Joyeuses Pâques! Happy Easter!

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A very short post, today, just to say  ‘Joyeuses Pâques’ or ‘Happy Easter!’ wherever you may be.

This is a photo I took last weekend in Perpignan. I thought the display in this shop window was delightful.

No wonder that French people call window shopping: ‘le lèche-vitrine.’ This equates with ‘lick a shop window’.  In this case, never was a phrase more appropriate!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

36 hours in Dubai

Dubai has never really featured highly on my list of places I want to visit. However, when the opportunity did arise I felt we should grab it. This was because we were en route for Cape Town to celebrate a special birthday for Mr FF! I am not the biggest fan of flying, so the chance to break our long haul flight was too good to miss. I’ve read and heard so much about Dubai that I thought I should find out about the city for myself.

Our flight was with Emirates on a 380 Airbus. I must say that I was very impressed, both with the food and the in flight entertainment. We arrived in Dubai quite late and caught a taxi to our hotel.

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This is the view from our hotel room balcony. Pretty dramatic?! Our first impressions were of the tall buildings and the lights. Of course, Dubai is home to the tallest building in the world: the Burj Khalifa.

We were pretty tired by this time and decided to settle for room service, so that we could get up early and make the most of the next day.

I’ve blogged about Hop on, Hop Off buses before when we visited Barcelona and Glasgow. I think if you’re spending a relatively short time in a city, they are a great introduction.

There are three possible routes: the city, beach and marina. We only had time for one of these, so we decided to take the city route which would give us some understanding of the history and culture of Dubai.

The tour begins at the Dubai Mall. This is the largest shopping mall, in the world, and has over one thousand shops. It also houses an aquarium and an ice rink!

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If you are a fan of shopping, especially designer brands, Dubai is a tax free haven. Here’s the Wafi shopping mall, photographed from the top of the bus. We didn’t go in but from the outside it looks more like an Egyptian museum.

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As we continued our route, I was surprised to see how much green there was in Dubai.

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As we continued, this building caught my eye:

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We decided to hop off and visit the Dubai Museum and see one of the original parts of the city. Unfortunately, we hadn’t factored in the long, lunchtime closure of the museum. Below you can see some of the original city walls. There was a strange type of heat mist and the sun had gone behind the clouds, so the colours seem rather dull.

For our final stop we opted to visit Dubai Creek. Some people say that this is the real heart of the city. It is a saltwater estuary and when trade with the outside world began, over a century ago, this sheltered inlet was the natural place to develop a trading port. The creek has been widened many times and is nowadays busy with abra – small wooden water taxis – carrying passengers between the souks of Deira on the northeastern bank and the historic district of Bur Dubai on the southwestern bank.

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We started by visiting the souks:

I’ve visited souks in other countries but I found the ones in Dubai were much less intimidating than others I have experienced. Although we were approached by guys trying to persuade us to buy their goods, they weren’t pushy or nasty. We managed to resist purchasing any items – even in the utensils souk!

Our Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour included an hour long ‘cruise’ on a traditional dhow. This is a traditional wooden boat originally used  by fishermen. The boat trip was a very good way to experience both sides of Dubai, the old and the new.

We ended our day by having dinner in a Lebanese restaurant that happened to overlook Dubai’s Dancing Fountains. These are the world’s largest musical foundations and spray up to 150 metres. The display is illuminated and accompanied by music. It was impressive! Here’s a clip I found to give you an idea of the experience.

I was so glad that we had taken the opportunity to sample Dubai.

I’d love to know if you’ve ever been there and what you thought.

Next stop: Cape Town

La rentrée

September has always been a significant month for me. I think this is because my career has been based in education. I see September, and the start of the new academic year, as an opportunity for a fresh start. I used to look forward to a new timetable, new classes and new stationery! As a pupil, a student and a teacher, I always loved getting new pens, folders and pencil cases. I still enjoy going into Paperchase now!

