amounts of dog poo(p) that decorate the streets and pavements here. Instead, I have photographed the free bags and also the signs asking people to clear up after their dogs.

I am not alone in my opinion. In a brilliant article entitled:

‘Mind the merde: why can’t French cities clean up after their dogs?’ Phil Hoad
of the Guardian echoes my feelings.

http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/apr/12/why-cant-french-cities-clean-up-after-their-dogs

Rant over…

I am linking this post to the very interesting #AnimalTales