This September has meant a return to Castelnaudary after two months in the UK, catching up with friends and family. Our French house hasn’t been empty, our eldest son and seven friends spent a week there, before travelling on to Barcelona. It was an international gathering as there were four English guys and four Brazilian girls!

Then our youngest son and five friends were the next to have a holiday here. As they are all students, it was great for them to be able to have a break in the sun without breaking the bank! They were able to relax and enjoy the pool and, by the look of our cellar, have the odd bottle of wine … or six!

As a result, we have also ‘inherited’ a rather nice barbecue and an interesting selection of inflatables, plus a variety of footballs, basketballs and rugby balls!

When we returned to Castelnaudary, we found our garden had morphed – yet again – into a field! Truly, I’m not complaining, although it might sound like it. It’s just one of those things that happens when you are lucky enough to have a second home. When we left our home in the UK, our garden was looking so tidy and well cared for. We were even complimented by our neighbours! Yet, we know, by the time we get back, it will be back to square one. Still, gardening is a brilliant form of exercise…

We’ve had some gorgeous weather since we returned. Look at those blue skies!

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You can just catch a glimpse of the pool. The water temperature is a very pleasant 25 degrees! The shrubs in the foreground are oleanders. I was delighted that they survived being hacked pruned by Mr FF.

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One of the first things I like to do, on our return, is check the Canal du Midi is still at the end of our garden and then visit the port. This rather moody looking shot, was taken while eating breakfast outside a new boulangerie that has recently opened. The colour is really quite odd and, yet, I like it!
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Of course, la rentrée is really all about the return after the long, summer holidays. This could be a return to school, university or even work. In my case, I was delighted to return to teaching my English conversation classes. These take place in the rather grand (from the outside) Palais de Justice.

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I often think that September is the perfect time for me to make some blogging resolutions. I’ve been meaning to update my blog for some time. I need to update my profile and photo. However, my main aim is to change to a self-hosted blog and I think it’s time I changed the appearance of my blog, too. Watch this space!

 

 

 

‘Staycations’

Are you familiar with this term? I’ve only recently come across the expression and that was when I was preparing for the English conversation lessons that I take in France. I love delivering these classes because I do them voluntarily. It’s great to be able to make this small contribution to the local community. I love teaching and it’s an excellent way to meet people.

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I digress (ramble!). I was researching for my next lesson and stumbled on the term ‘staycation’. I think I was vaguely aware of the concept but that was all. The definition is:

“a holiday spent in one’s home country rather than abroad, or one spent at home and involving day trips to local attractions.”

I’m guessing that the term originated from the States as it is a combination of the words stay and vacation. In the UK we talk about holidays.

Have you ever had a ‘staycation’? We’ve certainly had many holidays in the UK, particularly when our sons were small and we didn’t have the finances to travel abroad. In fact, some of our best breaks have been in Bournemouth, Cornwall and Devon. Another one of my favourite places is the Gower in South Wales.

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Of course the weather will always come into play in the UK. At the moment we are enjoying a heatwave but this is not the norm for a British summer! It is not really surprising that so many Brits go in search of – generally – sunnier climes for their holidays. The opportunity to experience other cultures, cuisines and lifestyles may also entice people to travel abroad.

Why take a staycation? I’ve mentioned finance but for many people a staycation can be less stressful. Fewer concerns about travel, security and health risks can encourage people to holiday at home or nearer to home.

I have already written about my first trip to Scotland, specifically Glasgow and Edinburgh, last year. It was the most amazing trip and made me wonder why I hadn’t done it sooner. I opted to let the train take the strain and I found it a very relaxing way to sit back and enjoy the scenery.

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There is also the question of ethical tourism. Cheap flights and massive cruise ships have their drawbacks, particularly with the impact they have on the environment. Concerns about their carbon footprint may be another reason why people choose to stay either closer to home or at home.

I’d love to know what you think about staycations! Do you think they’re a great idea? Have you had a staycation? Would you recommend this kind of holiday? Do share!